Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie Monday: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson and the Olympians:  The Lightning Thief, the movie, came out recently in 2010 and is rated PG.  The story is about a young man who discovers he is the descendant of Poseidon, god of the sea, and is cast into an adventure to reach the gates of the Underworld and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.  As his quest unfolds, Percy Jackson, the main character, encounters many of the Greek gods such as Zeus, Hades, Athena, as well as monsters and ancient Olympians.

The unfortunate thing about the movie is that not a single scene is filmed in Greece.  That slightly defeats the purpose of my Movie Monday films introducing beautiful European scenery to your youngsters.  But the movie is not actually what I'm promoting here.  My son and daughter enjoyed the movie because they thoroughly enjoyed the book series.  They both read all five of the books while in elementary school.  The five titles by Rick Riordan are:  The Battle of the Labyrinth, The Titan’s Curse, The Sea of Monsters, The Lightning Thief, and The Last Olympians.  Greek mythology, with its tales of heroes and villains, is fascinating to school-aged kids.  And if there's a trip to Greece in your family's future, it's essential that you expose them to the characters and legends of Greek mythology so that they understand the significance of the ancient relics they'll see there.  The Temple of Athena in Athens, Mount Olympus, the innumerable sculptures and reliefs of the gods, and the history of Greece will excite your child when he or she can relate it to a story.  Introduce ancient Greece to your family with Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Photo Friday: Bavarian Pretzel

So your kids won't eat bratwurst or sauerkraut or schnitzel?
That's no problem in Bavaria.  There are fresh, warm, ginormous pretzels for sale on every corner!

Thanks to Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby for creating and coordinating
Photo Friday to link travel photos and blog posts across the web.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Très Magnifique Restaurant

Today I’d like to post my first restaurant review about a unique, fun brasserie that our family enjoyed last summer in Paris.  Here in the U.S. we kind of distinguish between a restaurant, a coffee shop, a fast-food place, and a cafeteria.  In France and the Francophone world there are brasseries, cafés, bistros, and bars.  The direct translation for the French word brasserie is brewery, but La Coupole brasserie in Montparnasse is much more than that.

When visiting with an American friend of ours who has lived in Paris for the last 20 years, we asked him to choose someplace very Parisian for dinner.  Someplace where locals go.  Someplace with delicious French food for us adults, as well as with something the kids would eat.  Since he often takes his three children there, we met him at La Coupole on the lively and Cineplex-lined Boulevard du Montparnasse.

Let’s start with the food, because that’s essential.  I chose a 3-course meal, and it was spectacular:

My amazing foie gras appetizer
My tender and delicious flank steak with a très magnifique sauce
Do I need to say anything about this dessert?

My kids were thrilled to get steak and french fries:

And they were more than thrilled to have this dessert prepared at the table for them:

My daughter was so impressed by the dessert menu that she took pictures of it:

My husband pretended to be a wine snob and the friendly waiter played along.  (These are not stereotypical pompous French waiters.  They are fun and attentive and will even sing “Joyeux Anniversaire” on your birthday!) 

Besides the outstanding food, La Coupole is a Parisian landmark.  Established in 1927, famous patrons in the past include Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dalí, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso and Matisse.  Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were regulars.  Dozens of pictures, drawings, and sketches line the walls of the immense dining room, and legend has it that these pieces of art were given as payment from such artists as Picasso and Matisse!  The most famous feature of this art deco restaurant is its 32 painted mural columns, or pillars, that support the dining room.  These were painted by students of Matisse and Fernand Léger as well as other modern artists.

Families with children will love that the restaurant is brightly lit, spacious, noisy and fun.  There is also sidewalk seating if you prefer.  We rate this restaurant an A+!

The painted columns are famous.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oxford or Cambridge, That Is the Question

University of Cambridge

Last weekend my daughter and I attended an informational presentation by Oxbridge Academic Programs, an organization that brings middle and high school students to study in Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England during their summer breaks.  They have a “prep experience” for 8th and 9th graders, and a “traditional experience” for 10th through 12th graders.  My daughter became interested in the program upon hearing about it from a neighbor, whose daughter attended the Oxford University program last summer after her high school sophomore year.  She said it was a phenomenal and culturally enriching life experience, and highly recommended it.  So we checked it out.

Students from all over the world enroll to take two courses over a four week period at either one of these historic medieval universities.  The list of course offerings is extensive – everything from Latin, Shakespeare, and Filmmaking, to Bioethics, Criminology, and International Law.  Most of the learning takes place outside of the classroom, throughout the campus and the city.  The professors include Oxford and Cambridge faculty as well as Rhodes, Gates, Marshall and Fulbright Scholars.

How does one choose between Oxford and Cambridge?  The presenter said that is the most commonly asked question he hears.  His general answer is that Oxford has a more “big city” feel, and Cambridge is more rural.  Also, that Cambridge has a reputation for leading scientific research and Oxford is stronger in the arts, humanities, and politics.

What a marvelous opportunity for young people to experience living abroad.  I don’t know if my daughter will ever do it – it certainly won't be this year.  The cost is somewhat prohibitive.  What would you guess it is?  If you guessed around $7,000 you’d be right.

I had to laugh when a parent in the audience asked, “Will my daughter be safe there?” and the presenter replied, “Oxford and Cambridge were built to withstand attacks by Norman invaders – I think your daughter will be safe there.”

University of Oxford

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review of Hotel Nadia in Amsterdam

It’s not easy finding a hotel in Europe that will sleep a family of four.  So when I find a good one, I like to share it with others.  One such delightful place is Hotel Nadia, in Amsterdam.  Billed as a family hotel with a friendly atmosphere, it is that, as well as centrally located and moderately priced.  We stayed several nights last summer in one of Hotel Nadia’s Quad De Lux Rooms with four twin beds, a full private bathroom, a small refrigerator, and a safe.  It was a corner room, with a lovely view over Keizers Canal and Westerkerk Church.  The hotel offers a helpful 6% discount if you pay with cash, which we did, and our room was 131.60€ a night.  Not bad!

Quad room with four single beds
A breakfast buffet is included in the price and their delicately appointed breakfast room is a peaceful pleasure to dine in before hitting the sites for the day.  The location, always a critical factor in choosing a hotel, couldn’t be beat.  Right around the corner from the Anne Frank House, steps from Dam Square, and a 10 minute walk from Central Station, there’s also a tram and bus stop and a canal bus stop right outside the door.  We walked everywhere in town from the hotel.

In our Hotel Nadia Room
Westerkerk Church, viewed from our room
Right below the hotel (which is above street level) are pancake restaurants, souvenir shops, a convenience store, and a creamy gelato shop, where we stopped almost every day for a cone.  Hotel Nadia will keep your luggage if you have an early arrival or a late departure so you can sightsee without it.  Reception is staffed 24 hours a day, and the hotel is secured at all hours with a lock and buzzer.  The hotel is located at Raadhuisstraat 51, between the Keizer Canal and the Heren Canal, just beyond the Royal Palace at Dam Square.
Hotel Nadia

Monday, January 24, 2011

Movie Monday: When in Rome

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To Europe With Kids presents Movie Monday as a weekly feature to recommend films that might expose children and their families to any small bit of European history, folklore, scenery, or animated imagery as entertainment, perhaps new knowledge, or just a couple of hours of electronic babysitting.
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The film, When in Rome (not the 2010 release starring Kirsten Bell and Josh Duhamel, but rather the 2002 home video starring Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen), might be fun for you to rent on family movie night!  It's a cute story about two young girls (Mary Kate and Ashley) who are in Rome for a summer intern program.  They are fired due to a few careless mishaps, but it all turns out okay because they find young romance and go joyriding all around the sites in Rome.  Perks for the grown-ups watching the video are, of course, the gorgeous shots of Roma:  the Forum, the Colosseum, the Vatican, the sweeping vistas of the ancient city, etc., but children getting ready to visit Rome will appreciate the images, too.  Young kids are always interested in seeing something they recognize from TV!  Watch the trailer here to see if it's appropriate for your kids.

Other Movie Monday posts:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

1001 Dalmatian Islands

Pupnatska Beach on Korcula island in Croatia

I love a balmy beach vacation almost as much as I love a European vacation, so how great is it to find a destination that encompasses both?  The Dalmatian Coast in Croatia has been high on my wish list for a long time, but since some friends of ours spent their family vacation there this summer, it has definitely moved up a few notches on my list.  Our friends have three children, ages 15, 13 and 8, and even brought a set of grandparents along with them on this trip.  All of them raved about Croatia and the pictures we saw were fabulous.

Plitvice Lakes National Park
Dalmatia is a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, with over 1000 islands, an immense number of bays and coves, channels, strings of sandy beaches and a warm, dry Mediterranean climate.  Our friends spent most of their time on the island gem of Korcula, which is easily reached by several ferry lines from the mainland, and in the summer there are direct ferries from Italian Adriatic ports.  Our friends said the local islanders are very friendly and the unspoiled coastline and crystal clear turquoise waters are magnificent.  Back on the mainland, they visited two national parks, Plitvice and Krka, and were stunned by the many waterfalls and bright blue and green lakes.
Croatia’s harbor towns and medieval villages, known for their olive trees and cypress woods, scattered Roman ruins and milk-white limestone buildings, host ancient monasteries and magnificent cathedrals.  This region has embraced tourism and is becoming a very popular holiday destination.  Many new hotels are being built, as well as new apartment and office buildings.  Several large development projects have been revived, and new infrastructure is being built.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Photo Friday: Bullfight in Madrid

At Plaza de Toros in Madrid

I'm not saying I support bullfighting.
I'm not saying I enjoyed watching a bullfight.
I'm just saying that different cultures have different traditions.

This photo is an entry for Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

TripAdvisor's 2011 Traveler's Choice Awards

TripAdvisor just released the 2011 list of Travelers' Choice Awards for the World's Best Hotels.  Nine of the top 25 world's best are in Europe.  That's pretty good!  All nine of them sound wonderful, and we haven't overnighted in a single one of them.  Looks like I've got some work to do!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Postcard Picture Perfect

I'm going to refer you today to a post on a wonderful blog, baby meets city, because I think the tip she's sharing is a marvelous new idea for travelers!  It may put the souvenir postcard industry out of business!  Why send your friends a store-bought postcard of the Eiffel Tower, when you can send them a picture-postcard of YOU in front of the Eiffel Tower?  Check out how easy it is to send Cellphone Postcards at baby meets city.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Half-Timbered Miltenberg

Oh, how I love picturesque little European villages, and I have another one to share today.  Miltenberg, in Germany, is a charming old Bavarian town best known for its gorgeous half-timbered houses along its main street and in its market square.  (Sidebar:  the term “half-timbered” is new to me.  I always called the architecture “tudor style,” but that’s a might too British, I think.  I like the German word Fachwerk, but it’s tricky for non-German speakers to say without articulating a very bad four-letter English word.  I’ll stick with “half-timbered.”)  Miltenberg sits on the banks of the Main River about 18 miles south of Mespelbrunn and 44 miles west of Würzburg and is easily reachable by car or train. 

The romantic little town of Miltenberg never suffered any war damage or major fires, and is less crowded with tourists than other more well-known, medieval German cities such as Rothenburg.  The ruins of Miltenberg Castle look over the city and a climb to the top of the watchtower afford a scenic view of the surroundings.  Admission to the watchtower is 3€ for adults and 2€ for children under 11.

If you are lucky enough to be able to spend the night in Miltenberg, the Hotel Zum Riesen is arguably the oldest hotel in Germany (original construction of the adjacent tavern dates back to 1190), and is a favorite of many frequent European travelers.  The management has maintained the historical authenticity of the structure and keeps it beautifully decorated.  Hotel Zum Riesen doesn't have a website but you can find info on TripAdvisor.  

Hotel Zum Riesen, Miltenberg, Germany

Monday, January 17, 2011

Movie Monday: National Lampoon's European Vacation

Don’t make the same mistake we did and think that watching National Lampoon’s European Vacation with your kids before a trip to Europe is a good idea.  Sure, the film’s scenery in London, Paris, Germany and Rome is delightful, and enticing scenery is usually what I love to see in a movie.  And yes, European Vacation is rated PG-13, and my kids are 12 and 14.  But maybe I'm a prude.  What does PG-13 really mean, anyway?  “Bad language, brief nudity, sexual overtones,” is what the Motion Picture Association of America says.  European Vacation embraces all of these, and I guess “brief nudity” is subject to interpretation, since I thought it was a rather prolonged scene of topless dancers at the Moulin Rouge in Paris.  (My son laughed his head off and my daughter was embarrassed.)  There was at least one F-bomb in the film and many sexual references.  It actually kind of embarrassed ME (in front of my kids, that is.)  Hubby always says we're too overprotective and should lighten up a bit.  Showing this movie on family movie night was one way to do it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

VIP Service in Paris

People are busy making their summer vacation plans right now.  They must be, because we're on the customer referral contact list for Vacation in Paris Holiday Apartment Rentals and I’m getting lots of emails from potential travelers to Paris.  These travelers want to know how we liked our stay in Vacation in Paris (VIP)’s Rue Cler Delight apartment last summer, and how we would rate the service provided by VIP.  I tell them all the same thing:  great apartment, outstanding service!

At the breakfast table
After browsing through VIP’s many, many apartment listings ranging from studio to luxury units, we chose the Rue Cler Delight for three reasons:  location, location, location.  Just kidding, but even though that’s true, our other reasons were air conditioning and price.  We were not disappointed in any regard.  The one-bedroom apartment is in the 7th arrondissement, on a quiet residential street around the corner from a metro stop (line 8, École Militaire), a large supermarket, and best of all, rue Cler.  Rue Cler is a pedestrian-only open market shopping street with row after row of fresh produce, wine, cheeses, pastries, and prepared foods that will save you from having to eat at restaurants three meals a day.  Every morning during our week in Paris, hubby and I would stay in bed and send the kids around the corner to rue Cler to buy warm baguettes, croissants, and fresh berries to bring back for breakfast.  Heaven for hubby and me, yes, but more importantly, the interaction with merchants who don’t speak their language, dealing in foreign currency, and the encounters with unfamiliar customs forged unforgettable life experiences for my kids.  These moments and the independence they foster are some of the most significant reasons I travel with my children.

Front entrance to the
Rue Cler Delight apartment

But I digress.  Back to the apartment.  It has one bedroom with a king-size bed and a queen-size sofabed in the living room, so it easily sleeps a family of four.  (I know, I know, I’ve blogged about how my kids don’t like to sleep together in the same bed anymore, but occasionally they have to.)  The apartment is small, so it's a tight squeeze to get into the kitchen when the sofabed's open, but it's maneuverable.  The air conditioning is a portable unit, kind of large and clunky, but works adequately well, especially on a continent where A/C is still in its early evolution.  The kitchen is clean and modern and well-stocked, and there’s even an (almost) American-sized refrigerator!  When traveling with kids, the ability to throw together a pot of spaghetti after sightseeing all day, instead of sitting in yet another overpriced, foreign-food (“mom, why don’t they have french fries?!”) restaurant, is priceless.  And speaking of price, at the time of this writing, the apartment is only $185/night for four people during summer season.  A hotel room for four people in Paris would be hard to find at that price, and certainly wouldn't have a kitchen.

Lastly, I researched numerous holiday apartment rental services, but was most impressed with VIP.  The company, based in New Jersey, offers the reassuring courtesy of sending you the Paris apartment keys before you leave on your trip.  The huge benefit here is not having to meet with a stranger somewhere in Paris when you arrive, or find a management office somewhere in Paris, to pick up the keys.  No appointments, no hassles, just go straight to the apartment and let yourself in.  The directions and arrival information are impeccable.  If you should have a problem while at the apartment, a management team is available in the city.  When I called them to ask about a funny noise the washing machine was making, I received an immediate response by a native-English speaker.  All contact I had with the VIP staff was professional and friendly.  I highly recommend using Vacation in Paris Holiday Apartment Rentals on your next visit to the City of Light.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Photo Friday: Würzburg, Germany




It's fun to take the same picture of the kids over the years to see how they've grown.  In these photos, they are standing on the Old Main Bridge in Würzburg, Germany, with the Fortress Marienburg in the background.
Do you notice anything different about the statue in the three photos?

Check out more great Photo Friday pics at!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Verdi Was Right

Young girls love Italy.  It sounds sooooo romantic to them.  My daughter's Girl Scout troop took a vote last night at their meeting on where they wanted to travel on their next big trip together.  Italy won, hands down.  "Rome, Florence, and Venice!" they chirped, and "oh, and Verona, to see the balcony where Romeo and Juliet stood!" then, "aahhhh . . . ," came the collective sigh from the room full of teenage girls.  

So it looks like Italy is on the agenda now for 2013.  Next the girls have to decide whether to go with a tour group or on their own.  Disagreements already ensued last night over the choice.  I've done these cities several times, but never on a tour.  Anyone with that experience have any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

A great big thank you to Michelle at for passing along the Stylish Blogger Award to me!  It's my first!

To accept the award I have to, first, tell you 7 things about myself and then, second, pass the award along to 15 or so blogs I've liked recently.  Here goes:

1.  I am living my dream come true.  A stay-at-home mom with two smart, fantastic kids and a great husband to boot.

2.  I can't stand to exercise.

3.  I am dying to go to Tahiti and stay in one of those thatched huts over the water.

4.  I've never had a pet and don't understand pet mentality.  I wish I could overcome that and get my son a puppy.

5.  I am a grammar and spelling snob.  (I apologize if there are mistakes in my blog!)

6.  I love to clean house, organize closets and rearrange cabinets and drawers.

7.  I get seasick, airsick, and carsick.  I hate that.

And now, I would like to pass the Stylish Blogger Award to:

baby meets city
Just Add Whine . . . . 
500 Places With Kids
Backpack to Buggy
50% of My DNA
Expat in Germany
Cheeseweb - High Times in the Low Lands
LoveBaby LoveTravel
Love, Luci
Mo Travels
Family Rambling

Congratulations, your blogs are great!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Movie Monday: The Sound of Music

Salzburg, Austria

We love family movie nights!  And before a big trip we enjoy watching movies featuring scenes from places we’ll go.  The classic example is, of course, The Sound of Music.  If you’re headed to Salzburg, Austria, you’ll want to watch it more than once, but even if your destination is somewhere else in the Alps, watch The Sound of Music before you go so that your whole family can simultaneously belt out, “The Hills Are Alive ” and spin like Julie Andrews at the first sign of those majestic mountains.

Mirabell Palace gardens
The Sound of Music is the only movie I can think of that has actually spawned an industry in Europe.  There are several tour companies offering The Sound of Music excursions in Salzburg.  Half-day tours will hit the highlights, such as the Nonnberg Abbey, St. Peter Cemetery, the massive Roman rock arena where the music festival took place, and the Mirabell Palace gardens where Maria and the children danced to “Do-Re-Mi.”  Full day 8-hour tours include the city highlights, but add the The Sound of Music gazebo at Hellbrunn Castle, the Leopoldskron Castle which was the von Trapp family home in the film, and the Mondsee Cathedral where the movie’s famous wedding scenes were filmed.

Mirabell Palace gardens
We didn't partake in any of the formal excursions when we were in Salzburg a few years ago, but we did our own Sound of Music walking tour.  You can reach all the city sites in a day.  The kids, then 11 and 8, adored it.  The highlight for them definitely was running through the arched trellis in the Mirabell Palace gardens just like the von Trapp children did in the movie.  For me, strolling through the narrow alleyways of old Salzburg, admiring the views from atop Fortress Hohensalzburg, and snacking on Mozartkugel . . . these are a few of my favorite things!

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