Monday, February 28, 2011

Movie Monday: Around the World in 80 Days

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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 original 1956 film adaption of Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in 80 Days, is a great family night movie for kids of all ages!  This adventure starring David Niven, takes his character, Phileas Fogg, on trains, steamships, taxis, and a hot air balloon all around the world.  Children will be introduced to European culture, such as the bullfight filmed in Madrid; locations such as Gare du Nord in Paris and Hyde Park in London; and other scenes filmed in Spain, Paris, and London - not to mention India, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Pakistan.

There is a 2004 remake starring Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan which I haven't seen.  It's rated PG.  It's probably really good too, I don't know, but we just like to watch the old classics once in awhile with the kids!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Room With a Garden in Venice

A private garden is a precious place of refuge in a crowded, foreign city, and that’s why the Pensione Accademia Villa Maravege with its lush, relaxing courtyard oasis, is the perfect accommodation for your family with children in Venice, Italy.

We stayed at this lovely hotel a few years ago and had the Junior Suite, which includes the exceptional feature of double front doors that open up to a shady brick patio.

Just beyond the patio is the well-maintained interior garden where your kids can get some fresh air and play time.

Since the hotel is centrally located - only a fifteen minute walk from St. Mark’s Square - it is marvelously convenient to retreat to the garden several times a day as a break from sightseeing.

The Pensione Accademia is on a quiet corner overlooking the Grand Canal.  Its elegant building was originally a family residence in the 17th century but became a hotel in 1950.  The lobby and rooms are furnished with rich antiques and several have beautiful views out over the canal.  There are double rooms, superior doubles, and the Junior Suite, which we loved.  My husband and I had our own separate bedroom and the kids slept together in the large pull-out sofabed in the living room.  Every room has a private bath, a refrigerator, and air-conditioning (A/C is always at the top of hubby’s list of essentials.)

A full buffet breakfast is included and is served in the front patio garden in the summertime.  A breakfast buffet is a must for us when we travel.  We all try to stuff ourselves in the hope of then managing a light, inexpensive lunch.  I myself can usually get by with a piece or two of fruit for lunch (plus, of course, a late afternoon gelato.)
The area surrounding the Pensione Accademia, known as the Dorsoduro district, has a lot to offer.  There are great little shops, bakeries, and piazzas to explore behind the villa.  And right opposite the canal from the hotel is an affordable family restaurant, too, called Ristorante SanTrovaso.  My son loved his personal size pizza and my daughter thoroughly enjoyed her bowl of spaghetti noodles (sans sauce, like every good picky eater.)

The restaurant is comfortable and the food and wine prices really are quite reasonable compared to other Venetian restaurants.

The concierge and reception at the hotel were kind and professional.  I don't know if they do this for all their guests who inquire about Murano, but they ordered us a free water taxi to the glass island.  I felt like Jackie O, cruising across the lagoon in our private water limo with leather interiors.  The kids didn't get it ("Jackie who?") but really liked the boat ride.

Now yes, of course, the hotel is in cahoots with the Murano glass factories, as the taxi pulls right up to one of the factory entrances, but we weren't met by any solicitors luring us inside.  We went inside because we wanted to tour the place, and we didn't feel any particular pressure to purchase anything from the gift shop, either.  I know other tourists have had different experiences, but ours was quite pleasant.

Pensione Accademia is not a budget hotel.  Although hotels in Venice are pretty expensive in general, there are budget accommodations available.  But if you're interested in having a Venetian villa experience, with a charming, restful garden, the Junior Suite at the Accademia runs between 200€ and 325€ per night, depending on the season.  It's absolutely delightful for families.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Photo Friday: Antwerp in Replicate


So, I had this idea while in Antwerp with my kids
 to replicate a photo my dad had taken of my mom, brother, and me in 1966.  We are in front of the World War Memorial at the Stadspark in Antwerp, Belgium.  My brother and I are just toddlers, though, in the lower photo.  My daughter and son are 14 and 11 in the other.  (And my mom's the one
with the beehive.)

Check out more travel photos at

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Grazie, CB!

Hope you don’t mind if I toot my own horn here for a moment.  Yesterday my first guest post was published on!  Now those of you who aren’t quite as obsessed as I am with the family-travel-blogging-world may not know that Ciao Bambino!™ is a leading on-line guide to family-friendly travel.  It is a winner of the TripBase Best Family Travel Blog Award for 2009 and a winner of the iParenting Media Greatest Products of 2008 Award.  The founder of Ciao Bambino!, Amie O’Shaughnessy, has been featured on Lonely PlanetCNN Travel, the LA Times, Travel & Leisure, and many other popular travel publications.

So it was a thrill for me to see my article appear on Amie's great website yesterday!  I wrote about fun things to do with kids in southern Bavaria, Germany.  Here is the link to my story, in case you want to read about crazy King Ludwig’s three magnificent castles, summer sledding in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and the Spirit Gorge in Mittenwald.  Lots of great times to be had in Bavaria!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On a Bike in Kinderdijk - Part II

Yesterday I posted about the destination, and today I would like to recount the fun we had getting there!  My husband, two kids and I traveled to the gorgeous countryside of Kinderdijk in The Netherlands last summer by bicycle from Rotterdam.  We had taken a practice ride a few days before, around Gouda, just to see how we liked the Dutch rental bikes and also to test our comprehension of the extensive Dutch network of fietspaden (bicycle paths).  Our circumspection wasn’t necessary, however, because there’s not much Holland does better than cycling.  Their rental bikes are modern and new, and the cycleways are numbered and mapped and physically separated from vehicle traffic with their own traffic lights and directional signs.

So the morning of our day trip to Kinderdijk I packed lunch, some snacks, and our rain jackets, and we hopped on the train from Delft, where we were staying, to Rotterdam.  That very comfortable ride cost only 6.10€ per person.  Just behind Rotterdam Central Station is a bike rental shop, and here we were outfitted with our 18-gear bikes by very friendly clerks who adjusted the seats and handlebars to our liking, all the while speaking perfect English, of course.  The bikes were 7€ per person for the whole day.  

Resourceful hubby had already mapped out the entire route on one of Holland's many bike route planning websites.  He had gone over it beforehand with the kids to engage their sense of authority (and to enlist their keen observation skills in case he messed up, no doubt.)  And then we were off.

Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam
I have to admit, getting through the busy city streets of Rotterdam was perhaps the only time I was slightly nervous about my children on their bikes, but as soon as we crossed the Erasmus Bridge over the New Meuse River, the bike path completely diverted from the road and I altogether relaxed.  The riding was effortless - Holland is so flat that practically the only time there's any climb at all is going across an overpass.

There was one brief cloudburst in the morning, but we just pulled over and waited it out:

Continuing on, eventually we came to the village of Slikkerveer, where we boarded a ferry with our bikes:  

A quick jaunt across the river Noord and the first stop was Kinderdijk, where we disembarked.  A minute or two more on our bicycles and we found ourselves on the beautiful two mile stretch of levy with the largest concentration of old windmills in The Netherlands.

The Kodak moments in this town are endless.  We had crisp blue skies, billowy white clouds, and four cameras.  Not a single one of the 19 windmills went unphotographed.  One of the mills is open to tourists every day in the summer months, and we ventured inside.  The mechanics and inner workings are fascinating (and worth photographing, too!)

Fortunately my pre-trip research had advised me that there are no restaurants or snack vendors in Kinderdijk, so we had come prepared with our packed lunch of sandwiches, fruit, and stroopwafels.  What a memorable picnic it was:

By late afternoon, it was time to head back.  We didn't return the way we came.  We rode south, along the Noord River a little over two miles, to the town of Alblasserdam.  There at the wharf we boarded the waterbus with our bicycles.  Waterbus Route 1 travels every half hour from Dordrecht to Rotterdam and vice versa, with several stops along the way.  The ride is only 2.50€ for adults and 1.50€ for children.  The waterbus can carry about 130 passengers and 60 bicycles.

After a scenic and restful river ride we came ashore again in Rotterdam, where our tired legs managed to pedal us back to the station bicycle shop to return our rentals.  And that was the end of a very inexpensive, physically active, wonderfully memorable family day!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On a Bike in Kinderdijk - Part I

“I was born in that windmill over there, but now I live in this one here with my wife and two children,” said the ruggedly handsome, middle-aged man leaning against the 300-year-old stone windmill tower, unnervingly close to its rapidly spinning blades.  Stopping to chat with this wooden-shoed Dutchman who had spent his entire life in the desolate, windswept grasslands of the polder that is Kinderdijk was one of the highlights of our visit to The Netherlands last summer.

“I almost married another girl I knew before my wife, but she didn’t want to live in a windmill,” he added.

Our brief conversation with this village local bestowed priceless cultural insight not only to me, who can’t possibly imagine raising children in a confined and ferociously churning windmill with propelling death-blades outside the front door, but to my children, who couldn’t imagine living in such isolated, rural surroundings.  What a treasure this day was for our family.

Our visit to Kinderdijk, the quintessential Dutch windmill town with scenery right out of a van Ruisdael painting, was marvelous in every way.  There are few spots as scenic as this area with 19 windmills, built hundreds of years ago to drain the water from the land, surrounded by grazing herds of cows, sheep, and goats along the quiet rivers.  And the most striking thing about this several mile stretch of reclaimed land is that there are no restaurants, no souvenir shops, no vendors, no hotels - just a bike path.

And we were on that beautiful bike path all day.  We had rented bikes in Rotterdam and rode the easy 9 miles from there to Kinderdijk.  More on that tomorrow.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Movie Monday: Madeline

I've suggested reading the Madeline book series by Ludwig Bemelmans before, but since it's Movie Monday, may I also recommend the films?  There are the animated films, available in a boxed set of 7 DVDs, which expose youngsters to a little bit of French and Spanish vocabulary and are delightful for children as young as one year.  There are 14 stories on the DVDs which provide nearly 6 hours of Madeline entertainment.  Meet Me in Paris is another favorite of mine, which for some reason is not included in this boxed set, but introduces kids to the city of Paris.

For more Madeline fun there's also the 1998 live action Madeline movie starring adorable Hatty Jones as Madeline and Francis McDormand as Miss Clavel.  It's a sweet movie with fun adventures and positive messages, especially for young girls.

Watch the trailer here to see if it's appropriate for your children, since it is rated PG.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Did You Know?

Did you know the best time to buy airline tickets is
on Tuesdays at 3:00 p.m.?  
That's when they're cheapest.

This is according to Rick Seaney at

Friday, February 18, 2011

Photo Friday: The Art of Paris

I like this picture in black and white
because it's nostalgic for me . . . I took it
during my first visit to Paris, over 25 years ago.

For other fun travel photos, head over to

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Should You Rent a Car in Europe?

Should you rent a car in Europe?  After all the praise I’ve heaped on the European rail network, you might think my answer is no.  But there are times when a rental car might be a good idea.

When we travel in Europe for a longer period, we often rent a car the last week or two of the trip.  By this time we’re tired of lugging the suitcases in and out of trains and buses.  Also, we have a lot of extended family in and around the city of Würzburg, Germany, where a car certainly makes it easier to dart from village to village for visits.

It’s a good idea to rent your car from home, before you get to Europe – it’s much less expensive this way.  We’ve always found the best deal from Auto Europe, but it certainly is wise to compare the rates on the individual rental car company sites as well (Avis, Hertz, Dollar, etc.)  One thing we have learned, however, is that a significant fee is charged to return your vehicle to a different country than where you picked it up.  Cross borders all you like while you have it, but return it to the same country.

Make sure you check with your car insurance company whether you’re covered in Europe.  Chances are you’re not.  Then check with your credit card company to see if they offer rental car insurance overseas.  Many do!  You must use that card to rent your car.  But will it really work when it comes down to it, or is there fine print in your credit card agreement that will give them an excuse to deny you?  I have personal experience that yes, my Capital One Visa card promptly and kindly reimbursed me for the damages I incurred in Germany to my Avis rental car.  (Dang, those narrow streets over there – I scraped the side of the car while parking!)

Technorati claim: VUWR9647VUB9

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tryst in Trieste

When my husband and I visited Trieste together more than a decade ago we didn’t have children.  In the meantime, one of my German cousins has chosen to visit this seaport city in Italy with her little ones quite often, and agrees that it has a lot to offer families with kids.

Trieste is located in the northeast of the top of Italy’s boot cuff, cradled in the curve of a gulf in the Adriatic Sea, at the foot of a hillside that becomes a mountain.

Only a stone’s throw from the border of Slovenia, Trieste has been influenced throughout history by Germanic, Latin, and Slavic cultures (read:  very good food!)  Like most towns in Italy, it’s a lovely place to stroll through its many narrow alleyways and admire its old, elaborate buildings.  In the main square of old Trieste, Piazza Unità d’Italia, you will find Palazzo del Governo, a large Neoclassical palace that houses government offices, and the imposing Palazzo del Municipio, or town hall, as well as other impressive examples of Austro-Hungarian architecture.

Glorious Piazza Unità d' Italia, the largest waterfront town square in Europe.

There are two castles in Trieste to delight young children.  Miramare Castle on the waterfront has beautiful, serene gardens with ponds, and the peaceful, isolated Castle of San Giusto has spectacular views of the city below.  Trieste also has several architectural remains and temples, including a Roman theater built between the first and second centuries AD.

Miramare Castle

For more family fun, visit the Civico Acquario Marino (an aquarium with a delightful penguin exhibit) and L’Ausonia, a spa center with a sea-water swimming pool, as well as a bar, children’s area, lots of open space and a solarium.

The beaches in Trieste are very popular with families, but personally, I like sand, and Trieste doesn’t have any.  All the beaches are rocks.  There’s also an entrance fee at most of the local beaches.  Lanterna beach near the city center has a barrier separating the area reserved for women and children from an area reserved for men.  (Doesn’t work well for families, does it?)  Stabilimento di Miramare beach is a quiet place for families, and there are hot showers and a large changing room, but no convenient parking.

A final interesting attraction in Trieste is the Grotta Gigante, a cave that has been open to the public for the last 100 years.  In 1995, it was entered in the Guiness Book of World Records as the world’s largest show cave.  One of its caverns is spacious enough to hold St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Filled with stalactites and stalagmites, the most impressive one is almost 40 feet tall.  The cave is open for tours every day in July and August.

Trieste is a direct two hour train ride from Venice, and worth a day trip or even an overnight for you and your family.  Or, if you're spending more time in Trieste, take a drive across the border to Slovenia to see something entirely new!

Monday, February 14, 2011

This Spa's For You

It’s Valentine’s Day.  I hope you all get a lovely, romantic gift of flowers, chocolate, jewelry, or dinner at a restaurant.  Some of you lucky ladies will maybe get a spa treatment, so I thought I’d write a few words about spas today.

The word “spa” comes from a town in Belgium actually named Spa.  The city of Spa has been famous in Europe for its healing hot mineral springs since the early 14th century.  There are many spa towns in Europe with natural water sources believed to have health benefits.  In fact, just about every European country has several hotspots of geothermal activity.

The town of Spa, Belgium

You may be surprised to know that one of Europe’s most famous spa towns is in Hungary.  Heviz, in western Hungary, is home to Europe’s largest natural thermal lake and the main spa facility there was built over 100 years ago.  Bulgaria, surprisingly, has over 500 mineral springs, including the hottest spring in the Balkans at 217° F!  Serbia is known for its many spa cities, too.

You’re probably familiar with the steam bathing and ritual cleansing of Turkish baths - Istanbul is brimming with these luxurious saunas.  And maybe you know that Iceland is richer in natural hot springs than any other country in the world, many of them with dramatically spouting geysers.

It’s obvious by the name there’s some sort of water source in Bath, England, in Somerset county.  In fact, the hot springs in Bath are the only ones naturally occurring in the UK.  Bath was first established as a restorative spa resort by the Romans in AD 43, when they built baths and a temple on the surrounding hills.

Roman bath in Bath, England

If you’ve ever been to Germany, you might have wondered why so many cities there are “Bad.”  Bad Kissingen, Bad Homburg, Baden-Baden are a few.  This is because Bad means bath in German, and there are many, many spa towns in Germany.  With typical German authoritarianism, Bad as the prefix of a city is an official designation and requires governmental authorization (which may also be suspended if a town fails to maintain the required standards).

Serenity Spa at Seaham Hall in England
And, since this is a blog for families with children, you might be interested to know that lists Serenity Spa at Seaham Hall in Durham, England, as the Top for Teens.  Thirteen to 16 year olds may receive various treatments here when accompanied by an adult, and everyone can enjoy the gym, pools, outdoor hot tubs, steam rooms, and roof garden.

Many Europeans are firm believers in the enriching physical and spiritual health benefits of hot thermal baths, and often their week-long stays at such resorts are covered by their health insurance.  But their wonderful wellness hotels, day spas and destination resorts are open to all vacationers coming to heal and rejuvenate.

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