Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Squeeze Pod Travel Product

I have no affiliation with Squeeze Pod, 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.

Have you heard about this new travel product?  It's called the Squeeze Pod.  I haven't tried it myself, but seems like a good way to lighten the travel load a little bit.  They make hand sanitizer, shaving gel, moisturizer with SPF 30, and insect repellent in these little, one application, squeezable pods.  They won't leak, they're recyclable, and they're convenient.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Photo Friday: Skin and Bones

Looking forward to Halloween with a little bit of creepiness:  my kids at the Bone House (Beinhaus) in Hallstatt, Austria, where the residents of this small town have hand-painted and then stacked and displayed the bones of their dead since the 12th century.

Take a look at for more Photo Friday photos.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What It Costs to Ski in Switzerland

Skiing in Europe is not really as expensive as I thought it would be.  Maybe that's only in the small town of Adelboden though, where we'll be staying.  Perhaps I should price Chamonix, Courchevel, Klosters and St. Moritz before I generalize.  I'm pretty sure only royals and celebrities can afford the powder there.

I was concerned over what we would find to do in Switzerland on New Year's Day since just about every site, activity, and restaurant will be closed for the holiday, so I was relieved when told that all slopes would be open!  The holiday is, in fact, a major ski day for Europeans.

My daughter's first time snowboarding.
The cost of a full-day lift ticket that covers all five of Adelboden's mountain areas is 60 CHF for adults, 51 CHF for youths ages 16 - 19, and 33 CHF for children ages 6 - 15, and includes the local ski bus network.  Equipment rental is available at several locations in town and also near the gondola station.  Adult skis and poles or a snowboard generally rent for 39 CHF (19 CHF for juniors ages 7 - 12 years, 12 CHF for kids 6 and under) and adult boots for 19 CHF (12 CHF for juniors, 9 CHF for kids).

Several of the girls in our group have never skied before and will be taking lessons.  A 3 hour group lesson is 67 CHF per person.  Private lessons for groups up to 10 people are 145 CHF for 2 hours.

Adelboden has many cross-country trails, walking and snowshoeing paths, and numerous mountain restaurants.  There is also a professionally designed snowboarding park with three kicklines, a slide zone, an obstacle course and an airpark.  I have no idea what any of those things are, but they sound like terrific fun!

Monday, October 24, 2011

8 Things That Suck About Booking Airfare

A few random thoughts came into my head this week as I attempted to book a flight to Spain for my family of four.  As a result, here are 8 things that suck about booking airfare:

•  That great fare you found a minute ago just went up hundreds of dollars.

•  That perfect flight you found a minute ago is now nowhere to be found.

•  No one search site includes every airline.

•  The number of frequent flyer miles it used to cost to fly roundtrip is now the number it takes to fly one way.

•  No matter how many months in advance you attempt to book using economy-saver frequent flyer miles, there will be only ONE flight available with seat inventory.  And it won't be the date or destination you want.

•  After you agonize over and carefully select the flight most convenient for you, several months later you will get a notice that there's been a slight change.  Now you have a six hour layover instead of one.

•  Buyer's remorse:  should I have waited to buy?  what if the prices go down next week?

•  There are so many enormous variables in air travel that you can't control, i.e. a pilot strike, the airline going defunct, snowstorms, ice storms, illness.  It's all very difficult for a control freak to handle.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Photo Friday: Travelin' Daycare

We thought this brood of Dutch toddlers were travelin' in style when we spotted them at the Gouda cheese market last summer!  Aren't they precious?  Note the uncharacteristically European safety feature of little shoulder harness seat belts, too.  And their field trip culminated in joy when the cute milkmaids came and offered them cheese samples:

Many thanks to Debbie Dubrow for hosting Photo Friday at every week.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rudolfsturm Restaurant and Its Spectacular View

Sometimes you just have to recommend a restaurant for its spectacular view, and the food and drink is secondary.  The Rudolfsturm (Rudolf's Tower) Restaurant perched high up on the cliffs above Hallstatt, Austria, is one of those restaurants.  See the terrace in the photo above?  Here are the views from that terrace:

That's gorgeous Lake Hallstatter, the enchanting village of Hallstatt, and the surrounding Alps behind my kids.  We arrived at Rudolfsturm Restaurant after a hike along the hillside from the village.  The walk took about an hour and a half and was a shaded, easy, uphill slope along a lovely path:

Rudolfsturm Restaurant was then the perfect spot to recover with a cold drink (as cold as drinks get in Europe, anyway), a Bratwurst, and a few Kodak moments.  There is also a two-way cable car that travels up Salzberg (that's the correct spelling of the mountain - different from the city of Salzburg) Mountain that you can board from Salzbergbahn cable car station if you don't want to hike.  From Rudolfsturm it's only a few minute's walk to the Salzwelten Hallstatt salt mine, the world's oldest salt mine.

The Rudolfs Tower was built in the 13th century by the Duke Albrecht of Austria and named after his father, Rudolf I, who was the first leader of the Habsbergs.  It was built to protect the salt mine, and for about 600 years it was home to the mine managers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Finalizing the Switzerland Plans

Held a big meeting last week with the parents and Girl Scouts that I'm taking to Switzerland in December.  Collected the final payment and reviewed important information that I didn't want anyone to miss.  My meeting agenda looked like this:

•  Transportation to/from airport
-       I need to know whether you wish to see your daughter off at the airport or if she needs a ride

•  Minors traveling overseas without parents
-     parents will sign letter of consent

•  Baggage restrictions
-       one purse, one carry-on, one checked bag
-       overweight charges are $100 - $200!!
-       you must be able to carry ALL your bags yourself, up and down stairs

-       waterproof, insulated, comfortable snow/walking boots are critical
-       wool socks, not cotton
-       base layer, insulating layer, and outer layer
-       waterproof, insulated snow jacket is critical
-       ski clothes include snow pants, snow jacket, waterproof gloves, hat, scarf

•  What to bring in your carry-on bag
-       socks or slippers, headphones for movie/music
-       highly recommend NOT to bring cell phones, laptops, or iPads

•  Electricity
-     all electrical devices (camera chargers, hair dryers, etc.) will require an electrical converter and adapter

•  Skiing
-     was not in our original budget.  Will cost between $85 - $120.

•  Money
-       no $100 bills
-       an ATM card is required
-       a prepaid, reloadable credit card is required in case of emergency
-       absolutely no traveler’s checks
-       how much for snacks, souvenirs, extras?

•  Parents sign paperwork


The meeting went well, I thought.  I brought my suitcase and filled it up with winter clothes as I presented each item ("these are what waterproof, insulated boots look like") and when it was full, we weighed it.  Much to my relief it weighed in at 24.2 lbs., which means I can still stuff it with twice as much!  Hooray, because my fashion sense is a little disturbed by wearing the same winter coat for 10 days in a row.  And of course I'd like to bring a variety of neck scarves.  An extra pair of boots would be nice, too.  Yeah, just like always, I'll probably overpack.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Movie Monday: Passport to Paris

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

There is a third installment in the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen direct-to-video movie series that I have not yet recommended as a Movie Monday fave.  This one takes place in Paris and is called Passport to Paris.  The story doesn't change much from Winning London and When in Rome (the other two Olsen films), but it might be a little cuter to watch since the twins are younger and more adorable in this 1999 release.

The two 7th grade sisters are sent to Paris to stay with their grandfather who leaves them under the supervision of a crotchety chaperone, whom they manage to escape from when they meet a couple of young French boys.  Tween and younger girls will probably love the story; others might just enjoy the Parisian scenery in Passport to Paris.

Watch the trailer here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Photo Friday: Dragon Tails in Copenhagen

Copenhagen, Denmark, is sometimes called the "City of Spires" because there are so many apexes belonging to churches and castles in this town.  Certainly, the spire at the top of the old Copenhagen stock exchange building is the most unusual.  It is known as the Dragon Spire, and it is formed by four dragons on their forelegs with their tails intertwined.  Built in the early 1600s, the spire reaches a height of over 180 feet.

Thanks to Debbie Dubrow for hosting Photo Friday at

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Murano Glass Factory Tour

View of Venice from the water.

When you're visiting Venice you'll see lots of advertisements for boat rides over to Murano, another island in the Venetian lagoon, located less than a mile away.  You'll also see ads inviting you to take a free glass-making factory tour in Murano, and many people will tell you this is a scam to get you into the glass factory gift shop where a merciless Italian salesperson will sink his teeth into your leg and not let go until you buy something.  This was not our experience at all.  

When the kind concierge at our fabulous hotel, Pensione Accademia Villa Maravege in Venice, offered us a free water limo from their private dock to Murano, yes, we were a little bit suspicious, but decided to take the adventure.  The whole family enjoyed the luxury water boat, the gorgeous day on the sea, and the terrific views of Venice as we crossed the lagoon.  The limo dropped us off at a dock right in front of several glass factories, but no one was standing there shooing us in.  We looked around and decided for ourselves which factory to enter.  

There was no admission charge and the tour was not guided; we were able to stay and watch the glassblowing as long as we liked.  My kids, 11 and 8 at the time, were fascinated.  The process is quite interesting:  first, the tip of the blowpipe is preheated, then dipped in the molten glass in the furnace.  The glassblower, or glassmith, then inflates the molten glass into a bubble with a blow tube and continues to shape and form it using tongs, paper and shears.

Particularly dramatic to watch is the addition of color to the glass as it spins and swirls and stretches into a beautiful object.  Murano glassmakers still use centuries-old techniques and their fine Cristallo (crystalline glass), enameled glass, and refined craftsmanship are world-renowned.  At the end of the path through the factory we indeed found ourselves in the factory gift shop which we leisurely browsed without any sales pressure at all.  The kids each bought themselves a small souvenir with true appreciation for the handiwork involved.

The island of Murano looks very similar to Venice, only the feel is much quieter and more relaxed.  Beautiful architecture, canals, and bridges make it a lovely place to stroll about, and you're more likely to share the sidewalk with a resident carrying a bag full of groceries than with other tourists.

The Church of Santa Maria e San Donato in Murano.

A very interesting New York Times article recently described the challenges this little island is facing in preserving its glassmaking heritage as well as protecting the designation of origin of its creations in today's global economy.  It is hoping to increase tourism and other industry.  I hope it manages to adapt and survive.

Related posts:
Chocolate Making in Broc, Switzerland
Wooden Shoe Making in Gouda, the Netherlands
Cheese Making in Gruyères, Switzerland
Violin Making in Mittenwald, Germany
Porcelain Making in Delft, the Netherlands, and in Oberschliessheim, Germany

Friday, October 7, 2011

Photo Friday: Euro Disney

All this talk about the grand opening of Aulani, Disney's new resort in Hawaii, makes me reminisce about Euro Disneyland in Paris.  

Share your travel photos every Photo Friday at

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Edelweiss in a Can

Isn't this a cute souvenir?  My mom brought it back for the kids this summer from Tyrol.  "Open, water, enjoy!" is what the instructions say, and you will grow your own Edelweiss flower.  I'll be interested to see if it works, since Edelweiss grow naturally only in high Alpine regions, usually in inaccessible places, which is why they're often associated with mountaineering.  My kitchen windowsill doesn't meet this description.

Note:  one year later I eventually had to throw it away, without ever seeing a blossom.  It sprouted and grew very, very slowly, but withered after some exceptionally hot weather we had.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

German Cooking Lessons for the Whole Family

Besides being lovely house guests, our recent visitors from Germany afforded the added bonus of being good cooks!  In my house this is big, since neither hubby nor I are blessed with any degree of culinary skill.  After I baked a very simple and bland lasagna for them one evening, K (our female guest) offered to make one the following week.  Do you mind it spicy? she asked.  Heh, c'mon, we eat Mexican food three times a week around here, I thought, and besides, Germans are not known to tolerate spicy.  Well, I'll be darned, that lasagna knocked our socks off.  More paprika and cayenne pepper than a Hungarian goulash!  It was fabulous.

Anyway, I definitely saw an opportunity here to wheedle a little cooking lesson from K, and quickly decided on Spätzle, my favorite German side dish.  I had made them once before with the guidance of one of my cousins after she gifted me a Spätzle press, but I had never attempted the dish since.  Basically, Spätzle are just soft egg noodles, but once buttered, or topped with melted cheese or homemade cream sauce, they are excellent alongside any kind of meat or even as a meal in themselves.

So, one afternoon when we were all home, out came the Spätzle press:

The ingredients are simple:  6 eggs, 2 cups flour, a pinch of salt, and sparkling water.  Very slowly add flour to the six beaten eggs with a mixer.  When two people do it together it ensures smooth dough with no lumps:

My daughter learning to make Spätzle.

As the dough thickens, occasionally add a teaspoon of water to the mix until you've reached the consistency of sticky pancake batter.  In the meantime, boil a pot of water.

When the water in the pot is boiling, place the press on top of the pot.  Drop Spätzle dough on to the press and quickly rub and squish the dough through the holes.

This is the fun part!

The pressing must be done quickly because the dough-droppings (do you like that term I just made up?) should only boil in the water for one or two minutes before being removed.  Remove them with a small sieve and keep warm while you add more dough to the press and begin again.

Spätzle in boiling water.

When our Spätzle were done on this lovely cooking afternoon, we spread a layer of them into a casserole dish and topped them with a layer of grated Gouda cheese.  We repeated the layers once more and baked the dish for 15 minutes in the oven.

Bake 15 minutes at 350°.

K also whipped up some Rahmsoße, or cream sauce, with mushrooms.  My son stepped in to help with this one:

That evening we enjoyed a delicious German dinner of Spätzle both baked with cheese and topped with cream sauce and we adults enjoyed a bottle of Spätburgunder wine - a black grape pinot noir - produced in our guests' little town of Dorfprozelten, Germany, that they had brought from home.

A dinner enjoyed by everyone!

This post is featured on Expat in Germany's Food Friday.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Movie Monday: Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •
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 1995 release of Rob Roy is rated R, but the 1953 Walt Disney film Rob Roy:  The Highland Rogue is quite appropriate for children, and besides exposing them to magnificent scenery in Scotland and England will also acquaint them with the legend of Rob Roy MacGregor and the early 18th century Scottish rebellions.

Rob Roy is the leader of a Scottish Highland clan who rises up in the struggle against the ruling English monarchy and is eventually outlawed and hunted by the English.  Although certainly not a historical documentary, viewers will understand the attitudes and conflicts of the time as well as be entertained by sword fighting, swashbuckling, and lots of action.  Even the musical score is not bad.

Other Movie Monday posts:

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