Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review of Hotel Helios in Blankenberge, Belgium

View from the roof terrace of Hotel Helios.

As I've mentioned before, one of my highest recommendations of where to go in Europe with young children is the coastal town of Blankenberge in Belgium because of the very many children's activities available there.  The go-cart track under the pier and another pedal-cart track a few blocks away are unforgettable fun for kids.

A convenient hotel for families staying in Blankenberge is Hotel Helios right on the seafront.  It's a modern, higher-rise hotel with reasonable rates and can accommodate your family with a suite, junior suite, extra beds, and cribs.  Most of their rooms face the ocean and the roof terrace has terrific views over the beach and the town.  A breakfast buffet is included in the room price as well.

Hotel Helios is in the background of this photo.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Another Exchange Student in Our Home

We have a new exchange student in our home.  He is from Spain, is 14 years old just like my son, and is absolutely adorable.  I think all four of us in our family would like to keep him forever.

Doing what 14 year old boys do best.
Some years ago we hosted our first exchange student, a young girl from Paris.  She and my daughter got along well and we all enjoyed the experience, so for some time I've been wanting to host a boy my son's age.  The perfect opportunity arose this summer.

Leo is from the city of Huelva, in Andalusia, which is so exciting for us because we drove right through there last summer.  It is a port city with lovely beaches and a maritime history.  We were invited to take him in as an exchange student by the same coordinator who handled our French student experience, through the SHARE! Program of Educational Resource Development Trust.  Leo traveled to the U.S. with a group of similar-aged Spanish school children who are all with different families in different homes.  They take a few excursions together as a group during their time here, but otherwise are left to share everyday life with their American host family.  I deeply admire these students' courage.  Leo is bright and friendly and not afraid to communicate with us at all.  His English is excellent.  He has picked up many of my son's colloquialisms and likes hanging around the neighborhood with my son's gang of friends.  He loves hamburgers and fresh-baked brownies.

Hosting an exchange student exposes your family to new knowledge, new customs, and new friends.  We consider it an invaluable experience for our children.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Stork Nests in the Algarve

Native wildlife is always fun to encounter when visiting a foreign land, and we got a kick out of seeing the multitude of storks and their enormous, high-perched nests all over the Algarve region of southern Portugal last summer!  These Iberian White Storks build their nests in the most precarious of places:  lampposts, electrical towers, church steeples, chimneys, and smoke stacks.  It's really quite remarkable to see.

The white storks thrive in the natural salt marsh environment of the Algarve, so much so that in the last 30 years or so increasing numbers of the birds have chosen to stay in Iberia all year rather than migrate to Africa in the winter.  Storks live for 20 to 30 years in the wild, and sometimes form colonies of hundreds.

Storks will return to the same nest year after year, continuously adding new material, and some nests can weigh nearly a ton!

Thinking about the story of storks delivering newborn babies, I found it somewhat allegorical that the storks in the above photo built their nest on top of an old advertisement reading, "Once upon a time".

Two stork nests visible in this photo.

This is my Photo Friday link-up post to

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Tangled Web We Weave

Our power charging station continues to grow every time we travel overseas.  Every night we now have four cameras, two iPods, two cell phones, and two laptops to recharge, but usually only one or two voltage converters and adapter plugs.  (Electrical voltage in Europe is 220, while American voltage is only 110.  Be sure you have a voltage converter before you travel or you'll fry your electronics.)  Then, of course, if my daughter or I have a need to blow dry or curl our hair, we need power, too.  Even if we had enough converters and adapters, the majority of the centuries-old buildings we stay in in Europe certainly don't have enough electrical outlets.  What to do?  There are some fancy new multi-charger gadgets on the market, but my husband's idea - which works just fine - is to bring along a standard power strip.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Alhambra Part 4: Alcazaba Fort

Sitting in front of the Alhambra's Alcazaba.

When the Sultans of the Nasrid dynasty chose to build a palace in the foothills of Sierra Nevada on the plain of Granada, they needed a fortress, of course, on the highest point of the hill, to keep watch over their kingdom and defend the royal family.  The resulting Alcazaba, which just means fortress, still stands today and is one of the four ancient sites to visit in the magnificent Alhambra complex in Granada, Spain.

Visitors may enter the Alcazaba with their ticket to the Palace Nazare and/or Generalife Gardens.  Since the Alcazaba is right across from the entrance to the palace, plan to tour the fort before you enter the palace, and give yourself about an hour to see the Alcazaba.

Remains of the living quarters inside the Alhambra's Alcazaba.

What is there to see inside?  Ruins mostly, of the living quarters, stables, and dungeons.  The most fun is climbing up the defensive walls and watchtowers for expansive views over Granada.

Awesome views of the city from the Alcazaba.

Vending machine with soggy sandwiches.
I have a tip to share about eating/snacking while visiting the Alhambra.  The entire complex is enormous, and walking distances are far from one site to another.  There are two sit-down restaurants within the Alhambra walls:  the Parador de Granada restaurant and the Hotel América restaurant.  If, however, you don't want a sit-down meal, your choices of snacks and beverages are few.  After not finding anything, anywhere, we finally purchased a couple of soggy triangular-cut sandwiches from a vending machine in the small building that houses the restrooms.  I'm not really a picky eater, but these sandwiches were truly inedible.  Not until later did we find the small kiosk near the entrance of the Alcazaba that serves fresh bocadillos, beer, and other yummy snacks.  I took a photo (below) so that you won't miss it.

This kiosk is where you want to grab a sandwich at the Alhambra.

And, since I mentioned the restrooms, DO use the ones near the vending machine and the Square of the Cisterns bookshop.  They are the only bathrooms I found, they are free, and there is a balcony in the ladies room with a fabulous view over the plaza.

Read Alhambra Part 1:  Generalife Gardens here.
Read Alhambra Part 2:  Palace Nazare here.
Read Alhambra Part 3:  Palace of Charles V here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Goodbye Google Reader

Image credit:  Google Images
As you probably already know, Google Reader was laid to rest on June 30, 2013.  Many of you, dear followers, used Google Reader to subscribe to To Europe With Kids and will now need to import a different Google reader feed such as Bloglovin'.

Please resubscribe and don't miss any future posts on To Europe With Kids!
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