Our Unforgettable 10th Anniversary Swiss Getaway

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, SwitzerlandThe last time Doc Sci and I had the chance to escape alone, Charlie was still swimming in my stomach. We went to Milan for one warm, delicious day (the little one must have liked it because we ended up back in Italy to celebrate his first birthday). But with the little guy nearly two (2!!), we were due for another getaway.

With our tenth anniversary on the horizon, I entertained visions of endless days spent lying on Greek beaches, in private villas, and around infinity pools. These images must have been more delusion than dream because who I am kidding?! There’s no way we have the financial or child-care means to support such grand plans.

Instead, we ended up with a plan that was much more “us” than my former imaginations. We booked our trusty babysitter for a day and a half and set off for Switzerland to sleep in the Alps and hike the classic Faulhornweg.


Faulhornweg day-trippers need to take the cog wheel train from Wilderswil to Schynige Platte, make their way to First (about 6 solid hours of walking, not including breaks), take the cable car back down to Grindelwald, and then a train back to Wilderswil.

It sounds confusing, but the basic idea is that you must travel up one side of the mountain, walk an insanely long way, and go back down the other side in order to return to your car. It can be done in reverse, but I consistently read that it was recommended to start at Schynige Platte.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

The terrace at Hotel Schynige Platte.

I figured with our limited budget, we’d need to overnight at a hotel in Grindelwald or even Interlaken. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Hotel Schynige Platte reasonably priced for Switzerland. The hotel sits just above the cog wheel train station on top of the mountain and affords diners and sleepers glorious views of the big three: Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger. Rates include both a five-course dinner and breakfast buffet.

Going Up

Since we missed the cog wheel train experience at Pilatus, both Doc Sci and I were eager to cross this experience off our bucket list. We bought tickets in Wilderswil and waited for the last train of the day. We were asked repeatedly if we had overnight reservations (yes) because it would be a cold night alone on the mountain if we didn’t.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

To our surprise, other than a pack of paragliders, we were the only passengers on the train, save one Swiss family with two children. Doc Sci and I were like giddy school kids, jumping over the benches, hanging out the windows, snapping photos every three seconds.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland


At the beginning of the train ride, we could see Interlaken, Thunersee, and Brienzersee. But then the train went through a series of tunnels before popping out in front of her majesty, Jungfrau.

Just like with the Eiffel Tower, sometimes the best view is not from the monument itself, but rather from a distance.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Why, hello there.

The Hotel

We pulled into the station at Schynige Platte, and checked into our hotel. The Hotel Schynige Platte is marketed as something from “grandma’s time.” The bathrooms are very modern (though not en-suite), the hotel is renovated and sparkling clean, but we had to laugh at some of the cheesy antiques.

All chuckling aside, we could barely speak when we saw the view from our room. I’m absolutely sure we had the best room in the entire house because it was on the corner and we could see the Alps from both windows.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland


Dinner was a curious affair. I can’t remember the last time I ate a five-course meal in a restaurant. I must have forgotten that snobbery is often the only thing that comes complimentary.

When we arrived at our table, the waitress insisted that we must order drinks. We only drink water with dinner at home, and I didn’t see in any TripAdvisor reviews that drinks (or at least water) were not included in the dinner price. She refused to bring us tap water and because we only had a limited number of francs with us (stupid I know, but I was not expecting to be manhandled), we couldn’t just order anything regardless of cost. We awkwardly asked for a menu.

A little heads up on this would’ve been nice, and a little understanding from the server would’ve been even nicer. We finally ordered a half liter of Sprite to the tune of 6 CHF. Yikes.

The worst part was that we realized later that another table had tap water – and a different waitress.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Several of the courses were served on “plates” of stone or wood.

This flap put a bit of a damper on our dinner. We tried our best to ignore it, but this server was intent on remaining surly throughout the entire meal. To make matters worse, it started raining during dinner, clouding up our view of the Alps.

Well, whatever – we were here without kids, and we were going to make the best of it!

The room was chilly, but a space heater did the trick. As I mentioned, none of the rooms are not en-suite, but we never had to wait for a toilet or shower, and everything was very clean. It was odd to sleep in such silence with nothing but an occasional gust of wind to break it. We savored every minute of it.

In the morning, we rose early in anticipation of the long hike ahead. Breakfast was a limited buffet (though they did have hard boiled eggs and an assortment of pork cold cuts in the protein department). We made ourselves Alpine cheese sandwiches to take along, and we devoured the traditional Swiss yogurt and muesli in between swigs of coffee.

The Hike

After checking out, we stepped out into the drizzle. Unfortunately, the rain from the night before had lingered. Never mind that, our spirits were still high. Whenever anything threatened to fizzle our cheery disposition, we just looked at each other and said, “No kids!”Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

But this weather, this drizzle, was to be the best of the whole day. The plus side was that we were the only people on the trail. We could chat with each other or climb in silence. Our exclamations at the beauty of this place, even despite the fog and rain, annoyed no one. Pit stops were possible anywhere one pleased.

We traversed so many different types of terrain – huge boulders, tiny footpaths, bits of snow, gurgling streams. We dodged cow pies in pastures with scary heifers and slimy black salamanders that came out to frolic in the puddles. It was incredible.

The only thing that could have made it any more amazing would’ve been the lifting of the clouds so that we could have seen the peaks around us while we hiked.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

The down side of the nasty weather was that by the middle of the hike, we were already on our way to being soaked. We wanted to sit in shelter somewhere to grab a bite to eat. We came across one restaurant (Berghaus Männdlenen Weberhütte) that rudely shooed us away since we only wanted to take a break and not buy a meal. The only other restaurant (Berghotel Faulhorn) we saw was at the Faulhorn summit. We figured we had about 5 CHF to spare and bought a hot chocolate with that in order to sit inside and warm up.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Faulhorn summit.

Unfortunately, our clothing and belongings were now thoroughly drenched (note to self: check waterproofing on clothing and gear before going on a substantial hike). Putting them back on and stepping back out into the chilly rain and blistering wind sent my teeth a-chattering and my body temperature in a frightening downward spiral. Thankfully, I warmed up again after about 30 minutes, and at that time, we discovered a free hut where we could have eaten our lunch.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland


This hut looked out over the Bachsee, a lake popular with tourists ascending from Grindelwald to First. The sea was dead that day – no swimming, no fishing. I had hoped to take a dip in the Alpine water, but no dice. We had to keep moving to stay warm and get to a place where we could finally dry off.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Don’t get any crazy ideas – that’s a camera and zoom lens in my jacket, not a baby bump.

Water literally poured off of us as we stepped inside the cable car at First for the ride back down to the Grindelwald valley. I think the only things that weren’t completely dripping were our feet (thank God), our cameras, and our phones. We rode down the mountain relieved to have made it and eager to get back to our car to change into dry clothes.

Final Thoughts

Would I do this hike again? Absolutely. But, only if I had the assurance of a clear day with no rain. And I think my boys would love this route in a few years. Perhaps we’ll go back for our 15th anniversary.

Doc Sci and I talked about anything and everything during the hike to stay focused, positive, and warm. I am so thankful that we are the best of friends. The fact that after 10 years of marriage, we still have things to talk about really encouraged me. While I would have obviously wished for better weather and more amazing views, hiking in these awful conditions really solidified something for me. I’d rather be in a miserable place with my husband than in a gorgeous one without him.

Have you ever had weather or vendor attitudes threaten to ruin your plans for an amazing vacation? I’m not always this positive – I think the absence of potential chorus of whining helped – so if you have any tips on how you managed to make the best of things, share them in the comments below.Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families in Edinburgh

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in EdinburghOur trip to Edinburgh was one of those trips that came out of a dangerous practice.. browsing the easyJet website. For someone in my position of penny-pinching wanderer, such behaviors are, or (ahem) should be, strictly forbidden.

Four fifty-euro-return tickets and one infant fee later, I was left with a mountain of research and a challenge: have as much fun as is parentally possible with three boys under the age of six, in unpredictable-but-always-bone-chilling Scottish November weather, while spending, well.. next to nothing.

Lucky for traveling families, Edinburgh suffers no shortage of delightful diversions for the youthful crowd. Unlucky for cheapskates and parents of littles, most of them are expensive (if you’ve got the bucks, check this place out) or designed for older children (if you’ve got the nerves, creep yourselves out here).

But, have no fear. You know I’ll always share with you all the fun that can be had for little more than a song. Check out these inexpensive, fun things for families to do in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle

You can’t visit Edinburgh and not do the castle. You must. I know, it’s expensive, and I just broke one of the rules of this post. But, just go. I promise the rest of the list isn’t this pricey.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

Awful fog at the castle.

We must have used up all our good weather luck the day before when climbing Arthur’s Seat. The fog might as well have been a hearty potato soup drowning out any hopes we had for a fantastic view from the castle. But, at least there’s no shortage of things to see within the castle grounds.

Our favorite sites were the National War Museum of Scotland, the prisoner of war barracks, and the crown jewels (naturally).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

National War Museum of Scotland. Lots of guns. Great for boys.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

Getting our hands on the crown jewels.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

Rations for prisoners of war.. except Americans who received less since they were officially “pirates.”

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

Prisoner barracks.


  • Try to time your visit to see the one o’clock gun fire. We missed it because we visited in the morning and needed to grab some lunch before the appointed hour. Note that castle tickets are single entry.
  • Ask for the kid’s quiz at the audio tour desk. It’s more for the 8+ crowd, but we still enjoyed trying to answer some of the questions.
  • You can join free guided tours. We caught snippets of a few of them, and the guides were informative and interesting (maybe you really can have it all). But, they’re not easy to do with kids who aren’t accustomed to tours, so pick up an audio guide if that’s more your speed.
  • The castle is mostly pram-friendly (though I wouldn’t take an umbrella stroller on the steep slopes and cobblestones). The only place that might be a problem is the room with the crown jewels. However, I did notice some kind of secret elevator for wheelchair access which might be possible for pram pushers as well.

Cost: See current ticket prices here.

National Museum of Scotland

You don’t see me recommending museums very often here at Thrifty Travel Mama, but The National Museum of Scotland gets my full endorsement.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

I found our new family car!

Not only is it free, but it is PACKED with hands-on activities for kids. Our boys thoroughly enjoyed the Formula 1 simulator, donning scuba gear, and marveling at all the exotic animal exhibits.

And.. the gift shop is actually filled with educational trinkets you might actually want to buy at prices that you can actually afford. And.. the toilets are free and clean. And.. if you’re lucky, the rooftop terrace will be open and you’ll get another great view of Edinburgh. And.. well, you get the idea. This place rocks.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

In the Connect area, kids can actually sit in a car and drive via a simulator.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in EdinburghTips

Save the museum for a rainy day. One could spend anywhere from thirty minutes to four hours here. We thought the best areas for kids were Connect, Earth in Space, and Animal World (1st floor), and Adventure Planet (5th floor). But, those are just the highlights – try to explore all the floors!

Cost: Free (suggested donation). Current info here.

Portobello Beach

The beach in November? Okay, no one went for a dip, but the boys ran in the sand, went bananas on the playgrounds along the boardwalk, and indulged in ice cream.

On a tip from my friend Katie, we skipped lunch and instead had a sort of tea at the Beach House which serves a stellar salted caramel ice cream and a mean carrot cake.

The weather here seemed to be on some sort of time loop slide show: sun, rain, clouds, repeat. So even if you have a crap weather forecast, it’s probably still worth a visit.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in EdinburghThrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in EdinburghThrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in EdinburghThrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh


Portobello Beach is a modest bus ride from the east side of town (about 20 minutes from Meadowbank where we stayed). After devouring your ice cream cones, take a gander at the cute stores and thrift shops along the main street.

Cost: Free, plus bus fare and pocket money for ice cream.

Scottish Parliament

Truthfully, I hesitate to recommend this total insider tip that I received from a friend for fear that this wonderful service will be abused. If you do patronize the Parliament, please don’t take advantage.

The Scottish Parliament operates a crèche (day care center) that is open to the public.. and it’s FREE. You can’t leave the building, but you can drop your children off and go have tea in the cafe without your kids, explore the exhibits in the atrium without your kids, tour the Parliament without your kids, and browse the gift shop without your kids.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

I was a little nervous dropping off my kids with total strangers in a foreign country, but the friendly staff in the crèche put everyone at ease (as did the metal detectors and strict security measures). My boys LOVED playing here, and they were sad to leave when at last it was closing time.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

We visited near the end of the day, so all parliamentary business had finished and we could view the debating hall (oooo!). If government and politics are your thing, book a free tour and crèche space in advance.


According to the Parliament visitor’s website:

  • The Crèche is registered to provide care for children between the ages of six weeks and 5 years.
  • Spaces can be booked up to 2 weeks in advance Bookings can be made by email (Creche@scottish.parliament.uk), by telephone on extension 86192 or in person by reporting to the Crèche Office.
  • Maximum single stay in the Crèche is 4hrs per day.
  • Visitors to the Parliament may use the Crèche free of charge.
  • Snacks are provided but parents/carers should provide lunch for children if stay is over lunchtime period or if child has any special dietary requirements. It should be noted however, that there are no facilities available to cook or reheat food. Bottle warmers are available to allow feeding of younger children and a baby changing/feeding room is situated adjacent to the Crèche.

Cost: Free. More info here.

Close Gardens

Old town Edinburgh is filled with secrets of every kind. Some of the more innocent are the close gardens, small patches of green hidden away from the main traffic artery known as Canongate (and further up, the Royal Mile).Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

Pop into small alleys, and see how many gardens you and the kids can find! The gardens make great picnic spots when the weather’s dry.


Dungar’s Close Garden was our favorite, but it took us several tries to locate. Keep searching!

Cost: Free.

The Royal Mile

Starting from the Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament, walk along the Royal Mile up to Edinburgh Castle. Ignore the cheesy kilt & shortbread shops; instead, enjoy the architectural gems that are wedged together block after block.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh


None. Just explore!

Cost: Free, unless one of your party succumbs to overpriced kilt or shortbread madness.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

I must say I’m rather disappointed we did not visit the Royal Botanic Garden. Several expat friends mentioned their kids loved romping around this conservatory cornucopia. But, we never managed to make it to the northwest side of town.

If you do go, note that you can explore the gardens for free, but the glasshouses are worth the price of adult admission (kids 15 and under are free).


Getting to the gardens by bus is very easy. Click here for info on how to reach the gardens.

Cost: Entrance to the gardens is free. Current admission prices for the glasshouses and more visitor info here.

Greyfriars Bobby

I found the little pup rather underwhelming, but if sappy legends are your thing, don’t miss a chance to snap a cheesy photo with the stone terrier near the National Museum of Scotland.


Take a break from the hubbub of the city streets in the monument-studded Greyfriars Kirkyard behind the statue. Skip the over-priced awful tourist food at the pub of the same name.

Cost: Free. More info here.

Museum of Childhood

Another free museum in Edinburgh! We plumb ran out of time for this one, so I can’t personally give you any juicy tips for your visit.


I’ve seen mixed reviews on TripAdvisor. Pop in if you have time and are already in the area.

Cost: Free. More info here.

Also, if you missed my posts on Calton Hill, Dunsapie Loch, Arthur’s Seat, and Rosslyn Chapel, be sure to add those to your list of fabulous fun to have with the family in Edinburgh.

Have your own list of kid-friendly budget attractions in Edinburgh? Add a link in the comments below!

What’s your favorite place from the list above where you’ve already been or would like to go with your kids? Signature-Marigold

Ketchup: The Past Four Months + the Future in 1000 Words (or More)

Practicing our Spiderman skills in Croatia

Practicing our Spiderman skills in Croatia

So now that I’m back in the saddle, I thought I’d try to close the distance between where I left you and where we are now.

I’d like (you) to think I’ve been nothing but a good student for the past four months, but I’m a terrible liar. While it’s true I always did my best to complete my homework, it’s equally as true that I played hookey a good bit during my studies. In between the worksheets and flashcards, our little family has had plenty of adventures near and far, both exceptional and everyday.

Ready for the recap?

In no particular order..

Multicoolty, a blog that compiles stories about expats living in Germany, featured me in May, though I wrote my thoughts way back in January. Check out what I had to say and a silly old picture I dug up from our first trip to Berlin here.


Köln (Cologne)

My husband gave me a fantastic birthday gift this year – two days alone (ALONE!!) in Köln (Cologne). This was before language lessons had started, so it was a blissful quiet time to do whatever I fancied whenever I pleased.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Keukenhof Gardens with Kids

The biggest boy exploring the tulips with me at Keukenhof in the Netherlands.

To ease my disappointment over last year’s pathetic lack of tulips at Keukenhof in the Netherlands, I took my oldest son on a quick trip for a better look. We took the overnight train up to Amsterdam, bussed over to Keukenhof to gawk at the fields of tulips, made our way back to Amsterdam, scarfed down a pancake dinner, and caught the night train back home. Whew! And yes, it was actually fun, and yes, he was a champ on the overnight trains. I would definitely do it again!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro

Flying away in Zadar, Croatia.

Several days after our up-and-back Netherlands trip, the five of us flew to Croatia for ten days. During our trip, we stayed in Zadar, Dubrovnik, and Split. We also drove through a bit of Bosnia and took a day trip to Montenegro. One of the most fun moments of the trip was meeting SJ of Chasing the Donkey and her family!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Mexican Food in Germany

The taco truck!

While we didn’t find any Mexican food in Croatia (and opted out of another fantastic dinner at Los Pilones in Amsterdam in favor of a pancake feast), we have been going gangbusters at the Holy Taco Shack taco truck. We took our American-expat-in-Luxembourg friends there a few weeks ago. They’re just as salsa-crazed as we are, and they gave the burritos two thumbs up. Now, if I could just get the taco truck to deliver…

Thrifty Travel Mama | potty trainingThis little champ has kicked daytime diapers and now only uses a nappy at night and during his nap. We did the same thing with all three boys – an awful, torturous, bodily-fluid-soaked potty training boot camp for a weekend followed by the shock and awe of daytime dryness.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Picking Strawberries in Germany with KidsStrawberry season came earlier this year, and we hit the fields several times. We made many of our favorite recipes from last year including strawberry fruit leather, strawberry syrup, and strawberry shortcakes.

Those strawberry shortcakes were made with coconut cream for me as I went dairy-free at the beginning of the year and have kept it up except for a four-week break while we traveled to Croatia. P.s. – I miss cheese and there is NO substitute that even comes close..

Thrifty Travel Mama | Losing TeethOur oldest little adventurer has lost enough teeth to officially apply for Jack-o-Lantern status, and the tooth fairy is flat broke. This photo is a few months old. He’s now missing three teeth on top, and two on the bottom!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Riding a LaufradThe youngest learned to ride a bike without pedals (Laufrad). And now we are losing sleep over his daredevil ways that now are ON WHEELS. Yikes.

Can you guess why we called it the poo hike?

Can you guess why we called it the poo hike?

As soon as the thermometer sailed over the 12C mark, we flexed our hiking muscles. In between our travels, we’ve been able to do a handful of hikes, including one we affectionately call the poo hike and one insane 15km trek with four kids and nearly no complaining. Kilimanjaro, here we come!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking in the Alps with kids

Back in the Alps!

And, speaking of hiking, we (okay, mainly me) became obsessed with the Alps after our excursion to Schilthorn last summer. Last weekend, we took our first summer hike near Engelberg, and we’ve got more ideas for Swiss outings than there are Saturdays before the snow falls again.

Due to an insane amount of planning and the wonderful generosity of friends, I managed a week of solo parenting (single parents, I know this is wimpy – hats off to you!) while my husband went off to Milan for a conference.. and to look for a new job.


The last point brings me to a big change coming for our family…

We have decided that Doc Sci won’t be renewing his employment contract here in Germany when it ends later this year. Professionally, he needs to move on; unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity to do that where we currently live.

Where will we end up? Only God knows, but most likely, we’ll move back in the US, though we may consider something in Europe if the circumstances are right. This is a decision we have wrestled with for months. We love so many things about living in Europe; it will not be easy to leave our life here behind. But, ultimately, we both know our days in this city are numbered. Sigh.

And, if you will forgive me for throwing one.more.thing your way, I’ve decided to change the boys’ nicknames here. When I started this blog, I never dreamed that anyone would read it, let alone the hundreds that do. I also never thought I’d be writing for nearly four years. In that time, the boys have painfully outgrown their silly pseudonyms.

This also may be a good time to explain why I use nicknames. Yes, there’s the usual safety concerns, but really, it’s a matter of respect for me. My kids aren’t old enough to know that I write about our life on the internet (heck, they don’t even know what the internet is). As such, they have no say in the things I post.

When they are older, they may not wish to have their faces and names plastered all over this space for public viewing. So, until the day when we can have a conversation about their wishes, I’ll respect the option of anonymity by using nicknames.

But then, there’s the matter of what to call them. I thought Small, Medium, and Large was good enough for me, basic… but boring. I tried it in German, but I just can’t call my kid Gross (large).

I’m still keeping it simple, but I’m steering in the ABC direction. The boys will now go by the first three letters of the Pilot’s Alphabet that is commonly used in the travel industry – Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Plus, these names are actually spot on when it comes to their personalities, Creepy!

I’m seriously over my 1,000 word target, and that’s about all the changes and updates I can handle. If you have a blog, post a link (or three) below with exciting news, fantastic trips, handy DIYs, or winning lotto numbers. I’ve love to catch up with you, too!

Now, tell me, which of our adventures above would you like to read about first?Signature Thrifty Travel Mama


A Jar Full of Date Nights at Home

Thrifty Travel Mama - 35 Ideas for Date Nights at HomeSo, how was your Valentine’s Day?  Say, what Valentine’s Day?  Right, right, the one last week.  Did you strike out?  Buy overpriced red roses that died the next day?  Bought milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate?  Totally forgot the day all together?

Well, here’s a thrifty idea sure to patch things up and even win over the Valentine’s Day haters – a home date night jar!

We are blessed to have some great babysitters here, but using their services every week is more than our budget can handle.  It’s doable for us to splurge once a month, but what about the rest of the time?

Relaxing with a movie at home is our Friday night activity of choice.  But, it can get old.  And what if there are no new interesting and/or appropriate movies to watch?

I came across this Home Date Night Jar on Pinterest, and I thought it would be a fabulous Valentine’s Day gift for Doc Sci.  It’s ridiculously easy; the hardest part is coming up with ideas that you know you and your significant other will enjoy. To (hopefully) make things easier for you, I’ve listed 35 ideas below.

I scrawled each one on a small scrap of colored paper and then shoved them inside the jar.  I threw together a quick label, attached it with packing tape, and voila!  Done.

Like my label?  Download it here: Date Night Jar Label.  I’ve included the color and a B&W version.  Free for personal use only, please!Thrifty Travel Mama - 35 Ideas for Date Nights at Home

Date Nights at Home – Ideas

  1. Make Fondue (cheese, pizza, meat, chocolate, etc.)
  2. Play a board game
  3. Dig out the cards and play Gin, Rummy, or the like.
  4. Poker Night – get creative with what to bet with!
  5. Make Milkshakes and watch That Thing You Do!
  6. Start a bucket list and post it somewhere that you can both see it and add to it
  7. Whip up some hot chocolate and sit outside together
  8. Bake a batch of the most amazing chocolate chip cookies ever
  9. Do a puzzle together
  10. Dream about where you want to be in 5 years
  11. Scour You Tube for hilarious videos
  12. Mexican fiesta – tacos, chips & salsa, and Nacho Libre
  13. French theme night – French onion soup, French bread, and watch Amelie
  14. Italian evening – pizza or pasta, gelato, and The Italian Job
  15. Korean wave – grilled, marinated chicken or beef, karaoke, and My Sassy Girl
  16. Have a chocolate tasting and watch Chocolat
  17. Eat ice cream sundaes and watch old videos you have made
  18. Write the story of how you met
  19. Make an Amazing Race audition video
  20. Order take out and eat it by candle light
  21. Wii Games – husband’s choice
  22. Wii Games – wife’s choice
  23. Find a book you both want to read and take turns reading out loud to each other
  24. Watch a movie made before 2000
  25. Be a kid – stock up on junk food and watch your favorite TV series from childhood
  26. 80s dance party in your living room
  27. Wine, cheese, and fruit night – keep those pinkies held high!
  28. Sports Night – watch a game, eat nachos, drink soda, and root for the home team
  29. Chow down a picnic in your living room
  30. Cook breakfast for dinner and watch cartoons
  31. Write silly love notes to each other and hide them around the house
  32. Eat cake and watch your wedding video
  33. Bake a dessert from when you were dating and share your favorite memories
  34. Try your hand at making some gourmet popcorn
  35. Go to sleep early!

Want more?  Check out Six Sisters’ Stuff for hundreds of other ideas.

What would you add??Signature-Marigold

Review: El Gallo Mexican Restaurant – Freiburg

The boys are back at kindergarten this week (hip hip, hooray!), so Doc Sci and I had time to squeeze in a few more dates before the end of his paternity leave.  We had heard about an okay Mexican joint in Freiburg, a city just on the edge of the Black Forest.  Considering the crap Mexican we’ve experienced everywhere in Germany (except Berlin), we agreed to gamble on “okay.”

We hit up El Gallo on Tuesday because – thrifty as we are – burritos and quesadillas are on special for €6,50 all day.  Though it’s not clear from their website, El Gallo does have a lunch menu (Mittagskarte) that features a smattering of dishes from the main menu with smaller portions and prices.

The server spoke decent English, and we ordered one of each of the specials, a chicken quesadilla and a beef burrito.  He brought us the teeniest cup of chips and a tablespoon of salsa to tide us over while we waited.

Thrifty Travel Mama El Gallo FreiburgThe chips were real fried corn tortillas (a good sign), but the salsa was a mystery.  It looked like tomato puree with several flecks of spices.  However, when it hit the tongue, all flavor disappeared.  It tasted like… nothing.

My chicken quesadilla was more like a burrito folded in half.  It oozed with juicy shredded chicken and a smidge of cheese.  A thick squiggle of sour cream adorned the top, crowned with another sprinkling of shredded cheese.

Thrifty Travel Mama El Gallo FreiburgThe quesadilla is supposed to come with crumbled goat cheese, but I asked if cheddar could be substituted instead.  The server had no problem with this, but he explained to me it was a mix of cheddar and mozzarella.  Say, what?

The chicken, although greasy, did not smack me in the taste buds – no heat and minimal seasoning.  Germans do not like spicy food, and this quesadilla would not disappoint them.

Doc Sci’s beef burrito had a little more zest.  The meat had specks of jalapenos in it as well as some peppers, onions, and tomatoes.  It had a certain porky aftertaste, though the menu insisted it was totally beef (Rindfleisch).

Thrifty Travel Mama El Gallo FreiburgBeans and rice accompanied the burrito, but the flavoring was all wrong.  The yellow rice lay there devoid of tumeric.  The bean mixture contained only white, no pinto.   It reminded me of a bean and onion confit with tomato, nothing Mexican about it.

Both the quesadilla and the burrito came with a German-style salad: iceberg lettuce mounded with hearty tomatoes, hefty cucumbers, corn, and a slice of bell pepper smothered in creamy dressing.  If you don’t like gobs of white salad sauce drowning out the vegetable flavor, request it on the side.

Thrifty Travel Mama El Gallo FreiburgThe verdict?  El Gallo is not really Mexican or even Tex-Mex as I know it.  But, it is edible, and not as far away as Berlin (or even Strasbourg).  It’s only fair to give El Gallo another try, though next time I’ll go for the fajitas or nachos.

Thrifty Travel Mama – 2012 – A Year in Review

Whew!  2012 has been a wild ride, full of experiences and surprises.  “Year in Review” posts are all the rage in the blogosphere, so despite my inclinations to do the opposite, I’m jumping on the bandwagon.

In January, I went fully frugal.  I shared my source for Free DIY Passport Photos.  I pointed you to the European Backpacker Index, a tool for researching expenses in European cities.  Oh, and I saved you from having to run to the store at the last minute by showing you how to make your own brown sugar.

February brought me a birthday, and Doc Sci took me to Milan (sans kids) to celebrate.  We ogled da Vinci’s Last Supper and the views from the roof of the Duomo.  We got caught in Carnival madness, and stuffed our faces with risotto, bread, pizza, and (of course) gelato.

I went crazy in March trying to make our awful concrete student housing apartment more homey on a very small budget.  I spiced up the kitchen, bathroom, and front entry.  I constructed a ginormous cork board wall in the living room and plastered it with photos.  I somehow also found the time to completely finish Rosetta Stone German and post a final review.

In April, our little family went home to the US for 3 weeks, stopping in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.  We soaked up the sun, and made kid-friendly activities a priority.  Among the boys’ favorite was our trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Back in Germany, May was part work and part play.  Doc Sci and I both took week-long intensive German courses.  We also managed a date night to the movies, complete with popcorn and assigned seats.

Doc Sci let us tag along with him to Berlin in June.  He attended a brainiac conference while the boys and I played at Legoland.   And speaking of brains, I got mine to work long enough to pass my German driver’s license exam.

In July, I switched to extreme nesting mode.  I stocked the freezer with a gazillion meals, and organized our life into one happy turquoise notebook.

I took a six-week break starting in August to bring our third and final little traveler into the world.  His birth story is the kind nightmares are made of.

We ventured out to Frankfurt in September to get the little guy his passport when he was only two weeks old.  And good thing, too.  Later that month, Big Foot found himself coasting through five countries on four planes, five trains, and two buses, in the span of three days.  No sweat for a seven week-old.

In October, I posted reviews of flying Delta Airlines and easyJet with a baby.  I should’ve shown you these fashionable Oktoberfest pull-ups, but I was too busy scoring freebies for babies and mamas in Germany.

November was an exciting month for us.  We bought a car!  Doc Sci wrote a fabulous guest post detailing the adventure.

We took our car on a little road trip to France in December.  It was all the travel we could muster in between the zillions of Pinterest projects that filled my days and nights before Christmas.

Every year has its highs and lows, surprises both good and bad, and 2012 was no different.  It’s just how life goes, and I’m thankful to live it with my awesome-amazing-how-could-I-describe-you-in-just-one-word husband and three blessed boys who make me laugh every day.  Here’s to 2013!

Review: Petul Apart Hotel Residenz in Essen, Germany

Last week was a beast of a monster of a hurricane.  Okay, it wasn’t that ridiculous, but it was close.  Doc Sci trotted off to northern Germany leaving me with the three amigos for three days.  Needless to say, I’m glad it was three days and not three weeks. 

Since travel details are my specialty, I sorta kinda helped him to arrange his lodging.  But there are only so many hours in the day, and when my free time ran out, he ended up choosing the property and making the final reservation.  As such, here is another guest post from Doc Sci with a review of his hotel.

Last week, I hopped aboard a high speed train and managed to hang on for four hours until I reached Essen.  Translations of the word Essen include eating, food, meals, etc.  But this trip had nothing to do with chowing down.  Essen, Germany is quite a bit north from where we live and rather close to the Netherlands.  The purpose of my trip was to learn a whole bunch of scientific mumbo-jumbo, but I won’t go into that because this here is a travel blog not a how-to-be-a-nerd-scientist blog.

I booked a room at the Hotel Petul.  There are 6 different locations in Essen, some of which have a very modern look.  Since my wife and boys weren’t traveling with me this time, I only needed a single room.  However, most hotels in town were booked up on account of a convention at the city’s conference center.  The only room available was at the Apart Hotel Petul Residenz.

On to the review…

I took the latest train I could in order to be away from my family for the least amount of time.  This meant I had a very late check in time at the hotel (after midnight in fact).  When I called earlier in the day to ensure someone would be there to check me in, the woman very kindly in English told me it would be no problem.

When I arrived, the graveyard shift guy was of the older non-English speaking persuasion.  Luckily, two years of living in Germany has turned me into an expert in pantomime. From his gestures, I was able to get my key and understand that the hotel was a 250m walk down the street, and that the apartment sat right on top of a Lidl grocery store.

Just a note about location… The Hotel Petul was less than a two minute walk from a tram line that took me everywhere I wanted to go.  Downtown, uptown, Essen’s main train station, etc., all ran along this line.

My room - a double business apartment.

My room – a double business apartment.

Upon walking in to the apartment, my first impression was that the room was very nice, much nicer and bigger than I needed for sure.  But again, it was the only thing available.

Nice extras - free wifi and calls to land lines within Germany.

Nice extras – free wifi and calls to land lines within Germany.

The room had a bed and a desk.  Standard fare in standard European style.  Nothing particularly unusual.  Well, that is, until I walked into the bathroom and noticed the shower.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “The shower… who cares about the shower… I do not pick properties based on the shower.”  But believe me when I say this shower was total overkill.

The knockout shower complete with LED lighting and a rain shower flooding straight down from the ceiling.

The knockout shower complete with LED lighting and a rain shower flooding straight down from the ceiling.

I literally could not figure out how to turn it on in the first five seconds (I am an engineer so I am supposed to know how everything works).

Wall jets and a seat for just hanging out in the shower if you so please.

Wall jets and a seat for just hanging out in the shower if you so desire.

Then I noticed that this crazy contraption came with a TWO PAGE, front and back instruction manual.  For a shower.  Granted the instructions were in German and didn’t help that much but… come on.  If the shower takes two pages to explain… it is toooo complicated.

Shower instructions - and a remote.

Shower instructions – and a remote.

And a little too awesome.  How in the world am I going to go back to my measly bath after getting used to a rain shower and wall jets?

Since this building was the Residenz, my room was attached to a small kitchenette that was shared between two apartments.  The kitchen had hotpot for making tea and coffee, a small fridge, kitchenware, a single burner (but no pot), and a microwave.  This was nice for making tea and instant oatmeal before heading off each day.

The hotel does offer a breakfast buffet, but it usually isn’t included in the room price.  When booking the hotel, I noticed the breakfast costs a whopping 11 euros per person.  I had a look at it my last day when I was checking out.  Sure, it was a standard German breakfast with cold cuts, bread, joghurt, and muesli.  But I definitely could have just gone downstairs to Lidl and purchased whatever I actually wanted to eat for much less money.

Little extras - packs of gummy bears on the pillow I could take home to my kids as souvenirs.

Little extras – packs of gummy bears on the pillow I could take home to my kids as souvenirs.

Despite the language barrier, Check-in and check-out were very easy.  I found the staff to be both kind and helpful.  I was also surprised by the daily cleaning service that is not standard in apartment and apartment hotel properties.  I would definitely stay here again by myself, but would I stay here with my family?

In short, the Apart Hotel Petul Residenz would not be my first choice in Essen family accommodation for several reasons.  First, the rates can vary wildly from 61 to 166 euro per night.  Since my stay coincided with a convention in the city, I paid around 80 euros per night for the double business apartment.  Truthfully, I would not pay much more than that unless I was in a bind.

Second, though it is considered an apartment, the “room” really is just that – one room.  We generally prefer properties that have at least one room with a door in order to have some kid-free time in the evenings.

On the flip side, the shared kitchenette is a great amenity when traveling with children.  The hotel does not charge extra for children using existing bedding.  My room had a small couch that would be fine for a child as well as a decent amount of floor space for a baby cot or small sleeping bags.

All in all, the Apart Hotel Petul Residenz is a decent place to stay with kids and family while on a budget in Essen, provided you can catch the rate on the low end of the scale.

Trip Report: Milan In A Day

Thrifty Travel Mama - Milan in One Day WITHOUT Kids!Happy Birthday to me!

Okay, my REAL birthday was a little while ago, but this past Saturday I got my present.  Thanks to a very generous friend, I was able to go with Doc Sci on a kid-free, one-day trip to Milan, Italy!

Even if all Doc Sci and I did was take the bus to and from Italy by ourselves, the day would have been a success.  Nevertheless, we really did have an amazing time above and beyond just being alone together, despite an unexpected wrench in our plans.  But, more on that in a minute.

For this trip report, I thought it better to give you the play-by-play rather than the High Fives and Low Blows.  It’s a bit long, so feel free to just browse the pictures if you’re short on time.  Here we go!

5:02am – My cell phone alarm goes off.  I hardly slept last night, convinced I’d sleep in and miss the bus.  After a quick shower and bag check, we head downstairs.

5:37am – Doc Sci fixes my bike light and off we go in the dark, furiously racing toward the bus station.  I’m practically hyperventilating since I haven’t ridden my bike in ages, let alone uphill or at breakneck speed.

5:54am – The bus is in sight!  We lock up our bikes and board the five-star coach.  Promptly at 6:00am, the bus driver makes a lot of announcements in German, most of which I understand (hooray!).

6:05am – We’re on the road, headed for the Swiss border.  It only takes a minute or two for Doc Sci and I to pass out.

8:11am – The stop-and-start of a traffic jam jolts me from my sleep.  The early morning fog over the Alps and nearby lakes keeps me awake.  Breathtaking.  Moments later, we’re heading into the Gotthard Road Tunnel, the third-longest road tunnel in the world.  It goes on and on.  I try to focus on eating a snack to combat claustrophobia.

8:34am – On the other side of the tunnel, we stop for a Frühstückspause (breakfast break).  I’m annoyed at the pay-to-pee bathrooms until I realize that you can deduct the 1 euro toilet fee from your bill at the restaurant or shop.  Fair enough.  Doc Sci finds an extra voucher, and we leave with two Mars bars.

Voucher for 1 Swiss franc (or 1 euro).

9:00am – Back on the bus, Doc Sci and I break out our books.  I’m reading Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah, and he is engrossed in a Robert Ludlum thriller.  We read all the way to the Italian border.  We’re waved through, no passport checks.  Come to think of it, I guess we didn’t have any checks at the Swiss border either.

11:29am – We arrive at the Castello Sforzesco (Milan Castle), our pick-up and drop-off point.  The sun is shining, and it’s a warm 60F!  I can’t believe how amazing the weather is.  We stuff our jackets in Doc Sci’s backpack, and find our sunglasses.

11:36am – I’m studying the map when I see two little boys dressed as Mario and Luigi from Super Mario Brothers.  I naively think they are fans of the Italian characters.  However, those costumes should have been my first clue that something was awry…

12:02pm – We find our way to the Fabriano Boutique, the retail shop for a paper company established in 1264.  I’ve got my heart set on purchasing some Italian stationery.   I settle on a set of note cards depicting an architect’s view of Tuscany.

Fabriano Boutique, making paper products since 1264.

12:43pm – I check and re-check the address on my map.  I’ve marked a budget lunch spot to grab a panini.   The only problem?  The restaurant doesn’t exist.  We settle for a to-go pizza from MezzoDay a few doors down.  We’re out of water though, so we need to find a mini-mart or supermarket.

Pizza to go from MezzoDay.

12:55pm – We wander by Shockolat, a famous Gelateria and chocolate shop.  We decide we would rather eat our pizza lunch first, and then have gelato.  After a pit stop at the Cadorna train station, we wander the streets looking for water.

1:11pm – Still no water.  We’ve seen several restaurants, but we want to buy a few liters, not a glass.  Strange that the news kiosks only sell papers and magazines, no refreshments.  We’re starving, so we eat our pizza lunch on the steps overlooking the Via XX. Settembre.  Doc Sci discovers that MezzoDay gave us our pizza on a Disney Princesses paper plate.  Hehe.

1:20pm – Thinking that we’ll have better luck in a more popular area, we head over to the Santa Maria delle Grazie, the church adjacent to the refectory that boasts Da Vinci’s famous Last Supper.  We’re in luck – a convenience store is around the corner.  We quench our thirst before picking up our tickets.

Santa Maria delle Grazie. The refectory housing the Da Vinci painting is to the left.

1:55pm – We line up for the viewing.  Tickets for the Last Supper must be booked in advance (no walk-ups).  Tour companies make a killing buying up the tickets and then re-selling them as a “guided tour.”  If you book far enough in advance, you can pay the standard fee of 8 euros.  But, we were rather last-minute (two weeks in advance) and had to pay 23 euros.  Yikes.

2:00pm – The doors open and the tour group enters a series of three climate-controlled rooms.  The painting is very fragile, and must be protected from dramatic changes in temperature and humidity.  When we finally see the painting, it seems dim.  This could be from the lack of direct light, or just the fact that it’s REALLY old.  Visitors aren’t allowed up close, but it’s painted on the wall above my head anyway.  I can barely understand the guide’s heavily-accented English. She talks for at least 12 minutes.

2:15pm – An announcement at exactly 15 minutes insists that the visit is over and all guests must leave.  Twenty three euros for fifteen minutes in the presence of fame.

A smaller scale reproduction just outside the real thing. Doc Sci snapped a photo before we were told by a very grumpy shopkeeper, NO PHOTOS!

2:30pm – After a visit to the free bathrooms and the gift shop, we make our way to the Piazza Duomo where I am anxious to see the Milan Cathedral.

2:44pm – We hit Via Dante, the main road leading to the Piazza Duomo.  It’s filled with people in costume.  What is going on?!  Confetti is being thrown, masks are being sold, silly string is being hawked.  Oh no… Carnival.  Apparently, it lasts four more days and includes the Saturday after Ash Wednesday.  Yep, that’d be today.

Token “Indians” selling CDs on Via Dante. We saw some similar guys in Bulgaria. Seriously, do Europeans really buy this stuff?

2:52pm – Finally in the presence of the impressive Duomo, I’m completely distracted by the sheer numbers of PEOPLE.  We seem to have also come at exactly the same time as the Carnival parade.  Bullocks.  Luckily, we are able to get through the crowd (and cut across the parade path) to enter the Cathedral.  Our mission is to get on the roof.

At last, the Duomo!

3:16pm – Maneuvering the crowds to get on the roof isn’t easy, but we eventually make it.  Seeing as a lot of our time and energy was being wasted pushing through crowds, we splurge and pay the extra 4 euros each to ride the elevator up and down.  Being on top of the Duomo and looking at all the amazing architectural features (and the view!), is definitely one of the highlights of the day.

A view of the parade from the roof of the Duomo.

4:02pm – We want to visit a bakery marked on my map that’s close to the Piazza Duomo, but I’m sick of dodging teenagers with silly string and shaving cream, hoping and praying my camera doesn’t get doused.  We give up on the city center and take the subway to Corso Buenos Aires, a street with somewhat affordable shopping.

There’s no way we could make it through this crowd.

4:26pm – I love Zara, and we don’t have one in our city.  When I find myself in the store, though, I realize how pointless it is.  They don’t have a maternity section.  We visit a few other shops on the street.  Doc Sci and I each end up buying a shirt.  We also split a small gelato – two flavors, seriously dark chocolate and yogurt.

5:41pm – We find a supermarket on Corso Buenos Aires.  I purchase some genuine Pecorino Romano and gamble that it will make it home without melting.  We also add some pasta, pesto, and more water to our cart.

5:59pm – I lead the way to Pizza OK, a restaurant with a rumored 280 varieties of pizza.  Doc Sci loves pepperoni pizza, and Germans don’t eat pepperoni (they use salami instead).  Unfortunately, the restaurant is not open for dinner yet.  We walk to the nearest  subway stop, and catch at least five groups of dancers practicing in the big open station.

Pizza OK, closed.

6:17pm – The Piazza Duomo is still teeming with people.  We decide to try one more time to make our way to the bread shop, Princi.  We find it, and surprisingly, it’s still open.  Most of the bread is gone for the day, but I select what ends up being a multi-grain sourdough baguette.  Yum!  Princi also has foccacia and desserts, but I don’t want to spoil my upcoming dinner.

Bread and sweets from Princi.

6:50pm – We take a walk past the Teatro alla Scala (opera house).  It’s rather unimpressive from the outside.  In the piazza across the street, we find a statue of Da Vinci who willingly poses with Doc Sci for a photo.

This is the aftermath of Carnival.. the streets are filled with piles of confetti, empty silly strong bottles, and all sorts of other trash.

7:09pm – Our feet hurt, and we decide it’s time to sit down for dinner.  Luckily, Trattoria Dei Magnani al Cantinone serves traditional Italian food starting at 7pm (Italians typically eat dinner around 9pm).  Doc Sci caught a glimpse of a funky hamburger joint called Mama Burger just around the corner.  He (erroneously) thinks he’s going to get a burger to go, so we just order Risotto Milanese and Insalata Fresca.  Both dishes are delicious.  We are the only people in the restaurant.

How nice to sit down to dinner just the two of us. I would never dream of taking my kids here!

Our meal – salad, bread, risotto.

8:11pm – It’s gelato time again!  We visit Grom on Via Santa Margherita, which is located right next to another Milan gelato chain, elatoG.  elatoG only has a few flavors still ready at this time of night, so we both get two scoops in a cone from Grom.  Doc Sci tries Caramello (amazing, with a hint of saltiness) and Straciatella (full of big chocolate chunks).   I order what ends up being the best coffee gelato I’ve ever tasted and a scoop of yogurt (a bit on the sweet side).

Two competing gelaterias, side by side.

8:17pm – We eat ice cream and hold hands, just two kids hanging out on a Saturday night in Italy.  

8:46pm – Since he didn’t end up getting a burger to go, Doc Sci decides he needs one more pizza fix.  He orders a quarter pie to go for the bus ride home, but it doesn’t even make it to the bus.  He downs it while we walk around the Milan Castle grounds.  We are impressed at the sheer size of it.

Castello Sforzesco at night.

9:03pm – The bus arrives.  We dump our heavy bags on board, and then sit on the grass for a few more minutes in Milan.

9:15pm – After more German announcements (again, mostly  understood), we begin the drive back home.  Doc Sci and I break out our books, determined to put a dent in the pages before we fall asleep totally exhausted.

11:49pm – Back at the same rest stop we visited earlier that morning, I debate whether to pay for the bathroom (the shop isn’t open) or use the teeny toilet on the bus.  As luck would have it, the bathrooms are free when the shop is closed.  I don’t spend much time outside as it’s raining and chilly.

12:10pm – On the road again.  I decide I should quit reading and get some sleep.

2:25am – We arrive safe and sound back in Germany.  In a daze, we collect our things from the bus and walk to our bikes.  I have no idea how I’m going to make it home.  Doc Sci reminds me that it’s downhill, and I find the strength to give it a go.

3:01am – We collapse in bed, exhausted.  What a long but amazing day spent together, just the two of us.. in Milan, Italy!

Need packing tips for a one day trip?  See mine here.Signature-MarigoldI’m adding this to the February 9, 2014 edition of the #SundayTraveler. Don’t miss all the great love links found at Chasing the Donkey!