Sunday, October 24, 2010

German Hospitals

Check-In Day at the Hospital

This post is for those who have encouraged me to start blogging again. It was therapeutic and since we are still in Germany three years later (no, I can't believe it either), I need an outlet. Blogging seems as therapeutic as anything else so here goes...

I had to undergo a minor surgery in Germany, which required a hospital stay. Previously, my only experience in any sort of German hospital was delivering Willem and Pieter so this was a bit different. I figure since I'm still in hospital and looking for things to keep me occupied, I'll share some of my insights on the differences between German and U.S. hospitals (at least from MY experience).

First off, my surgery was scheduled for Thursday morning but I was told to arrive a whole day early to check-in. Can you imagine that? I had nearly 24 hours to hang around in my hospital room BEFORE surgery. Not sure if that was a good thing for me, since it only gave me more time to stress. But it was good to already be here and settled the night before, as my surgery was scheduled for 7:30 the next morning. I requested a private room because I have small kids who will visit and bother any person sharing a room with me. Last thing I wanted to do was irritate some old Bavarian woman and get the stink eye.

So basically, the room is what you'd expect in the U.S. with a few subtle differences. First off, there are no privacy curtains around the beds. Germans aren't as "private" as we are in the U.S. Second (and I wish I had thought of this before arriving), I really should have brought my own towel for showering. Now, I understand this varies hospital to hospital but I had to request some towels and was only given a couple hand towels so I do believe the expectation was that I would bring my own.

The clinic I am in is relatively small, but that is not necessarily uncommon in Bavaria. While there are large hospitals, it is not uncommon to find many smaller specialization clinics. The hospital where I gave birth to Willem and Pieter was a small clinic specializing in women's health issues. And the clinic I am now in is even smaller- about 64 beds in all. This is quite small by U.S. standards. I actually do appreciate that about being here. So far, for the most part (noting some minor exceptions) I have received very personalized care by both nurses and midwives here. The clinics are smaller and therefore the staff is smaller and closer. It provides for a more comfortable feeling, which for me is always good. Though I can't say for certain, I would also imagine that the rate of cross-contamination is lower in these smaller clinics, which can be a problem in big U.S. hospitals.

Noting that Bavaria is also a very Catholic state, it is not surprising that I am in a Catholic clinic- in that it is run in conjunction with the Sisters of Mercy. This Order of nuns have devoted their lives to helping poor and sick people. In this clinic, both secular nurses and nuns work together tending to the patients. I've grown used to the fact that there are crucifixes all over Bavaria, in many public places, but I have to say it still is a bit creepy to see a crucifix above my hospital bed.

The next noticeable difference is the length of stay in a German hospital. In the U.S. the surgery I just had has a typical hospital stay of two days. I was told to expect a six day hospital stay. I'm not sure how I feel about this, just yet, but on the whole I think the possibility of staying longer is always good. My experience in the U.S. is that you get kicked out pretty quickly because your insurance won't pay, otherwise. Here, it is not uncommon for women to stay in the hospital up to a week after a normal vaginal delivery of their babies. Contrast THAT to the U.S., where they all but force you out after two days.

I've been here three years now and I still have difficulty getting used to the meals. Germans typically follow the big meal at midday with smaller meals at breakfast and dinner, and while healthier, my body definitely isn't used to it. I am awakened by hospital staff around 6:30 a.m. (remember I'm in a Catholic hospital so they've already been up for ages for Morning Mass). Breakfast (crusty roll, butter, slice of cheese or meat, and coffee) is a around 7:30, a big hot lunch at 11:30, coffee or tea at 12:30 and then dinner (more crusty roll and cheese) at 5pm. The big meal in the middle of the day thing is good and all but I'm not used to it, which means I'm super hungry at 8pm. Fortunately, I anticipated this and brought a few things from home- instant soup packets and lots of still water (all the water they serve here is bubbly).

The doctors here are quite competent and most speak decent English (whether they actually WANT to use it with you is a totally different story). They do tend to suffer from God-like complexes, though, and do not like to be questioned. (If you know me, then you know that for most doctors I am the thorn in their side with my incessant questions.) It puts me at ease to know what is happening and be informed. This is contrary to the German way of doing things, as many people here just simply accept anything that someone in a position of authority states. Not only that, but they seem to not ask for further clarification. When a doctor comes in and routinely asks you, "So do you have any questions for me?" and starts to walk out before I even have time to answer, you know they aren't used to any actual questions. And with me- they usually get the Spanish Inquisition- not a debate over WHAT they are doing, but an explanation of it. Anyhow, this torques some doctors here, but I guess that the God-Complex is found in all countries. And their bed-side manner... well hit or miss there, but typically... not what we Americans are used to... much colder. Though, that's probably a whole new post in and of itself.

In Germany, doctors wield a lot of power and are well-respected. It is not easy for any Joe Shmoe to get a medical license here. Things appear much more regulated. There is high respect for "titles" given in Germany and "titles" aren't given out lightly. Case in point- There is technically still a law (though rarely enforced) in Germany that states that anyone who did not receive their PhD in Germany cannot refer to themselves as "Doctor" in Germany. Though rarely enforced, this did prove problematic for some PhD working at a renowned scientific organization here, as he was fined over it. I presume someone lower than this PhD felt he was somehow lording his title over their head, and as a result he was reported. As he indeed did not obtain his PhD in Germany, he was fined.

My stay here has been okay, except that I feel bad for my kids. The last two nights they have been quite upset when they left, and Gerrit even almost cried on the phone with me before bed. I am hoping they will let me out today, but it is Sunday, and I have been told Sunday is not a typical "discharge" day. A nice little nun did come to my room earlier, though, and invite me to attend mass with her in the hospital chapel.

It is interesting being cared for by both nuns and nurses. That is quite different. There is a sort of holistic care happening here than I have experienced otherwise. Though, admittedly, I am probably one of the only people at this hospital that is not Catholic. Some of the nurses speak a tiny bit of English but most of the nuns are quite older and do not speak any English, but we seem to be managing quite fine with my poor German. Knowing at least some German creates a bit more of a comfortable feeling for me than I had giving birth to Willem in the hospital three years ago. I do not have as much "angst" as the Germans say.

Righty-oh, well... contrary to all the German regulations and being told last night that I was likely NOT leaving today, they are in fact going to discharge me today (with the understanding that I must come back Tuesday afternoon to speak with the doctor once my pathology results are in). Woo Hoo! That means I get to go spend the day with my family and celebrate Willem's birthday. I'm quite excited! Will gather my things and scamper out the door... hopefully before another lovely German hospital meal comes my way. :)


Snuggling Pieter before daddy takes him home

After surgery...
Was terribly groggy and nauseous after the surgery for several hours.
This was taken at the end of the day when I started feeling a bit better.

One day post-op, and the boys finally get to see me.

Pieter is excited!

Gerrit had fun watching German cartoons...

... and playing with the bed controls.

Willem and daddy collect mommy from the hospital

Mom and son happy to be together

Pieter cruisin' around following in daddy's footsteps.

Relaxing at home with our "Trio of Trouble" :)



Thursday, January 14, 2010

Joys of Boys

I have always wondered if boys found things just as funny as adult men. Things like farting, burping, and the like. I'm sure the Dutch Oven thing has happened to more than one unsuspecting woman (if you are a gal who has no idea what a Dutch Oven is then you are one of the few lucky ones in this world). So I have often suspected that boys just started out thinking these things were hilariously funny... and well... then just never grew out of it. My suspicions have been confirmed.

While searching for German cartoons on youtube, we came across this little gem. (Not exactly what I was hoping for to help with Gerrit's German, but I suppose that this topic is universal- no language barrier here.) Needless to say, both boys could not stop laughing and played it again and again.



Also, Gerrit now jumps up in his seat just like the rabbit whenever he has to fart.

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After Kindergarten today, my conversation with Gerrit over lunch...

Me: (burp) Oh, excuse me.

Boys: (laugh)

Me: So Gerrit, what did you do in Kindergarten today? Did you have a new teacher named Annemarie?

Gerrit: (burping his answer) YEEEEEEEES.

Me: Nice. Did you play games and practice German with Annemarie?

Gerrit: (burping his answer yet again) YEEEES.

Meanwhile, Willem chimes in with a burp and a chuckle. Notice a theme here?

Me: What games did you play today, Gerrit?

Gerrit: (taking a deep breath to be able to answer with a complete burp)
POOOOOOOP-EN HOOOOUUUUUSSSSSE.

(For those of you Germans, that's Puppen Haus.) Gerrit just told me he played witha Play House/Doll House today in Kinder. Hey, I suppose I should be grateful for any German answer he gives, even when they come with the added bonus of a belch here and there.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Year in Review

Since I've been so pathetic at keeping up with this blog lately, here's a quick look back at 2009. Happy Holidays!

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Pieter Arrives

Anyone uninterested in reading about my labor and delivery details of Pieter's birth, please skip to the end of the post to find pictures. I realize I can provide TMI for some people.

So life has been progressing along with our newest addition, Pieter Johannes. The boys have been dealing with him pretty well, and we're all adjusting to becoming a family of five. My mom arrived a few days after his birth and has been a big help in helping us settle in. For those interested, Pieter's birth details are below.

After celebrating Gerrit's birthday, I started noticing I was having some minor contractions that night. Nothing to be too alarmed about as they were only coming every 45 minutes... but as the evening progressed, they seemed to be progressing some in intensity.

Around 4 am I awoke and was a bit uncomfortable. (I was still not really thinking this was going to be Pieter's birthday. I assumed I had just overdone it the day before with all the running around I'd done.) I moved downstairs to the couch to be more comfortable. It became a bit more clear to me that things were going to progress when two hours I was leaking some amniotic fluid (not a gusher, as with Gerrit, but definitely noticeable). My contractions immediately ramped up to 20 minutes apart and became a bit more intense. At this point, I went upstairs and woke Gerard and the boys, told them today was the day, and began packing a bag for them and a hospital bag for me.

As a side note, I had been telling Gerrit for months that one of his birthday gifts was going to be a new baby brother, so I think it's quite fitting that his new baby arrived right after his fourth birthday. Needless to say, Gerrit was quite excited about the announcement, though honestly, I'm not sure he really understood what that REALLY meant. Willem had no clue what was going on, but was just excited by all the morning's activity.

Gerrit, still playing with his birthday gift from the previous day (a digital camera), was snapping pictures of me all morning. This was something I began to have a bit less tolerance of as time went on and my contractions became even stronger and closer together. Still, I tried to keep a happy face and take it all in stride.

We dropped off the boys with a friend of ours around 8:45 a.m. and headed to the hospital. (I really wanted to try to have this baby without pain medication. I was unable to make it through my previous two labors of 20 and 24 hours without any medication, and I hoped that this one would progress a bit faster. The long labors have been a killer for me and I caved after about 16 hours.) While driving to the clinic, I was seriously doubting my ability to have a natural childbirth. I was already in quite a bit of pain but kept imagining the midwives telling me that I was only a few centimeters along. If that was the case, there'd be no way I could last.

We arrived at the hospital around 9am. At this point, I'm telling Gerard that if I'm not further along in dilation soon, there is no way I'm going to make it without drugs. My contractions were 4 minutes apart, HARD, I was having a really hard time breathing, and I literally felt my cervix moving and stretching with each contraction. Still, not to be disappointed I was prepared for the worst when the nurse checked me. Thank GAWD she said I was nearly 5 cm at that point. Woo Hoo! If I continued at this pace, perhaps there was hope for me. The midwife was great. She told me that she would check me in one to two hours and that if I wasn't much further, we would negotiate drugs. However, she also encouraged me that I was progressing at a good pace and that she thought I might be nearly ready in a few hours. All great news to me. I was in! Gerard was good, too. I asked him to help slow me down with breathing because I could feel myself getting quite dizzy and beginning to hyperventilate.

At nearly two hour marked, the midwife checked me again- 9cm, awesome but so incredibly painful. I felt ready to push, and after two more contractions she told me to go ahead and do so. Okay, so everyone who has had a baby without drugs tells me the pushing is a relief. While that may be true, I still felt this whole experience frenetic and painful. I think it's only slightly less painful if you push and just don't stop at all until the baby is out. I had a terrible time controlling my breathing during this process and I literally just pushed nearly the entire time, with short breaths in between. When he was born, I took a huge breath like I had literally just come up for air after being trapped underwater. Thank god he was out. In the past, I've been able to watch myself deliver with a mirror and then touch the baby and the head, etc. This time, the midwife asked me if I wanted to touch the baby's head. NO WAY!!! Just get him out - the quicker the better. Apparently, Gerard said I was clamped onto his arm while I was pushing. I don't think I pushed more than 8 minutes at most before he was out. Thank goodness!! Out popped Pieter at 11:11 am.

Pieter was born on Thursday morning and I was ready to leave a few hours later but Gerard always likes me to stay at least one day. I tried to get out of the hospital Friday at 9am but was only released after 7pm. I guess they are not used to people wanting to leave the hospital so quickly. In Germany, you are allowed to stay 5-10 days post delivery and most women do, so they always seem shocked when someone actually wants to go home early. I just find hospitals uncomfortable. I'd rather recover in my own house in my own bed. Incidentally, I felt surprisingly better after delivery than I expected. My midwife thinks this is from a lack of drugs, and I think it's probably more likely the shorter labor. My midwife tells me statistically the third one comes the fastest and that after that, stats show the labors are longer again. So any of you ladies thinking a third is in order but concerned about a longer labor, I say go for it. I was thrilled to bits that this labor was so short.

So... a few pics and stats.

Pieter Johannes van Belle -Born October 8, 2009 (one day after his oldest brother's birthday). Weighing in at 3,780 grams (approx 8 1/2 pounds), length 55 cm (22 inches). We're all home and doing well, and big brothers are adjusting to the baby. On the way home, Gerrit and Willem informed me that Pieter cried too much and both of them covered their ears.



Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gerrit's Turns Four!

So this happened several weeks ago now, but I have fallen behind on blog posts yet again. I think facebook has ruined my blog, by the way. It had sort of gotten to the point where more people were interested in looking at my blog pictures and video than were actually interested in reading my posts, so as I started posting more images on facebook, I started posting less and less on the blog. Hence, it's demise. Alright, people, to inspire me to keep this thing up, let me know you still look at it from time to time- and not SOLEY for the pics.

We had a lot exciting things happen these last two months. In September I began in intesnsive German course. It met nightly for three hours (Monday-Thursday). As it was in Munich, during rush hour, we decided it made more sense for me to take the train into the city, rather than drive. This, however, meant that I needed to leave at least one hour before my class. With the commute time there and back, my three hour class had now turned into at leat a five hour adventure each day. Bleh! Even with my enthusiasm, the class began taking its toll on me by the first week in. To motivate myself, I kept repeating that taking this class made sense because Gerard was in town and could watch the boys at night. Plus, the baby would arrive soon and taking an intensive class like this would then be much more difficult. I started this class one month from my due date and was already waddling all over town. I found walking that much each day was proving more difficult than I had originally anticipated, so I decided to ride my bike to and from the train station. This seemed like a great plan... until my bike was stolen. Rats! Back to walking. Fortunately, I survived, though immediately ending the class I ended up with some sort of stomach virus for a few days. I can't say the course improved my German much, but at least it was something, right? I continue to struggle with this ridiculous language on a daily basis. I honestly doubt I'll improve much more before we leave here, but I continue to try anyhow.

The next bit of exciting news...

My big boy turned four. Yes, Gerrit celebrated another birthday here in Germany. When we arrived he was just shy of two and now he is four. I know he's still young, but I can remember his birth so clearly. I feel like he was just born. I can clearly remember my teacher friends telling me that I looked "lower" than normal and asking me how I felt. "Fine, fine," I would say. "I haven't had any contractions but my mucous plug came out and I think it's still a few days away." (Yes, I know that's gross and probably TMI for most people, but if you know me, you are not surprised that I would discuss such things openly.) In fact, my water broke (and we're talking a gusher) about five minutes after that conversation. I remember still being in denial that the time had come (I was still two weeks from my due date and felt not at all prepared for a new baby). I think I was still in denial through the entire labor, birth, and first few hours thereafter. This being the U.S., they whisked Gerrit away from me within the first twenty minutes after delivery to do a bunch of tests. I didn't get him back for hours.

But when I did... and I unwrapped my swaddled newborn son.... I fell in love. My denial melted away into adoration.



This year, Gerrit received a special gift for his birthday- his very own kid-size digital camera. For some time now, Gerrit has been fascinated with our camera and has taken some decent pictures now and then. So we decided it was a good time to introduce him to a camera. The problem with these kid-cameras, is that picture quality is sacrificed for camera durability. This camera can be dropped on the ground, survive in water, and can withstand most things little hands can throw its way- but the pictures come out rather dark and sketchy. Still, Gerrit enjoys the camera and that's what matters. As a side note, I've also noticed that since Gerrit now has his "own" camera, he has taken much more liberty in snapping pictures of any old random thing. So practice makes perfect, little man. Keep it up.

Gerrit, trying out his new birthday gift

Here you can enjoy some of Gerrit's photos- life from his perspective.

Mommy
Niki
A view of the cat's litterbox
Ready to mop the floor
Little Brother, Willem
Daddy
Waiting for grandma to arrive at Munich airport
Grandma's HereGrandma and new brother, Pieter

It's hard to believe it has already been four years. Gerrit is becoming such a little man. He attends a German kindergarten, and is picking up a bit of the German language. His ability to understand is still much stronger than his ability to speak it, but it is coming along. I love to listen to his stories- he is developing such an active imagination these days. Over the last two years, he has developed an extensive vocabulary and an outgoing personality. He is empathetic, affectionate, and looks out for his two younger brothers. Gerrit and Willem do have their spats (as most siblings do), but I so enjoy seeing them play together and care for each other. I can't wait to see how Gerrit continues to mature over the years.

A look back at my first baby...

A Few Hours Old (October 7, 2005)

One Year old...


Two Years Old...


Three Years Old...


Four Years Old...


Happy Birthday, Gerrit!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Our Itallian Adventure


(I've been meaning to finish this post for ages now but have only now gotten around to it.)

I have been wanting to take a family vacation (including dogs) since we arrived nearly two years ago. One major reason we got a 7 seater car here has been for such travel. (As a side note, folks, this is the smallest seven seater you'll ever see. By German standards, it's considered big. But in the U.S. this is still a teeny car. When you actually have all seven seats in, it is possibly even worse than traveling coach on the airplane with the amount of room one has.) This little Toyota Picnic's (yes, that is the real model name) purpose was to serve as a vehicle to use when guests visit, as well as one we could remove the back row of seats from and pile in dogs and luggage for various European driving adventures. Up until now, we haven't been able to manage the latter. Mostly, it is because we haven't done much car traveling (aside from various day trips). Gerard maintains a pretty vigorous travel schedule and when in between travel, he must catch up on office work, making it difficult to get away for more personal travel. When the kids and I are fortunate enough to accompany him, it often involves flying to destinations, making travel with pets even more precarious. Even then, his work travel means he is working during the day and often has various events into the evenings, which means that while the boys and I get to go somewhere new and see dad in the evenings, we are often running about on our own during the day. It is fabulous when other wives tag along as sometimes I can hang out with them as well. Still, while wonderfully exciting at times, it is not a proper family vacation without work.

Yet finally, a week set aside to plan a mini-holiday. Ah, but where to go. As I am now nearly eight months pregnant, a quite rigorous trip did not exactly sound appealing. As some of you know, our house in the U.S. has cost us a lot of money as of late from various tenant issues, so I was looking to find a slightly less expensive sort of vacation (that still included our pets). One obvious thing that came to mind was camping. First, let me say that when I say camping, I really mean "carping" (car-camping). While we do enjoy being outdoors and going on some smaller day hikes and/or nature walks, we are not the type who pack a backpack and head into the woods on foot with everything we need to survive for a five day trip. I admire people who do that, but that is not our current lifestyle. One minor complication in all of this is that Gerard and I haven't been camping/carping since before we had Gerrit. This means our four-person tent would be as stretch to accommodate two adults, two kids, and two dogs. So this had me looking up various camping websites that also had semi-permanent tents and/or cabins to rent. I came across a few that were still available (August being the prime travel time for Europeans). I was lucky to find anything so last-minute. The only place available that allowed dogs appeared to be a northern Italian campground, but as there were no other camping spots available in August, we rented a small cabin. So... our destination- Northern Italy... Lake Maggiore, in fact. One of the larger northern Italian lakes.

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Video on the road to Lake Maggiore-
Gerrit gives his opinion on baby names

We hit the road later than expected (always the case with me). As the earliest check-in time was 3pm, we figured that a 10 am departure was adequate time to get there. Between leaving one hour later than planned, plus the various traffic jams we ran into, we didn't actually arrive until 6:3p.m. Bleh, a long car ride. Boys, dogs, as well as Gerard and I were quite restless when arriving. We quickly unpacked, ate dinner, and checked out our camp.
The pink building is our cottage- divided into three separate flats.
We had the bottom flat. (Note, our tiny seven seater car as well.)

The boys enjoy dinner in our cottage after a long day of driving.

Say Cheese!!!

Exploring the creek near our cabin.



Monday-
We decided to go look for a castle we read about located in the middle of the lake. (The Castles are referred to as the "Castles of Cannero Islands." The ruins are located on two small islands, and are what is left of the castle Rocca Vitaliana, built between 1519 and 1521.) Turns out that ferries and boats only take you up to view them but do not allow you to get off the boat and explore the castle. Since we could only view the castles from the water, we decided to save the money and just view them from land.
View of "Cannero Island Castle" in Lake Maggiore

Next, we went into the local town Cannobio, explored a bit, and of course, had some gelato. How can a Italian trip be complete without loading up on gelato. :) While in town, I attempted to look over the ferry schedule to some neighboring islands, but was unsuccessful in purchasing tickets as it was just after noon and their office had just closed. Rats! Forgot about the long "Siesta" time here (12-3pm). Oh well, we ended up getting groceries and headed back to our campground to play in the pool and on the playground. The playground, by the way, has to be one of the most unsafe playgrounds out there. I am always amazed to see things here that under no circumstance would be allowed in the U.S. So much here is about "Do it at your own risk."

The boardwalk in Cannobio


Even the dogs enjoy gelato

Tuesday-
We had hoped to find a zoo for the kids. But when we discovered it was about 1 1/2 hour drive, we decided to forego the experience. Instead, the camp owner told us of a ferry to a neighboring island, Laveno, that had a cable car going up to the top of one of the mountains (Sasso di Ferro). He informed us that we would get a fantastic view atop this mountain of all five nearby lakes. It all sounded like good fun so we decided to make a day of it.

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Video of Gerard and Gerrit mapping our adventure for the day


On the ferry headed to Laverno. The two dim lines
up the side of the mountain represents our cable car adventure.

Gerard seemed to think the cable car would be more of a funicular railway. Boy, could he be any further from reality on that one. Check it out.


Note that the compartment only holds two people and stops at your waist. A tiny door
(which can easily be opened) keeps you from tumbling down the mountain side. Yikes!

A Tight Fit

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Video of the cable car- a.k.a Death Trap

So it turns out this thing is actually referred to as a Gondola, not a Cable Car (yah, I can assure you this is no cable car). And the elevation is nearly 3,000 feet up. It took us a good 20 minutes (at least) to get up to the top.

Now, I'm not normally afraid of heights, but given that Gerrit and I were in a tiny compartment with a door you could easily open and fall out, I was having some slight panic attacks about Gerrit tumbling out. Fortunately, he was very well-behaved. He got a bit scared as we continued to ascend, but as long as I at least "seemed" to remain calm, he was comforted. Thank goodness we chose not to bring the dogs with us that day. I don't know how we would have fit them and kids in a tiny cable car.

Thankfully, we finally made it to the top and I could get out of that crazy contraption. Atop the mountain, there was a pricey restaurant, snack bar, gift shop, hang glider station (which Gerrit found fascinating), a decent view, and another crazy, unsafe play area. All in all, it was good fun. Of course more ice cream had to accompany our experience.
Complaining about not wanting to go back down in the "death trap"

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Video of the a lovely Italian Public Toilet

Playground at the top of Cable Car ride in Laverno

Willem LOVED this swing

Family portrait at the top of the cable car ride in Laverno


Waiting for the ferry to take us back

Two very tired boys means a successful outing

Wednesday-
Today we headed into town of Orta San Guilio. We explored the town a bit, ate an afternoon snack of local cheese varieties, and then took a boat to San Guilio Island which houses a Basilica. At every corner, people were either stopping us because of our unique looking dogs or kids. :) I had the gentle leaders on the dogs so they wouldn't pull as much. Gerrit has been wanting to help hold the leash and this helps tremendously with pulling if they get excited. Even though these gentle leaders are not muzzles, the fact that they go around their muzzles somewhat, makes people think the dogs might be vicious. Trying to explain this to Italians proved a bit difficult. Still, many people were curious enough that when they saw us and our kids petting the dogs, they felt they were less ferocious than they imagined. We got many compliments on how gorgeous our kids and dogs were. Gotta love Italians. Always making you feel good. :)

Gerrit hamming it up, as usual. :)

Willem looking pensive and skeptical, as usual. :)

Modern Art

The boat ride to the Basilica.

Jake and Niki were quite a hit with the Italians

The Monastery

A couple of cuties

Checking out the playground before we head back to our camp

Thursday-
As this was our last full day in Italy, we decided to take it easy before the long drive back. We spent the morning driving around trying to find another zoo (this one, we were told was much closer than the others). We were told there were signs along the road but apparently, they were so small we must have passed right by them. When we finally discovered the "Park with Animals," it was closed for.... SIESTA TIME. Okay, we diverted to the lake and decided to return when it opened.


We played around at the lake a bit. Surprisingly, the water was much warmer than I had originally expected. The day was also quite warm, so the water felt refreshing. Gerrit liked it too, and enjoyed splashing around with his arm floaties, while Willem mostly played in the sand at the water's edge.
The boys and daddy

Gerrit and mommy

Willem and mommy

Later, we spent a couple hours at the "Park with Animals." Though we had been told it was a zoo, it was really much more of a plant nursery with a section for small animals- goats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, pigs, mules, and lots of different birds. The kids seemed somewhat entertained, though Willem more than Gerrit. The day was still hot, so we didn't stay long before heading out... with... ice cream for the drive back. :)

"Park with Animals"

Donkeys

Willem loved the bunny rabbits

Friday-
Friday we had to head out early. Our check out time was 9:30 so we had done a fair bit of packing, loading the car, and some cleaning the night before. I was ecstatic when the owners commented on how clean the cabin looked after our visit (complete with two kids and two dogs). (I wish I could say the same for our house at home.) We hit the road and headed for our castle stop on the way back.

We decided to stop in Bellinzona, Switzerland, at the base of the Alps. The city is well-known for its three castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, Sasso Corbaro). We chose to visit Castelgrande.

View from the city
View from the Castle
Heading into the courtyard

Running around the courtyard
Water break

Family Photo

We hit the road again for the rest of our drive and appeared to be making good time until we hit some major traffic. At this point, our gas tank was getting low and as there are much fewer exits on the autobahn we were getting a bit worried. We had "Adventure Sallie" reroute us to a gas station. This backtracked us a bit, but were practically driving on fumes when we arrived, so it was good thing. We stretched our legs, grabbed a snack, and back into the car we went. When we arrived home, it was already 6pm. A crazy long day, but a full week of some family fun. Yay for our first real family vacation since being here! I hope this means there will be many more like it before we leave Germany. :)