Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Best Bratwurst in Town

I'm going to recommend a couple of good places to eat in Würzburg since I blogged so fondly about it yesterday.  For the best grab-it-and-go bratwurst sandwich in the entire city, head over to the Marktplatz (market place) which is the main square in Würzburg.  Next to the red and white church in the square there are a couple of sort of portable (but they're always there) food stands.  This is where you want to get a bratwurst with mustard.  Yummmm.  Here is my son enjoying his (and someone else's):

Right after you finish your bratwurst, turn towards that red and white church.  Next to it is an incredibly elaborate, yellow and white Baroque mansion with a Rococo stucco-work façade called the Falkenhaus, where you should take a few photos (since it's one of Würzburg's highlights).

Marienkapelle (church) and the Falkenhaus

And right next to the Falkenhaus, is a lovely and delicious little café called Café Michel.  This is where you want to get a cup of coffee and a pastry.

I challenge you to try not having
 a difficult time making a selection!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Würzburg, the Motherland

Disclaimer:  This is an extremely biased post about a magnificent city in Germany called Würzburg.  It is biased because Würzburg is my motherland – the city near where my mother was born and raised.  (I say near because she was actually born and raised in a little village outside of town that is so obscure, some inhabitants of Würzburg haven’t even heard of it.)  I have been visiting this city regularly since I was 3 years old, and am in love with it.

But it’s not just me saying this town is special – Würzburg is in the tour books.  It lies at the beginning (or end, depending on your direction) of the Romantic Road, a stretch of highway through German medieval towns running from Würzburg to Füssen that makes a popular drive for tourists in Germany.  That’s right – Würzburg is right along there with Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Neuschwanstein, and just as worthy of your visit. 

What I’ve personally always thought makes the town so beautiful and interesting is its “100 churches.”  (Although that’s what is said, I think the number might not quite reach that high.)  Baroque, Romanesque, Renaissance, and Gothic façades, spires, steeples, domes, and carillons dot this city, begetting romantic squares and a stunning skyline.  The interiors of these churches are exquisite and ornate, and I like to visit as many as I can (my favorite is Neumünsterkirche) before my kids have reached maximum level church-fatigue.

Festung Marienberg
The place to go when the kids want to be entertained is up to the Fortress Marienberg.  This enormous fortress, the prominent symbol of Würzburg, sits proudly atop the city overlooking the River Main.  Built in 704 A.D., the ancient structure - complete with turrets, a dungeon, an armory, and a museum – offers plenty to see and do for kids of all ages.  My young son never tires of looking at medieval weaponry and suits of armor.

Lots of room to run around.

Both my kids are always fascinated by the well-house and the seemingly bottomless well, and after touring the castle interior, are eager to run around outside in the courtyard and moat.  And when it's time for parents to take a break, there’s a nice beergarten with excellent views of the city.

Excellent views of the city.

The Residenz Palace
I know I mentioned churches already, but do not miss at least a peak into the little baroque Hofkirche chapel which faces into the courtyard of the Residenz Palace in Würzburg.  The marble and gold interior is absolutely decadent.  The Catholic bishops who ruled Würzburg for over five centuries needed a place to live, and so built this enormous palace of residence in the 18th century.  Tours of the palace interior are offered daily in English at 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. and are super.  The most notable feature inside the palace is the immense, majestic staircase and the ceiling above it - one of the largest ceiling frescos in the world, painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.  It's truly spectacular, but not something young children will be impressed by, nor will they probably be able to endure the tour length.  Take them out instead into the (free entrance!) palace gardens where there are fountains, covered trellises, steps, balconies and snack stands in the summer.  Big plus:  nice, clean, free bathrooms here in the garden.

Würzburg is a city just small enough to cover most of it on foot.  There are also streetcars to get you across town and to the train station. There is so much family fun in this charming city, it'll take many more posts for me to cover completely.  I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Going Up?

The Euro is not moving in the right direction for us budget travelers.  One Euro costs $1.41 today, and around Christmas time it was only about $1.33.  If I were able to recall anything at all from the four years I spent getting my degree in Economics, I might be able to make some sort of brilliant analysis based on world events of where our currency is headed and why.  But too many years now in my role as domestic engineer have caused me to get a little rusty in the ol' dismal science.  Suffice it to say, if the Euro remains high (or creeps even higher!) we're all in for an expensive summer of travel to my favorite continent.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Movie Monday: The Moon-Spinners

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •
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.
•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

This one's a little overly dramatic - might I even say schmaltzy - but it's a typical 1960s genre Hayley Mills Disney movie.  In The Moon-Spinners, Mills plays a young English girl visiting Greece, which is why I'm recommending it to you and your family.  The movie was shot entirely on location on the Mediterranean island of Crete.  While Mills' character, Nikky, gets involved in a mysterious crime and the ensuing adventures, you can enjoy the scenery in the film.  Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, with sandy beaches, rocky coastline, and characteristic white-washed buildings.  Watch the trailer to see if you think this film is right for your family movie night!

Nikky's view from The Moon-Spinner Hotel.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Swiss Rail Passes

Remember my rant about the airlines not offering me a decent group airfare rate for my Girl Scout trip to Switzerland?  Well, I'm happy to report a much better experience with Rail Europe.  They offered me a slightly reduced group rate on their selection of Swiss Rail Passes, and their agents are prompt and helpful.

Trains generally don't open for sale until 60 or 90 days prior to the train departure date (with the exception of Eurostar trains which open up to 6 months in advance).  But one advantage of booking through Rail Europe is that you and your group don't have to wait for that booking window to open.  Upon receipt of your acceptance, Rail Europe then requests space on the train right away so it is confirmed when the train(s) open for sale.  This is a big relief for me since I'm not a procrastinator and like things taken care of well in advance.

Trains are so convenient and comfortable for families.

A Swiss rail pass is definitely a good value when you travel by train in Switzerland.  In my experience, it's the only European country where your rail pass also gets you on lake steamers, mountain-top trains, cable cars, and buses for free or for a reduction in price.  Several of the Swiss rail passes also allow free entrance to over 400 museums and exhibitions.

At first glance, the many choices in rail passes can be confusing.  There's the Swiss Card, Transfer Ticket, Half Fare Card, Family Card, Youth Pass, Flexi Pass, Saver Pass, and the Flexi Saver Pass.  But the Rail Europe website offers a pretty clear explanation of each and a price chart that makes things easier to understand.  I think we're going to go with the 4-day Flexi Pass.  This one allows travelers to ride the train on any 4 days within a month.  It's $158 per girl (15 years old and under).  That will provide us a ride from the airport to our destination of Adelboden and back to the airport again to go home, plus two day trips to wherever we choose, in between.  Perfect flexibility - I like that.
I love train travel!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Photo Friday: Keukenhof Garden


No, these are not plastic!  They're real tulips!

Since Spring sprung this week, I wanted to share some pictures of mine from the Keukenhof flower garden in the Netherlands.  There's no place better in the entire world to view millions of tulips of every color and shape.  A visit to the Keukenhof is breathtaking.

Monique Rubin, an expat living in Amsterdam, was there for the opening ceremonies this week and has written an article for with all the details you need to visit this fabulous attraction.

Thanks to for hosting Photo Friday every week.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Perfect Pickles Chips

My son and daughter laughed about a lot of different things in Europe last summer, like smoothies being called smooties in Belgium, bathroom attendants wiping the toilet seat after you exit the stall, and the bright orange forest slugs in Germany that come out when it rains.  My daughter, in particular, got a real kick out of the many different flavor varieties of potato chips in Europe, and took these pictures:

The Perfect Pickles flavored chips got her vote for goofiest.

Other varieties available were: Pepperoni, Pickles, Paprika,
Heinz Tomato Ketchup, and Barbeque Ham.

Not pictured here were also Steak flavored, and Cheeseburger flavored, which we found in France.  We actually really liked the hickory-smoked flavor of the Steak chips, but couldn't bring ourselves to try the Cheeseburger variety.  And the Heinz Tomato Ketchup flavor was definitely a no-go for me.  But then I suppose Europeans would think Nacho Cheese and Taco and Cool Ranch flavors were pretty odd too, wouldn't they?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

3 Reasons to Visit Hallstatt in Austria With Your Kids

Your children are school-aged now, your life is busy, and you find your mind frequently wandering off to a quiet place, perhaps surrounded by mountains, with a calm, clear lake in the distance and a gurgling creek outside your rustic chalet.  You don’t hear the sound of traffic, or electric leaf-blowers, or the evening news.  You smell fresh rain and warm apple strudel as you get cozy on the couch under the fluffy down-filled comforter you pulled off the bed.  But then, your family get-away to the Austrian Alps is ruined because . . . the kids are bored!!  This won’t happen if you take them to one of the most charming villages in the Alps, Hallstatt, in the upper Austrian region of Salzkammergut.  Just getting there is fun:  it is only accessible by ferry unless you have a car (which isn’t optimal because car parking in town is verboten.)  The kids will love the ferry ride, and mom and dad, well, their jaws will drop at the beauty of the approaching landscape and enchantment of this secluded, fairy-tale village.  Hallstatt is etched into a mountainside, sits precariously on the edge of stunning Lake Hallstätter, and is a World Heritage Site for Cultural Heritage for its many major Celtic archaeological findings (i.e. it’s very, very old).

On the ferry crossing over to Hallstatt

The lake has a beautifully designed children’s playground and swimming area with a diving platform, a slide into the water, and a two footbridges over to a little man-made island.  Of course the water’s cold (it’s melted glacier) but my kids didn’t have a problem going in!

The little island you see is part of the children's play area.

In addition to the lake, there are two other fantastic activities for families in Hallstatt that will defeat any child’s boredom or rainy day blues.  The first is a tour of the world’s very first known salt mine, and the second is a trip to the Dachstein Ice Caves.

It’s an easy hike along the hillside, with sensational views, from the town center to the Salzwelten Hallstatt salt mine.  (There’s a two-way funicular available to ride too, if you’d rather.)  At the start of the tour, each guest dresses into a colorful cover-all with a padded leather fanny.  This padding is essential, for guests enter the mine the same way the miners do:   straddling a 209 ft. long thrilling, wooden slide.  They take your family picture racing down the slide together and measure your speed with radar, too.

The subsequent tour of the underground salt lakes and crystal chambers is fascinating for children and adults, and to exit the mine you ride out aboard a tiny train.  Talk about fun for kids of all ages!

The train that takes you out of the salt mine.

The Dachstein Ice Caves are not directly in Hallstatt, but only a short bus ride to the other side of the lake above the town of Obertraun.  Once there, follow the signs to the Dachsteineishöhle (Dachstein ice hole) and you will find the ticket office for the gondola which takes you up to the caves.  After you reach the top by gondola, you will then walk about 15 minutes up a trail with incredible views of Lake Hallstätter.  Soon you will see the cave entrance.  Pull on a sweater and enter stunning caverns of ice stalactites and stalagmites, illuminated natural ice sculptures, and narrow passageways with your very informative guide.  Your family will gasp at this mysterious natural wonder.

We have very fond memories of our stay in breathtaking, panoramic Hallstatt and recommend it to anyone, not just families.  Even the hotel we stayed at in Halstatt was picture perfect, and probably one of my favorite inns ever.  It will take another post just to describe, so stay tuned!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Movie Monday: Animated Heidi

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •
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.
•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Oops . . . I forgot to add one more Heidi film to my list last week.  Heidi, the 1996 animated version by Jetlag Productions, is only 47 minutes long and is especially entertaining for younger tykes.  The film is certainly not Disney quality animation, but it's sweet and has some songs kids will love.  It's a fine rendition of the classic story of the little Swiss girl and her grandfather living in the Alps.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New ATM PayPass Card

Just received a new ATM card from my bank and it's one of those PayPass cards.  Now I'm wondering if this technology changes anything about the way I use my ATM card in Europe.  I've never had a problem making bank withdrawals with my ATM card in Europe and I wouldn't like that to change.  Europeans have used chip-and-PIN credit and debit cards - "smartcards" - for some time already now, and most of Western Europe should be totally converted to chip and PIN in 2012.  Information I've read, however, says you'll still be able to use your magnetic strip credit cards, as long as the merchant has swipe capability.

Hubby and I try to charge most of our expenses in Europe on a credit card when possible (not possible at little crêpe stands in Paris or local ferryboats in Denmark, for example), and are always pleased to see the reasonable exchange rate we get on our bill when we get home.  But when you do need cash, we've found that the most affordable and convenient way to exchange currency in Europe is through an ATM.  The exchange rates are always competitive, even when you factor in any fees they might charge.  Just be sure you call your bank from home before you leave on your trip and let them know where you'll be traveling, otherwise their fraud department might freeze your account.

With this new embedded chip technology comes the risk of "electronic pickpocketing."  (Always something new to worry about it, isn't there?)  Theoretically, a criminal with a few high-tech devices could scan the information through your back pocket and gain access to your card number without ever laying a hand on your card.  Since 2007, even passports have embedded computer chips, so identity thieves could hypothetically lift that information, too.  Sigh . . . the pros and cons of technology.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Photo Friday: Edelweiss, Edelweiss

"Edelweiss, Edelweiss, bless my homeland forever."  We've all heard Captain Von Trapp sing it.  But did you know it's illegal to pick this delicate little flower in many countries in Europe?  The wild Edelweiss is heavily protected by law.  It's one of the rarest flowers in the Alps and grows only in high altitude.  I took this picture in Halstatt, Austria, and it wasn't in the wild.  It was being sold as a souvenir in a shop!

Other travel photos are featured on

Thursday, March 17, 2011

We Salute the Irish!

Today's the day we salute the Irish!  I wish there was a day reserved to salute every foreign country.  Wouldn't it be fun to dress up and learn about the cultures of, say, Albania, or Bolivia, or Cameroon every year?  Oh well, at least the Irish are a colorful, proud, historic people with great native costumes, music and food.  Makes for some fun parades around this country of ours.  Which gives me a chance to shamelessly post some more pictures of our trip to Seattle last weekend, where there was a terrific (albeit wet) St. Patrick' Day parade taking place.  We watched it from near the Seattle Public Library.  Love the kilts and the bagpipes!

St. Patty's Day parade in Seattle.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Seattle, Germany, and Multi-Generational Travel

At the top of the Space Needle in Seattle last weekend.

Spent last weekend in Seattle with my mother and my daughter.  We had never been there before and went up to visit family.  Seattle is a beautiful city and we had a terrific time.

Wait.  This is a blog about Europe.  Can I work this in somehow?  Well, yes.  I'm going to post today about the joys and benefits of multi-generational travel.

I am very blessed to still have my mother, who is also healthy enough to travel and enjoys it.  And what an enriching gift it is to my children when we all travel together!

My mother lives here in the U.S. – near us, in fact – but was visiting her hometown in Würzburg, Germany, a few years ago when we joined her there.  I believe our time together traveling in Germany will be one of my children’s most cherished childhood memories when they grow up.  The experiences we shared strolling through palace gardens, walking across old bridges, and delighting in creme-filled pastries formed positive and lasting impressions.  Oma pointed out places she used to have lunch and where she used to work, and the kids developed a connection to her past as well as to history, since she told stories of how she remembered the city in ruins after the war.

Together, my husband, son, daughter, mother and I traveled on to Munich, where we met with more relatives and spent time touring around the big metropolis.  The endless opportunities for my children to interact with their Oma about new and interesting sites, foods, and experiences strengthened their bonds and emotional ties.  I think extended family, starting with grandparents, builds a child’s sense of identity and security. 

My mom's hometown in Germany.
The benefits and beauty of the relationship extend to the grandparents and parents as well, of course.  My mother treasures every moment with her grandchildren, but special times and travels with them bring her unforgettable joy.  Grandchildren also provide a healthy focus in life and keep the older generations' minds and bodies active.  As for me, every trip with my family, especially ones that include extended family, first and foremost fill me with gratitude.  I am very fortunate to have such opportunities.  Most of all, I value the continuity between the past and future that these opportunities provide my children and hope it builds pride and understanding in them.  And I look forward to traveling with my grandchildren one day!

What children need most are the essentials that grandparents
provide in abundance.  They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life.  And, most importantly, cookies.  
~ Rudolph Giuliani

Monday, March 14, 2011

Movie Monday: Heidi

Like The Sound of Music, Shirley Temple’s Heidi is a scenic, classic film that all young families can watch together at home.  Talented, curly-headed Shirley Temple is adorable in her little dirndl dress, playing the Swiss orphan girl living with her grandfather in the Alps.  Never mind that the 1937 movie was filmed in Big Bear Lake, California, not the Alps, there’s culture to be gleaned from Heidi, her lederhosen-wearing grandfather, and the young goatherd, Peter.  Watch the trailer here to bring back your own childhood television memories.

If you prefer, there's a 1968 TV adaption of Heidi with Maximilian Schell.  You can watch the whole movie on Hulu here.

There's also a Walt Disney classic television drama, with a little more authentic scenery.  It was filmed in Salzburg, Austria, and the Tyrolean Alps.  This 1993 feature stars Jason Robards, Jane Seymour, and Patricia Neal.

And finally, if your family prefers more current films, there's a 1995 Heidi DVD with contemporary-paced action and stunning mountain scenery, although it was filmed in Slovenia and Wales, not the Alps.  Watch the trailer here.

The story of Heidi is timeless, no matter which film production, and a lovely introduction to alpine life for even the youngest of children.  Enjoy!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Help Me Choose a Hostel!

Now that we have our flight and know that our arrival time in Zurich is late afternoon, it would probably make sense to spend that night in Zurich with the girls rather than take a two hour train ride to Adelboden.  (I'm taking eight teenage Girl Scouts to Switzerland in December - see this link for details.)  That would just wipe everybody out.  So I’m checking out the youth hostels in town.

Hostelling International has one youth hostel in Zurich.  It’s clean, modern, spacious, offers free breakfast, and has impeccable reviews on TripAdvisor.  The only negative is the location.  It's a 20 minute tram ride from the train station to the hostel, and the same again to get into old town.

HI Youth Hostel in Zurich

Then, there is a private hostel called City Backpacker Hotel Biber that has a fantastic location – right in the middle of old town Zurich.  But it has more negatives:  the cost is a few dollars less than the HI hostel, but doesn’t include breakfast; and there are a few TripAdvisor complaints about cleanliness and too many stairs to go up with luggage.

Here are my thoughts:  a central location is critical, since we'll only have a few hours the next morning to spend in Zurich (a plus for Hotel Biber).  A breakfast buffet is important so that I can make sure all the girls get off to a healthy, well-fed start on our first full day in Europe (a plus for HI).  Cleanliness is crucial so the girls don't complain on their first night away from home (a plus for HI, but you can't believe every review on TripAdvisor).  The stairs?  Most old hotels in Europe don't have elevators, so it's part of the experience, but on the other hand, I don't want to get stuck carrying eight girls' bags up by myself!

Which hostel would you choose, Biber or HI?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...