Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holiday Shopping Ideas for Traveling Kids

Want to get your kids fired up for a European adventure?  Teach them a little geography or history of the European continent?  There are some fantastic children's books with just that idea in mind, and they would make terrific holiday gifts.

Check out the travel books recommended for kids by Travel for Kids at their website.  A couple of my favorite reads are:

David Robert Hogg at My Little Nomads also makes some great book recommendations on his website.  I like:

Happy shopping!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Movie Monday: Kidnapped

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

Another Walt Disney movie filmed in the rocky, mountainous region of the Scottish Highlands is the 1960 classic Kidnapped starring Peter Finch and Peter O'Toole.  Young boys will love the action and the sword fighting in this adventure film about a 16 year old lad cheated out of his inheritance by his cruel uncle and shanghaied aboard a ship to the New World.  The teenager escapes, has a run-in with the redcoats, and eventually recovers his lost inheritance.

In this film you will get a glimpse of the glorious empty grandeur of the Scottish Highlands.  A region that still today is very sparsely populated, it is rich in natural beauty and surrounded by vast, rugged mountain ranges, windswept islands, secluded beaches and captivating scenery.

Friday, November 25, 2011

. . . and Christmas Begins With a Vengeance

Are you a Black Friday shopper?  I am not.  There are parallels in my mind between the frenzied, scrambling shoppers on Black Friday and the participants in the running of the bulls competition in Pamplona.

Parking headaches.

Waiting for the stores to open.

Dodging the crowds.

The incessant holiday music.

Not liking what you see in the dressing room mirror.

Runaway deals.

Battle scars.

And the exhaustion when it's all over.

Disclaimer:  I have never been to Pamplona or the running of the bulls.  These images were taken from Google.  I have, however, been shopping on Black Friday, only without my camera.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Busiest Flying Day

Today, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, is always the busiest flying day of the year.
Are you at an airport today?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Special Delivery!

Look what arrived in the mail today:  eleven Swiss rail passes!

We ended up getting the Swiss Saver Flexipass for 4 days within 1 month.  What this means is that we can hop on and off trains within Switzerland all day, on any four days, within a one month period.  (Back in the good 'ol days you really could hop on and off trains at random, but now most trains require a seat reservation, so that takes a bit of the spontaneity out of it.)  Anyway, one of our days will be to get from Zurich to Adelboden and another will be to get from Adelboden to the Zurich airport to go home.  That leaves two remaining travel days!  As I've posted before, we'll probably go to Gruyères one day and on a mountaintop excursion the other.

I purchased the rail passes from Rail Europe, and because we are a group larger than 9 people I couldn't order on-line, but rather via email/telephone with one of their Group Consultants.  I truly appreciated that it was the same consultant I worked with every time I called or emailed throughout the entire 8 months of our correspondence.  She was extremely helpful and responsive, too.

The value of a rail pass is excellent.  We paid $267 for the adult pass and $157 for the child pass.  Bonus for my group of high school sophomores:  a child in Switzerland is age 15 and under.  (One of the girls is already 16 - she was disappointed, of course.)  Bonus for the three adults traveling along with their daughters:  their daughters travel FREE.

If you calculate point-to-point rail ticket prices and compare to the pass, the savings are extreme.  For example, each of our trips to and from Zurich and Adelboden would cost $100.  Add the trip to Gruyères and a mountaintop and you're well over the price of the pass.  Plus, the Swiss Pass gives you free travel on lake steamers, buses, and a 50% discount on most private mountaintop trains and cable cars.

My Group Consultant at Rail Europe was also able to confirm our seat reservations on our two definite trains, so that is reassurance for me.  Plus, it's nice to pay those reservation fees in dollars instead of Swiss francs.  All around, my experience with Rail Europe was recommendable.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Photo Friday: Carcassonne, France

The enormous medieval fortress of Carcassonne, France, at night.  A fantasyland destination for kids.

This post is part of Photo Friday at

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Who is Oswald Von Wolkenstein?

The region of South Tirol in northern Italy is so much more like Germany or Austria than Italy, with its tall steepled churches, picture-book chalets, and snow-covered mountains.  Local restaurants serve wurst and sauerkraut, and in many of the villages German is the predominant language, not Italian.  The town of Kastelruth (Castelrotto in Italian) is one of those charming little villages, symbolized by the tallest (and probably the loudest!) bell tower in the region.  The local townspeople enjoy celebrating their folklore and often dress in traditional costume, making it a delightful place to visit.

One of Kastelruth's annual traditions takes place on the streets every year in June and is known as the Oswald von Wolkenstein Ride.  Who is Oswald von Wolkenstein??  Well, he was a South Tyrolean poet, composer and troubadour in the 14th and 15th century who was admired for his diplomacy and military conquests.  In 1983 a medieval horse show was organized in Kastelruth to honor von Wolkenstein, and the event has increased in popularity ever since.

The three day festivities begin on a Friday with a village fair and the usual food, drink, and merriment.  On Saturday there is an opening pageant with bands, carriages, horses and knights followed by concerts, medieval markets, knight's games, and fireworks.  The riding tournaments, which actually begin on Sunday, consist of 36 equestrian teams competing in events that test medieval horsemanship skills such as spearing rings at full gallop, jumping hurdles, slalom gates, and negotiating a labyrinth.  It's a thrilling show to watch and reminds me of the terrific jousting shows in Carcassonne, France.

The final tournament and awards ceremony take place at Prösels Castle (Castello di Presule in Italian) below the Schlern mountain nearby, and is followed by more celebrating and medieval festivity.  Kastelruth is the ideal home base for exploring the Alps, the Dolomites, and the annual Oswald Von Wolkenstein Ride!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Free Bathrooms in Switzerland

Tip of the day:  The large supermarket chain of Migros, in Switzerland, has free bathrooms.  My group of 11 will be grateful for this, I'm sure, when we're sightseeing around town. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Girl Scout International Fair

Just returned from an International Fair hosted by my daughter's Girl Scout troop.  What a terrific way to expose young girls to other countries and cultures!  Each participating Brownie or Junior troop chose a country to exhibit with a poster board of facts and photos, some food or snack from that country, and a craft or costume.  The event opened with a parade of countries, each troop waving their flag.  Then, every girl had a "passport" and she could visit the exhibits, get her passport stamped, and sample the food.  Later, each troop performed a native dance from their country or sang a song or recited facts.

I loved the little Brownies representing France, who wore berets with French poodle neck scarves and served a slice of baguette with a wedge of brie on red, blue and white paper plates.  And I also admired the girls who chose Turkey, attired in head scarves and traditional dress, and the Englanders serving tea.  I think lots of little girls left the fair today with more knowledge of the world, and that's such a good thing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11/11/11 at 11:11

Last year I speculated in a post about what would happen November 11th in 2011.  Not the end of the world or the planets aligning or anything like that, but regarding the parties marking the beginning of Carnival.  You see, even though most Carnival celebrations don't get serious until right before Ash Wednesday, like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, there are some countries where the official start of the festival season is 11/11 at 11:11 a.m.  So I'm thinking this must be a REALLY big year for them.

The wildest celebrations of the 11/11 date take place every year in Cologne, Germany.  The revelers dress up in costumes and take to the streets, dancing and drinking, getting ready for weeks of partying.  Different groups hold parades and provide street entertainment; bars and beergartens are crowded.

The Cologne Cathedral

The city of Düsseldorf is a strong contender for 11/11 party central.  The day is called Hoppeditz Awakening here, named after a tradition based on the Hoppeditz character, who is sort of a carnival fool, or jester.  Hoppeditz reawakens every year on 11/11 at 11:11 a.m. on the Marktplatz in front of the town hall to open the Düsseldorf Karneval.  He begins by lampooning local politics, and he and the mayor engage in some good-natured hectoring, before the program continues on Burgplatz.  More than 300 carnival sessions and costume balls are celebrated in Düsseldorf between Hoppeditz Awakening and Ash Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Holland Through a Child's Eyes

When I downloaded my then 11 year-old's camera with photos from Holland two summers ago, I didn't think much of them other than he's got a lot to learn about taking pictures.  Of course having a cheapo digital camera didn't help the quality, but looking at his photos of Amsterdam, Gouda, Delft, and Rotterdam now, I realize that some of them are actually quite creative, and an interesting look at Holland through a child's eyes.  Look what impressed him in Holland (the first one for obvious reasons.)

This one was actually taken in Heidelberg, Germany, but I couldn't exclude it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Movie Monday: Ever After: A Cinderella Story

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

Everybody loves a Cinderella story.  And if your children are old enough to advance from the Disney version to a little more intense remake (rated PG), this one has marvelous scenery from the charming medieval region of Dordogne in France.  Ever After:  A Cinderella Story starring Drew Barrymore, was filmed in three very enchanting châteaux:  Château de Fénélon, Château de Hautefort, and Château de Losse:

In addition to the beautiful châteaux, castles, churches, and fortresses in the rural Dordogne region, the unspoiled countryside and storybook villages might just tempt you to add this destination to your travel bucket-list.

Drew Barrymore plays a fine Cinderella in this 1998 film, and Anjelica Huston as the evil stepmother is extraordinary, as always.  It's a great choice for family movie night.  Watch the trailer here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Link Up to Monkeying Around

Just wanted to post a quick Saturday link up to a great blog I read yesterday about an all around fun activity in Germany.  Take your family to see a mountain of monkeys - more than 200 Barbary macaques! - near Lake Constance.  The monkeys roam freely and can be fed popcorn by the visitors.

Check it out at Expat in Germany.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Photo Friday: Salzburg at Night

The enchanting city of Salzburg, Austria, at night.

This post is part of Photo Friday at

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review of the Crescent Hotel in London

Naturally I was apprehensive the first time we took the kids to Europe, and a little nervous about the very first hotel we'd stay in since it would make a lasting impression.  I had carefully selected the Crescent Hotel in London, and we were not disappointed in it as a no-frills, economy hotel.  They accommodated our family of four by placing an extra single bed in one of their family rooms, which are usually triples.  It crowded the area just a bit, but when the kids are still little people it's no problem.  The private bathroom was quite spacious, so that helped.  London can get very warm in the summer and air conditioning is still a novelty in budget hotels, so another pleasing feature of our room was that it was slightly underground, in sort of a half basement, and stayed very cool.

Affordable by London's standards, the family room for four is £135 and includes a warm English breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausages, cereal, yogurt, hot porridge, fruit, tea, juice, and coffee, served in the breakfast room:

In the breakfast room at the Crescent Hotel.

The Crescent Hotel is in an 18th century Georgian building located in Bloomsbury, a quiet district in central London known for its pretty garden squares.  The nearest underground station, easily reached on foot, is Russell Square and will get you to most all the major attractions in the city.  Also very nearby is St. Pancras station, which is where you can board the Eurostar train in case you want to cross the channel to Brussels or Paris.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fall Apple Picking in Germany

If you find yourself in Germany with children during the fall, why not take them apple picking?  Appel-Happel is a large family-owned apple farm in the Rhineland countryside near the city of Mainz.  The friendly farmers here love children and school groups and offer lots of hands-on demonstrations about what they do, what they grow, and the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.  Outside the store next to the orchards, you can sample the many different varieties of apples they grow before you start picking.  Besides apples, one can pick peaches, pears, walnuts, berries, and much more when in season.  Appel-Happel also makes their own marmalades, fresh pressed juices, wines and vinegars.  There's even a kid-sized trampoline and a picnic area.

Appel-Happel's website is unfortunately only in German, but there's not much more you need to know besides how to get there.  Their address is:

Marienborner Bergweg 33
55127 Mainz-Marienborn

Hours are Monday - Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and then again from 3:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
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