Friday, April 29, 2011

Photo Friday: Thinking of the Windsors Today

Thinking of the Windsors today . . . .

(Photo of Windsor Castle taken by me in 1976.)

I feel compelled to publish an afternoon edit today about how much I enjoyed watching the Royal Wedding.  There's not much I'll willingly sacrifice sleep for, but I was up at the wee hours this morning with the TV on and a box of tissues by my side.  I even woke up my daughter as soon as the bride appeared from her hotel.  The wedding was extraordinary, and the epitome of joy for a Europhile.
God save the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Many thanks to for hosting Photo Friday every week.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hotel Recommendation in Desenzano del Garda

Allow me to recommend the family-friendly hotel we stayed in some years ago in Desenzano del Garda, Italy, which I posted about yesterday.  Hotel City, just steps from Lake Garda and also from the historical town center in Desenzano, has Family Rooms and Junior Suites that accommodate a family of four.  These rooms cost from €140 to €195 depending on the size of the room and the season.  The Family Rooms have two separate bedrooms and two bathrooms - this is a great feature if you have older children!  Children under 4 years stay for free when using existing bedding, and cots for children under 2 years are free of charge.  Hotel City has free wifi, free parking, and yes, air conditioning!  A generous breakfast buffet is included in the price, too.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lago di Garda in Italy

Sometimes you’ve gotta expect the unexpected when you plan activities on a trip.  My husband is an ardent windsurfer and was really looking forward to engaging in his favorite sport at one of Europe’s primo surf and sail hotspots, Lake Garda in northern Italy.  We loaded up the car with all the bulky, heavy, large (read excessive) gear that is essential for killer windsurfing and took off from Munich.  The northern tip of Lake Garda is exceptionally popular for sailing sports due to its consistent, reliable thermal winds – winds that are categorized by their direction and intensity and even have names:  the Ora, the Pelér, the Ponale, and the Balinot.
My cousin, a frequent windsurfing trekker to Lake Garda, was in the driver’s seat for the eager drive through southern Germany, Austria, and across the precarious Brenner Pass that stretches through the Tyrolean Alps.  But upon our arrival in Torbole sul Garda, the men were sadly disappointed in what was the most unseasonal, unexpected, stock-still weather anyone in Trento could remember.  Not even a ripple on the lake.  We never even unloaded the gear.

All was not lost that weekend years ago, however, because – windsurfing or not – we still found ourselves in the majestic lake region of northern Lake Garda.  The largest lake in Italy, Garda is located just about 70 miles south of the point where Austria, Switzerland, and Italy meet on the map.  The lake is a popular vacation spot for German, Dutch, Belgian, and other cold weather European travelers, who enjoy the destination for it’s beaches, sunshine, mild Mediterranean climate, and water sports.

View over Torbole
Different parts of the lake vary dramatically in both landscape and culture.  Upper Garda, in the province of Trento, lies at the foot of the Italian Alps, near the Dolomites, and the affluent towns of Torbole sur Garda and Riva del Garda are excellent family vacation destinations.  Summers here are warm but rarely hot and the beaches are wide.  Important to know though is that the beaches are shingle, not sand, so not only might the rocks be rough on your little ones' feet, but there's also no sand play.  Pick up a couple of rattan beach mats (sold in the local shops) for your family to lay on on the beach though, and the stretch becomes more comfortable.  Families can stroll along the 2 km long beach promenade in Torbole and enjoy the rich Italian atmosphere with its colored houses, bobbing fishing boats, and open-air cafés surrounded by sheer mountain cliffs.  The town of Riva has a wonderful medieval fortress, La Rocca, right on the lake and bounded by a canal with a lifting bridge.  Your kids will love it, and during the summer there are often concerts and other free activities.  Also, from Riva del Garda there are various boat trips to other villages and towns.  Ferries, hydrofoils, and motorized catamarans operate all year.

Long ago shot I took in Desenzano
As you drive further south along the shoreline of Lake Garda, you'll notice the landscape becoming drier and the scattering of pine trees growing fewer.  At the lower end of the lake, a popular spot is the town of Desenzano del Garda in Lombardy.  Desenzano has three large beaches (again - rocky, not sandy) and many hotels, as well as a shopping center with a designer discount outlet.  You'll have no trouble finding cuisine for your family as pizzerias and gelaterie are plentiful.  Ferries around the lake are available near the main port in Desenzano, and pedal-boats can be rented near Desanzanino Beach.  And, if the children are tired of nature and must be appeased, only a 30 minute drive from Desenzano is . . . wait for it . . . Gardaland, the third most popular theme park in Europe.  Personally, I haven't been there, but from the website it looks like it has a large variety of rides and attractions.  If you go there, let me know if it's worth it!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Movie Monday: Anastasia

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

As I sat there over the weekend musing out loud, "What will be my Movie Monday post this week?" my daughter said, "Do animated movies count?  How about Anastasia?  It takes place in Russia and Paris!"  So Anastasia it is.  Thank you, dear daughter.  And since she just watched it last week, I had her write the summary:

When the evil villain Rasputin attempts to finish off the Russian Royal Family, only Princess Anastasia and her grandmother, Empress Marie, survive.  Marie escapes to Paris, but Anastasia is left behind in St. Petersburg.  After ten years in an orphanage, Anastasia sets off to discover her identity, with no memory of her royal life.  She finds two men seeking the reward money for turning in the Princess to the Empress in Paris.  The three of them take the train to Paris together.  However, Anastasia doesn't know that the men are only doing this for the money.  The Empress has already seen many girls pretending to be Anastasia and is tired of being disappointed.  But the characters' persistence convinces her to at least look at Anastasia.  After a joyful reunion and exciting events in the city of lights, everything ends happily ever after.  The characters sing a song about Paris and dance on the Arc de Triomphe and at the Moulin Rouge. They go up in the Eiffel Tower.  Because this is a Disney movie, it has the classic villain "scariness" that might not be appropriate for kids under six.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Pääsiäistä

That's Finnish in the title, by the way.  Isn't that cool looking?

Here's wishing you a Happy Easter in a multitude of European languages:

Boa Páscoa - Portuguese

God Påske - Danish

¡Felices Pascuas! - Spanish

Pasg Hapus - Welsh

Joyeuses Pâques - French

Frohe Ostern - German

Gëzuar Pashkët - Albanian

Καλό πάσχα - Greek

Hyvää Pääsiäistä - Finnish

Bona Pasqua - Catalan

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Celebrations in Europe

Just like Christmas traditions, Easter and Holy Week customs throughout Europe vary from country to country and even region to region.  Most customs include religious rituals and church services, candy, feasting and family gatherings.  Easter festivities usually begin filling the streets, squares, and shops during Holy Week, the seven days before Easter Sunday, and it’s a colorful time to visit the Old World.  In some central and eastern European countries, Easter is a greater holiday than Christmas.

The Prague Easter market in the Old Town Square showcases over 100 stalls of handcrafts, toys, Czech crystal, regional delicacies and beer, and beautiful hand-painted eggs.  Folk dancers and residents in traditional costume provide a lively atmosphere.  For the children there are workshops for painting eggs and other activities.

In Romania, after the late evening church services on Holy Saturday, visitors can observe local peoples parading through the streets carrying lighted candles in a solemn procession.  In some villages, intricately decorated eggs are hung from tree branches, strung onto wires, featured in games, and taken to church to be blessed.

Unusual European customs include egg fights in Bulgaria, where whoever comes out of the game with an unbroken egg is the winner and assumed to be the most successful member of the family in the coming year, and the Hungarian tradition of Wet Monday, when boys throw buckets of cold water over girls to make them healthy for the rest of the year.

Wet Monday in Hungary.

Also, not to be missed, are the Holy Week festival in Braga, Portugal, and the Semana Santa processions in southern Spain, most famously in Seville.  The cities are crowded with tourists for the ancient traditions of floats in elaborate processions depicting the passion of Christ.

And, of course, the apogee of all Easter experiences would be in Vatican City.  Blessings, processions, vigils, and Masses in many languages are frequent throughout Holy Week.  A schedule of events is available on-line.  Be sure to check for closures of possible Vatican museum closures this week on-line here

Lastly, residents of every country enjoy food prepared for the Easter celebration.  Lamb, sweet breads, cakes, and eggs are traditional dishes for many.  In England, hot-cross buns are popular on Good Friday.  These are sweet fruit buns with crosses on top.  In Western Europe, the pretzel is eaten, and legend has it that the twists resemble the crossed arms of a person in prayer.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Photo Friday: A Holy Place, the Holy See, on a Holy Day

Today is Good Friday, a Holy Day, so here's a shot from the holiest place I've ever been.  St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.  The piazza is relatively uncrowded early in the morning, which was when I took this picture 
from the dome of the Vatican.

Check out other great photos every Friday at Delicious

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Herman the German

Herman the German Giant is not your typical rabbit found in Germany.  He's not of the variety Germans find nibbling at the cabbage in their garden or bouncing through the forest.  Herman is owned by a breeder in Germany who raises Grey German Giants, usually bred for fur and meat, and he weighs in at 22 lbs.  Just look at those feet!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Great Ad Campaign

I think Amtrak California's new ad campaign is very clever.  This billboard is my favorite:

You may experience a sudden loss of pressure.

I love it because, of course, I love train travel.  If only, if only, if only, we had a train system like they do in Europe.  Traveling would be so convenient and relaxing.

I also really like this one I found on a bus stop shelter:

If you have little ones you know what a bonus this is.  No waking up your kid to fasten his seat belt after he's just fallen asleep on a long flight.  No telling her to stay seated on her bottom hour after hour.  And no potty accidents due to them not telling you they had to go, since, "Mommy, the fasten seat belt light was on!"  (Speaking from personal experience here.)

Anyway, an extensive, high-speed rail system here in the U.S. is only a dream.  It would never be funded.  Plus, Americans are too attached to their cars.  Isn't Earth Day this week?  How about we all give up our cars for the day on Friday and hitch a ride on Amtrak?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Movie Monday: Hogan's Heroes

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

If you've never watched an episode of Hogan's Heroes, you might not believe me; but it really is a well-written, witty, entertaining show.  I actually loved watching it as a girl (I know, I know, we just didn't have a lot to choose from on TV back then) for the comedy and the intrigue and, of course, my serious crush on Colonel Hogan.  The show is still broadcast in syndication on various television stations and my 12 year old son has been hooked on it for over a year now.  Most boys his age are enamored with war (hence the popularity of video games as Modern Warfare, Call of Duty, and Battlefield Modern Combat) so he really enjoys the World War II setting of the show.  He's actually learned a bit from it - now familiar with the Luftwaffe, Allied forces, the Russian front, the Geneva Convention, Mein Kampf, Stalin, the BBC, and Stalingrad, he actually takes an interest in the war memorials and plaques found ubiquitously throughout Europe.

Typical World War II memorial plaque.
Dinkelsbühl, Germany

The show is designed to appeal to kids, what with the wisecracking, amiable Hogan and the blustering, inept Colonel Klink.  None of the prisoners are ever in serious danger, let alone shot; buildings, trains and cars blow up all the time but rarely does someone die.  It's a classic military sitcom, like M*A*S*H, only it takes place in a German POW camp.  (There have been misconceptions that the show is about a Jewish concentration camp, but that is incorrect.  Four of the actors with major Nazi roles in the show - Klink, Sgt. Schultz, Mjr. Hochstetter, and Gen. Burkhalter - were actually Jews, three of whom had fled Nazi Germany, and they demanded that there never be any Nazi sympathy in the program.)

Anyway, the most impressive aspect of the show is its production value and the performances of the actors.  Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink) received six Emmy nominations for supporting actor on Hogan's Heroes, winning twice.  Richard Dawson (who plays Cpl. Newkirk) is adorably funny with his charming Cockney accent (it helps if you can forget his later creepy tenure as the kissing host of Family Feud).  The international crew of prisoners running their elaborate American intelligence operations provide great comedy with just enough absurdity to truly make Hogan's Heroes fun to watch.

Other Movie Monday posts:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

100 Per Minute

Today I'll be spending most of the day getting CPR and first aid recertified.  I'm required as a Girl Scout leader to be trained before I can travel with my troop.  It's been four years since I was last trained, and I know everything has changed.  Now it's C-A-B (compressions, airway, breathing) instead of A-B-C.  I guess Resuscitation Annie and I will be getting reacquainted.  It's going to be a long day.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Photo Friday: Tow the Line

It's a great day when the kids are finally old enough to tow their bags themselves.

Lots of other travel photos are featured on

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Gets me dizzy and out of breath, but the kids love it!

I have found that every time I questioned whether or not my kids could make the climb to the top of a tower or church steeple we intended to ascend in order to take in a city view, it was my husband and I who ended up huffing and puffing behind the kids.  Really, the youngsters see twisting, turning, narrow stone staircases as an adventure and obviously don't suffer the same burning glutes and knotted calves that I do.

But I must admit, I'm always happy we made the trek once we're at the top and are rewarded with a panoramic view of a new city.

Two great climbs in Europe come to mind for dazzling views of two grand cities.  The first is the tower of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família, the most popular tourist attraction in Barcelona.  Not only are the 400 steps steep, but so is the admission price.  Admission to the church is 12.50€ for adults and 10.50€ for children under 18, and then it's another 2.50€ per person for the elevator.  (Most people take the elevator up and then walk down.)  The view of the city from the top of the basilica is worth it though.  Also, the staircase climb (up or down) allows for many different vantage points from which to study the intricacies of Gaudí's unusual architecture.  (The kids probably won't be studying any architecture on the way up, but you could challenge them to find Gaudí's many hidden symbols throughout the exterior, for example, "Find all the animals."  The uniqueness of this structure will become even more clear to them.)

A second fabulous church tower climb is the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Delft, the Netherlands.  We did this climb just last summer, and boy, was I glad there was a landing about halfway up to stop and take a rest.  The height of this tower to the top of the steeple is 357 feet, and from the observation point you can see Rotterdam and the Hague - even Amsterdam on a clear day.  Our view of Delft on this day in July was glorious.  We timed it just right, too.  We aimed to reach the top at noon so we could sit under the clock and listen to the carillon bells chime the hour.  It was beautiful.  Admission to climb the tower is 3.50€ for adults, 2.00€ for students 12 - 25 years, 1.50€ for children 6 - 11, and free for children 5 and under.

Under the clock in the bell tower of New Church in Delft.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Euro Fund-amentals

We have what we call the Euro Fund at home.  In the kitchen by the stove there’s a glass jar and every time the kids find a penny or a coin they drop it in the jar.  Every time they have to pay a small “fine” for not doing a chore it goes in the glass.  Every time I find coins in the washing machine or in pants’ pockets they go in the jar.  Then, before we leave for Europe, the kids count the change and divide it up between them.  It usually adds up to enough money for them each to buy themselves a couple of souvenirs.  The kids feel proud that they “earned” the money and made a contribution to our trip.

They also contribute to the bigger Euro Fund.  I have an account where I deposit birthday money or Christmas money that I get, or cash I earn from odd jobs.  (Like participating in focus groups, or Panda Research, or whatever – I love that kind of mad money!)  But how my son and daughter participate is, if they see a coupon in the newspaper and cut it out for me, or spot a sale item or a store discount that I can use, I deposit the value of the coupon or discount into the Euro Fund.  This adds up rather quickly and the kids get a lot of satisfaction knowing they are helping to reach our goal.  It becomes a family motivated effort that's fun at the same time.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Movie Monday: Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates

Remember back when the whole family gathered around the TV on Sunday nights to watch The Wonderful World of Disney?  (For a touch of nostagia watch the opening below.)

Back in 1962 when it was called Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, the film Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates was featured in two parts on the television series.  The movie is an adaptation of Mary Mapes Dodge's novel about a Dutch boy and his family.  In the story, the Brinkers live simply and happily until an accident injures the father and Hans finds himself responsible for supporting his family.  He struggles with odd jobs, and when he discovers a surgeon who can help his father recover he realizes he must do something to earn the money to fund the treatment.  Hans and his younger sister travel to Amsterdam to compete in the annual ice skating race to win the prize money, but are at a disadvantage because they only have wooden skates, not fine silver skates like the privileged city youth have.  The movie's exploration of class differences, family relationships, and determination is well-done for a film of its era.

The story is set in 1860's Holland and is a colorful way to acquaint your kids with 19th century Dutch life.  Filmed in the Netherlands with a native cast, the windmills, traditional Dutch costumes, wooden clogs, and, of course, ice skating hallmark this delightful story of adventure and courage.

Other Movie Monday posts:

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Photo Friday: Temple of the Gods

    When you're standing in front of the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens, you can't help but marvel at what man was capable of in 447 BC.

    Check out other travel photos at

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Do You Want to Go to Europe?

    Two great opportunities to get you just that much closer to Europe:

    The 100,000 British Airways airline miles offer is back for a limited time only!  Apply for a BA Visa Signature® Card by May 6, 2011, and you'll get enough miles for two round-trip transatlantic flights, as long as you spend $2,500 on the card within the first three months of activation.  And there are no foreign transaction fees with the BA Visa Signature Card.  This perk and many more are outlined on the website promotion page.

    Wanna go to Europe for free?  Ciao Bambino!, one of the internet's leading family-travel blogs, is hosting a $10,000 Getaway Giveaway, in partnership with Sony Electronics.  Imagine winning $10,000 to spend on a dream vacation (it doesn't have to be to Europe)!  In addition to the $10,000 travel stipend, the grand prize winner will also receive two Sony Reader™ Pocket Editions and $100 in Reader Store gift cards.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Nice Hotel in Nice

    If you're headed to the south of France with tykes in tow, I would like to recommend a terrific family-friendly hotel in the glamorous city of Nice.  Hotel la Perouse is one of those rare finds in Europe that offers suites and junior suites, thus accommodating a family of four in one room.  The guest rooms are charming, comfortable, and all have air conditioning.  The hotel's lovely swimming pool will entertain your little ones when you're not down at the beach or strolling about town.

    The best feature about this luxury boutique hotel, however, is the location.  And by location I mean two things:  location in the city and physical placement of the la Perouse.  The hotel is located on the Promenade des Anglais, a mere 5 minute walk from Nice's open air flower market, and the port, shopping streets, and beaches are just another few minutes' walk away.  But the position of the Hotel la Perouse is very unique, too.  The building is nestled into the rock face at the foot of Castle Hill (Colline du Château), such that some of the rooms which face the rock have kind of a grotto feel out on the terrace. And, because of the cliffside location, the rooms that face the ocean have a breathtaking view of the city and the sparkling blue Mediterranean.  It was a hazy day when I took this (poor quality) photo below from our balcony at la Perouse, but you get the idea of the expansive views:

    Rooms with these extraordinary views cost a bit extra, but are well worth it.  Hotel la Perouse offers free WiFi and has a fabulous restaurant, although it's a bit pricey.  I can think of only one limitation to this hotel and that is it is not suitable for strollers.  There are many steps around the property and, although there is an elevator, steps to access most rooms.  Other than that, enjoy the French Riviera at Hotel la Perouse.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Hosting an Exchange Student

    Three years ago we hosted an exchange student from Paris.  She was a lovely 14 year old girl who bravely traveled with her English-language class of about 15 other teenagers to the U.S.  I really admired her courage and sense of adventure, to leave her home and stay with a family she had never met, in a foreign country.  The exchange was arranged by Compass USA, an organization that offers homestays, educational programs, and tours to provide students from around the world the opportunity to live the "American experience."

    Spending time with our exchange student from France.

    Housing an exchange student exposes your family to new knowledge, new customs, and new friends.  Living together, even for a short while, can help us understand our differences and encourage intercultural awareness.

    Compass USA arranges 1 to 6 week homestays, so if you're on the fence about hosting and just want to briefly try it out, they're the perfect group to contact.  You will be able to prescreen the students and choose one whose interests and age match your family's.  What I especially liked about our experience was that the student group's daily activities were pre-organized and I only had to provide transportation to and from the meeting place on weekdays.  On the weekends we were asked to incorporate her into our ordinary plans, so she could get a "slice of life."

    My son and daughter truly enjoyed the two weeks we spent with our French exchange student.  They liked the company, the "sisterhood," and helping her learn our culture and language.  We baked chocolate chip cookies, went to the beach, and watched movies at night.  Although we have no regrets about taking her in, we had hopes we would gain a lifetime connection to Paris (and perhaps an invitation to visit!) but her communication with us eventually dwindled and then stopped altogether.  Not everything always goes as expected, and that's okay.  I imagine she's a busy, happy teenager running around Paris!  Lucky girl.

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Need Baby Supplies in France?

    There is a wonderful resource out there for families with babies and toddlers who are traveling in France.  Camille Spanjaard, who lives in Paris, noticed some years ago that the city was lacking services for tourists and others who temporarily needed baby items.  So, voilà, she founded baby'tems.  Baby'tems is a service that rents and delivers quality baby equipment, supplies, and accessories right to your doorstep anywhere in France.  What a terrific idea and a great help to young traveling families.

    Baby'tems rents strollers, play pens, car seats, bouncers, high chairs, booster seats, toys, and much more.  Their website is in English and lists prices (in Euros).  You can book your order right online so it's available when you need it.  All their products are well-known, quality brands and comply with European safety standards.  All products are inspected and sterilized after each rental.

    Camille also authors a blog on the baby'tems website where she offers great tips for traveling with babies and young children in Paris.  Kid-friendly restaurants, changing facilities, locations of free merry-go-rounds, festivals, and coupons can all be found on her very useful site.  C'est si bon!

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Gone Camping!

    I'm camping with my Girl Scout troop this weekend.
    Will be back with a blog post tomorrow!

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Photo Friday: Wearing Lederhosen

    No, this man is not wearing a costume.  There was no parade or pageant in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, when we spotted him sitting at the busstop.  These are normal, every day clothes for many old-timers in Bavaria.  And he was perfectly happy to let me take his picture with my kids.  What a great place!

    Many thanks to for hosting Photo Friday every week.
    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...