Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Waffle Around

Look what I found at the local supermarket:

Maybe these little packaged Belgian waffles are nothing new to you, but today was the first time I came across them out here on the west coast.  And any time I spot Belgium's black, yellow, and red flag it catches my eye, because it's a very rare sighting, so of course I bought some.  The taste was okay, just a little sweeter than an Eggo Waffle, but the idea was to bring back memories of the freshly baked, lightly browned, golden waffles we had in Antwerp, Belgium, last summer.

The ravishing waffles above, just out of the oven, were in a bakery we passed while walking near the Groenplaats city square.  They're street waffles, just a little snack you pick up while shopping or strolling, like an ice cream cone or a hot dog.  And you don't need syrup, because they are absolutely, deliciously tasty just by themselves.  Take a look at the waffle my daughter is holding below:

It's dipped in chocolate.  Can I just say it was to die for?  Oh em gee.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Movie Monday: The Secret of Roan Inish

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

Roan Inish is the name of an island, not the little girl, in this movie few people have seen.  The Secret of Roan Inish came out in 1994 and is rated PG, though I can't imagine why it's not rated G.  It's definitely a family movie, as children especially will enjoy the magic and mystery in the tale of Fiona, a sweet young Irish girl, searching for her baby brother who was lost at sea.  The film is heartwarming, rich in Irish culture, and is accompanied by distinctive Irish fiddle music that immerses you in this story about legend, lore, and family.

The movie was filmed entirely in rugged and mountainous County Donegal, Ireland, a haven of Gaelic culture and the Irish language.  (You might have to turn on the English subtitles for the kids.)  The visuals in the film are mainly of the jagged coastline, the small outlying islands, and the untamed sea.

Image via www.hummingbirdgirls.blogspot.com

Donegal is actually a tourist destination among the Irish and foreigners, as well.  Popular attractions are a Victorian castle, called Glenveagh Castle, and a 35,000 acre nature reserve, called Glenveagh National Park.

Other Movie Monday posts:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Photo Friday: In Honor of the Fallen

In honor of all fallen American soldiers this Memorial Day, a photo of my brother and my niece, visiting Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France.

Photo Friday is hosted every week by DeliciousBaby.com.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fire Up

I get so fired up when I'm planning a big trip.  Really, that's why my husband encouraged me to start a blog, because all the planning and research energizes me and I guess he likes to see that side of me more than my usual low-energy self.  (Have I ever mentioned how much I like to sleep?  At least 9 - 10 hours a night.  And a nap during the day.  But when I'm working on travel I'll stay up until the wee hours.)  Many people don't like to plan, but I am meticulous.  The more information I have, the less can go wrong.  (Right?)  I am detail-oriented and do not cope well with chaos and confusion.

Chaos and confusion are exactly what I want to avoid when I'm traveling overseas with 8 teenage girls this December, so thoughts race through my head all day long faster than I can even write them down:

• Should we stay one night or two in Zurich?
• Remind the girls to bring their own electrical adapters (so they don't share mine).
• Find out if our hostels have free wifi.
• Will we have to rent sheets and towels at our hostels?
• Tell the girls they must have a VisaBuxx or other prepaid credit card for emergencies.
• Should we get the Flexi or the SaverFlexi rail passes?
• How am I going to fit all those heavy winter clothes into one suitcase?

I have so much work to do!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Palmengarten in Frankfurt

Big metropolitan cities just don't feel as intimate or family-friendly as smaller towns, and Frankfurt, Germany, can definitely give the impression of a cold, hard city.  It is the largest financial center in continental Europe, home to one of the busiest international airports in the world, and the seat of the European Central Bank.  Frankfurt's significant number of skyscrapers and modern buildings are a direct contrast to the historical, centuries-old architecture of other Old World cities such as London and Paris.  Yet enjoyable, friendly attractions can be found in Frankfurt.

If you're visiting Frankfurt and would like to escape to a quiet, lush oasis, head over to the Palmengarten, a magnificent large botanical garden in the city.  Fifty acres of exotic plants and manicured parkland await you, with one of the largest glass greenhouses in the world filled with tropical rainforests and exquisite subtropical species.  There's a cacti garden, a rose garden, water lilies in various ponds, and an oriental garden.

I haven't been to the Palmengarten since I was a child, but I still keep these two postcards from my visits there:

Children can ride on the miniature train in the park, and rowboats are available to rent on the lake in the summer.  Kids will be delighted in the roaming peacocks and occasional wandering tortoises.  Also in the summer there are concerts and dancing in the evenings near the bandstand.  Admission to the Palmengarten is surprisingly inexpensive - only €5 for adults and €2 for children 14 and under.  Easily accessible by the U-Bahn (line U4, U6, or U7 to Bockenheimer Warte station), it's a great place to spend an entire day.

This post is part of Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Movie Monday: If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium

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

Although my husband and I have frequently quoted the title to this old film while on long vacations, I don't recall ever having actually seen this comedy before last week.  I know it's been on TV an infinite number of times since its release in 1969, but I finally queued it up on Netflix for the family.  If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium was, well, a little silly and definitely dated, but you can't beat it for European scenery.

A group of mostly naïve travelers from the United States embark on a bus tour through seven countries in 18 days with Ian McShane as their womanizing tour guide.  Suzanne Pleshette, as one of the tourists, becomes his love interest and the romantic story line is relatively entertaining, mostly because they're both such talented actors.  The silliness is in the adventures and misadventures of the other characters, like the kleptomaniac and the couple who is separated when the wife boards the wrong tour bus.

Old movies move at a slower pace than today's films, which is an advantage when the scenery is terrific and you actually want to take it in.  McShane and Pleshette's romantic gondola ride through the quiet canals of Venice is prolonged and scenic enough to make you sigh, and the Rhine Valley river and castle scenes are stunning as well.  The tour begins in London, and the bus travels through the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Italy.  I really enjoyed the scene where Pleshette is shopping for lace in Brussels, because I'm pretty sure she's in the Saint-Hubertus Royal Gallery, a truly grand shopping arcade in Brussels which I love to visit.

Saint-Hubertus Royal Gallery in Brussels
Whether or not younger children will sit through this old classic film for family movie night depends on the child(ren) of course, but it's worth a look if you plan on visiting Europe soon.  Watch the trailer here to check it out and see for yourself.

Other Movie Monday posts:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Photo Friday: Blame It On the Rain

C'mon, admit it . . . have you worn one of these while traveling or would you not be caught dead in one?

Photo Friday is graciously hosted by DeliciousBaby.com

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gorgeous Grindelwald

Switzerland is well known for it’s meticulously clean and attractive youth hostels.  One of my favorites is Naturfreundehaus Grindelwald.  Of course, how can you go wrong in a town like Grindelwald?  A gorgeous Alpine village nestled in a valley in the Bernese Oberland, Grindelwald is surrounded by the snow-covered Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains.  Spotted cows graze on the hillsides among charming little chalets sprouting red geraniums.  It’s postcard-picture-perfect.

Grindelwald is one of Europe’s oldest mountain resorts and has a long history of tourism.  In the summer, the extensive and plentiful hiking trails are busy, and in the winter, the skiing is nirvana.    

But Switzerland is oh-so-expensive, and that’s why it’s nice to have some more wallet-friendly alternatives like youth hostels.  And again, hostels in Switzerland are excessively clean and nice.  Naturfreundehaus Grindelwald is a cute rustic chalet that sits atop a hill with views more stunning than you'll find at a 5-star hotel.  Here is our unbeatable view from our room at the Naturfreundhaus:

Naturfreundehaus Grindelwald
Rates start as low as 31CHF per person.  Each room, with 2 to 6 beds (and one room with 12 beds), is spotlessly clean.  Breakfast buffet and lunch are served in the cozy dining room, and in the summer self cooking is available in the kitchen.  With three recreational rooms and a large outdoor garden, there's lots of room for kids to play.

Naturfreundehaus is about a 20 minute walk from the train station, which might be a little much with kids and luggage, but there's a local bus that will drop you off right in front of the hostel.

Excursions from Grindelwald include a network of cable cars to scenic mountaintops, cog wheel trains to other beautiful Alpine villages like nearby Lauterbrünnen, and glacier viewing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dutch Apple of My Eye

"It's as American as apple pie!" is an expression often heard, but we Americans don't exactly have the exclusive on this delicious flaky pastry.  Have you heard of Dutch apple pie?  Okay, maybe you have.  But surely you haven't heard of Café Kobus Kuch, where the best appeltaart in all of the Netherlands is baked and served daily.

Café Kobus Kuch (whose website, unfortunately, is only in Dutch) is located in the picturesque city of Delft, in the town square called Beestenmarkt near the historic city center.  Feel free to bring the kids here to eat, as the café's outdoor seating is spacious and away from vehicle traffic.  You'll find a delightful lunch menu of Dutch cuisine, such as a variety of fresh broodjes, fried eggs, fish, and soup.

But let's get back to that pie.  Just look at that photo above.  Freshly baked, warm apple tart with a pile of thick whipped cream on top - it's quite famous in the city of Delft, and claims to be the best in the country.  And yes, my family will personally vouch for that claim.  It was deeeliiicious.

Café Kobus Kuch is open Monday - Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.; Friday - Saturday from 9:30 to 2:00 a.m.; and Sunday from 11:00 to 1:00 a.m.

Visit Delft!  It's a gorgeous city!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Travel Tuesday

Travel Tuesday is kind of a fun trend among travel Twitterers (or is it Tweeters?)  It's when travel bloggers, every Tuesday, highlight their favorite travel posts of the week and mark their tweet with the hashtag (#) #TravelTuesday or just #TT, to make them easy to locate.  So for Travel Tuesday today, I'd like to share some posts I came across that I find particularly helpful to families traveling to Europe with kids.

Florence Museums with Kids by Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish - you don't want to miss the Uffizi, the Accademia Gallery, or other must-see museums in Florence, Italy, but how do you entice the little ones to endure (and even enjoy!) all that fine art?  This mom blogger who lives in Italy will tell you how.

Sleeping in a Tube in Switzerland by The Travelling Mom - love this post I just stumbled upon recently!  I'm a big fan of novelty accommodations when traveling, especially with children, because sometimes these places are what the kids are still talking about years later.  Igloo, tree house, train car, or The Travelling Mom's fun stay with her family in a tube - what a great time!  Check it out.

A-to-Z Family Travel Contest by Mo Travels - from animals to ziploc bags, these A-to-Z travel tips for family travelers are handy to know before you go.  J is for Journal, and there's an app for that . . . .

Seven Things to Do in Iceland by Nomadic Matt - Nomadic Matt doesn't travel with kids, but his suggestions on what to do in Iceland sound so exciting, and his photos are so beautiful, that I wanted to share this terrific travel destination with you.

Seven Reasons to Visit Spain's Costa de la Luz by BootsnAll - seven seems to be the magic number for reasons to go somewhere.  This post caught my eye and interest because southern Spain is our family's next European destination.   A magical and isolated old town, spectacular pueblos blancos, Moorish fortifications, and awesome windsurfing are all found here.

Super Duper Travel Adapter by Water Wine Travel - as far as travel gadgets go, anything that reduces clutter and cords is worth having.  This Super Duper Travel Adapter is handy and inexpensive - get one!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Boo to Overseas Transaction Fees

I'm kinda' upset.  That great credit card deal I recommended some months ago that offered 150,000 bonus frequent flyer miles . . . charges overseas transaction fees!  I paid in Swiss francs for a hotel deposit in Switzerland with my Citi® Platinum Visa AAdvantage card only to receive the bill with a big, fat 3% fee!  The exchange rate they gave me was right on for that day (1 Swiss franc = $1.09) but then the fee was over $16.00.  I'm not happy.  I've never been charged transaction fees by my Capital One Visa credit card.  Guess that's the one I'll be taking on my trips.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Sand Dunes of Ostend

Having grown up a California girl, I like soft, sandy beaches.  Not for me laying on slabs of concrete like they do in Monte Carlo or rocky shingle lake shores like at Lago di Garda.  With summer on its way, I was recently thinking of a sandy beach my family used to love to visit when I was a kid, and that's Ostend, on the North Sea coast of Belgium.  Talk about sand!  Behind the vast, gently sloping beach of extraordinarily fine, soft sand in Ostend, are sand dunes up to 60 feet high, and my young brothers and I could have played on these all day.  Ostend is definitely a family-friendly seaside town.

Ostend (Oostende in Flemish/Dutch, Ostende in French) is one of thirteen seaside resorts along the Belgian coast, which are all linked together by an efficient and scenic tram line.  The Kusttram (Coast Tram) begins near the French border at De Panne and runs the entire 42 mile coast to Knokke, which borders the Netherlands.  It departs every 10 to 20 minutes in the summer and stops at 70 places along the way, taking about 2 hours from end to end.  (Purchase your tickets from an automat before you board, it's cheaper.  A day card costs 5€ and allows you to hop and off all day.  Children under 5 ride free.)  Sightseeing on the Coast Tram is a fun activity in itself for children, especially with occasional hops off and on to have lunch somewhere interesting or grab an ice cream cone.

Besides the sand dunes, two other delightful features of Ostend's beach are the wide beachfront esplanade and the pier.  Strolling around the pier you'll find excellent seafood dining opportunities.  In addition to walking, similar to my favorite beach in Belgium, Blankenberge, pedal cars can be rented and cruised around with plenty of room.  Bicycles can be rented at the Ostend train station (in the center of town near the Fishermen's Quay) for €9 a day and there are a number of great coastal biking trails around Ostend.

Oddly enough, my absolute favorite thing in Ostend when I was little, was the floral clock:

I just always thought it was really fabulous.  The diameter of the flowerbed is almost 30 feet and the large copper hands are covered with gold leaf.  The Department of Parks and Gardens uses 15,000 flowers and plants each year for the clockface.  The horse-drawn carriages around town will always swing by here and it's a delight to see.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gratitude and Giveaways

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Laguna Niguel
Giveaways are all the rage on blogs these days.  Bloggers are giving away everything from the iWave Cube (a handy-dandy .3 cubic ft travel microwave available to win here) to makeup to $10 WalMart gift cards.  It’s a great way to draw traffic to one’s blog (and, ahem, all you promoters out there:  I’d love to have something to give away on my blog).  I don’t enter too many of these giveaways unless they are for travel.  If they’re for free travel, just about anywhere, I want to go!  And I’m thrilled to announce that I won my first contest . . . two nights at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Laguna Niguel, California!  It includes breakfast for two, a 10% charitable donation, and an educational family experience at the resort’s signature Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program, which offers 15 unique eco-adventure programs.  I won it through the generosity of Emily Kaufman and her blog, The Travel Mom.  Hubby and I really need a romantic weekend away, and we can’t wait to go.

I’ve found the best way to learn about these travel giveaways is on Twitter.  Now, I was reluctant to join Twitter at first.  Just another time trap, social media nonsense about what I had for breakfast and you had for lunch.  But, now I’m kind of into it.  I've found lots of travel-minded people living all over the world and we share tips and traumas, photos and feelings, gratitude and giveaways.

So, let me just share the wealth here and fill you in on a few currently running travel contests - trips to Europe, of course - so you can enter, too!  Bonne chance!

Win a trip for two to Scotland - courtesy of Frommers
Win a $4,500 travel prize with Orbitz
Win 4 nights in Rome for two - courtesy of Travelive
Win a trip around the world - presented by Indie Travel Media Association
Win a trip to 10 cities/countries - sponsored by Air Berlin

Monday, May 9, 2011

Movie Monday: The Great Muppet Caper

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

Jim Henson’s The Great Muppet Caper is definitely a fun family film to watch together anytime, but might be particularly illuminating to very young children preparing to travel overseas for the first time.  When Kermit and Fozzie are sent to London as newspaper reporters to cover a jewel theft, they travel in an airplane (in ninth class!), try new foods, stay in a (seedy) hotel, and find the humor in the British, making it a zany way to introduce your kids to a foreign adventure.

This 1981 movie was actually filmed in jolly ol' England, mostly in a studio but also in the village of Haddenham in Buckinghamshire and in Knebworth House, a beautiful gothic mansion north of London.  The action-adventure is entertaining and the music numbers are memorable.  Watch the trailer here.

Scene from the movie in London.

Other Movie Monday posts:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mama and Me

Another photo of my mother and me on our first trip to Europe in 1966.  (See previous post for the other.)  We're inside the plane, probably after just boarding, since the overhead compartments are still open and also because my dress is not yet covered in vomit which began shortly after take-off and continued for the duration.

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Photo Friday: Happy Mother's Day

In honor of Mother's Day and in keeping with the theme of my blog, this is a photo (scanned from a 1966 slide, that's why the resolution is poor) of my mother and me (the short one in the red dress) disembarking from the plane on my first trip to Europe.  Thank you, Mama, for introducing me to the joy of travel at such a young age.

This is an entry for Photo Friday at DeliciousBaby.com.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

50% Off - NOT!!!!

Huge disappointment on the Switzerland trip planning front yesterday.  I caught a tweet on Twitter (great way to be tuned in to the travel community, by the way) that Swiss rail passes were on sale for 50% off through May 5th (today) at Rail Europe.  This would have been a HUGE savings for my Girl Scout group.  But alas, it was not to be, as rail passes must be used within six months of purchase, and our trip is not until December.  After I tweeted my sadness, Rail Europe responded to me:  "There will be many promotions ahead.  For future promos I recommend checking our deals page."  I'll be checking every week.  Just hope the next promotion is as good as this one was.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Childproof Your Hotel

I have no affiliation with Travel-Tot, LLC, and did not receive any compensation for this post.  Whenever I do receive a free product or service for evaluation,
I will always let you know.

Your home is diligently childproofed from the electrical outlet covers to the toilet lid lock, but what happens when you take your child(ren) on a vacation and you’re in a hotel?  You want to relax on your vacation, not worry, and that’s what the creators of the Travel Childproofing Kit had in mind when they came up with this great idea.  The Travel-Tot Travel Childproofing Kit provides an easy, temporary, non-damaging way to childproof hotel rooms by using non-damaging adhesive strip fasteners.  No tools are required to install any of the components, and the whole product fits into a neat portable carrying case.  Check out the website for more info and to order.  Keep your little explorer safe when you travel.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Steeplechasing II

We love to get a panoramic view over a city when we travel to new places.  In Europe, that view is usually achieved from the top of a church steeple, surmountable only by the arduous climb up many narrow winding steps.  The kids accomplish this effortlessly, while hubby and I huff and puff our way up on aching knees.

A couple weeks ago I posted about two great vistas, one from the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona and another from the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Delft, the Netherlands.  Two other climbs worth undertaking are Europe’s tallest medieval church spire, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg, and the Stephansdom in Vienna.

Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg

The Strasbourg Cathedral’s single bell tower and its spire reach 466 feet in height, and for over two centuries was the tallest structure in Europe.  The cathedrals of Cologne and Ulm in Germany, and that of Rouen in France, are higher, but since they were not constructed until the 19th century, Strasbourg remains the tallest tower built in medieval times (it was completed in 1439).  The glorious Gothic cathedral is Strasbourg’s most famous landmark and you can’t miss it.

A second tower was originally planned to be built, but it was never carried out, perhaps because Gothic architecture had gone out of fashion or because the townspeople were too poor to finish the task.  Its characteristic asymmetrical form, however, continues to symbolize the region of Alsace.

To experience a breathtaking view of Strasbourg, and, on a clear day, see almost 20 miles all the way to the Black Forest in Germany, climb the 332 steps to the viewing platform on top.  I recommend doing this early in the morning when it is still cool and before it is too crowded, as the narrow staircase is steep and winding.

Admission to the magnificent cathedral spire is €3.00 for adults, €2.30 for children 5 – 18 years.  Admission is free with the Strasbourg Pass which gets you in to other attractions as well at no cost or half price.  In the summer the tower is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and the hours vary in the off season.

St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna

St. Stephen's dominates the skyline in Vienna.

Interestingly, St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom in German) is another one-towered Gothic church, symbolizing another great European city:  Vienna, Austria.  The South tower of St. Stephen's is 450 feet tall, and if you climb the 343 spiral steps you will be rewarded with sweeping views of this world-class city.  At the top of the tower you will notice an apartment which housed the watchmen who, until 1955, manned the tower at night and rang the bells if there was a fire in the city.  The South tower is currently being renovated and visits may be restricted.

If the South tower is closed or you just want to cheat, there is an express elevator that will take you to the observation deck of the unfinished North tower, which is only 224 feet high, but still delivers an awesome view of the Danube and Vienna.  The cost is €4.50 and tickets can be purchased in the church's gift shop.

View of Vienna

Regardless of whether you ascend St. Stephen's for the view or not, you will want to admire this very famous Gothic cathedral in the heart of Vienna.  Its most recognizable characteristic is its diamond-patterned, richly colored roof consisting of 230,000 glazed tiles.  There are also mosaics inlaid on both the north and the south side of the roof.  It is a fabulous structure worth seeing.

Tile roof of St. Stephen's in Vienna.

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