Friday, July 29, 2011

Photo Friday: Budapest and the Danube

The Danube River and city of Budapest, as seen from the terrace of Fisherman's Bastion atop Castle Hill.

Thanks to Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby for creating and coordinating Photo Friday to link travel photos and blog posts across the web.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Traveling With an Infant

Check out the recent discussion on Baby Meets City about traveling with an infant.  Momversation, who hosts the discussion, says she won't do it.  Others say it's no problem.  What do you think?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On a Swiss Roll

After posting on Monday about my search for a chocolate factory tour in Switzerland, I'm on a roll now.  Today I'm looking for a panoramic cable car, gondola, or railway to a mountain peak or observation deck in the Bernese Oberland region.  Again, I'm encountering obstacles.

Obstacle #1:  We will be in Switzerland in the dead of winter.  Snowstorms, blizzards, and avalanches are definite obstacles to a mountaintop excursion.  Many of the mountains will be closed.

Obstacle #2:  The best day for us to squeeze this into our itinerary is January 1st.  New Year's Day.  If they're not closed for the winter, they'll definitely be closed for the holiday.

Obstacle #3:  Holy cow - some of these trains are expensive!  The ride up to Jungfraujoch, known as "the top of Europe," costs 125 CHF per person!  Years ago when my husband and I were in Grindelwald we eschewed the journey to Jungfraujoch precisely for this reason.  Nevermind though, Jungfraujoch closes from November through May.

Anyway, now I'm investigating some other scenic trams.  There's the Männlichenbahn that travels up to Männlichen from Grindelwald and offers stunning views of the Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger mountains.  I've done that and it's gorgeous.  There's the Harder Kulm vantage point accessible by funicular from Interlaken.  It's just a 10 minute ride and only costs 15 CHF.  Also near Interlaken in Wilderswil is the cogwheel railway up to Schynige Platte, but it's only open in the summer.  And lastly, I'll have to check out the Schilthorn and Rothorn mountain cable cars in a little more detail.  (This is half the fun of traveling for me - the research and planning!)

Note added later:
We ended up traveling to the top of TschentenAlp, and it was a bargain and a beauty!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Searching for Willy Wonka

On a recent road trip with seven teenage Girl Scouts, I was surprised at how excited they were to make a pit stop at the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, California.  The girls toured the factory, enjoyed seeing how the jelly beans were made, and especially loved the free samples.

Chocolate display at the Jelly Belly Factory.

Wouldn’t it be great to schedule a Swiss chocolate-making tour for these girls when we’re in Zurich this December?  Unfortunately, I’m having trouble finding one that will work for us, though.  The corporate headquarters of luxury Swiss confectioner Lindt is located just outside Zurich in Kilchberg, but they stopped doing their very popular tours of the factory some years ago.  Darn.

Recently in my research I stumbled upon the most marvelous website called My Kugelhopf.  (You’ll have to visit the site to find out what Kugelhopf means!)  Kerrin Rousset, the passionate and energetic author of this tasty website, is an American who now lives in Zurich and – would you believe this? – gives personal walking tours of the chocolate and confection shops, bakeries, and other sweet spots around the old town of Zurich, offering tastes and treats while telling of the history and trends in chocolate in the city.  How perfect is that?!  But, alas, our timing is off.  We’ll be there the week after Christmas, and she’ll be away for the holidays.  Sigh.

Moving on after these disappointments, I found some vague information about the Chocolats Halba factory in Wallisellen, about 10 minutes from the Zurich airport.  Their website doesn’t mention factory tours, only visits to their House of Chocolate shop.  (Note:  I received an email from Halba after this post was written that they are no longer offering tours.)

Schoggi Land sounds good.  At their factory in Flawil, Switzerland, they produce chocolate and confectionery specialties of the brands maestrani, MINOR, and Munz and offer guided tours in English every Wednesday . . . except the Wednesday after Christmas, which is when we’ll be there.

A highly recommended tour – it’s actually called a chocolate show - is in Interlaken at the Schuh Swiss Chocolatier.  Wednesday through Sunday they host a chocolate making demonstation and offer sample bowls of white, milk, dark, and extra dark chocolate drops.  Yum.  The admission fee is 14.80 CHF but that includes a 10 CHF chocolate voucher to be used in their gift shop.  I like that idea!  Interlaken is one and a half hours from where we’ll be staying in Adelboden, though.

A town with a bit more sightseeing potential than Interlaken is Gruyères (at least for me, since I’ve seen Interlaken but not Gruyères).  Gruyères is a charming little carless medieval village known for it’s cheese-making, its castle (Château de Gruyères), and its mountains.  Just two kilometers north of town is the Cailler chocolate factory in Broc.  Cailler offers chocolate tours every day and children under 16 are free!  There are also working cheese dairies and cheesemakers around town that offer demonstrations (with samples!) too.  It would be about a 2 hour train ride from Adelboden, but I think this village offers a little of everything.  Gruyères just might be the place for us in December!

Related links:
Swiss Chocolat Frey Factory Tour
Maison Cailler Chocolate Factory Tour

Friday, July 22, 2011

Photo Friday: The Dolomites

The town of Barbiano, Italy.

This is where my parents are vacationing at the moment.  In the spectacular Dolomites mountains of South Tyrol (Sudtirolo) in Italy.  What . . . me, jealous?

Thanks to Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby for creating and coordinating Photo Friday to link travel photos and blog posts across the web.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Inspiration from Bill Bryson

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.

                                 - Bill Bryson

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My 7 Links

Love this idea launched by to resurrect old, forgotten blog posts.  The My 7 Links project encourages bloggers to publish links back to posts from their archives that meet 7 specified categories, and then nominate up to 5 bloggers to do the same.

Thank you to Mary T from Travel With Teens and Tweens for nominating me in her My 7 Links post this week.

Most Beautiful Post
My most beautiful post is about one of the most beautiful places we've ever been:  Kinderdijk, The Netherlands.  I wrote about our bike ride last summer from Rotterdam to Kinderdijk in two parts.  In Part I of On a Bike in Kinderdijk, I described the allure of this rural Dutch town with 19 windmills and its quiet surroundings, and in Part II, I recounted the fun we had getting there by bike in Holland, a country where biking is a way of life.

Most Popular Post
According to my Blogger stats, my most popular post is Movie Monday:  National Lampoon's European Vacation.  Not quite sure why . . . probably because more people google movies than going to Europe with kids and then end up on my post.  My second most popular post is Little Man P, and although I like to think it's popular because it's such a humorous and delightful piece, it's probably the intriguing title that attracts viewers.

Little Man Elvis

Most Controversial Post
The last thing you want to do when you're starting a new blog is to alienate readers by being confrontational, so I was delicately cautious with my wording when I posted Photo Friday:  Bullfight in Madrid.  Didn't want any retaliation from PETA.  The only slightly controversial post (among my friends and family, anyway) was perhaps Happy St. Nick's Day! where I told of the cruelty involved in the old St. Nicholas Day customs of flogging and carrying away young children in sacks.

Most Helpful Post
I frequently refer email inquirers to my helpful post VIP Service in Paris when they contact me through the Vacation in Paris Holiday Apartment Rentals customer referral contact list.  These travelers want to know about the Paris apartment we stayed in near rue Cler and also how we liked the service provided by VIP.

Most Unexpectedly Successful Post
I was so delightfully surprised by all the advice I got on my Winter Warmwear post!  I knew nothing about dressing for the cold and pondered about layering, but thanks to Nina from Adventures of The K Family, Jana from Hedgetoad Kids, and others, I'm ready to pack for my trip to Switzerland this December.

Post That Didn't Get Enough Attention
My personal favorite post, about my personal favorite destination in Europe with kids under 10, is Top Pick, about Blankenberge, Belgium.  A seaside town with an enormous go-cart track that weaves under the pier and back, an even more realistic kid-carting track with traffic signals and gas pumps, a velodroom, and many, many parks - the secret is out!  So why aren't tourists flocking to Blankenberge with their children?  Because this post hasn't got enough attention, that's why.

Post of Which We Are Most Proud
I had the most trouble choosing a post for this category.  Proud of the content and photos - maybe Say Cheese.  Proud of the blog subject - definitely My Teenager's First Solo Flight.

My daughter in Times Square.

Here are my nominations to join Tripbase's My 7 Links project:

Sonja Swiss Life - by Sonja Holverson
Mommy Travels - by Meagan Shamy
Ian and Wendy - by Ian and Wendy Sewell
Travels With Children - by Linda

Monday, July 18, 2011

Movie Monday: The Thief Lord

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To Europe With Kids presents Movie Monday as a weekly feature to recommend films that might expose children and their families to any small bit of European history, folklore, scenery, or animated imagery as entertainment, perhaps new knowledge, or just a couple of hours of electronic babysitting.
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An excellent movie adaption of an even better book is The Thief Lord, a family film whose story takes place in the magical city of Venice.  Two main characters, Prosper and Bo, are orphaned brothers who run away to Venice when their aunt and uncle choose to only adopt 6 year old Bo.  In Venice, the boys befriend a group of other young transients and their leader, Scipio, also known as Thief Lord.  Prosper comes to admire and respect Scipio, and they, along with the other children, live in an old abandoned theater and steal in order to survive.  The aunt and uncle hire a detective named Victor to find the brothers, and they attempt to outwit him.

This thrilling mystery by Cornelia Funke is available on DVD and can be enjoyed by all, and I especially recommend it to families heading to Venice.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Photo Friday: Homemade German Desserts

When my very large family in Germany gets together, everyone brings a homemade dessert.  This photo pictures one such delicious occasion.  I wish I could name every confection shown here - Baumkuchen, Kirschtorte, Kugelhupf, Quarkkuchen, and Käsekuchen are just a few.

Thanks to Debbie Dubrow of DeliciousBaby for creating and coordinating Photo Friday to link travel photos and blog posts across the web.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy Bastille Day!

The Avenue des Champs Élysées in Paris would be a great place to be today!  July 14th is Bastille Day, a French national celebration of the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on this day in 1789.  There are parades and fireworks and feasting in the City of Lights and celebrations all over the country.

What is the Bastille?  It was a fortified prison in Paris of which nothing really remains today.  Some undemolished stones of one tower of the fort were discovered during excavation for the Métro in 1899 and are displayed now in Square Henri-Galli.  The original location of the Bastille is now the Place de la Bastille, a bustling city square.  Why was the Bastille stormed and by whom?  A crowd of commoners, eventually reinforced by French infantry, rioted at the prison until they were let inside, whereupon they collected ammunition and gunpowder for their weapons and freed the prisoners.  The siege was an act of rebellion against the monarchy and helped fuel the French Revolution.

I've never been in Paris on Bastille Day myself, but was once in Monte Carlo on July 14 where there was a spectacular fireworks show over the harbor.  The city of Liège in Belgium as well as some locations in London also celebrate Bastille Day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer Fun

Sorry about the lack of blogging recently, but we've been having lots of summer fun!

 Whitewater rafting on the American River:

Kayaking on Lake Tahoe:

Trail riding at Lake Tahoe:

Fourth of July parade at home and fireworks in NYC:

Boy Scout summer camp:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Movie Monday: Tour de France

The Tour de France is not a movie, of course, but definitely something you can enjoy on TV with your kids.  Sports are always family-friendly television viewing, but besides the Olympics, most events aren't interspersed with gorgeous scenery of foreign countries.  The Tour de France route winds through France and a small part of northwestern Italy this year, and the frequent aerial helicopter shots of the regions' villages, châteaux, rivers, and mountains are awe-inspiring.

Some of the highlights the riders will pass by this year are:  such regal châteaux as de Pau, de Bouges, de Dinan; the spectacular cliffs in Cap Fréhel and lovely ski resort cities of Luz Ardiden, L'Alpe d'Huez, and Serre Chevalier; old historic cities such as Carhaix, the religious pilgrimage town of Lourdes, and Grenoble at the foot of the French Alps.  You'll definitely fall in love with the French countryside.

Coverage of the Tour de France can be found on Versus and NBC through July 24th.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Teenager's First Solo Flight

Our recently turned 15 year old daughter just returned from her first solo plane trip.  She traveled across the country (non-stop, thank goodness!) all the way to New York City to stay a few days with family and then flew home again by herself.  We are so proud of her, as she is of herself.  She was just beaming when we picked her up at the airport.

The confidence and competence needed to accomplish this milestone in her young life can only be learned by experience, and it has been our goal to teach these skills to our children through frequent travels since they were little.  Letting them navigate through airports and train stations, read maps, ask locals for help, and gradually gain independence are some of the things we've tried to encourage.

That's not to say I wasn't worried about her flying alone!  Much to our daughter's disapproval (and teenage eye-rolling) we requested a gate pass to accompany her to the plane.  (Sidebar here:  United Airlines would only give us one gate pass, although we were two parents escorting our flying minor.  What's up with that??  Would it have been such a great security risk to allow us both to go?)  There were lots of a few tears from me as I watched her stroll down that jetway, but I can guarantee there was a fist pump from her as she turned the corner out of sight from me.

We had had to promise not to meet her at the gate upon her arrival home, and I was comfortable enough with that, but I had grave concerns over her solo navigation of the evil alien world of JFK airport.  Hustlers, and swindlers, and New Yorkers, for God's sake!  But one of the many advantages kids these days have over young travelers of my generation is cell phones.  Getting lost in a crowd and meeting place confusion just doesn't exist anymore.  My daughter texted her cousin as soon as the plane hit the tarmac in New York and they found each other literally within minutes.  And within the same minute, we received the text, almost 3000 miles away, that we could exhale, our baby was safe.

She's even mastered the long-arm self-portrait!

They had such a fabulous time together.  It's an experience my daughter will never forget.  And might I just mention that you can read a first-hand account of their action-packed days in the Big Apple, because this big city cousin of ours just happens to be the author of the top-rated NYC blog, baby meets city.  Part 1 of their adventures is posted already, part 2 will be coming soon.  Great fun!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Photo Friday: Beach Weather

July is beach weather, so I thought I'd share this shot from a rooftop of the beach in Blankenberge, Belgium.  Blankenberge is one of my top recommendations for taking kids to in Europe.

And here are my kids enjoying this lovely beach.

Lots of travel photos are shared at every Friday.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

At the Finish Line of the Tour de France

The Tour de France bicycle race is currently on, running a total of three weeks and ending this year on Sunday, July 24th, in Paris.  My husband is a huge fan of bike racing and it was his dream to attend the Tour some day, so we worked it into our trip last summer.  We were there on the sidelines of the finish line on the Champs Élysées to see Lance Armstrong, Andy Schleck, and Alberto Contador go whizzing by.

Personally, I expected the experience to be hot, crowded, and pointless, because I figured we'd stand there for hours only to see the riders whoosh by for a split second in a blurry flash of color.  Hubby assured me they would do at least several victory laps and we'd get to see four or five blurry flashes of color.  He turned out to be right, and the day was much more exciting than I'd anticipated.

The riders weren't expected in Paris until the afternoon, but still we were surprised to find the Champs Élysées fairly quiet that morning.  We strolled around and did our souvenir shopping, enjoying the festive ambiance.

They had cute pink Tour de France shirts for girls.

As it got closer to the expected arrival time of the riders, we found ourselves a spot along the barricaded side of the avenue.  It just really wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be - only about 3 or 4 bodies deep, actually.  And since it was so easy to spot my husband and kids, I ambled over to the fine Parisian dining establishment known as Quick Burger, bought myself a soda, and sat at one of their terrace tables napping waiting for the action to begin.

First came the publicity caravan, the procession of colorfully decorated trucks, cars, and floats that proceeds the bicycle riders and advertises their sponsors.  The vehicles number around 250 or so.

By the time the peloton arrived my son and daughter had wriggled their little bodies all the way forward to the front:

From their now great vantage point, they were able to get some fantastic shots of the riders:

My son is exceptionally proud to have captured a full-frame, albeit blurry, image of the 2010 winner, Alberto Contador of Spain, in his yellow jersey:

When the race was over we watched the winning team, Astana, being photographed:

But the most fulfilling part of the day for me?  No cars on the Champs Élysées, meaning finally being able to get a family photo in front of the Arc de Triomphe without having a near-death experience.

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