brave enough to start

family of five who can, should and definitely will, see more of the world

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The European practice run – part 3

Over the years we have visited a lot of theme parks, many at home in the UK, some in Japan and several in Florida – we enjoy them immensely and don’t mind admitting it; there is no place for the intellectual snobbery that puts many off as far as we are concerned – fun is fun, after all.  So when our friends suggested a day at Playmobil Fun Park in Zirndorf we didn’t hesitate, although none of us were really sure what to expect.  The boys do have some Playmobil toys at home and we are familiar with the iconic Playmobil figure but it is fair to say that Lego is their construction toy of choice and for a while we had annual passes to Legoland which they all enjoyed very much.

Playmobil’s website states that the park’s focus is “on movement and activity, and not on standing in queues” and boy do they mean it:  The boys spent hours climbing, balancing, punting, sliding, digging and playing without once complaining about the lack of rollercoasters or thrill rides.  When they got tired of one thing, we moved on to the next – mining in the stone quarry, rafting in the pirate waters, shimmying along balance beams and then climbing to the top of one of the largest rope frames I have ever seen.  Initially I worried that John, at 10, might find the park a bit too tame, but not so – he was as enthusiastic as the others and the first to ask when we will be going back again.

And at just 10 euros a ticket, I would gladly go back over and over again!  To put that into context, an adult ticket for Playmobil Fun Park is 7 times cheaper than a ticket to Legoland Windsor.  Ironically, if you could snap up a cheap air ticket from Ryanair to Nuremberg a day out at Playmobil Fun Park from London would probably be cheaper and you would certainly spend less time queuing!  Without a doubt, this was by far the best value family theme park we have ever been to and if we lived closer we would be annual members for sure.  By the end of the day all the children were pleasantly worn out and ready for an early night, which meant that we didn’t get to try the biergarten – ah well, there is always next time and there will be a next time!

Day 4 saw us heading back to Pottenstein to Kletterwald, a zipline and aerial adventure park with 11 individual courses for different age ranges; some suitable for children as young as 4 ranging up to others for those over 14.  Training is given on how to use the equipment and, fortunately for us, a guide with perfect English was able to help our group.  Initially I paired up with the older boys and had a go on some of the mid range courses; throwing myself over rope walls and wobbling across suspended planks in the trees – it probably wasn’t a pretty sight, but I don’t think anyone was watching.  John and Ted were fearless and a great deal faster than me, which I like to think is because of their lower centre of gravity and lack of experience falling, rather than my level of general (un)fitness!

For the second hour Alex and I took things a bit more gently on the Panda course until we took a wrong turn somewhere and had to be rescued by a very nice member of staff.  What I realised when going round with Alex is that, as the accompanying adult, you either have to decide to go ahead of your child (which doesn’t really work if they need help with the rigging on and off the zip wires) or you go behind them.  At one point I was encouraging Alex to cross between two barrels suspended a long way off the ground (which, with a lot of encouragement, he eventually did) only to find that when it was my turn to cross between the barrels the gap between them was, in reality, a lot larger than it had appeared from behind.  I really don’t know how he managed it because it made my heart race, never mind his!

For our final full day in Germany, we felt a bit of culture was called for and we headed over to Weissenburg where the Romans founded a garrison in AD89 and where you can now see the restored Northern gate of the fortress Biriciana as well as the bath house which has been turned into a fascinating museum. Unsure what to do in the castle grounds, the children decided that the ditch provided the perfect landscape for a game of “What’s the time Mr Wolf?” – possibly not the history lesson we had in mind but lots of fun nonetheless.  They were a little more focussed in the bath house museum which included a short film with English subtitles showing what the baths might have been like in their heyday.

A run around in the park after lunch and a quick detour to another sommerrodelbahn on the way back to Nuremberg rounded up an incredible week in Bavaria and it was with heavy hearts that we headed home again the next day.


The European practice run – part 2

It is fair to say we packed a lot in to our week in Bavaria, starting with a trip to Nuremberg Zoo located in the Imperial Forest.  This is a large zoo, spread over 170 acres in a beautiful woodland setting, that even on the hottest days, offers plenty of shaded areas and native wildlife.

We spent the whole day in the park and definitely didn’t see all of it but our highlights included the tropical Manatee House where we could view the sea cows both under water and from above, allowing you to get a really good idea of how huge and graceful they are.  When you walk into the exhibit the humidity hits you, along with the sounds and smells of the rainforest, making the whole experience that much more sensory – all the children, but Alex in particular, loved it.

The kids’ play areas were also excellent with all manner of slides, climbing apparatus and pendulum swings to keep the boys happy which gave me the opportunity to grab a coffee for each of the adults in our group; I almost had a heart attack though when 5 coffees and a coke came to nearly 25 euros (bearing in mind that a family day ticket for the zoo is only 31.5 euros) until it was pointed out to me that 10 euros of that was the refundable deposit, ensuring that I (and everyone else!) returned the mugs after we had used them.  This meant that the zoo wasn’t littered with discarded disposable cups and felt much more environmentally friendly in general – what a good idea.

One slight downside for our family was that all of the keeper talks were all in German, as one might expect.  Our friend’s 9 year old son proved an excellent interpreter, however, and particularly made me smile when he translated the opening 5 minutes of ebullient welcome with the rather more succinct “they say hello”!  It seems that the efficiency the Germans are well known for may be rubbing off on him.

Day two was spent in a lovely town called Pottenstein where we all had our first experience of the “Sommerrodelbahnen” – toboggan and bob-sled tracks which wind down the hillside allowing the riders to pick up deceptively high speeds.  We decided the older boys could ride on their own and Alex would go with an adult, but the truth is that I needed a riding companion more than he did and after 2 runs, whilst everyone else was keen to keep going, my pelvic floor and I decided that enough was enough and it would be safer all round if I watched from the ground!  It was tremendous fun though and in my younger days I’d have kept going back for hours.

After lunch we walked along a beautiful river bank to the Teufelshoehle; over 1500 meters of dripstone cave with amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations and an impressive collection of animal bones, including the reconstruction of a bear skeleton shown off to full effect with ambient lighting.  An English audio guide was played though a PA system and immediately captured John and Teddy’s attention with the translation of Teufelshoehle – the Devil’s cave!  Unfortunately Alex found the dim lighting, dampness and enclosed spaces just a bit too scary and insisted that Nick carry him the whole way round which wasn’t easy given the number of stairs throughout.  Bless his heart though, despite a few lip trembling moments, Alex made it to the end of the tour without letting his imagination get the better of him and bravely earned his promised day out at Playmobil Land the next day.

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The European practice run – part 1!

I am conscious that it has taken a while to update following our little European road trip – suffice to say: 10 hours in the car with 3 young boys – it takes a moment or two to recover from that.  Actually, the boys weren’t bad considering we only stopped briefly twice on the way for fuel and a stretch of the legs.  I should probably commend Nick as well given that  I drove the 10 miles or so to Dover to catch the ferry, and Nick, well, he did the rest! I had intended to do a bit more; perhaps in Belgium or Holland, but the road just keeps going with no borders as such, so it didn’t make sense to stop.

In my mind I think I was expecting checkpoints or some other indication that a change of country was imminent rather than a single, quite unassuming road sign that you miss if you happen to be looking the other way.  At least when you drive into Wales there is a big bridge to highlight that you are both leaving the South of England and making your way into the land of the dragon: You can prepare for that; dig around and find your camera, remove the lens cap and still have time to get a nice picture of all the welcome signs inviting your warmly into Wales – instead of picture of the road, a mile past the invisible border!

Not to worry, who needs a picture of the border anyway?  The roads themselves were excellent and we drove all the way from Calais to Nuremberg without encountering a single roundabout.  Not one.  So my main justification for not being confident enough to drive turned out to be totally unfounded – oops!  We could have been on any dual carriageway in the UK for most of the journey, except that, in Germany the roads were in noticeably better condition and, where there were roadworks, the traffic continued far more efficiently than any time I have ever been on the M25.

By the time we got down as far as Cologne Nick was getting a bit bored with driving, so it worked out well that a few miles later he realised the speed on the Autobahn was unrestricted for several sections.  I need to make a plea now, to my parents and to Nick’s, and to anyone else with an attachment to our children – please look away and skip the rest of this entry. It turns out, that downhill, with the wind behind us, our little Mazda can manage 121 mph.  It was both exhilarating and terrifying.  Although the top speed on the speedometer suggests the car will manage closer to 150 mph; I can confirm that at 6 years old, the vehicle starts to shudder and make the kind of noises you might expect from an historic building with plumbing problems, when you approach the 120 mph mark. Thankfully the boys were either asleep or too absorbed in Stephen Fry’s delivery of The Enormous Crocodile to notice.  After a couple of miles my stomach had a few plumbing problems of its own and, since the power of speech had deserted me somewhere just north of 105 mph, I managed to hand signal to Nick that it might be time to try the local services.

And what a revelation they were!

Initially, I felt a bit affronted at the 70 cents charge to use the motorway facilities, but they were immaculate and well worth the fee, not least because of the revolving toilet seats that are sanitised after each flush – positively Japanese!  The boys and I all flushed at least twice to enjoy the spectacle but I think the lady in the cubicle next to me must have leant back on the automatic flush before she meant to and probably found the seat attempting to move under her, judging by the muffled shout of panic!  It was only once we were on our way home and stopped at the services in Belgium, which are free of charge and much more like one might expect in the UK, that I realised how much I appreciated the German approach.

In fact, that might have been the start of my love affair with Germany as, repeatedly, I found my expectations of Nuremberg and the whole country exceeded in the most positive ways.  I confess to a few preconceptions which were quickly put to bed and soon realised that there is a lot we could learn from the German way of life, about which I’ll say more in the next post.