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Kids’ Travel Journal DIY

Kids’ Travel Journal DIY

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I was doing some research about how to get kids interested in their surroundings when they travel, when I came across the idea of travel journals.

What I like about this concept is you can tailor it to your particular child, and what they like to do. My son likes to draw, but he loves taking photographs. He likes those smash a coin flat machines and terrible souvenir shops. So when I made his travel journal, I included lots of envelopes for storing the little bits and pieces he collects, and blank pages for pasting in photos afterwards. I was totally unprepared for how much he loves adding to and showing off his travel journal – it’s been such a big hit.

Travel journals don’t need to be expensive or complicated. You can certainly buy a ready-made one, like this [amazon_link id=”1441318143″ target=”_blank” ]Kids’ Travel Journal from Peter Pauper Press[/amazon_link]. But making one is really easy.

Putting little envelopes in the journal means you can capture little souvenirs.
Putting little envelopes in the journal means you can capture little souvenirs.

Things to consider before you start:

  • What does your child like to do? Do they take lots of photos, or draw, or prefer colouring in?
  • Will you be traveling to several different locations, or just one big trip?
  • How transportable does this have to be?

Gather some supplies

I bought a [amazon_link id=”B01KB7VETC” target=”_blank” ]sketchbook with medium-weight paper and a coil binding[/amazon_link] to accommodate all the extra stuff to be pasted inside.

You will need some of each of the following:

  • Small collection of pencils or pens, and a pouch [I use an old Ipsy cosmetic case with airplanes on it, but this is [amazon_link id=”B01EINGM38″ target=”_blank” ]cute colourful pencil case[/amazon_link]]
  • Selection of neat envelopes to be pasted in – [amazon_link id=”B00TOVXDGO” target=”_blank” ]I love glassine envelopes as you can see inside[/amazon_link]]
  • [amazon_link id=”B001IVZMBM” target=”_blank” ]Mini glue stick[/amazon_link]
  • Coloured card stock
  • [amazon_link id=”B01BULDSMO” target=”_blank” ]Washi tape[/amazon_link]
  • Travel-themed stickers [amazon_link id=”B007OLJJRS” target=”_blank” ]these stickers look like passport stamps [/amazon_link]]

I used the coloured card stock to make some section headers, as we do many little trips. I pasted the envelopes into random pages, leaving some blank for photos later.

This is a drawing of the Eiffel Tower – it has 1,000 bolts in it, my son learned on the tour bus.
This is a drawing of the Eiffel Tower – it has 1,000 bolts in it, my son learned on the tour bus.

Drawing and writing prompts

I wrote in a few drawing prompts, like:

  • What did you eat for breakfast?
  • What was the tallest thing you saw today?
  • What was your favourite sweet thing you ate?
  • Draw all the types of transportation you took
  • Did you see any animals?
  • What does the flag look like for the country you’re in?

Though these could easily be adapted to writing prompts, if that’s what your small people like to do.

Things you can suggest they store in their travel journal:

  • Public transportation tickets
  • Souvenir tokens
  • Tourist maps and brochures
  • Receipts from cafes and restaurants
Finally, a use for those little tourist booklets!
Finally, a use for those little tourist booklets!

Taking photos

You may not want your child using your DSLR, so consider letting them have an old smartphone not connected to a network (you can download the photos later, by attaching it to a computer), or get them to art direct your photos. When you get home, make a time to go through your photos and let them pick a specific number to get printed for their journal. I was really surprised at the ones my son chose – including one he took of my husband and I.

Travel journal pride

This travel journal has been much more of a hit than I ever expected. What started out as a way to get my son engaged with our travels has become a project he takes very seriously. When his grandparents came to stay with us recently, he sat them down to go through his travel journal. I love that it keeps these journeys alive in his mind, and he gets so much more out of it, not only as we’re on the road, but afterwards.

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How We’ve Changed Since We Moved to Germany

How We’ve Changed Since We Moved to Germany

We’ve been living here in Deutschland for nine months now, and we have definitely changed a bit. I’m not a fan of clinging to my old country ways, but there were a few things I never would have guessed we could have adjusted to. Yet, here I am, eating cabbage all the time and driving very fast. Who knew.

Local shop opening hours, must plan ahead in the Germany!
Local shop opening hours this week, must plan ahead!

I plan more

With all shops closed on Sundays and holidays, and services like doctors and municipal offices closed at unpredictable times (Wednesday afternoons! Obviously!) – I have to plan our shopping a few days further out than I would before. I mean, I usually meal planned and did a big shop, but if I forgot something it wasn’t a big deal. Now, it’s not unusual to have two days in a row with no grocery stores open if there’s a holiday… if you run out of something, bad luck! I have made milk from powder for coffee in desperation.

So many cabbages.
So many cabbages.

I eat more cabbage – okay, a lot of cabbage

Kale? What’s kale? We’re savoy cabbage all the way now. So much cabbage. Broccoli is trucked up from Italy, and goes off within a day, so I don’t rely on it the way I did in the UK and Canada. Those big clamshells of baby spinach? Also not happening. Bags of romaine? Very expensive. Cabbage. Get used to the cabbage.

I know everyone’s last names

It was not uncommon for me, in Canada and the UK, to know a neighbour enough to chat to, but not to know their surname. In Germany, oh no. I don’t know any of my neighbours first names because I call them all Frau Müller, Herr Schmidtt, etc. Most of the people at my son’s school are surname only, and when I write emails to the woman arranging my liability insurance, it’s Frau. I feel like I have to go back to my elementary school letter writing skills just to write an email sometimes. Even email newsletters address me as Frau McGann, which cracks me up.

You have to walk to one of these, and then throw all your glass in, sorted by colour.
You have to walk to one of these, and then throw all your glass in, sorted by colour.
When there's no room for your recycling on the narrow German streets, plop the bag on top of a car.
When there’s no room for your recycling on the narrow German streets, plop the bag on top of a car.

I avoid buying things in glass

This sounds odd, in a country so keen on recycling. Surely this is the easiest recycling option? We have curb-side pick-up for all plastics, bio waste, paper and the regular rubbish. But I have to walk nearly eight minutes hauling all my glass recyclables which I have to sort by colour. This is such a pain that I have a giant bag of wine bottles that makes me look like I have a serious Problem because I wait nearly three months before I get myself over to the Altglass containers. And you can’t use the containers after 7pm or on Sundays, because it’s insanely loud throwing them in there. But of course it’s always Sunday when I have time to do it so… it never gets done. I’m staring at a giant bag of bottles right now.

I have a running tally in my head of how much cash I have on me

In Canada and the UK, I would use my debit cards for everything. Three dollar coffee? Yep, sure. I didn’t even think about it. Now, I feel a bit panicky if I have less than €20 on me. Oh Germany, so technologically advanced, yet so paranoid. It’s cash everywhere, and woe betide the hapless person from somewhere else that would like to use their debit card on a purchase less than €20. Not only will the cashier roll their eyes, everyone in the queue behind them will start getting huffy.

Cramming the shopping into my bike baskets, along with my son's school bag.
Cramming the shopping into my bike baskets, along with my son’s school bag.

I can pack groceries super fast

I maintain that there must be a grocery cashier speed Olympics somewhere. They award special medals for the cashier who can scan and toss the most items down a short conveyor belt in a short amount of time. I have my reusable bags out and lined up in my cart so I can toss as quickly as the cashier can. I’m still sweaty and flummoxed at the other end, but I wait until I’m outside to let go the breath I was holding. And then I can pack them onto my bike.

I’m fluent in Denglish

This is a particularly hilarious mashup of words I know in Deutsch crammed into English sentences. We’re super good at this in texts, like recently: ‘I’m zu Hause, mit adaptor thingie’. Also helpful when speaking with non-English speakers about topics well out of my German knowledge, like the time the radiator maintenance guy came. I don’t know the terms for radiator parts in English, so I’m really not going to know them in German. That conversation involved a lot of made-up sign language. Our actual functional German is getting much better, thankfully.

Lovely walk in the forest on Sundays, as nothing else is open in Germany!
Lovely walk in the forest on Sundays, as nothing else is open in Germany!

We go for brisk walks on Sundays

As I’m sure you’ve heard me mention before, nothing is open on Sundays. So we go with the German flow, gear up (no, not in matching Jack Wolfskin jackets, we haven’t gone that German) and go for a walk. When we’re really organized, we pack a lunch too. We nod and exchange Hallos with other families out to experience the nature.

I’m happy driving 160km/hr on the autobahn

If you had asked me before I moved if I was going to go super fast on the unlimited sections of autobahn, I would have said no no no. But really, once you get used to it, it feels quite normal. I find driving here very reasonable and straightforward. Now when we drive in Switzerland or France, it feels so very very s l o w.

So, my friends living abroad, how have you changed in your new home?

PS – did you see my list of things not to do when you visit Germany?

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10 Things Not to Do When You Visit Germany – and 2 You Should

10 Things Not to Do When You Visit Germany – and 2 You Should

Germany is a beautiful country to visit full of fairytale castles, beautiful rivers, canals, stunning parks and mountains – but there a few key pieces of information that will make your visit to our adopted homeland more enjoyable. After several years of living here and shepherding relatives and friends around, I have collated some Germany travel tips for you.

My 10 Germany travel tips

Carry nothing but plastic

It is really odd at first, but cash is the deal here. Many restaurants and small shops won’t take cards of any kind, so it’s worth checking or looking for a sign as soon as you come in. Because it’s less fun to discover this when you go to pay, and have no idea where the nearest bank machine is. Most waitstaff are prepared for this eventuality, but they will still roll their eyes at you. I know, I know, but Germans on average are quite distrustful of payment technology of any kind. Apple Pay? Er no.

See the red Ampelmann? Don't walk or a German person will shout at you.
See the red Ampelmann? Don’t walk or a German person will shout at you.

Cross the road against the crossing light, especially with kids

This is a huge no-no. You wait for the Ampelmann (the crosswalk light guy), even if no cars are coming. If you have kids with you, or there are kids also waiting, crossing against the light is an absolute travesty. People will yell at you about being a child murderer, or you will get a stern dressing down in German. The idea is, we are all examples to children, and by crossing against the pedestrian light, you are showing children that it’s okay to ignore it – and the next time they might get hit by a car! I have stood at a road crossing that most North Americans would term an alley, with not a single car within three blocks, along with four other people – I had my son with me so no one was going to go. Hilariously, our Swiss friends roll their eyes at this and run across the road whenever, so this seems to be a German only phenomenon.

Ignore bike lanes

Bike lanes in Germany often take up part of the sidewalk, and can be quite subtly marked. In Munich, for instance, the paving stones are a different direction, but nearly the same colour. Sometimes the bike lanes will be painted dark red. They are also heavily used, particularly in warm weather but pretty much year round. Don’t back into a bike lane while taking a photo, stand in the middle of one while waiting to cross the road, or generally assume it doesn’t apply to you – cyclists are often going quite fast and it is up to you to get out of the way if you’re in their lane. If you rent a bike, it’s also worth noting that it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk, unless you’re in a bike lane OR riding with a child who is on their bike – this changed in January 2017, so not everyone may know this rule about riding on the sidewalk with kids, so you may still get shouted at. Also, all those little one-way roads? The one way applies to bikes as well, unless you see a bike symbol with the word ‘frei’ underneath. I’ve seen police officers stop and tell people off for riding their bikes the wrong way on a one-way street.

Expect tap water at a restaurant

Don’t even bother asking, because it’s not going to happen. You pay for a bottle of water, and that’s it – and if you don’t want sparkling you have to be very clear! Sometimes if you have children and you’re obviously not German the waitstaff will take pity on you, but don’t expect this in Munich or Berlin. If you want still and not sparkling, you can ask for ‘Stillwasser’ (pronounced SCHtillwassah) or in English they may ask if you want water with gas or without, and the ‘gas’ refers to carbonation, not petrol or gas you put in your car. I know someone who, when she asked repeatedly for tap water, was given a glass and told to fill it in the bathroom. All the more reason to try the local beer and wine, really. Or Apfelschorle (apple juice mixed half and half with sparkling water) for kids.

Think you’re going shopping on a Sunday

Nothing but restaurants are open on Sundays, and not even all of those, or for the whole day. No grocery stores, no shops… nothing. Bakeries will be open for three or four hours, and that’s generally in the morning. The idea is we should all be spending Sundays with our families out and about. You will see herds of German folks out for hikes, walks, and bike rides. The other thing we do on Sundays is go to the museum or the art gallery – so those are generally open, but you will want to check ahead, particularly in smaller towns. The one exception are shops in tourist areas, so some souvenir shops will be open, but don’t count on it. I watched American tourists trying every shop door in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and wailing about nothing being open. I admit, it takes some getting used to, but once I did, I really started to appreciate the tradition of going for a walk or a hike with your family on a Sunday. If you do take part in this national activity, the polite thing to do is to nod at each group you pass, smile, and say hello.

This is the red A sign you're looking for - an Apotheke in Germany.
This is the red A sign you’re looking for – an Apotheke in Germany.

Try to buy medication of any kind anywhere but the little pharmacy

Even the shops like dm and Rossman, that would have basic painkillers and things like that in North America or the UK, will only have vitamins. You will need to go to an Apotheke, easily identifiable by a big red A outside, and ask at the counter. For everything. Look up what you need on Google Translate beforehand, or bring a package with you. It’s worth knowing that there’s always an emergency Apotheke open on Sundays, but it’s only one per area and it rotates, so use Google and type in ‘Notdienst Apotheken [city name]’ (Notdienst = emergency service), or ask at your hotel if you need one. Also, they close at 2pm on Saturdays, and often on Wednesday afternoons. Plan ahead if you know you need a medication.

Assume everyone speaks English

People will tell you that everybody speaks English in Germany, and most people speak a little bit, this is true. But I find most of the people who will say this have been to Berlin, Frankfurt, or Munich, and that’s it. Wander away from these big cities and you will find the English-speaking rate go down significantly. If you think back to the second language you learned in high school, and how you’d feel if someone walked up to you and started speaking it to you with no warning, and expected you to understand… you’ll understand the panicked look you sometimes get if you start speaking English to a German person. It’s only polite to say hello, and ask if the person speaks English in German first (‘Sprecken sie Englisch?’) before launching into your question. Better yet, learn a wee bit of German. It’s worth knowing that English was only required in school in the late 1970s or so, people older than 45 will be unlikely to speak English well. Also, if you’re traveling in the former East Germany, they did not learn English in school at all until reunification, so expect the number of English speakers to be even lower.

Eat at the restaurant directly outside the train station

This is a standard one pretty much everywhere in Europe, but the first restaurants outside the train station will be rubbish. Walk for five minutes, and you are sure to find something much better. If you’re desperate, the bakery chains inside the train station are fine for a quick bite and a coffee, though it’s essentially fast food so unlikely to be wonderful.

German public rubbish bin
German public rubbish bin

Get offended when a local tells you not to do something

German people can be quite… direct. It doesn’t help that what you can say in German with perfect politeness comes across as a demand when translated word-for-word into English. They are very proactive when it comes to telling strangers they’ve done something wrong – from going in the wrong door, to putting things in the wrong recycling bins. However, it also stretches to telling you if you’ve dropped something out of your stroller, or you’ve left your cardigan on a chair. Also, it’s worth understanding that unlike North American and British cultures, there’s often no judgement attached to the correction. It’s not about you being an idiot, it’s just about making everyday life smoother for everyone.

Make small talk with your cashier

Generally, Germans are not big on small talk. It’s completely fine, and expected, to stand there in silence as the cashier rings through your purchases. At the end, a ‘Schönen Tag’ (have a nice day) or a cheerful ‘Tchüss!’ (Bye!) is the polite way to finish your interaction. Any kind of extraneous conversation, particularly in English, will hold up the queue and you will immediately hear grumbling and muttering from everyone behind you. I know it feels odd to North Americans and Brits, friendly Americans in particular, but trust me – it’s just not the way here. Just stand there and smile, pack your groceries really REALLY quickly into a reusable bag (the cashiers never pack for you in Germany), and have your method of payment ready to go. If you need to rearrange things, there is often space to do so beyond the cashiers, but you’re expected to clear out of the way quickly.

DO

Ask a local where to eat

They are thrilled to be consulted, on average, and will be happy to suggest the best German restaurant, cafe or whatever else you’re searching for. They will even enlist other strangers, it’s beyond sweet. I’ve had people write me lists on the spot, they are so keen. And I’ve not been let down by their suggestions once yet!

Learn a little German

It will make your life much easier. While yes, in a pinch you will find someone who speaks English, this doesn’t help when you’re in a grocery store trying to find something, or when faced with signs at the train station, bus stop, or pretty much anywhere. Germany has a robust German-language tourist industry, so just because something is touristy doesn’t mean all the signs will be in English. You don’t need to sign up for a class or anything, but a few minutes a day of Duolingo for a week before you go will at least ensure you can read the bathroom signs correctly!

 

PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Whether you're planning to visit Berlin, Munich, Cologne, castles, or fairy tale villages, Germany is a great place for your next family holiday - but there a few things that will make your trip a better one.

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Expat Kid: Adjusting to a new life

Expat Kid: Adjusting to a new life

I think the question most people ask me these days is, ‘How is your son adjusting?’

It’s a funny one, moving countries with a child. You’re forced to get a lot of things sorted out with them standing right there, but you also can’t lose it in front of them. This whole moving to another continent was your idea, you can’t freak out. Obviously there were times we were all tired, there was more iPad and Netflix than was probably good for anyone, and I think there was a two-week period where he ate mostly brezel. But, he turned seven a month after we moved to Germany, and I think it was a good time to do it.

Does he ask about ‘home’?

No, actually. We talk about Vancouver, the last city we lived in and the only one he remembers, but we don’t call it home. I was careful not to do that right from the beginning, for several reasons. Firstly, while I love Vancouver, it is only one home to me, London being a very close second in my heart. Secondly, I’m not sure when we will move back, and I don’t want to spend our entire time in Germany with him waiting to leave. This is our home now. He tells stories of things that happened when we lived in Vancouver. There were a few instances of, ‘Why did we have to move here?’ but relatively few. Thankfully.

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The food is a big one

Even when moving to a different Western country, the food changes will feel huge to a smaller person. To be honest, they are huge to everyone, but most adults can manage it. My son is a moderately picky eater – he has about 10 foods he likes and most variations on those he will try in good faith. But sometimes the local version just doesn’t fly – Käsespätzle, the German analogue to macaroni and cheese, was a flop. I love it, but the eggy, odd-shaped ‘noodles’ didn’t fly with a seven year old. Thankfully, broccoli and carrots are on his list, and I can steam those anywhere. Maybe it’s because he transitioned to solid foods when we lived in the UK and sausage was one of his first, but he’s pretty game to eat most wurst. This is key, as he doesn’t like potatoes. I know. I KNOW. You gotta love at least the pig or the potato in the Deutschland, or life will be tough.

School is school

The school situation is an interesting one. I have met other expats who think I’m crazy for not putting him in the International School, and others who think I’m equally nuts for not just going for the local German state school. We split the difference, and found a bilingual private school that runs the local curriculum where he learns German and English. The students are 80% local German kids, so the playground language is generally German, and we pay for extra German classes twice a week. It’s an interesting mix of kids of expat parents who have moved here for work (about equally split from English-speaking families and families from India who speak Hindi and English and probably two other languages as well), German families who have lived abroad and want to keep their children’s English up (Singapore, Japan, the US), local German families with one very fluent English-speaking parent, and some local German families who just want more English instruction. Our son went to French immersion school in Canada, so he’s very used to his whole school experience being in an language he isn’t fluent in. He’s thrilled that some of his classroom time is in English now, and he’s made a good friend, which has had more impact than any of the language stuff. The settling-in period with school has been about as rocky as it was when he started French immersion, and in some ways less difficult. He’s still a bit hesitant to speak German, though I hear him shouting at his friends in German when I come to pick him up. His aural comprehension is amazing though, I’m jealous.

Elementary school kids go to Grundschule, and it starts when your child is 6 years old. No school is mandatory before that point, but most kids go to Kita, which is a bit of a kindergarten/preschool situation. School runs through the morning, with different school starting at different times, but our school begins at 8:45am, and goes until 1pm. I have the option of letting him eat at school, and then staying for ‘homework time’ afterwards, where they do their homework while a teacher supervises. When they’re finished homework, they can play inside, and at 3pm, they can go out and play. There are various after-school clubs at the school that run from 3:30pm, which our son participates in, includes things like astronomy, cooking, table tennis, skateboarding, and judo. I pick him up at 3pm most days, and 4:30pm twice a week when he does his clubs. He eats a hot lunch at school, for which we pay separately. His extra German classes are in the homework time, twice a week.

Communications from the school are usually bilingual, but his report card, for instance, was entirely in German. His main teacher does not speak English well, and communicating with her can be a challenge, but thankfully it hasn’t been an issue yet.

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Being out in the world

I see kids my son’s age and a year or so younger, walking or taking the tram home from school on their own. Heidelberg is a very safe little town, but I get the sense this is not unusual anywhere in Germany. I let our son look at things on the other side of the grocery store a long way away from me, and let him come find me when he’s ready. In a North American store, I know someone would ask him where I was, but here, no one even bats an eye. In the playgrounds, parents are sitting on benches, or picnic blankets hundreds of yards away while their kids play – and it’s fine. I’ve had very polite German children come to ask me for help, because another, unrelated child is having troubling getting down and their parents aren’t nearby. It isn’t a panic, just a request. I definitely see a lot less helicoptering. Interestingly, I very rarely see kids pushing ahead in the queue for the slide, or not letting other kids have a turn on the swing – but they manage it themselves. It’s not that they are all quiet, not at all. I haven’t quite put my finger on it… maybe it’s this society’s heavy emphasis on the common good? I’m not sure. I like it though.

The tough parts…

Of course, moving a child to another culture, halfway around the world is going to be difficult. There were sleep regressions, eating regressions, and sometimes every. single. thing. was a battle. I think because not-so-deep down we all felt like kicking and screaming some days, it made it less scary. I felt like that, why wouldn’t he? I mean, I still felt like I was losing my mind when he was screaming, but I wasn’t worried about his overall sanity. Much. After a couple months, the tantrums dropped off, and school was a great distraction. I was careful to tell him when I was struggling sometimes, because I wanted him to know it was normal and completely justified to be feeling overwhelmed after this kind of move.

Not being able to talk to his main teacher much, and getting his report cards in German is a challenge. There are other teachers he has at school that I can talk to, but not being able to have a nuanced conversation is a challenge. Also, there is no quick chat with the teacher after school, appointments must be made a week in advance.

Although my son’s German is coming along in leaps and bounds, he still doesn’t feel comfortable in a fully German situation, so pretty much all after-school activities offered anywhere that isn’t his bilingual school are off the table for now. Often young people who are running these activities can speak English, but it’s hard to tell ahead of time how willing they will be to suddenly conduct a gymnastics session bilingually. There are some English-language or bilingual activities around, but it takes some serious digging.

Overall, it’s been really good

I’d definitely say he’s settled down well now, and has made several friends. He really likes school, and all his teachers. His German is coming along well, both reading and speaking. He’s a really good sport about being dragged around castle after castle, and seems to enjoy it now. We worked hard both before we moved and afterwards to make this as smooth as possible, however, so it’s definitely not a case of just hoping it would work out. I wrote about what we did to prep for the language change, and it was a similar path preparing for the move. We talked lots about Germany, what the food would be like, and looked at lots of photos online. We read books and started following Bayern Munich. Though I think what helped more than anything was the Bayern Munich shirt with his name on it my husband brought back from a business trip…! The education he’s getting, both in another language and from our traveling around, has made it worth all the headaches and stress to get here, for sure.

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Six months in: Finding our feet

Six months in: Finding our feet

We’ve been living in Germany for six months now, and it feels like we’re finding our feet. Our son has settled into school well, and the German words are flowing a bit more often (as are his corrections to our German!). Letters from the bank are less confusing, and I’m pretty good when faced with a wall of German signage.

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Our German washing machine

It’s very isolating, walking around and not being able to exchange small talk with the person next to you in any way. I can make my way through most cashier interactions – asking for a bag, understanding how much things are (just about), and saying have a nice day and goodbye. If I have time to plan ahead, I will work out what I need to say but I get flustered very easily. It’s ridiculous, everyone is incredibly patient and friendly about my halting German. More than friendly, nearly everyone seems thrilled I want to learn. Of course, they also want to practice their English, so it can be a battle to get someone to keep speaking German with you.

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As the weather slowly warms up, I’ve noticed the tourists starting to appear. Our little city has nearly 12 million tourists come through every year, so by next month I expect to see many more. We spend most of our time outside the Altstadt where most people go, but it makes me smile seeing people standing on our bridge and taking photos. Even when they back into the bike lane. I swore in German the other day when it happened, so that’s a step forward I suppose!

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Flammkuchen, mid-devouring

The food thing has been the hardest adjustment. German food is very regional, so what you hear about as ‘German’ in other countries is often only a very small window into what’s available. Where we live, there is a lot of Flammkuchen, which you can get in France in the Alsace and Lorraine region as tarte flambé. It’s a kind of flatbread, baked in a wood-fired oven, with creme fraiche, lardons (bacon), and leeks or onions. It can be very rich, it’s not something I eat regularly. There are the sausages, of course, and there seems to be quite a bit of weißwurst around, the Bavarian white sausage. Frankfurt has a vinegary green sauce that they apparently put on everything, I quite like it really. Swabia has its own distinct cuisine, but they are a bit east of us, so I don’t think I’ve had proper Swabian food yet. Because we are so close to France, we get quite a few very good patisseries and cheese shops, one of which he asks to stop at every day on our bike ride home from school. He and I often have a dinner that mainly involves half a baguette each, smeared with good cultured French butter and sea salt, when my husband is away.

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Post-school quarkballchen break at the French patisserie

I end up making a sort of hybrid meal of things I’ve learned here, with what’s available, from recipes I know from living in Canada and the UK. Strange things are difficult to find: broccoli is often sitting yellow on the shelf, and if it is green, it turns yellow within a day when I get it home. The ubiquitous-in-Vancouver kale is not often in the shops either. Cabbage, of course, in many, many varieties, is everywhere and very fresh. I’ve adjusted to using Savoy cabbage in place of kale. We’re on the edge of a wonderful wine region, so I take every opportunity to try out the local product.

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Walking home from school

My son gets a hot lunch served at school, and occasionally I hear reports of potato dumplings or pancakes for lunch with ham and cheese in them. I’m pretty sure he’s had more of the local cuisine than we have.

I wonder sometimes, will he remember Canada if we stay here until he is older? I was keen for him to experience Canada when we moved from London back to Vancouver. We don’t know when we will go back, but I can easily imagine him turning 10 before we do so. Seven through ten are such formative years, how funny to think he will experience them here. As I watch distressing things happening in the news, I think it can only be a good thing to feel yourself a citizen of the world, and meet as many different people as you can when you’re young.

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