Our Turkish Family Adventure: A Fall Fling in Istanbul

Thrifty Travel Mama | Family Adventures in Istanbul - Tips on Taking Your Kids to Turkey

Are y’all ready to check out the sultan’s sweet digs, savory street food, and a super cheap sea cruise? My family-friendly Istanbul recap is finally here!

An effort nearly a year in the making, sharing our family’s Turkish adventure with you is obviously long overdue. In between spelling tests and science experiments, I’ve been editing photos and typing up posts in my rare spare minutes over the past few months.

We enjoyed such a marvelous last major travel fling in the Middle East before moving to America, a trek complete with marvels and mishaps, that I couldn’t keep it all to myself.

After a trip like this, the first thing I want to do is capture the essence of the adventure in words and pictures (which, unfortunately takes for-stinkin’-ever these days). Following that, I wish to share what we experienced and learned with you and all my fellow traveling families.

I personally rely on these kinds of recap and bucket list posts from other travelers and especially family travel bloggers. So, without further ado, here are the treats awaiting you in the next few weeks. Links will be added to the list below as posts are published.

Istanbul Bucket List

All that, and….

As always, I’ll discuss my thoughts on whether I found Istanbul to be kid-friendly or not. I’ll be handing over my best tips for taking your family to Turkey including valuable advice on what to know and prepare before you even leave home.

I also have a harrowing hotel tale to share in hopes that you’ll avoid any potential arguments with your own accommodation arrangements. Plus, I’ve got a review of our experience flying Turkish Airlines with kids in the works.

It’s both thrilling and slightly depressing to be reliving our Turkish adventure here in words and pictures. Thrilling because, hello, we went to Turkey with our kids and had a blast. Depressing because of the whole being regular Americans now with real jobs and commitments who can’t travel whenever they feel like it (whine, whine). But, whatever.

Down with the reverse culture shock dumps, I say! Every day, this new life gets a bit more bearable. Meeting fellow expats helps. Making new expat friends helps. Using my passport again REALLY helps. And, writing here helps. It reminds me that we traveled before, and we can travel again. It may not look the same as it used to, but travel is different for every adventure-seeking family.

So, let’s do this Turkey trip recap thing together. I’ll write the posts. You plan, scheme, and dream up your own version. (And, failing that – just pin it all for later.)

See you back here in a few days when we explore the 8th wonder of the world! In the meantime, if you have a hankering to browse other bucket lists, you can find our Tuscan one here and our Croatian one here.

Which part of the bucket list are you most looking forward to? If you’ve been to Turkey and have a story or link to share from somewhere not on our bucket list, would you share it in the comments below? Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

 

Our Unforgettable 10th Anniversary Swiss Getaway

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, SwitzerlandThe last time Doc Sci and I had the chance to escape alone, Charlie was still swimming in my stomach. We went to Milan for one warm, delicious day (the little one must have liked it because we ended up back in Italy to celebrate his first birthday). But with the little guy nearly two (2!!), we were due for another getaway.

With our tenth anniversary on the horizon, I entertained visions of endless days spent lying on Greek beaches, in private villas, and around infinity pools. These images must have been more delusion than dream because who I am kidding?! There’s no way we have the financial or child-care means to support such grand plans.

Instead, we ended up with a plan that was much more “us” than my former imaginations. We booked our trusty babysitter for a day and a half and set off for Switzerland to sleep in the Alps and hike the classic Faulhornweg.

Logistics

Faulhornweg day-trippers need to take the cog wheel train from Wilderswil to Schynige Platte, make their way to First (about 6 solid hours of walking, not including breaks), take the cable car back down to Grindelwald, and then a train back to Wilderswil.

It sounds confusing, but the basic idea is that you must travel up one side of the mountain, walk an insanely long way, and go back down the other side in order to return to your car. It can be done in reverse, but I consistently read that it was recommended to start at Schynige Platte.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

The terrace at Hotel Schynige Platte.

I figured with our limited budget, we’d need to overnight at a hotel in Grindelwald or even Interlaken. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Hotel Schynige Platte reasonably priced for Switzerland. The hotel sits just above the cog wheel train station on top of the mountain and affords diners and sleepers glorious views of the big three: Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger. Rates include both a five-course dinner and breakfast buffet.

Going Up

Since we missed the cog wheel train experience at Pilatus, both Doc Sci and I were eager to cross this experience off our bucket list. We bought tickets in Wilderswil and waited for the last train of the day. We were asked repeatedly if we had overnight reservations (yes) because it would be a cold night alone on the mountain if we didn’t.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

To our surprise, other than a pack of paragliders, we were the only passengers on the train, save one Swiss family with two children. Doc Sci and I were like giddy school kids, jumping over the benches, hanging out the windows, snapping photos every three seconds.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Interlaken!

At the beginning of the train ride, we could see Interlaken, Thunersee, and Brienzersee. But then the train went through a series of tunnels before popping out in front of her majesty, Jungfrau.

Just like with the Eiffel Tower, sometimes the best view is not from the monument itself, but rather from a distance.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Why, hello there.

The Hotel

We pulled into the station at Schynige Platte, and checked into our hotel. The Hotel Schynige Platte is marketed as something from “grandma’s time.” The bathrooms are very modern (though not en-suite), the hotel is renovated and sparkling clean, but we had to laugh at some of the cheesy antiques.

All chuckling aside, we could barely speak when we saw the view from our room. I’m absolutely sure we had the best room in the entire house because it was on the corner and we could see the Alps from both windows.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Jungfrau!

Dinner was a curious affair. I can’t remember the last time I ate a five-course meal in a restaurant. I must have forgotten that snobbery is often the only thing that comes complimentary.

When we arrived at our table, the waitress insisted that we must order drinks. We only drink water with dinner at home, and I didn’t see in any TripAdvisor reviews that drinks (or at least water) were not included in the dinner price. She refused to bring us tap water and because we only had a limited number of francs with us (stupid I know, but I was not expecting to be manhandled), we couldn’t just order anything regardless of cost. We awkwardly asked for a menu.

A little heads up on this would’ve been nice, and a little understanding from the server would’ve been even nicer. We finally ordered a half liter of Sprite to the tune of 6 CHF. Yikes.

The worst part was that we realized later that another table had tap water – and a different waitress.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Several of the courses were served on “plates” of stone or wood.

This flap put a bit of a damper on our dinner. We tried our best to ignore it, but this server was intent on remaining surly throughout the entire meal. To make matters worse, it started raining during dinner, clouding up our view of the Alps.

Well, whatever – we were here without kids, and we were going to make the best of it!

The room was chilly, but a space heater did the trick. As I mentioned, none of the rooms are not en-suite, but we never had to wait for a toilet or shower, and everything was very clean. It was odd to sleep in such silence with nothing but an occasional gust of wind to break it. We savored every minute of it.

In the morning, we rose early in anticipation of the long hike ahead. Breakfast was a limited buffet (though they did have hard boiled eggs and an assortment of pork cold cuts in the protein department). We made ourselves Alpine cheese sandwiches to take along, and we devoured the traditional Swiss yogurt and muesli in between swigs of coffee.

The Hike

After checking out, we stepped out into the drizzle. Unfortunately, the rain from the night before had lingered. Never mind that, our spirits were still high. Whenever anything threatened to fizzle our cheery disposition, we just looked at each other and said, “No kids!”Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

But this weather, this drizzle, was to be the best of the whole day. The plus side was that we were the only people on the trail. We could chat with each other or climb in silence. Our exclamations at the beauty of this place, even despite the fog and rain, annoyed no one. Pit stops were possible anywhere one pleased.

We traversed so many different types of terrain – huge boulders, tiny footpaths, bits of snow, gurgling streams. We dodged cow pies in pastures with scary heifers and slimy black salamanders that came out to frolic in the puddles. It was incredible.

The only thing that could have made it any more amazing would’ve been the lifting of the clouds so that we could have seen the peaks around us while we hiked.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

The down side of the nasty weather was that by the middle of the hike, we were already on our way to being soaked. We wanted to sit in shelter somewhere to grab a bite to eat. We came across one restaurant (Berghaus Männdlenen Weberhütte) that rudely shooed us away since we only wanted to take a break and not buy a meal. The only other restaurant (Berghotel Faulhorn) we saw was at the Faulhorn summit. We figured we had about 5 CHF to spare and bought a hot chocolate with that in order to sit inside and warm up.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Faulhorn summit.

Unfortunately, our clothing and belongings were now thoroughly drenched (note to self: check waterproofing on clothing and gear before going on a substantial hike). Putting them back on and stepping back out into the chilly rain and blistering wind sent my teeth a-chattering and my body temperature in a frightening downward spiral. Thankfully, I warmed up again after about 30 minutes, and at that time, we discovered a free hut where we could have eaten our lunch.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Bachsee.

This hut looked out over the Bachsee, a lake popular with tourists ascending from Grindelwald to First. The sea was dead that day – no swimming, no fishing. I had hoped to take a dip in the Alpine water, but no dice. We had to keep moving to stay warm and get to a place where we could finally dry off.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Don’t get any crazy ideas – that’s a camera and zoom lens in my jacket, not a baby bump.

Water literally poured off of us as we stepped inside the cable car at First for the ride back down to the Grindelwald valley. I think the only things that weren’t completely dripping were our feet (thank God), our cameras, and our phones. We rode down the mountain relieved to have made it and eager to get back to our car to change into dry clothes.

Final Thoughts

Would I do this hike again? Absolutely. But, only if I had the assurance of a clear day with no rain. And I think my boys would love this route in a few years. Perhaps we’ll go back for our 15th anniversary.

Doc Sci and I talked about anything and everything during the hike to stay focused, positive, and warm. I am so thankful that we are the best of friends. The fact that after 10 years of marriage, we still have things to talk about really encouraged me. While I would have obviously wished for better weather and more amazing views, hiking in these awful conditions really solidified something for me. I’d rather be in a miserable place with my husband than in a gorgeous one without him.

Have you ever had weather or vendor attitudes threaten to ruin your plans for an amazing vacation? I’m not always this positive – I think the absence of potential chorus of whining helped – so if you have any tips on how you managed to make the best of things, share them in the comments below.Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Our Croatian Family Adventure: Ten Days on the Dalmatian Coast

Thrifty Travel Mama | Family Adventures in Croatia on the Dalmatian CoastFinally, (finally!!) I’m giving you what you’ve always wanted – tales of our travels in Croatia! Admittedly, what you’ve always wanted is probably more like the opportunity to actually go to Croatia, but since I’m not giving away any trips today (boo!), this will have to do.

In April, we spent ten days in Croatia, overnighting in Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik. We usually prefer to just stay in one place and do day trips to surrounding attractions, but the driving distances were too great for our norm to be realistic this time around.

When I visit a new destination that I’ve always wanted to see, I often make a list of the must-see sights (you too?). I ask myself, what will I regret not seeing or doing if I don’t make it happen this trip? I know the usual travel advice is to assume you’ll be back. But life gives us no guarantee, so see what you want while you’re there. However, don’t stress yourself out by doing so much that you don’t enjoy the trip. I know, I know… it’s a delicate balance.

Now, I must admit, I feel a bit ridiculous talking about our travels in Croatia. SJ of Chasing the Donkey has put together such an incredible blog filled with gorgeous photos, fascinating sites, and fun things to do in the country. If you have not yet had the chance, I highly encourage you to hop on over to her blog, and follow her straightaway. She’s an Aussie expat living in Croatia with her husband and son who is the same age as our little Charlie.

With SJ’s help, I put together an itinerary that I hoped would be a balanced diet of sightseeing, driving, and rest: three nights in Zadar, three nights in Dubrovnik, and four nights in Split.

Like our trip to Tuscany last summer, I created a (much shorter) bucket list for our Croatian holiday. Follow along as I write about the highs and lows of each of our adventures in Croatia with three boys. I’ll add links as I post about each place.

Our Family’s Croatian Bucket List:

I’ll also answer the inevitable question… “Is Croatia kid-friendly?” I searched high and low for this kind of information before our trip, but I came up empty-handed most of the time. Look for my answer and some tips on taking the kiddos to Croatia here.

Taking your family to Croatia outside of the high summer season requires some special consideration and advance planning. Read my pros and cons of visiting during the off-season here.

And, it wouldn’t be right not to include some Supermarket Souvenirs that you can enjoy while in country or take home to friends and family. SJ wrote a post on Croatian candy, and I’ll report back with our taste test results.

So, to the Dalmation coast we go.  First stop, Zadar!Signature-Marigold

Taking in the Tulips at Keukenhof with Kids – Round 2

Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower GardensTravelers (and especially travel bloggers) often talk about a bucket list, that sacred scribbling of places, formal or informal, to see and things to do before they kick the proverbial bucket.

But, what happens when you plan, scheme, and save in order to make one of those dream trips true… and then it wasn’t what you expected?

Well, that’s exactly what happened to me when we showed up at Keukenhof Gardens last year and didn’t see a single tulip poking up from the ground. The only blooms to behold thrived inside pavilions or shivered outside in the chilly late winter breeze.

And those gorgeous photos featuring miles of flower fields we all see floating around the internet every spring? Nothing but mounds of dirt with a reluctant fingers of green to mark where vibrant blooms should be.

These things should not be so.Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower Gardens

Flowers are fickle, though, and one cannot control the weather nor their time of arrival. So, I had to make a choice: live with the disappointment and be satisfied with Pinterest pictures, or visit Keukenhof again.

While the decision was obvious, how to get there and when to go certainly wasn’t. You see, the single most important tip when visiting Keukenhof with or without children is to time your visit correctly. Too early and the bulbs will still be sulking underground. Too late and they’ll be dying like it’s 1347.

Plus, I had the distance to consider. To drive from my house to Keukenhof takes about 7 hours. With the three amigos in the backseat, it’s impossible to do that all in one go, which means we’d have to make a weekend out of it. It seemed excessive to drag the entire family along just to indulge my flowery whim.

Solution – take the overnight train and bring one child along to lighten the load of the parent left behind.

To read more about taking the overnight train with kids, check back tomorrow!

Alpha and I arrived a bit groggy at the Schipol Airport train station after our night on the rails. We were both looking forward to this adventure together, but our hearts sank when we saw the line for the Keukenhof Express bus.

People from all over the world stood in a queue that snaked around the building. Luckily, we meet an American couple waiting just in front of us. They chattered away while the minutes ticked by. Before we knew it, we were zooming along the Dutch highway on our way to the flower fields.

Since we had been to Keukenhof before, we knew were the bathrooms were and which direction we wanted to head first. While the layout and the feel of the place was the same, something had definitely changed…

The park was alive with TULIPS!Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower Gardens

Everywhere we looked, our eyes feasted on the electric oranges, intense reds, lovely violets, bashful pinks, fierce yellows. Alpha and I bounced from one plot to another. “Look at these, Mama!” he said over and over until we just could.not.look.any.more.Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower GardensThrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower GardensThrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower GardensThis year, we didn’t buy any fresh stroopwaffels at the big Keukenhof windmill, but we did go up inside to have a look. To our delight, many of the flower fields were still in bloom! Swaths of color planted neatly next to each other created a rainbow ribbon that stretched across the horizon.Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower Gardens

When tulip overload set in, we exited the park and headed for the bike rental shack. A few too many euros and two rickety bikes later, we set out to make our own tour of the flower fields.Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower Gardens

Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower GardensWe rode on country roads, swerving away from semis and loaded tour buses, pausing every few minutes to snap photos of the breathtaking beauty. The wind whipped our faces and gnarled our hair, but we didn’t care. We were sailing through the Dutch countryside on two wheels, together.Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower Gardens

With my bucket list wish successfully fulfilled, we headed back to Amsterdam to kill four hours before our return train. I treated the boy to American-style frozen yogurt and a Dutch pancake dinner. We stopped off at the grocery store to stock up on some supermarket souvenirs: peanut butter, speckaloos cookies, hagleslag, and Haribo licorice.

The rain began as the sun disappeared, a slight drizzle that had us running for Centraal station. Just when we stepped inside, the drops became larger until the full fury of a Dutch downpour released.

As the train pulled away from Amsterdam, Alpha waved goodbye to an amazing day and snuggled into his berth for the long ride home.

Would you revisit one of your bucket list destinations if it wasn’t what you expected?

Practical info:

  • Keukenhof is only open March through May. For 2015 dates and ticket prices, click here.
  • In 2013, we visited at the end of March – too early. In 2014, we visited the week of Easter – perfect. Try to time your visit a few days before the Flower Parade, or go during the Flower Parade if you don’t mind the masses.
  • To read about our visit with the Easter Bunny and encounter with an Easter lamb, click here for my previous post.

More bloggers with Keukenhof + kids posts:

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

 

How We Found Ourselves in Love with Touristy Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with KidsRothenburg ob der Tauber… It’s in all the guidebooks (even Rick Steeves!), often touted as the most charming city along the Romantic Road.  Anything I’ve ever read about the place has made me want to go. right. now.

But, the flip side of all that press is the onslaught: tourists, buses, and hokey souvenir shops.  Seeing as I’m crowd averse, I needed a way to visit Rothenburg and actually appreciate its magic.

So, how do you cut through all the hype and actually enjoy this town?  On a Sunday, early in the morning… and, preferably, in bad weather.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with KidsOkay, this might not be everyone’s ideal picture of an enjoyable day out in medieval Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but it certainly worked for us.  And, actually, we didn’t even plan it this way.

You see, I wanted to make the most of our six hour drive home from Berchtesgaden.  Sure, we could have driven directly home, but what fun is it to arrive at 10am with only dirty laundry to look forward to?  Better to add a one-hour detour in your travel plans in order to knock out a long-standing member of your bucket list, right?  Right!

We nabbed some free, off-street parking, loaded up the backpacks, and set out around 8am (which that means we left The Hölbinger Alm around 4… I told you we like to leave early).  A blanket of fog settled in around us while a subtle, spit rain coated the streets.  Needless to say, we had the city (mostly) to ourselves.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Kids

The Best Part of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Hands down, the best thing about pretty little Rothenburg is her undamaged, 14th century city wall.  What once served to protect now provides unique views for visitors.  Climb up the steps at one of the many entrances, and walk for as little or as long as you’d like.  You’ll be among the rooftops, gazing across the cityscape at half-timbered houses, turrets, gables, even two church towers.

My boys loved gallivanting around, looking down on the few souls we found here and there.  With plenty of secure railing, I felt comfortable enough to let them run ahead while Doc Sci and I trailed behind, occasionally squeezing ourselves through a narrow passage.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with KidsPerhaps equally as exciting as the walls, the Spital Bastion is a little boy’s delight since it boasts a few (defunct) canons poking out from the cavernous interior.

When we’d had our fill of imaginary medieval adventure, we cautiously approached the center.  I knew we’d find the most tourists here, and I dreaded it.  Thankfully, the Sunday-morning-in-crappy-weather hordes only ended up being a few groups of about twenty.  That, I can handle.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Kids

The Christmas Craze and Why Asians Love Rothenburg

One of the groups huddled around the entrance to the Weihnachtsmuseum (Christmas Museum).  Christmas is a big deal, year round, in Rothenburg.  While I didn’t see Santa, I did spot some fun, albeit expensive, holiday decor.  Even if you give the shops a pass as we did, don’t miss the gigantic nutcracker.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Kids

Perfect for this year’s Christmas tree – an Oktoberfest beer maid, complete with pretzels.

Speaking of shops, I couldn’t help but notice that many signs were written in Asian languages.  Then, I realized that most of the visitors who braved the morning’s conditions were.. Asian!  Why Asians love this place is a mystery to me.  Best guess?  Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a quintessential, quaint old European city so vastly different from what they’re used to seeing at home.

Actually, our know-it-all friend Wikipedia helps out with an explanation:  “This place has become a popular tourist destination for Japanese because of the animated film “Sugar a little snow fairy”, where the main character lives in Rothenburg.”  Ahh, medieval manga… got it!Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Kids

Chugging Coffee at Cafes and Where to Picnic

When your eyes have gone cross trying to read Chinese and your hands are numb from the damp fog, duck into one of the many cute cafes to relax and warm up.  Try to find one away from the main square (Marktplatz) unless you particularly like parting with dozens of euros.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Kids

The Main Square – Marktplatz.

We spotted a few bakeries selling Schneebälle (snowballs) which are essentially tangled masses of dough strips that have been deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar. The European equivalent of funnel cakes, perhaps?

P.s. – These pastry creations are totally for the tourists and, in our experience, not very tasty.

On a nicer day, we would’ve brought along a picnic and sat in the castle garden (free, open to the public) to munch.  The park has charm that changes with the seasons: new buds in spring, fully floral in summer, tinged with color in autumn, and a silent romanticism in the snow.  Views from here across the neighboring valley are extraordinary, even in crummy weather.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Kids

Castle Gardens

The Verdict

While diehard Rothenburg ob der Tauber fans might argue that I missed most of the action by skipping the Criminal Museum, Train Museum, Toy Museum, churches, and the über-popular Christmas market, I beg to differ.

My Rothenburg was quiet, empty, peaceful… perfect.  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience skipping along the walls and exploring the forsaken fortress.  It is because of this Sunday morning serenity that Rothenburg surpassed all expectations and earned its place as the true jewel of the Romantic Road.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with KidsSignature-MarigoldPractical tips for families visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber:

  • Reach Rothenburg by rail or by car.  If by train, make sure to enter Rothenburg ob der Tauber as there are several Rothenburg stations throughout Germany.
  • Parking is available outside the walls.  All lots (P1-P5) charge 1 euro/hour or 5 euros/day.  If you arrive early, you may be lucky enough to nab free off-street parking.  We found ours on Kreuzerstr. near P5.  Make sure to check for signs indicating that the area should only be used by residents.
  • Use a backpack carrier if you want to take little legs up on the walls.  Otherwise, the rest of the city is quite pram-friendly. 
  • Surprisingly, plenty of free bathrooms can be found at various points around town.  I didn’t notice any baby changing tables in the public facilities, only inside cafe restrooms.
  • Restaurant and cafe prices can be hefty, so bring a picnic. The only takeaway joints I noticed were pizza or bratwurst.
  • If you want to shop for a sack lunch while visiting or pick up some German supermarket souvenirs, Rewe, Aldi, and Lidl all have locations outside the walls, but Edeka’s E-Aktiv Markt is the closest to the old town at Ansbacher Straße 15.
  • Inside the walls, some streets are not pedestrianized, so keep an eye on kiddos in these areas (though it’s not nearly as awful as Italy).  Everywhere else is mostly safe to allow roaming.
  • Last, but not least, a great playground can be found outside the walls on the west side of the city along the path that leads from the Klingentor (bell tower) to the castle gardens.

Other adorable European small towns:

Stein am Rhein Switzerland for Kids and Families

Stein am Rhein

Strasbourg France for Kids and Families

Strasbourg

San Gimignano Italy for Kids and Families

San Gimignano

Berchtesgaden With Kids: The Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden with Kids - The Eagle's NestWe took advantage of a long, holiday weekend to go somewhere that’s been on my bucket list for many, many years – Berchtesgaden National Park.  This area of Germany is nothing short of incredible, and such beauty deserves to be seen first hand.

Well, if it’s so amazing, why did we wait so long to visit?  For starters, it’s clear on the other side of the country, and there’s no easy way to get from A to B by car or by train.  Also, because it’s almost a six hour drive one way to Berchtesgaden, we really should stay a minimum of two nights to make the trip worthwhile.  On any given weekend, we usually don’t have that kind of time (or money) to spare.

But, I know I would’ve regretted it deeply had we moved on from Germany before exploring this gorgeous outdoor playground of sorts.  So, I said a quick prayer and jumped into hotel research.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I discovered the Hölbinger Alm holiday apartments.  You can read my full review on TripAdvisor (just look for the shoes!).  Though the property ended up being a tad further from Berchtesgaden than I would’ve preferred, the two-bedroom apartment was an excellent value at only 60 euros/night.

Sunrise at the Hoelbinger Alm.

Sunrise at the Hoelbinger Alm.

With accommodation booked, I tackled another formidable task – whittling down my “must-see” list into a realistic, don’t-go-crazy-trying-to-see-everything-with-three-kids-in-three-days itinerary.

Sheesh.

We chose only one attraction per day – The Eagle’s Nest, Lake Königssee, and the Almbachklamm gorge.  I’ll cover Hitler’s lair today, and the other two natural beauties will star in their own subsequent posts.

If you’re not already familiar with the Eagle’s Nest, check out this clip from the HBO Mini-Series Band of Brothers as a quick introduction.

The Eagle's Nest as seen from the Hintereck bus station and parking area.

The Eagle’s Nest as seen from the Hintereck bus station and parking area.

The Kehlsteinhaus, as it’s known in German, was built on a sliver of rock high in the Obersalzberg mountain area.  The purpose of the house was to entertain and impress visiting dignitaries, and it was presented to Hitler on the occasion of his 50th birthday.  The building is now a not-for-profit restaurant (more history with an obviously negative bias here).

Today, the only way to access the Eagle’s Nest is via bus.  The road leading up to the house is so steep and dangerous that only trained drivers are allowed to ferry passengers on it.  You can read more about this engineering marvel and how the road is safely maintained here.Thrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden with Kids - The Eagle's NestThrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden with Kids - The Eagle's NestThrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden with Kids - The Eagle's NestOnce the bus reaches the top of the mountain, it’s time to ride up that exquisite brass elevator you’ve likely seen in movies.  Wait times for the lift can be ridiculous, but the only other option is a steep (though paved) trail.

If we would’ve known that we’d be making our way to the elevator inch by inch, I think we would’ve tried to make it up the trail.  However, I still think it was worth it to ride in the brass box at least once just to say we’ve done it.

To get to the elevator, you walk through this creepy, dimly lit tunnel.

To get to the elevator, you walk through this creepy, dimly lit tunnel.

The brass elevator.

The brass elevator.

If you can handle heights, you’ll be rewarded with an absolutely stunning landscape from the terrace of the Eagle’s Nest.  On a clear day (check the weather first!), you can easily get an eyeful of the Berchtesgaden area (including the Königssee) as well as Salzburg and its surroundings. No wonder this place was built to impress!

Why hello there, gorgeous.

Why hello there, gorgeous.

And g'day to you, Koenigsee.

And g’day to you, Koenigsee.

Unless you’re into serious hiking, the only thing to do on top of the world is drink – beer, coffee, views, etc.  Prices at the cafe were high, but not insane.  We brought our lunch, so I can’t comment on the quality of the food or friendliness of the staff.  Visitors are served on the patio; eating inside the dining room is by reservation only.

A sign on the restaurant door admonishes visitors not to pop into the dining room because it disturbs the other guests.  But, since we happened to be hanging out at the end of the day and the grounds were nearly deserted, we decided to, well, um, not follow directions.

I hate to break the news to you, but the interior is rather unimpressive.  Snap a photo of the marble fireplace (a gift from Mussolini), and move on.

The dining room.

The dining room.

The fireplace.

The fireplace.  You can see how the marble was chipped by soldiers taking souvenirs.

It’s possible to walk a little further up on the rocks behind to the Kehlsteinhaus for even more magnificent views.  However, use extreme caution with children as some of the footing is quite slippery.

This kid is always climbing on something.

This kid is always climbing on something.

Let's just say this is the LAST trip I'll take without proper German footwear.  Boots are already on order!

Let’s just say this is the LAST trip I’ll take without proper German footwear. Boots are already on order!

Both Doc Sci and I were quite surprised that almost every other person we encountered was American.  English conversations swarmed around us, and it became clear that this is an attraction marketed to tourists from across the pond.  The Germans that visited the Eagle’s Nest were there for the hiking, not the house or its history.

Speaking of history, I wish we would’ve had more time to visit the Obersalzberg Documentation Center which is chock full of interesting tidbits about the area’s infamous residents and offers patrons the possibility of exploring the secret bunkers.  Ooooo…

But, realistically, I don’t think we could’ve had a successful go at the exhibits with our young boys.  I hope to return when they’re older and actually care more about the story of the world than the adventures of Thomas the Train.

Between the view and the intrigue, the Eagle’s Nest was definitely a bucket list item that lived up to its hype.  The irony that our visit occurred on German Unity Day was not lost on me.  For history buffs, hikers, and everyone in between, I highly recommend the Kehlsteinhaus.Thrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden with Kids - The Eagle's NestA few practical tips for your visit:

  • Getting to the Eagle’s Nest must be done in two parts.  First, you must get to the Hintereck parking area at Obersalzberg either by car or by bus.
  • If you arrive by car, keep in mind that parking can be difficult later in the day.  Get in early or be prepared to walk a ways if lots are full.  Keep your eyes peeled for the German name (Kehlsteinhaus) because you won’t see any signs for “The Eagle’s Nest” until you’re at the parking lot itself.  Parking costs 3 euros/day.
  • The second piece of the journey is taken on special buses that leave from the Hintereck station.  Purchase tickets, and board the bus that corresponds with the number on your ticket.  Unfortunately, you won’t know how full your bus is and you could be stuck going uphill, riding backwards (ugh).
  • Admission to the house itself is technically free; however, you cannot reach it without a valid bus ticket (or a few hours of strenuous hiking).
  • The recommended length of stay is 2 hours, but we opted for 2 1/2hrs.  If you plan to eat a meal in the restaurant, I’d suggest a minimum of 3 hours.
  • The house was nearly deserted at 4pm, so you could go later in the day, pop up for the view, and get back down on the last bus of the day (450pm) since the elevator lines would be nonexistent.
  • No matter how long you stay, you’ll need to decide in advance because it’s highly recommended to make a reservation for your return bus time once you reach the top.  Select a time, and get your ticket stamped before proceeding to the elevator.
  • Bathrooms are located at the base of the elevator and in the house itself.  I noticed  changing tables in the Hintereck bus station restrooms.
  • You could take a pram up on the bus, but there’s really no place to push it once you reach the top.  Use a baby carrier instead.
  • The souvenir shops are all super lame and overpriced.  ‘Nuff said.

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Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy

Thrifty Travel Mama | Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in ItalyDear September, I’m so glad you’re here.  I sure do love me some fall food, soft scarves, and crisp leaves crackling beneath my boots.  But, hang on.  I’ve still got summer on the brain.  So forgive me; I feel the need to revel in the warm sunshine just a wee bit longer.

What about you?  Was your summer vacation a tad too short?  Are you already drowning in lunch boxes, laundry, and loads of commitments?  Then escape the grind for a moment, and dream with me about Italy.  Italy!  Eeek!!

After spending two contemptibly boring Augusts in southern Germany, I vowed to venture out this year and experience a true European “holiday.”  Destination of choice?  Italy in general, Tuscany specifically.

Unfortunately for me, Italy is terribly expensive and crowded in August.  It seems the whole world loves this country and shows its affection by turning up once the sun starts burning the hills with her summer heat.  Somehow, I managed to secure two somewhat affordable weeks of lodging – in villas with pools, no less – and the itinerary planning began.

In reading through my guidebook (more on that in a moment), a bucket list of sorts emerged.  As our travels have increased, our appetite has changed.  We’re no longer simply interested in seeing a place, adding a country to our list, snapping a few photos, and moving on to the next overcrowded attraction.  Now, what we crave is the experience. 

What does Italy smell like near the sea?  Taste like when you make regional food with your own hands?  Look like from a medieval tower?  Feel like inside the stone walls of a hill town?  Sound like in the bargaining chatter of the open market?

From these questions, I came up with a bucket list.  Even with two weeks, it’s quite impossible to fully discover all that Tuscany was and is.  Add kids in the mix, and you’re lucky if you get to do anything that doesn’t involve a pool and pizza.  This bucket list is my happy place.  It’s only a taste of Tuscany, but for now it’s enough.

Our Family’s Tuscan Bucket List:

If you’re planning your own Italian adventure, you might be curious as to how I came up with this list.  Several items on the list have been personal dreams for years (Cinque Terre, the Uffizi, a cooking class).  But I owe a great deal of gratitude to my friend Audrey (hi, Audrey!) who recommended the guidebook, Frommer’s Tuscany, Umbria and Florence With Your Family.  Not an affiliate link – just an honest recommendation!

I’ll touch on this in later posts, but Tuscany is not exactly “kid-friendly” (which is not to say that it’s unfriendly toward kids).  The Frommer’s Tuscany guidebook highlighted activities and attractions that my family could and would actually want to do.  The budget restaurant recommendations were spot on.  When I tried to squeeze in some extra research time for “Tuscany with kids”, I can’t think of anything I found online that was not in that book.  Prices were out of date, but that is to be expected.  The advice is still solid.

So, to Tuscany we go!  Enjoy your weekend, and I’ll be back with some sun and sea at the Cinque Terre on Monday!Signature-Marigold