Family Fun in Dallas

Gavin turned three years old earlier this month! To celebrate, we took a short trip to Dallas to do some fun stuff. We spent two days (one night) doing fun-filled activities with Gavin. We went to the Legoland Discovery Center in Grapevine and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in downtown Dallas.

We drove over on a Wednesday morning and did Legoland Discovery Center, which is in the Grapevine Mills mall. That took a few hours for us to do everything and give Gavin plenty of time to play. He was too young for a couple of the activities, but he did play in the Duplo Village and with the earthquake tables, walked around the Miniland, rode two rides (Merlin’s Apprentice and Kingdom Quest), and saw the 4D movie. They have a coffee shop inside, so we had a snack break while we were there. Of course, Gavin got a couple of new Duplo sets on the way out. Lego Duplos are his favorite toy, so we knew he would have tons of fun with all the Lego stuff.

Gavin at Legoland Discovery Center | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Legoland Discovery Center | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Legoland Discovery Center | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Legoland Discovery Center | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Legoland Discovery Center | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Legoland Discovery Center | rainerlife.com

When we left the Legoland Discovery Center, we walked through the mall to the Rainforest Cafe for a late lunch (okay food and service). It’s a fun restaurant to eat in, and we all enjoyed looking at the animals. We didn’t shop the mall, but it was busy and seemed to have a lots of good shopping options. Okay, I may have dragged Michael and Gavin in the Books-a-Million, but that was the only store we shopped. After the mall, we went to check into our hotel and rest a bit. After getting our second wind, we headed out for dinner – we ate at the Uncle Buck’s Brewery & Steakhouse (okay food, great service) that is part of the nearby Bass Pro Shops. We spent the night in Grapevine, and stayed at the Hyatt Place near the mall. We were exhausted after a very full day of activities!

Gavin having fun at Rainforest Cafe | rainerlife.com

We headed to the museum on Thursday morning. The Perot Museum of Nature and Science was very nice! Gavin had fallen asleep on the drive to downtown, so we put him in his stroller (he’s really too big for it, but we’re still making it work) and Michael and I enjoyed looking at some of the exhibits that wouldn’t have been much interest to Gavin. Those were the exhibits on the second and third floors that were about discovering life, being human, engineering, energy, and minerals. We woke him up to go to the fourth floor, which were the exhibits on space and dinosaurs. After seeing the fourth floor exhibits we went to the children’s museum on the lower level. We spent a lot of time in the children’s museum while Gavin played and explored. This area of the museum was designed for kids under the age of five, and has a wonderful selection of activities for the little ones to learn and play.

Perot Museum of Nature & Science | rainerlife.com

Perot Museum of Nature & Science | rainerlife.com

Perot Museum of Nature & Science | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Perot Museum of Nature & Science | rainerlife.com

Perot Museum of Nature & Science | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Perot Museum of Nature & Science | rainerlife.com

After we left the museum, we drove over to the Spaghetti Warehouse (good food, great service) and had lunch. It was a good restaurant choice for us because Gavin loves pizza and pasta.

It was a busy two days, but lots of fun. Gavin really enjoyed the Legoland Discovery Center, and I think it’s somewhere we will take him again. The same is true for the museum. We’ll definitely be going back. They had an amazing selection of hands-on activities for older kids, so I think Gavin would really love it in a few years.

Vacation in Heidelberg, Germany (Part 2 of 2)

View of Heidelberg and Old Bridge from Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Last week I wrote Part 1 of our Heidelberg trip. It included information on our day in Frankfurt, where we stayed in Heidelberg, and restaurants we visited. This post is all about the sightseeing we did while in Heidelberg. We stayed a week in Heidelberg, and had plenty to do and see while we were there. Since we were traveling with a toddler, we didn’t want to cram our schedules with lots of activities. So, we took our time sightseeing, but we did see everything we wanted to see.

We stayed on Hauptstrasse, the main pedestrian street in the heart of Old Town. With that great location, we were able to walk everywhere we went. We didn’t want to worry with renting a car, so we had planned on relying on public transportation. We did take a bus when we first arrived in Heidelberg, and we took a cab on our last day, but otherwise we walked. The sights we wanted to see were all located in or near the Old Town (Altstadt) area.

Heidelberg Castle (Schloss Heidelberg)

The castle ruins are probably the most popular sightseeing thing to do in Heidelberg… and they are definitely worth visiting! We spent one day visiting the castle. We walked up to the castle so we could see more of the area surrounding it. Turns out, it’s a pretty good hike, so we got a workout that day. They do offer a train that goes to the castle, so I recommend taking it to avoid the hike. However, if you’re up for a workout and the weather’s clear, the walk up to the castle was nice… and not at all crowded.

Construction of the castle began before the 1300s. The part of the castle that remains today was finished before the 1650s. Unfortunately, lightning strikes and wars destroyed portions of the castle, leaving the ruins that remain today. I think they offer guided tours that allow visitors into part of the interior of the castle, but the only interior areas we saw were the wine barrel building, museum, and gift shop. The grounds of the castle are beautiful, so take time to walk around and see more than just the castle.

Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

The Rainers at Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Michael and Gavin at Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Darinda and Gavin at Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Michael and Gavin at Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) | rainerlife.com

Great Terrace at Heidelberg Castle | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle grounds | rainerlife.com

Bust of Johann Wolfgang Goethe on grounds of Heidelberg Castle | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle grounds | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle grounds | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Tun

The Heidelberg Tun, or the World’s Largest Wine Barrel, was built in 1751 by Prince Elector Karl Theodor. It stands 23-feet tall and is 28-feet wide. The barrel holds 58,124 gallons of wine! The barrel was used to hold wine paid as taxes by the local wine growers. It no longer holds wine. The room where the barrel is housed has a staircase that you can climb and walk over the barrel. On top of the barrel is a dance floor.

Darinda and Gavin at the Heidelberg Tun | rainerlife.com

Michael at the Heidelberg Tun | rainerlife.com

Apothecary Museum (Deutsches Apotheken Museum)

Located in the Heidelberg Castle. This apothecary museum was very interesting! The museum has different rooms that display the history of pharmacy, including a pharmacist’s office, a laboratory, numerous pieces of equipment, plus over 1,000 raw drugs that were used in the 17th-19th centuries.

Apothecary Museum at Heidelberg Castle | rainerlife.com

Apothecary Museum at Heidelberg Castle | rainerlife.com

Apothecary Museum at Heidelberg Castle | rainerlife.com

Castle Illumination and Fireworks

The town of Heidelberg hosts the Castle Illumination and Fireworks three times a year – June, July, and September. The illumination of the castle symbolizes when the troops of Sun King Louis XIV torched the castle in 1689 and 1693, leaving the ruins that remain today. After the castle illumination, fireworks are shot from the Old Bridge. This tradition is based on when the Elector Friedrich V arranged a fireworks display in 1613 to welcome his bride, Elizabeth Stuart, to Heidelberg.

Fireworks over Heidelberg Castle | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Castle Illumination | rainerlife.com

Old Town (Altstadt)

The Old Town of Heidelberg includes Hauptstrasse, the University area, and the Old Bridge. This is the oldest part of the city, and has a wonderful mixture of historic sights, with the modern convenience of shopping and restaurants.

Heidelberg, Germany | rainerlife.com

Old Town Heidelberg, Germany | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg, Germany | rainerlife.com

Old Town {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Old Town {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Old Town {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Old Town {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Festival near the Old University {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Old Town {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Hauptstrasse

The main street through the Old Town. Hauptstrasse is a mile-long pedestrian zone. We stayed on this street, and most of the shops and restaurants we visited were on this street.

Hauptstrasse in Old Town {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Hauptstrasse in Old Town {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Bookshop on Hauptstrasse {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg at night | rainerlife.com

Karl Theodor Old Bridge (Alte Brucke)

The current Old Bridge was built in 1786. This is not the original bridge built here, but it is the first bridge of stone. The other eight bridges that once stood here were all built of wood and destroyed by floods or war. The bridge crosses the Neckar River and connects the Old Town to the Neuenheim district of the city.

The Old Bridge (Alte Brücke) {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

The bridge has two sculptures on it, Prince Elector Karl Theodor and Roman goddess Minerva. Karl Theodor had the bridge built, so a monument stands in his honor. The other sculpture was dedicated to Minerva, goddess of wisdom, because Theodor was a supporter of the arts and sciences.

Karl Theodor Sculpture on Old Bridge {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Minerva Sculpture on Old Bridge {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

The medieval bridge gate on the Old Town side of the bridge was once part of the city wall. The two towers were once used as a guardhouse and jail.

Bridge Gate on the Old Bridge in Heidelberg | rainerlife.com

On the Neuenheim district side of the Old Bridge is a Love Stone (Heidelberger Liebesstein) with Love Locks attached to it. Apparently, people sometimes attach locks to the Old Bridge, and the city was afraid of potential damage the locks could cause. For a compromise, the city had this monument put up, and people can attach locks to it. A love poem is engraved into the stone, plus the center of the monument has a hole for photo opportunities.

Love Locks near the Old Bridge {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Love locks at end of Old Bridge {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Bridge Monkey (Brückenaffe)

The history of a Heidelberg bridge monkey dates back to the 15th century. The current sculpture was built by Gernot Rumpf and installed in 1979. The bronze monkey is holding a mirror, and is supposed to symbolize that the city people are no better than those outside the city, and they should look over their shoulder when leaving the city to remember that. It’s a popular tourist attraction, and has a couple of superstitions associated with it. Supposedly, if you touch the monkey’s fingers you will return to Heidelberg one day, if you touch the mirror you will receive wealth, and if you touch the mice located next to the monkey you will have lots of children.

Bridge Monkey at Old Bridge {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Bronze Badge next to Bridge Monkey on Old Bridge {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Market Square (Marktplatz)

This busy square is located between the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Town Hall. This square has a interesting history because of the many public proceedings that were held here. Some of the things done in this square included burning witches at the stake and putting petty criminals in cages to be tormented by the locals. In addition, it was the market square, where fruits, vegetables, flowers, meats, and crafts were sold. Markets still take place a couple of times a week. During the warm weather months, like when we were visiting, the square is full of tables and chairs set our by the nearby restaurants. In the center of the square is a fountain of Hercules.

Market Square (Marktplatz) {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Market Square {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Market Square {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Market Square and Church of the Holy Spirit {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkirche)

The Church of the Holy Spirit is located next to Market Square. The foundations of the current Gothic church were laid in 1398. Over the years, the church has been used by Catholics and Protestants. It is currently used by Protestants.

Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggiestkirche) {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggiestkirche) {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Corn Market (Kornmarkt)

This once served as a market square and is still used today. One day we were there, the square was full of people selling crafts. In the center of this square is a Madonna statue. The statue was placed here in 1718 by the Jesuits.

Kornmarkt {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Kornmarkt {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Karlstor

This arch was built built 1775-1781 to honor Elector Karl Theodor.

Karlstor {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche)

The Jesuit Church was built between 1712-1759, with the bell tower added in 1872. We could see this church from our apartment… it was at the end of the road directly across from the apartment we rented. This church is still used by Catholics.

Jesuit Church {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Jesuit Church {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Marstall

This building was constructed during the early 16th century and is one of the oldest buildings in Heidelberg. It was originally built as an arsenal, but has had various other uses over the years, including use as stables, military barracks, and a hospital. The interior has been redesigned over the years, depending on the purpose of the building. It is currently part of the university and houses dining halls.

Heidelberg, Germany | rainerlife.com

Old University (Alte Universitat)

Heidelberg University was founded in 1386. The Old University building houses the university museum and the Great Hall. The building was constructed between 1712 and 1728. The university museum displays cover the university’s history from it’s founding up until the end of the 20th century. The Great Hall was beautiful to see. This auditorium was redesigned in in 1886, in honor of the university’s 500th anniversary. The auditorium is currently used for ceremonies and special events.

Old University {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Old University (Alte Universitat) {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Student Prison (Studentenkarzer)

The student prison is located behind the Old University. The prison was established in 1778 and was used until 1914. Though it was an official jail, it was less formal than most jails. For instance, the students were allowed to attend classes, as long as they returned to jail after class. The walls of the prison are covered in writings and artwork (i.e., graffiti) done by the student prisoners.

Student Jail (Studentenkarzer) {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Student Jail (Studentenkarzer) {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Student Jail (Studentenkarzer) {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Student Jail (Studentenkarzer) {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

University Library (Universitatsbibliothek)

The university library’s history dates back to the 1380s, when the university started to acquire book collections. The current library was built in 1905 using the Renaissance style of the castle as influence. This library contains more than 3 million books and is one of the most used libraries in Germany.

University Library {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

St. Peter’s Church (Peterskirche)

The oldest church in Heidelberg. No documentation states exactly when the church was constructed, but is was sometime during the 12th century. This church is near the University Library and it serves as the university church. Protestant services are currently held here.

St. Peter's Church {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Königstuhl Funicular (Bergbahn)

A train that goes up to Königstuhl. The train leaves Kornmarkt, and has three stops: Heidelberg Castle, Molkenkur, and Königstuhl. Molkenkur is a transfer station, so you have to get off the train from Kornmarkt and walk over to another train to take you up to Königstuhl. We didn’t explore this area, so I’m not sure what all they have to offer here.

Königstuhl Funicular (Bergbahn) {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

King’s Throne (Königstuhl)

Part of the Odenwald Mountains that offers great views of Heidelberg. While we were riding the train, we saw a few people paragliding from the top of the mountain. Once we reached the top, one person was preparing to paraglide, so we stopped to watch the action. There are several hiking trails here. We walked on one trail for a little while to see some of the area.

View of Heidelberg from The Königstuhl | rainerlife.com

Trails at Königstuhl | rainerlife.com

Trails at Königstuhl | rainerlife.com

Trails at Königstuhl | rainerlife.com

Trails at Königstuhl | rainerlife.com

River Cruise on Neckar River

This was our only excursion from Heidelberg. We took the three-hour river cruise that went to Neckarsteinach and back to Heidelberg. We sat on the sun deck and enjoyed a beautiful day of sightseeing… while giving our feet a rest! The cruise we were on offered food and drinks for sale, so we had a late lunch aboard the ship. The ship boarded at Heidelberg and had stops in Neckargemünd and Neckarsteinach. Neckargemünd is a small town that has the charm of a 17th century village. Neckarsteinach is best known for having four castles, all of which are visible from the river. The castles were built between the 1100s and 1335. The castles are Vorderburg, the Mittelburg, the Hinterburg, and the Schadeck. The Vorderburg is the oldest of the castles, it is privately owned and not open to the public. The Mittelburg was built around 1200, and is also privately owned and not open to the public. The Hinterburg was built around 1220, and has fallen to ruins over the years, but it is open to the public. The Schadeck was the last castle built, and is also in ruins and open to the public.

Dam on Neckar River | rainerlife.com

View from Neckar River Cruise | rainerlife.com

Campers along Neckar River | rainerlife.com

Neckargemünd on Neckar River | rainerlife.com

Neckargemünd on Neckar River | rainerlife.com

Neckarsteinach on the Neckar River | rainerlife.com

Schadeck Castle in Neckarsteinach | rainerlife.com

Hinterburg Castle in Neckarsteinach | rainerlife.com

Mittelburg Castle in Neckarsteinach | rainerlife.com

Vorderburg Castle in Neckarsteinach | rainerlife.com

View from Neckar River Cruise | rainerlife.com

Neckar River | rainerlife.com

Vacation in Heidelberg, Germany (Part 1 of 2)

To start our vacation, we flew into Frankfurt, Germany, on a Wednesday. We took a train from the airport to the city center and walked around for awhile, had lunch, and walked to the main train station. We didn’t spend very much time in Frankfurt, but we did walk around enough to see the Zeil (pedestrian street known for its shopping), the Main River, and Altstadt (Old Town), including the Römer. Gavin was in his stroller, and slept through most of our walking because he didn’t get much sleep on the long flight.

Frankfurt, Germany | rainerlife.com

The Römer {Frankfurt, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Main River {Frankfurt, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Frankfurt Main Train Station | rainerlife.com

We took a train to Heidelberg, which took a little less than an hour. It wasn’t very crowded, though there were several stops between Frankfurt and Heidelberg that picked up more passengers. Once at the Heidelberg train station, we went in search of the tourist information office to get a map of the city. The tourist information office was located just outside the train station. We purchased a map (€1.50) and got directions to our accommodations. We took a bus from the train station to the stop nearest the apartment where we stayed. Bus tickets could be purchased at the information center or on the bus.

Heidelberg Train Station | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Train Station | rainerlife.com

Accommodations – Airbnb

We stayed the week at an apartment booked on Airbnb. It was a two bedroom, one bath apartment. We didn’t use the second bedroom since Gavin is too young to stay in his own room in an unfamiliar place. Posted check in time was after 4:00 pm and check out was 11:00 am. Our Airbnb host had said the apartment would be ready after 2:00 pm, so we arrived a little earlier than originally planned. The apartment was located on Hauptstrasse, and we couldn’t have had a better location! We were right in the center of Old Town and within walking distance of everything we wanted to see. Hauptstrasse is a main pedestrian road, and is full of restaurants and shops. The apartment building had an entrance off Hauptstrasse, and our place was on the second floor. Steps, no elevator. Not a problem for us, but something others may want to ask about when booking an apartment. The hall downstairs had enough room we could leave Gavin’s stroller, so we didn’t have to carry it upstairs.

Hauptstrasse - view from our apartment windows (Heidelberg, Germany) | rainerlife.com

View from our apartment windows {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Hauptstrasse - view from our apartment windows (Heidelberg, Germany) | rainerlife.com

The apartment was furnished with the usual items found in a German apartment. The master bedroom had a king bed and the second bedroom had a twin bed. The master bedroom had a large armoire and two nightstand to keep our items. There was no air conditioner, but there were two fans we could move around that provided enough air for us. We also kept the large windows open when we were there. The nice sized living room had a sofa and two chairs, coffee table, television, and a desk. The kitchen was well-equipped with a stove top, oven, dishwasher, refrigerator, dishes, pots and pans, and utensils. The washing machine was located in the kitchen. It was a small washer, that unfortunately wasn’t working while we were there. We had to hand wash everything during our stay, but it was only a week, so not too big of a deal. The dining area had a table with six chairs and a highchair in the corner. A family-friendly apartment. The apartment had wifi… I think most places provide wifi now, but it’s a good idea to make sure before booking. We had packed adapters, but we packed the wrong ones. Fortunately, there was one plug in the bedroom we could use, so we took turns charging our phones. Our phones were the only thing we had that needing charging, so it was fine for us. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo. They provided three towels for our use during the stay. We had brought all our own toiletry items, but they did have small bottles of shampoo and small soaps for us to use. Our host spoke English, so communication was not a problem. We were very happy with the apartment!

Living area at Heidelberg Airbnb | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Airbnb | rainerlife.com

Heidelberg Airbnb | rainerlife.com

Bedroom at Heidelberg Airbnb | rainerlife.com

Bedroom at Heidelberg Airbnb | rainerlife.com

Food & Drink

Palmbräu Gasse – We had dinner here on our first day and a late dinner on Saturday night. The restaurant wasn’t too busy the first time we visited, but it was more packed on Saturday. On Saturday, we ate late because we ate after the fireworks, and most restaurants in this area were packed. We sat inside both times. This restaurant offered their own beers including a hefeweizen, dunkelweizen, helles, and schwarzbier. Our waitress spoke English, and an English menu was available. We had typical German food and beer with both our meals. The food and service were both good.

Palmbräu Gasse {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

The Dubliners – An Irish pub located on Hauptstrasse. We stopped here a few times during our stay in Heidelberg. Once just for drinks, once for lunch, and once for a late dinner. We first spotted this place when we were walking around and sightseeing. It was hot while we were in town, so stopping for a cold drink and sitting awhile seemed like a good idea. We went back a day or so later because we had noticed the menu looked like it would be a good lunch spot. We ended up here one more time when looking for a place to grab a late dinner, this was one of the few places that had their kitchen open late. It’s a pub, so they had a good selection of drinks, but they had a good selection of food too. They offered Irish food, German food, burgers, and pizzas.

Vetter’s – We had lunch here and tasted their beers. They brew the Vetter 33, a doppelbock – highest alcohol by original gravity (OG 33, ABV 11.5%). The Vetter 33 was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1994. They offer three year-round beers and occasional seasonals. We tasted the three main brews (the doppelbock, a Helles, and a dunkelweizen), no seasonal beers were available.

Löwenbräu – Located on Hauptstrasse, it was a short walk from our apartment. They offered typical German foods and Löwenbräu beers. Our waiter spoke English, and they offered an English menu. The food and service were both good.

Snitzelbank – This was the most authentic German restaurant we ate in. We had lunch there, and the food and service were both very good. This place is located just off Hauptstrasse, and is very small. Fortunately, we arrived at a good time, so a table was available. They don’t have much seating, so it’s good to go at a less busy time.

Goldener Hecht – An Austrian-style restaurant located near the Old Bridge. This was the only restaurant we ate at during our time in Germany that we had poor service. The food was good, but I wouldn’t recommend the place to anyone. What’s funny is that this place had better reviews than most places we ate at.

Everywhere we ate gave large portions of food. I don’t think I finished a meal at any of the restaurants, and a couple of times the waitress even asked if the food was okay since I hadn’t eat the whole meal. We ate very well while in Germany. The food was good, and we definitely didn’t leave any restaurant hungry.

Michael enjoying a beer in Germany | rainerlife.com

While in Heidelberg, be sure to get a gelato. There are several gelato places along Hauptstrasse. A small gelato is about €1, so you can’t beat the price. They offer lots of different flavors, so be sure to try a variety. We stopped a couple of different times for gelato, and it was always good.

Gavin eating gelato {Heidelberg, Germany} | rainerlife.com

Next week I will post Part 2. That post will include the activities and sightseeing we did while in Heidelberg. Lots of pictures to post in that one!

Signing off with a photo of the little man proudly displaying his first stamp in his passport!

Quick Trip to Houston

Early in May, we took a quick trip down to Houston. Our main reason for going was to take Gavin to visit NASA. He is really into space stuff right now, and we thought he would enjoy seeing the Houston Space Center.

We spent three nights, and did a different family activity each day. The first day, we arrived in late afternoon. After checking into the hotel, we drove over to the Kemah Boardwalk. The second day we spent at the Houston Space Center. On the third day, we visited the Houston Zoo. We drove back home on the fourth day.

Kemah Boardwalk
It’s been years since I visited the Kemah Boardwalk. It’s still a fun place! We walked around the boardwalk and had dinner while watching the boat traffic. Gavin’s too young for the rides, and we’re not big shoppers, so we’re happy walking around, people watching, and grabbing a bite to eat. We ate at The Flying Dutchman. We were able to get a table outside, so we had a good view to watch the boat traffic. It was a Sunday, and there was a lot of boats coming and going.

Gavin & Darinda at Kemah Boardwalk | rainerlife.com

Space Center Houston
Our main reason for going to Houston was the Space Center. It was great! Gavin had so much fun! The Space Center had lots of interesting and informative exhibits. We arrived early – just before they opened. The Space Center opened at 9:00 and we wanted to have plenty of time to see everything.

NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Tram Tour – Astronaut Training Facility
We started the day with the a tram ride around the NASA Johnson Space Center. The Space Center offered two tram rides, red and blue. We opted to start with the blue tram first. That tram tour visited the Astronaut Training Facility and Rocket Park. Since it was early, and not their peak time of year, there were only four of us on the tour… and our little family were three of the four! The tour guides seemed to like the small group and visited a little longer, giving us more information than they probably normally have time for in a packed tour. The tour goes to Building 9, a huge warehouse that houses all sorts of equipment the astronauts use to train before going to space. Plus, it’s where a lot of new tech is being developed. It was really interesting to see! The tram tour then went to Rocket Park, where a Saturn V rocket is on display. It was amazing to see a rocket up close like that, and Gavin thought it was fun to see.

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Warehouse for the Saturn V at the NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

After the tram tour, we walked around the Space Center. There are a lot of exhibits to see! The exhibits we saw were Space Center Plaza, Mission Mars, Starship Gallery, Independence Plaza, International Space Station Gallery, and Astronaut Gallery.

Space Center Plaza
This the the main area we first walked through once we arrived at the Space Center. On our visit, this area was set up with a lot of hands on activities geared toward children. Gavin was too young for it, but Michael and I walked around with him and showed him what some of the activities were and how they worked.

Mission Mars
This is a newer exhibit for the Space Center, and contains a simulated Orion capsule and a Mars rock you can touch. There was a lot of information in this area, and unlike the other areas, it has more on new tech and NASA’s journey to Mars. This was one of Gavin’s favorite areas.

Starship Gallery
This area of the Space Center is like a museum and contains some cool artifacts, such as a Gemini V, Lunar Roving Vehicle Trainer, the Apollo 17 Command Module, the Skylab 1-G Trainer, Mercury 9 “Faith 7”, and the Lunar Samples Vault, which includes a moon rock you can touch. I enjoyed this area, but it seemed to be too much for Gavin. He was looking every which way and kept running from one thing to the next.

Independence Plaza
This exhibit was very cool! This is a replica of the shuttle Independence, mounted on top of the original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft. You can board both the shuttle and airplane. I think Gavin would have enjoyed this more if he was a little older. He didn’t seem to connect that he was walking around on the shuttle and airplane. We took the elevator up to the shuttle instead of the stairs, so when we got off the elevator, he was suddenly in the shuttle. I don’t think he really made the connection that it was the shuttle we had been walking under.

International Space Station Gallery
This area is also kind of more like a museum, and contains artifacts from the space station and interactive displays. There were some interesting things in this area, but we walked through a lot without doing much since it was geared toward older kids and adults.

Astronaut Gallery
The points of interest here were the Gallery Wall (photos of every US astronaut who has flown to space) and various space suits. Some of the space suits were Pete Conrad’s Apollo 12 suit, John Young’s escape suit, a shuttle launch entry suit, and the Orlan suit. This was a big open area and didn’t take too long too walk around. Actually, I walked around here while Michael and Gavin went back to the Mission Mars exhibit since Gavin was wanting to see that again.

Tram Tour – Mission Control
Later in the day, we went on the red tram tour. Actually, it was the last tour of the day, so we were on the first and last tram tours. Anyway, the red tram tour visited Mission Control and Rocket Park. I was the one that really wanted to go on this tour. Gavin wasn’t all that interested in it. The tour goes to the viewing room of Historic Mission Control. Everything is straight out of the sixties… because it hasn’t been updated, since it’s a historical site. It was cool to see Mission Control where so many important NASA missions were monitored, including nine Gemini and all Apollo lunar missions. After visiting Historic Mission Control, the tour went to Rocket Park. Since we had seen Rocket Park earlier in the day, we stayed on the tram to head back to the Space Center. Multiple tram tours were running at the same time, so trams rotated through Rocket Park to pick up visitors and take them back to the Space Center. That’s a great feature, since we were able to spend as much time as we wanted at Rocket Park in the early part of the day, and skip it later in the day.

We spent a full day seeing the Space Center, and we didn’t do everything they offered. We had a toddler with us, so we took our time, skipped a couple of things, went faster through some exhibits, and slower through others. Plus, we must have gone through the Mission Mars exhibit at least three times. The must-see things were the tram tours and the Independence Plaza.

The Space Center does have a dining area that sold different foods, like pizza, burgers, salads, and sandwiches. We ate a leisurely lunch of pizza, which tasted okay and was overpriced. Typical for this type of place.

The Space Center had two gift shops, one large and one small. Of course, we bought a few things for our space loving little boy. His biggest delight was a space suit and a helmet. We bought them after lunch, so he wore them the rest of the day. He looked adorable all decked out in his space suit, plus he had so much fun wearing it and running around looking at the exhibits.

Houston Zoo
We went to the zoo on a Tuesday afternoon, which it turns out is a free time to visit the zoo. That means it was crazy busy! Parking was the worst part, but once we found a spot it wasn’t too bad. The zoo was crowded, but we still saw everything we were interested in seeing. The zoo is large, with lots of great exhibits, so we spent a few hours walking around. The Children’s Area was great, and Gavin had a lot of fun in that part of the zoo.

Gavin at the Houston Zoo | rainerlife.com

Hotel
Staybridge Suites
We stayed at the Staybridge Suites near NASA. It was a convenient location for NASA, and Kemah wasn’t a far drive. It took a long time to drive to the zoo, but Houston traffic is terrible, so it takes a while to get anywhere. The hotel staff was very friendly, and the hotel was clean. They were doing construction, but we knew that ahead of time and it wasn’t a problem for us. The construction did close off some of their parking, and twice we grabbed the last spot in the lot… and one of those times was only because a car left, freeing up a spot. We booked a one bedroom suite with a king bed. I wanted a suite so we could close the door if someone, like Gavin, wanted to sleep, but Michael and/or I wanted to stay up. For this trip, it worked out well for us. We didn’t do much outside of the room, but we did enjoy the breakfast each morning.

Restaurants
We ate breakfast at the hotel and grabbed lunch at wherever we were visiting (Space Center and Zoo), but we did go out to eat in the evenings.

The Flying Dutchman
Seafood resturant located at the Kemah Boardwalk. The food was good, the service was great. I had the shrimp & crab cobb salad, which was huge and no way could I eat the whole thing, but it tasted good. Michael had a steak. It’s always a risk to order a steak at a seafood restaurant, but he figured he’s in Texas, so maybe it would be okay. He said it was good, so I guess he was right. For Gavin, we ordered grilled shrimp. We had them hold the seasoning on his shrimp so they wouldn’t be too spicy, and he seemed to like them. We sat outside near the water and watched the boats while we ate, which was fun for all of us. A good dining choice while visiting the Kemah Boardwalk.

Bone Daddy’s
A BBQ joint in Webster. The food and service were good. I had the burnt ends with skillet beans and potato salad. Michael had hot link sausage and brown sugar ham with potato salad and mac and cheese. We both shared food with Gavin, so he had some of everything, except the hot link sausage because it was really spicy. We enjoyed the food and casual atmosphere.

J Henry’s Draughthouse
A family-friendly pub-like restaurant in Clear Lake. We wanted to try a place with a good beer selection, and Michael found this one listed online. We started with the soft pretzel appetizer, which is always a good choice with beer. For dinner, I had the beer glazed fish tacos, Michael had the chicken & sausage spaghetti, and Gavin had a cheeseburger. The food was good and the beer selection was great. Most of the beers were from Texas, and they had several beers we hadn’t tried. It was a good place to go for finding new beers to try.

We had a fun, short family trip! I think Gavin had fun at the Space Center, which was the main part of the trip. So glad we were able to take a few days to get a short vacation in this Spring.

Okaloosa Island

Enjoying the beach {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

I love the beach!…. so, when we wanted to plan a family vacation, of course I opted for the beach. We considered other options, but the Emerald Coast won for a couple of reasons: 1. it was something we would all enjoy and 2. we could make the drive in a day (a really long day, but a day).

Michael & Gavin in the water {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Gavin playing in the sand {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Gavin in the pool {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

We rented a condo at Pelican Isle through VRBO. It was a one bedroom condo located on the first floor, directly over the pool.The condo was very nice – the one bedroom had a king bed, and enough room to set up Gavin’s Pack ‘n Play for him to sleep in. The bedroom had a bathroom with a tub, and down the hall was a second bathroom with a shower. In the hall, between the bedroom and bathroom, were built-in bunk beds. We didn’t use the bunk beds, but it would be a great space if you had older kids. Next to the hall bathroom was a washer and dryer that came in handy. The kitchen, dining, and living area all flowed together. Off the living area was a balcony with a fantastic view. It was perfect for our family.

Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Our condo at Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Our condo at Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Our condo at Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Pool at the condo {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

View from our balcony {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com
View from our balcony

View from our balcony {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com
View from our balcony

We stayed for a week – arrived on Sunday and left on Friday. Our days were pretty much the same each day – beach in the morning, followed by swimming in the pool, lunch at the condo, naptime, and an early dinner out. We did walk out on the Okaloosa Island Pier one night after dinner. It was fun to watch all the activity with people fishing, and several were catching fish.

Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
Okaloosa Island Pier

Darinda and Gavin on Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
Darinda and Gavin on Okaloosa Island Pier

View from Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
View from Okaloosa Island Per

View from Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
View from Okaloosa Island Pier

It was a relaxing vacation for all of us. We all enjoyed hanging out at the beach and swimming in the pool. Gavin had fun with his first trip to Florida – see videos below for him laughing at the waves and playing in the sand.