Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gondola Rides in Venice

Would you go to Paris and not visit the Eiffel Tower?  Would you go to London and not hear Big Ben, or to Rome and not tour the Colosseum?  Nor should you go to Venice and not ride on a gondola.  YES, gondola rides are unreasonably expensive and every gondolier will quote you a different price, but with a little time, knowledge, and negotiating skill you can take your family on that boat ride and enjoy it without feeling like you've been had with every stroke of the oar.

Hopefully you have more than just a few hours in Venice and can spend some time casually strolling the canals.  As you walk around, approach every gondolier and ask his price.  Then smile and walk away.  He will undoubtably shout after you with a lower price.  Listen in on other tourists' conversations with gondoliers and see what they're being offered.  Pretty soon you'll have a comfortable idea of a fair price.  The price should be quoted per gondola, not per person, and will go up after 7:00 p.m.

Four years ago we paid €65 for a 40 minute ride in mid-summer.  I made the guy promise to sing "'O Sole Mio" along the way, too, for no extra charge.  Our gondolier was quite charming, and it's been my experience that they usually are.  Their English is always very good and they're experts in Venetian history and landmarks.  He really impressed my kids by demonstrating some of the tight-space gondola-handling skills these boatmen are tested on during their training and apprenticeships.  Our gondola ride through the canals of Venice is a memory we all treasure, and worth the price.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ten Random Train Travel Tips

1.  You may be on the right train, but are you on the right car?  Always check the outside of the train car you’re riding in to make sure it’s actually going to your destination.  Sometimes trains decouple and split off in different directions.

2.  Sometimes - especially during high season - it's worth the extra money to buy a 1st class ticket for regional trains that don't require seat reservations, or you might be standing in the aisles for a long time.

3.  A 1st class Eurail Pass is not available to one person traveling solo.  Only for two or more people traveling together.

4.  In many train stations, buying a rail ticket at an automated ticket machine is cheaper than buying it at the ticket counter.

5.  Use the bathroom before you get off the train.  It's free.

6.  Bring your own food, snacks, and drinks on the train.  It's less expensive than the dining car.

7.  When riding a night train across international borders, try not to panic when the train conductor takes your passport for the night.  They'll give it back.

8.  If you have a single country or multi-country Eurail Pass but wish to travel through a country where your pass is not valid, you will have to pay for the leg of the trip through that country even if you don't stop or change trains in that country.

9.  If you find a compartment train car, enjoy it - they won't be around much longer.

10.  Train stations in Europe are great resources for tourist information, city maps, currency exchange, inexpensive food vendors, and (sometimes free) bathrooms.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Movie Monday: Song of Norway

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

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.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Just because this movie flopped at the theaters when it was released in 1970 doesn't mean you can't watch it for it's exquisite Norwegian scenery and spark a little Scandinavian wanderlust in your children.  Kids adore musicals, and Carol Brady - I mean Florence Henderson - is in it, so what's not to love?

Song of Norway is a biography of Norwegian composer and pianist Edvard Grieg's early life.  It tells the story of his struggles to find recognition for his classical music in the late 19th century.  The songs in the movie, based on Grieg's, aren't bad, nor is the singing, but the plot is where the musical falls apart.  It tries too hard to imitate The Sound of Music and just doesn't exude the same enchantment.

Watch Song of Norway for the snow-capped mountains, the sweeping fjords, and the Norwegian villages, landscapes, and folk costumes, all shot on location in beautiful Scandinavia.

Other Movie Monday posts:

Saturday, June 25, 2011

6 Months From Today

Today is June 25th.  Six months from today it will be Christmas Day, and I'll be leaving for Switzerland with 8 teenage Girl Scouts.  We had a meeting yesterday about the trip, trying to firm up the daily activities.  We decided to spend the first two nights in Zurich before we head for the Alps.  Once in the mountains the girls would like to ski, ice skate, go sledding, and ride in a horse-drawn sleigh.  Oh, and shop.  They mentioned shopping several times.  Not one of my favorite things to do while traveling.  Maybe they'll change their minds when they see how expensive everything is over there!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Photo Friday: Help Me Identify This Building in Barcelona

I took this picture of a very cool building in Barcelona a few years ago and now I can't remember what it was.  The opera house?  A government building?  I'm pretty sure it wasn't a Gaudí.  Can you identify it?

Go to Debbie Dubrow's blog at to see lots of other interesting travel photos.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Heidelberg Castle in Germany

Heidelberg’s sprawling castle sits front and center above the old city, proudly heralding its ancient history.  The castle is an enormous fortification built in 1214 AD to overlook and protect the Neckar River, a vital German shipping route during the Middle Ages.  Although the fortress has been damaged twice by lightening, tourists today are fortunate that so much of the structure has survived.  It is beautiful to visit and I recommend it as a free attraction for you and your family.  Yes, it costs €3 for adults and €1.50 for children to enter the inner courtyard and visit a small portion of the interior, but those are really not essential to the enjoyment of the fortress.  The capacious grounds are free to roam and offer the same splendid city views as elsewhere in the castle. 

One can literally spend an entire afternoon picnicking and wandering the terraced, upon terraced, upon terraced gardens with their numerous sculptures, fish ponds, and grottos.  On the eastern side of the grounds is an observation deck where one can view the castle from a distance and take great photos.  Follow the very deep moat around the structure - there are various collapsed towers and other interesting ruins.  Super tip of the day:  there are free restrooms on the grounds, near the entrance to the courtyard.

Mark Twain said, after visiting Heidelberg Castle,
"Nature knows how to garnish a ruin
to get the best effect."

There are four ways to get up to the castle from town.  You can walk up the strenuous Burgweg path which begins next to the Rathaus (city hall), you can ride a bike or drive a car (we drove and had no trouble finding parking on a side street near the castle), or you can ride the funicular, or Bergbahn (the most fun for kids.)  Catch the Bergbahn just south of the Kornmarkt in town in parking garage #12 up the side of the mountain.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Movie Monday: Julie & Julia

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •
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 recent biopic about American chef (of French cuisine) Julia Child will probably not interest children under 8 at all, but I think it's an excellent choice for family movie night if your children are just a little older.  Julie & Julia tells the story of Child's start in the cooking profession and is intertwined with a story about Julie Powell's blog chronicling her attempt to cook every recipe in Julia Child's first book.  Meryl Streep, who plays Child, is terrific, as always, and keeps the film humorous and entertaining enough to hold the interest of the kids, tweens, and teens who have, of course, never heard of Julia Child.

Since Julia learned her cooking skills at the world-famous Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris and then formed the L'Ecole de Trois Gourmandes cooking school in Paris with two other Cordon Bleu students, we have - voilà - a movie with gorgeous Parisian scenery.  My favorite scenes are when she's exploring the street markets of the city with so much joie de vivre!

The movie is rated PG-13 for language.  There's one f-bomb and a few other nasty words, but my 10 year old son didn't even notice.  He was actually engaged in the story.  Watch the trailer here to see for yourself.  Bon appétit.

Other Movie Monday posts:

Friday, June 17, 2011

Photo Friday: Happy Father's Day

He earns the money, he carries the bags, he shoots the video, he holds our place in line, he has patience beyond anything I could ever muster, he sits for hours (sometimes even days) listening to my German relatives without understanding a word they say.

He is the man who makes our travels and our lives not just possible but wonderful.

But he draws the line at wearing lederhosen.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Read Around the World
I've just been introduced to a terrific resource for parents who want to explore other countries of the world with their children through books, foods, films and games.  A wonderful website called Delightful Children's Books is hosting a Read Around the World event and link-up on her blog this summer.  Her goal is to collect resources to inspire parents to teach kids about the world.  She has listed some great children's books about Europe like The Cat Who Walked Across France by Kate Banks and Georg Hallensleben, This is London by Miroslav Sasek, and The Greatest Skating Race:  A World War II Story from the Netherlands by Louise Borden and Niki Daly.

The site's link-up page offers recipes, film suggestions, books, games, and craft ideas to help you expose your family to life and travels around the world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

La Cantinola Ristorante in Rome

There's just no such thing as a well-kept secret any more.  We're all too globally connected.  Years ago in Rome, my husband and I stumbled - completely by accident - on a side-alley restaurant called La Cantinola Ristorante near the Villa Borghese.  The prices on the menu were relatively affordable so we decided to eat dinner there.  We had a lovely outdoor bistro table and both ordered the smoked salmon fettucini.  The meal was extraordinary - we still talk about it.  Fabulously rich and creamy and delicious, the entrées included a jug of the house wine.  The next evening in Rome, we actually went back to La Cantinola and ordered the same meal again, and enjoyed it just as much.

A little snippet from my scrapbook.

Wondering recently if anyone else had discovered our favorite little restaurant in Rome, I searched it on-line.  Although the place still doesn't own a website, there were reviews on TripAdvisor highly recommending it.  And I'll be darned, but two separate reviewers said that they went back for a second meal at La Cantinola, too!

As far as taking kids to this restaurant, we didn't have any with us at the time.  But the proprietor is very friendly and speaks English fairly well, so if you need to order lightly-buttered-noodles-cooked-very-soft-with-parmesan-sprinkles-and-breadsticks-with-no-parsley-or-other-green-specks or whatever else your child is demanding at the time, I'm sure he will do his best to accommodate.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Movie Monday: Mary Poppins

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

The classic film Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke is such a Disney masterpiece that I hope you"ll watch it with your kids whether you intend to explore travel to England or not.  The movie was not filmed in London at all, rather at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, but the sets and painted scenery are genuinely enchanting.  If you ever travel by rail across town in London, say from Heathrow to the city, there are stretches where you will be riding at rooftop level and I promise you'll start looking for Dick Van Dyke up there.  The chimneys are so unique.

The songs, the characters, the story, and the film are all absolutely supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Other Movie Monday posts:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Photo Friday: Colorful Klompen

Every morning in Delft, the Netherlands, we passed by a little old shopkeeper arranging his colorful display of antique klompen, or Dutch wooden shoes, for another day of passing tourists.

See more travel pics at

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Antwerp With Kids - Part II

In Antwerp With Kids - Part I, I recommended visiting the train station, the zoo, Grote Markt, and Sint-Anneke beach, and mentioned the fabulous french fries and street waffles found everywhere in this metropolitan seaport city in Belgium.  Well, there is another delicacy found on every corner in Antwerp.  Belgian chocolate.  World-famous, gourmet, sweet, rich chocolate.  Leonidas, Godiva, Neuhaus, Marcolini, and Guylian have shops all over town.  Jean Neuhaus opened Belgium's first chocolate shop in Brussels in 1857 (which still exists) and his grandson is credited with inventing the praline in 1912 when he filled an empty chocolate shell with sweet substances.  You absolutely must pick up a praline or two or five with your kids while in Antwerp.

Choosing Belgian pralines at Neuhaus in Antwerp.

Het Steen (The Stone)
The word "stone" in this case is used in place of fortress, or castle, and a cuter little fairytale castle you never did see.  Unlike most castles in Europe, Het Steen doesn't sit up on a hillside or charge admission.  It sits in between a boulevard and the River Scheldt and is open to visitors.  Wander into the courtyard and ramparts and imagine medieval life at the time this structure was built in the year 1200.

Stadspark (City Park)
This triangular-shaped park in Antwerp's city center is 35 acres of lawns, ponds, and walking trails and includes a large children's playground.  Most kids, including me as a child, like to climb all over this world war memorial at the park.

It's easy to get around Antwerp since most everything is within walking distance, but there are convenient trams, or streetcars, in town as well.  Many of the lines stop at the Groenplaats, a prominent square in the historic city center.  The square is bordered mainly with terraced cafés and it's a nice place to stop for a drink or a snack.  It is my 99 year old grandmother's favorite place to people-watch in Antwerp.  From the Groenplaats there are great views of Antwerp's Cathedral of Our Lady.  Evenings are lively at the Groenplaats.  As my husband and I sat there at a café with some friends one evening last summer, my son and daughter were corralled into an impromptu soccer game with some local kids in the square.  It went on for at least an hour.  Those are the kind of experiences I treasure the most about traveling.

Peter Paul Rubens in the center of Groenplaats square.

See also:  Antwerp with Kids - Part I.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...