The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in ZadarThe city of Zadar sits at the edge of the sea, charming and unpretentious, welcoming travelers like you and me to the beautiful country of Croatia. Though not as famous as its southern sisters Split and Dubronik, Zadar also boasts Roman ruins, ancient churches, a ferry port, and two very awesome modern attractions.

We started our holiday in Zadar for two reasons: the first and most obvious, our flight from Germany landed here and second, we wanted to spend a morning toddling around the old city with SJ from Chasing the Donkey. We love meeting other traveling families, travel bloggers, expats, and making friends on the road.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

Welcome to Zadar!

From the taxi driver we hired at the airport to the owner of the apartment we rented to my new friend and her family, everyone in Zadar treated us so well and made us feel incredibly welcome.

In many parts of Europe, most places of business are shut for Easter Monday as well as for the main holiday itself. Unfortunately, the water in April is still too cold for swimming, so SJ and I made a plan to indulge in the unofficial national pastime – meet up do the Croatian hang-out-and-drink-coffee thing.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

Too cold to swim..

A little bit late and more than a little bit sweaty from being the only weirdos to walk 35 minutes to the old town, we spotted SJ and family near Zadar’s most famous church, St. Donatus. After handshakes and hugs, SJ showed us around. Up and down the ancient streets we went, passing markets, monuments, and a multitude of cafes.

Mate, her Croatian husband, picked one and ordered for us (bonus: no awkward sorry-I-only-speak-English-is-that-ok moment). While we waited for our white coffees, men and women in traditional dress poured out from under the clock tower and started singing and dancing right in front of us!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

Croatian singing and dancing!

Sipping, singing, serendipity. Sigh.

Next, SJ steered us toward some bakeries where we picked up some burek and pizza for a picnic lunch. We headed out to the water, but the closer we got, the harder the wind blew. The gusts had a screaming fit with our things – hats flying, blankets airborne, smallish children nearly whisked away.Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

At least the annoying wind had one very important benefit: it made the sea organ sing.

The Zadar Sea Organ doesn’t seem like much, just ordinary stone steps. But, if you look a bit closer, you’ll see small, rectangular openings in the vertical faces of the steps. It’s from these holes that the sound escapes from the organ, a musical instrument powered solely by the wind and the waves. Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

Yeah – wow.

Next to the musical steps lies the Sun Salutation; both were designed by Nikola Bašić in an effort to renovate the damaged city of Zadar. Both are fascinating, but the Sun Salutation takes the nerdy travel appeal up another notch.

At first glance, all one sees is a gigantic, smooth glass circle. But underneath the surface are zillions of solar cells and LED lights. Throughout the day, the cells collect energy and convert it to electricity. Once the sun sets, the lights flash on and dance about in various colors. The pattern and the length of the show depends on how much energy was absorbed that particular day.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

Sitting on the Sun Salutation.

Yeah – double wow. Understandably, the Sun Salutation is very popular, so expect it to be crowded in season.

One of our favorite corners of Zadar’s old city was what’s known as the Five Wells. In centuries past, residents came here to draw fresh water. The place had an ancient yet familiar feel. It was easy to imagine the women, the water.. the chatter!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

One of the five wells.

We strolled back to our first meeting point, the church of St. Donatus. SJ pointed out that pieces of the Roman ruins had been used to build the church. You can literally see chunks of stone columns that were cobbled together to form the church’s foundation. It’s possible to climb the church’s tower.. just not on Easter Monday, of course.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

Roman foundation.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

Ancient flogging post in downtown Zadar.

After a scrumptious round of ice cream cones at the city’s best gelateria (Donut), we bid our new friends farewell. I think we still would have enjoyed easygoing Zadar had we not met them, but having locals show us around just knocked it out of the park for us.Thrifty Travel Mama | Kids in Croatia - The Sounds of the Sea in Zadar

From the stone ruins to the ferocious waves to the sea organ’s melody to the warm-hearted Croats, we couldn’t have asked for a better day, nor a more fitting welcome to our first day in Croatia.

Tell me, have you been to Zadar? If not, what would be your first stop in the city?

Signature Thrifty Travel MamaThis post is part of Our Croatian Family Adventure: Ten Days on the Dalmatian Coast series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!

Thrifty Tricks for Using Your Smart Phone While Travelling

Even though I have a Pinterest board dedicated to Travel Apps for Kids & Families, I have a confession to make.. I don’t use travel apps very often. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have an iPhone (yet), or perhaps it’s because I feel overwhelmed by zillions of options and little time to explore them, but I’ll admit I’m completely behind the times in this area.

So, I am thrilled to not only share today’s guest post with you but also to read and learn for myself about the thrifty ways you can use your smart phone while traveling.

The tips and tricks below are written by my friend and fellow travel planning nerd, Nancy. She’s currently a part-time expat and the inspiration behind many of our family’s hikes and outdoor adventures.

“Now, where do we go?”

Invariably, our arrival at any new destination starts with this question. My husband and son look at me as they ask, confident that I—omnipotent mommy and family travel planner—will have the answer for them.

In response, I whip out my not-so-secret weapon against the unknown: my iPhone.

Smart phones are the perfect travel tools. With a smart phone in your backpack, you have a compass, a GPS, a star gazing tool, an elaborate gaming system, a camera and a library of hundreds of books on a device that weighs less than a pound. (We’ve come a long way from the days when I would tear out irrelevant pages in my travel guide to reduce the weight of my pack.)

Perfect, right? Well, almost.

Smart phones come with one major limitation while travelling. Once you are outside the area covered by your local cellular provider, downloading and sending data, making phone calls, and sending text messages can get (really) expensive. We’ve all heard the stories of unfortunate souls who have forgotten this and ended up with an outrageous cell phone bill.

Top 3 thrifty tips for using your smart phone while travelling abroad:

1)   Ask your cellular service provider if they have special international rates. Sometimes you can buy an international package that will reduce the costs for phoning and texting and will allow you a limited amount of data use abroad.

2)   Buy prepaid local SIM cards when you land at your destination. These are usually found in supermarkets, drug stores, or kiosks all over the world. Use Google or a local expat forum to find out where to buy SIM cards, average rates, and recommended brands.

3)   Simply turn off the cellular roaming data option on your phone and avoid making or receiving phone calls or text messages. (In other words, don’t answer any phone calls or texts.) Also, double check with your cellular service provider that you won’t be charged for incoming calls or texts, even if you don’t answer them.

Surprisingly, turning off the cellular data and ignoring the phone functions of my iPhone has been a good solution for me, especially when I have decent access to Wi-Fi to ease the pain of disconnection.

And, the lack of a cellular data plan doesn’t mean that you have to leave your phone at  home while you are out and about. There are some easy ways to use your smart phone even when you don’t have a local plan or data abilities.

Four great tricks for using your smart phone without a data connection:

1)   Use offline maps and navigation systems like Mapswithme and TomTom.

The GPS on your smart phone likely works even when you don’t have cellular data coverage. (You can Google the make and model number of your smart phone to check if your device has this ability).

To use the GPS system without cell access, you also need to have an offline map. There are offline maps available for most destinations, but our favourite offline map app is Mapswithme, an open source map system that covers most of the world.

Once you have downloaded the Mapswithme app, you then individually download the country maps that you will need on your trip. This feature allows you to choose only the maps you need in order to save space on your device.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

The blue arrow shows your location on the map.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

You can zoom into a high resolution view.

We have used this app to mark destinations like parking lots and trail heads; and we use it constantly when we are walking around a new place to find anything of interest. Mapswithme has saved us several times from taking the wrong turn while on a ramble through a new city.

Mapswithme also has lots of hiking and biking trails on it, which has been very helpful to us in New Zealand, North America, and Europe. My husband and I used the app on an overnight hike in New Zealand as a distance guide.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

You can drop a pin on the map and then click on it to see how far away you are. The distance from your pin is shown underneath your arrow. Unfortunately, we are very far away from New Zealand right now.

You can place a pin on any destination and when you click on the pin, the info screen will tell you how far away you are from the pin in a direct line. You can also upload a trail map or travel route to Mapswithme and monitor your progress on a trip.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

You can upload trails and routes to Mapswithme.

This app does have one major limitation: It doesn’t provide spoken directions when driving.

When we do need navigation help for driving, we use an offline navigator from TomTom. This is an expensive app, but it has proven useful several times and was well worth the value. Mapswithme is a good companion to the TomTom app. If I’m unsure of where TomTom is leading us, I double check with Mapswithme.

2)   Download offline travel guides with Scribd.

I use Scribd, a subscription-based app that lets me download an unlimited number of books for a very reasonable price (under $10 per month). The Scribd library includes all of the Lonely Planet guides, and other travel guides as well.

On a recent trip to Provence, I downloaded the Lonely Planet guide for this area onto my phone before we left. When we visited a new city, I would look up the city in the guide, choose the most important sights, and take advantage of the highly detailed maps in the book to figure out where we needed to start and what we wanted to see.

In addition, I use Scribd extensively just for reading. Imagine taking your local public library with you on a trip. Bonus!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

A list of all of the travel books that I have downloaded to my device in Scribd.

3)   Store travel plans and electronic tickets in Google Drive.

I usually make extensive travel itineraries for my family. It helps me know who has to be where and when. But I don’t like carrying paper. Google Drive is a service that lets you store and access documents from any computer or device. I create a folder for our trip in Google Drive, and I upload a detailed itinerary and all of the reservation and ticket documents to this folder.

To ensure that I have access to our travel documents even when I don’t have a data connection, I open the Google Drive app on my phone, open the documents I might want to access, and check off the option which will prompt the system to keep on offline version on my device. I’m sure that this would also work with other online storage systems like Dropbox .

The advantage of storing your documents in Google Drive or Dropbox is that you can access them in a pinch from any device or computer.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

My travel folder in Google Drive.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

Offline versions of boarding passes. Note that I have checked the “Keep an online version” option.

4)   Find free Wi-Fi.

I’ve become good at finding free Wi-Fi when I need to really connect. Free Wi-Fi is less common in Europe and New Zealand than in North America, but it does exist. For instance, Starbucks in Germany offers a free connection for two hours. This does help take the edge off life without a good Internet connection.

I have used the Wi-Fi Finder app, but have found it to be out-of-date. I’ve had better luck just keeping my eyes open. A couple of weeks ago in Switzerland, we visited Chillon, a medieval castle and popular tourist destination that offered free Wi-Fi with the price of admission.

Although I do prefer to be connected to the Internet at all times (like every minute of the day!), I have found travelling without a data connection to be possible and even preferable as I’m not constantly worried about how much money I’m spending every time I check the map.

And I’m still always able to tell my family where we are and where we should head to next!

So, how do you use your smart phone while travelling? Any other tricks to share?

Nancy (aka Twigg3d) is a Canadian traveller, writer, teacher and iPhone addict. In recent years, she has been travelling with her husband and son back and forth between Canada, Germany and New Zealand. Anyone who knows her will find it hard to believe that she can survive without the Internet even for a minute.

 

 

 

Beauty and Mystery at Rosslyn Chapel

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland with KidsIf conspiracy theories are your thing or you’ve read Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, then chances are you’ve heard of Rosslyn Chapel. Construction on this small church located on the outskirts of Edinburgh began in the 15th century, but the lore surrounding it continues to present day.

Full disclosure: I did read the Code, but it was simply entertaining fiction for me. I do enjoy a juicy conspiracy theory now and then, but I don’t indulge too often because my mind goes wild with possibility. However, neither the book nor the legends led me to Rosslyn Chapel.

I came for the art.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland with Kids

When we arrived at the modern visitor’s center, its petite presence startled me. THIS is what all the fuss is about?! Sure, the speculation surrounding its possible connection to the Knights Templar and Freemasons is intriguing. But, I couldn’t help but think what must have drawn the theorists to Rosslyn Chapel in the first place was the beauty of the structure itself (because it certainly wasn’t sheer mass…).

Inside

The interior walls are brimming with intricate carvings: devils, angels, flowers, snakes, historical figures, virtues, vices, and more. Gorgeous patterns weave the different scenes together. The compositions straddle the line between frilly and fantastic. Prepare yourself for visual overload. Unfortunately, photographs aren’t allowed inside the chapel; I wish I’d brought a sketch book!

Our travel modus operandi rarely includes guided tours or talks. However, we just happened to arrive at the beginning of one of Rosslyn Chapel’s scheduled chats (in English! oh, right, it’s Scotland after all..). I enjoyed picking up bits and pieces of the chapel’s history while keeping an eye on the three amigos. The most fascinating? Apparently 200+ statues that were originally part of the chapel have vanished.

Some folks think these sculptures are in the crypt (along with the Holy Grail and the real crown jewels of Scotland, naturally). The original crypt has been sealed, and excavation is forbidden (of course). A smaller, less mystical crypt is open to visitors and houses a modest collection of stones.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland with Kids

The crypt contents. Thrilling, no?

A more believable story revolves around the creation of two of Rosslyn’s fourteen pillars. Pride, jealousy, revenge, and retribution – you can read the legend here.

Outside

The exterior of the chapel is equally as stunning as the interior. One can easily see the architectural difference between the original (chapel) and later construction (baptistry). More carvings, gargoyles, pinnacles, flying buttresses, stained glass.. wow.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland with Kids

Baptistery exterior.

While I knew Doc Sci and I would love this place, I wasn’t sure about the boys. Would they be bored stiff or entertain themselves with a game of who-can-break-the-most-appendages-off-the-carvings? This story haunts me because it could easily have been my kids..

Fortunately, Rosslyn Chapel is surprisingly kid-friendly, provided they don’t touch the carvings, of course. Inside the chapel itself, the boys were given activity sheets with simple questions to answer, a word search, a maze, and a space to recreate their favorite carving in 2D (find more fun stuff for kids to do in advance or after your trip here).

Since we visited nearly 8 months ago, I decided to dig out my trip file. I found our activity sheets and on one of those Alpha had written, “The CHAPEL is SO COOWL.”

And that was before he even went inside the new visitor’s building…

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland with Kids

Hands-on arch building.

The visitor center features the obligatory gift shop (mostly uninspiring except for an amusing assortment of Scottish books), a slightly expensive cafe, clean toilets, and several children’s activity stations. Bravo went to town demolishing and rebuilding the arch. Alpha found three brass plates, paper, and metallic crayons set up for brass rubbings.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland with KidsHe’d never seen anything like it. The thrill of coloring fast and furious and ending up with a finished image of a knight was almost too much. Only after plying him with promises of a bus ride to the beach (more on that in a later post) would he step away.

Despite the 45-minute bus ride from Edinburgh, our morning at Rosslyn Chapel was one well-spent. I think often of the carvings and patterns and the quiet rural beauty surrounding the church (the associated bullhonkery, not so much).

While theme parks and cheesy children’s attractions have their purpose, I believe it’s so worthwhile to intentionally expose the littlest travelers among us to some of the biggest architectural treasures of our world. And those conspiracy theories? Well, it might take a few years before those are also considered COOWL..

For all the particulars in planning your own visit to Rosslyn Chapel, see the official website.

Have you visited or heard of Rosslyn Chapel? If not, would it make your Scotland itinerary? Thoughts – and conspiracy theories – welcome below.

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Nerdy Travel Dad: Mulhouse Train Museum (Cité du Train)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)train museumMy oldest, T-Rex, turned six last month – six!! I can’t believe I’m old enough to have a six year-old… To celebrate, we took a drive to Mulhouse, France, and spent the morning at the train museum there (Cité du Train). 

While I could simply say that this is one of the most fascinating museums I have ever visited, this place really deserves a Nerdy Travel Dad review, and Doc Sci will be posting for me today.  Even if you don’t love trains as much as Dr. Sheldon Cooper, you’ll soon see why a stop here is definitely worth your while.

All the boys in the thrifty travel house LOVE trains.  And, uh, that’s putting it mildly.  Every other day (or so it seems), my wife and I are interrogated as to when the next train ride will occur.  On the off days, they’re begging to go on an airplane.

Since our budget didn’t allow for an actual train ride for T-Rex’s birthday, we decided the next best thing would be to take him to the biggest train museum in the world, the Cité du Train in Mulhouse, France.  Not too shabby for a birthday, if I do say so myself.

When we rolled up on that Saturday morning, I had not done a lick of research.  Of course, the always-prepared Thrifty Travel Mama ensured we had the 4-1-1, but she just didn’t tell me.  Or I didn’t ask.  Whatever.Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

After I walked into the building, I was genuinely surprised.  There were trains, tons and tons of full-size trains, all lit up, dressed, and costumed.  Mannequins dolled up in era-appropriate clothing peered out from the windows, demonstrating how train travel used to be.  This was awesome.

Quirky dialogue leaked out of tiny speakers in the train cars.  Well, at least I assume it was quirky.. it was in French, of course.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

This was my wife’s favorite train – a snow plow from the Alps.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

In case you’re wondering, the museum is pram-friendly. Here I am with Big Foot taking a look at those creepy stuffed people.

There were so many trains the boys kept running from one to another, peeking inside and boarding those open to visitors.  In the middle of the train yard, we discovered a switching booth with the actual switches outside just waiting to be pulled.  Unfortunately, they wouldn’t budge, even with hefty amounts of grunting.  But, right next to the switches was a junction to easily illustrate why the switches were needed and what they did.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

The switching booth.

After all that, I was quite satisfied with our experience at the Cité du Train.  I mean there was history, some railway engineering, creepy mannequins… what more could you want?

Oh how naive I was!  We had only just completed the first, much smaller depot.  A whole other GINORMOUS warehouse was waiting for us on the other side of the restaurant.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

The museum’s restaurant, designed to look like a dining car.

The first building is dedicated to the history of French trains, and the second focuses more on the evolving technology of trains.

The technological exhibit starts with steam engines, works its way through diesel and electric, and finishes with the ultra-sleek, high-speed TGV.

One of the best displays in the second building was an active demonstration of a steam locomotive, complete with moving parts and, surprise, surprise, steam. The boys were fascinated by the train that was moving but not actually going anywhere.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

The little engine that could… make a big fuss without going anywhere.

An adjacent train was literally cut in half so that inquiring minds could have a look and see what all the fuss was about.  The steam engine had color-coded lights for cold water, hot water, steam and coal.  It was a brilliant way to demonstrate how the engine works.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

The fascinating inner workings of a steam engine.

What could be better than a steam engine chopped in two?  Why, the ability to go underneath the train to have a look at the hidden workings below.  How many people can say they’ve been on the nether side of steel locomotive and lived to tell about it?

The thing I enjoyed explaining the most (and, as these things go, the kiddos understood the least) was how a bunch of straight pieces of metal could make round things move.  Being able to watch the steam engine wheels in motion helped to illustrate this, but it still was just a smidge over their heads.

Me:”You see boys when the steam builds up inside of this tube thingy, the piston, it pushes this other piece out.  Then this big straight piece of metal that is connected also goes out.  That makes the piece of metal that is connected to the wheel move back and while it moves back the …”

T-Rex: “Daddy look at the size of the wheel.  It is bigger than me!”

See what I mean?

The diesel and electric trains were also difficult to explain to the six-and-under crowd, so I didn’t press too much there.  Plus, the museum offered sooo many trains that some had to be just straight up skipped.  Take my advice and spend the most time on the steam trains since they are the easiest to describe and the most likely to spark interest in young minds.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

Visitors could take a rest on old train car seats located throughout the depot.

After winding your way through the 70s, you’ll arrive at what kids will most likely think is THE BEST part of the museum – a TGV cockpit complete with bells, whistles, and buttons.  The TGV train was all hype and no science (in the exhibit, anyway), which honestly was perfectly fine with me because by the end of the line I think only Sheldon Cooper would want to see more trains.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

TGV!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

Inside the cockpit.

To top things off, the final exhibit was a super fun model train community.  Though not as large and extensive as Miniatur Wonderland, it was packed with zooming trains and working details (and a hefty dose of humor for the adults with keen eyes).  I don’t deny putting in my 50 cents to see it all come to life.

Nerdy or not, I highly recommend adding the Cité du Train to your list of “must see” sites in eastern France.Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

If you visit the train museum in Mulhouse, don’t miss the cities of Basel, Colmar, and Strasbourg which are all only a short drive away!Signature-Marigold

13 Practical Gifts for Traveling Families

Thrifty Travel Mama | Inexpensive, Practical Gifts for Traveling FamiliesOkay, okay, I’m hopping on the holiday gift wish list bandwagon… but, I’m kicking and screaming the whole way.

Confession: Gifts are just not my thing.  I love to give and be generous, but I’m better at offering my time… or cupcakes.

When it’s my turn to pick out a present, step one is usually to panic.

Step two is to accept help, usually in the form of gift guides scattered around the Internet.  But, most of the guides for men and kiddos (I’m the only female under this roof) are technology-laden.

We don’t need any more electronics, and my five year-old is just not getting a Kindle.  Or his own iPad… mini, gigantic, telepathic, whatever.  Ain’t gonna happen.

And, if I do manage to find a few items I like, I start hyperventilating when I see the price and end up suggesting to the intended recipients that we do handmade gifts, consumable gifts, or no gifts at all.  (aaaaaand we’re back to cupcakes!)

However, I don’t like being a Scrooge, so this year I’m putting out my own list, a mix tape of gifts for traveling families. 

Practical.  Affordable.  Fun.  Suitable for male recipients.  Enjoy!

Oh, and before I begin, you should know that at this time I do NOT use affiliate links.  I have not been compensated in any way by any of the companies below. 

  1. Streamlight Septor LED Headlamp Fun for kids and adults alike, headlamps can be used for your next after-dark adventure whether it takes place in the mountains or under the covers on the pages of your favorite book.  I like the extra strap on this headlamp, but other models with just one strap are less expensive.

  2. Handmade Silver Travel Necklace with Globe Charm Show off your wanderlust with this pretty, pretty necklace.  Choose from four chain lengths and four font options.

  3. Nibbles Apple iPad Charger Holder.  Keeps unruly cords in check both at home and on the go.  And, it’s hilarious.  Also available for iPhone chargers.

  4. Deutsche Bahn German Railway Map T-Shirt Not just for expats, this tee is travel nerd fashion at its finest.  Good thing they have men’s and women’s sizes!  Be sure to check out the other art, science, and travel t-shirt designs in babbletees Etsy shop.

  5. Scribble It! 30 Postcards My boys are constantly asking if we can mail the drawing of the day to a friend across the world.  I’d love to reduce the bulk (and save on postage!) by using these postcards which they can color and then send.  Plenty of margin space for doodling and personal messages.  The hardest part will be convincing the boys not to send all the cards at once!

  6. Airplane Mode Pouch Unisex packing organizer, pencil case, camera holder, catch-all clutch, etc.  Just one Fab’s fabulous travel accessories.

  7. Curious George Magnetic Tin Play Set What toddler doesn’t love Curious George?  Leave the stuffed animal at home, and take this traveling tin with you.  Features three scenes and loads of magnets sure to delight and entertain your favorite pre-schooler.

  8. Men’s Grunge Airplane T-Shirt Order one for the pilot, mountain man, or armchair traveler in your life.  By the way, OhSudzGifts also has clothing sporting bicycles, Chucks, compasses, and the Eiffel Tower.  Yeah!

  9. NYC Metro Cuff Not recommended as a suitable tool for navigating the New York subway, but fashionable and fun anyway.  NYC not your thing?  Designhype offers cuffs with San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago, Brooklyn, London, Paris, Berlin and Milan maps in several finishes.

  10. Sticky Mosaics® Vehicles Set.  Finally!  Fun crafts for boys that are easy enough for kindergarteners to tackle.  Take this kit on your next holiday or bust it out when cabin fever sets in, oh say about mid-January.  Also available in girly and grown-up kid versions.

  11. Pirate Passport Cover.  With five passports to juggle (thank God none of us have dual citizenship..), we’re always fumbling with the stack at check-in.  From cars to camo to cupcakes, Pokey Passports has you covered with dozens of designs that are sure to please every member of your traveling family.

  12. iTunes Gift Cards.  Personalize an impersonal gift card with a list of recommended or favorite apps.  My boys love Smart Fish: Frequent Flyer, Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure, Toca Kitchen Monsters and Hair Salon, and Minion Rush.

  13. Skip Hop Zoo Neck Rest Stash this adorable travel pillow in the car for naps or shove it in a backpack so you (er, I mean your child) can snooze in style.

If you love this list but your extended family could max out a cruise ship, don’t miss the following suggestions from other family travel bloggers:

But, what if you’re like me and homemade is more your style?  Everything Etsy has an excellent list of 25 DIY Gifts for Travel Lovers.  (I might need to make some of these for myself!)

Which of these gifts would your kid(s) love?  Which one are you secretly adding to your own wish list? Signature-Marigold

Nerdy Travel Dad: Visiting the Museo Leonardo in Vinci

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad: Museo Leonardo in Vinci, ItalyThe little town of Vinci would probably never have made an appearance on anyone’s travel bucket list if it weren’t for two guys – one named Leonardo and the other Dan Brown.  Now that the Da Vinci Code craze has died down, nerdy travel can resume.  This blip on the map offers a must-see museum for visiting geeks and their families.  But don’t just take my word for it… Consider the following testimonials:

“The museum was so cool!  There were guns and machines and lots of buttons to press.”  T-Rex, age 5

Okay, that was only one, and it came from my own kid, but whatever.  This place rocks.   

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad: Museo Leonardo in Vinci, ItalyThe Museo Leonardo is split into two different sections, the new one (2004) and the old one.  Both sections are full of models based on Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings.  Many of these works are merely sketches of concepts, so the majority of exhibits in the museum are other people’s interpretations and renderings of his ideas in 3D.

Visitors begin their time at the Museo Leonardo in the new building.  Tickets are purchased here, and pit stops can be made downstairs.  This section has lots of cranes and looming machines.  Most of the models are miniaturized versions, but a few were full size. The cranes certainly held the most appeal for the under-10 crowd.Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad: Museo Leonardo in Vinci, ItalyBy the way, photography is not allowed inside of the museum, but I took a few photos before realizing this fact.  Doh!

One full-size machine for flattening gold (basically a big hammer) was a physics lesson waiting to happen.  T-Rex was able to figure out how it worked and what its purpose was based on my descriptions of other machines.

Yes, a proud moment indeed for this nerdy dad…Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad: Museo Leonardo in Vinci, ItalyThe area between buildings is decked out with Leo-inspired art.  This would be a good place to stop for a snack in hopes of bribing uninterested children and bored-to-tears spouses to continue on to the next building.  More great geeky stuff awaits…

The old building features all of the da Vinci-designed guns and cannons.  T-Rex loved this section, as you probably could tell from his quote above.  Following the ka-boom exhibit, we explored my favorite area which displayed his flying machines and his engineering sketches (wheels, gears, etc).  Full disclosure: T-Rex could have cared less about the intensely nerdy stuff.

Stay with me, because you’ll want to see the far-out features on the upper level of the old building.  Don’t miss the bike, boat, and underwater breathing apparatus.Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad: Museo Leonardo in Vinci, ItalyThe crown jewel of the old building is the optics section.  This area was an instant hit with my son since it was interactive (much of the museum is no-touch).  I won’t go in to a lot of detail because I should leave something for you to discover when you visit yourself.

But, I will mention that the two main concepts the exhibit tried to teach were reflection/refraction and perspective.  Honestly, this was a little over my five year-old’s head, but he still had a blast just playing and pushing buttons while I pored over every detail.

At the end of the visit, you can climb the tower for a panoramic view (120 steps – no prams or claustrophobics).  Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad: Museo Leonardo in Vinci, ItalySo, I know you want to ask… would non-nerds like it?  I would say yes, and here’s why.  Beyond the science and math, the exhibits describe a lot of history with a touch of art thrown in here and there.  Humanities-minded visitors will appreciate just how ingenious Leonardo’s work was for his time.

And even if you don’t understand the machines, inventions, ideas and how they work, they’re still just downright cool.  The real takeaway from this museum to discuss with your kids is the value and power of innovative ideas.

Before I say ciao, here are a few practical details that my wife makes me include:

  • Ticket prices were 7 euros for adults, and kids under 6 were free.  If you wanted to see Leonardo da Vinci’s house, the combo ticket cost 8 euros for adults.
  • All exhibits were in Italian, but the staff provides English pamphlets in the rooms to help you understand what you’re seeing.  I noticed German and Spanish versions as well.
  • We spent 2 1/2 hours at the Museo Leonardo – I could’ve spent 4 and T-Rex could’ve spent 1.  Plan your visit accordingly.
  • The museum is wheelchair accessible, so it would also be suitable to bring a stroller.  But, make it a small one as space in the old building is rather cramped.
  • There’s NO museum gift shop, and this is a real shame.  Bring snacks, and look for souvenirs online.
  • The town of Vinci is located about 45 minutes south of the A11 (exit Pistoia).
  • The SP9 road to reach Vinci was horrific; my understanding is that the SP16 + SP123 roads are slightly better.   The route winds back and forth and might make your kids car sick.  However, if you can stomach the hairpin turns, the views are gorgeous.

Many thanks to Doc Sci for posting today!  Now, over to you – would you take your kids to the Museo Leonardo in Vinci?  Why or why not?  Signature-Marigold

This post is part of Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!

Snapshot: Stein am Rhein with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsStein am Rhein is a stunning small town that – in the words of a traveling friend – really must be seen to be believed!  Straddling the Rhein River in Switzerland, this Altstadt is a gem.   With countless intricately frescoed and half-timbered houses, you won’t want to miss it! Thrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsAt the end of July, we dipped in to Switzerland after a morning at the impressive Hohentwiel ruins.  Stein am Rhein is so small, you won’t need more than half day to explore it, but you’ll want to stay longer to soak in as much charm as possible.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsOther than the intricate frescoes, the water is the main draw.  Visitors can take a river cruise, but we observed a more DIY way to experience the Rhein.

Scores of college students could be seen along the banks inflating large dinghies.  The first raft ready was placed in the river and filled with two or three inches of water.  Cans and bottles of beer were submerged in the cool water.  Apparently, they were chilling their beverages while the rest of the party pumped up their rafts.  Nice idea, eh?Thrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsAnd speaking of ideas, I couldn’t come up with very many when it came to figuring out how in the world these rafts could be any match for the Rhein’s current.  None of the rafts had motors, and many did not even have oars.  Given the busy boat traffic on the water, I don’t think I’d want to be stuck in the middle of a rushing river with no way to navigate.  Perhaps these young ‘uns know something I don’t…?

For adrenaline junkies in Stein am Rhein, the thing to do is jump off the bridge into the cold river below.  We saw a handful of people partaking in this risky activity, and even a boy about 12 years old.  Apparently diving from the bridge is so popular, that the town has erected a sign warning of potential danger.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsAnyhow, we explored the north shore first.  The famous Rathausplatz (town hall square) and the most beautiful frescoes can be found here, as well as some very expensive restaurants.  One of the nicest surprises in Stein am Rhein was the lack of obnoxious tourist traps.  The town didn’t have a kitschy feel or oppressive crowds.

Swiss army knives were the big draw here.  T-Rex wanted one with a "necklace" (lanyard) attached.

Swiss army knives were the big draw here. T-Rex wanted one with a “necklace” (lanyard) attached.

After strolling the picturesque side streets, we headed toward the river bridge.  On our way there, we impulsively ducked in to a small courtyard.  Here we happened upon the first of two delightful discoveries.

A convent museum (St. Georgen Klostermuseum) sits in a charming courtyard just off the main traffic street.  Shortly before we reached the museum entrance, we found a gigantic wine press and several large barrels.  Doc Sci went all nerdy on me, explaining the physics of the press to the boys.  Bored, I left to soak in the atmosphere of the quiet hof.  The smell of lavender in bloom, the breeze from the river, the warm rays of sunshine… absolutely lovely.

The Kloster courtyard.

The Kloster courtyard.

The press.

The press.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsOn the south side of the Rhein, we climbed some steps up to a quaint little church (St. Johann Kirche).  Opposite the onion dome, we feasted on a fantastic view of the town and surrounding hills.

From here, we could see Hohenklingen Castle keeping watch from high above Stein am Rhein.  We were burg-ed out that day, but should you have more energy to conquer the climb, visitor information can be found here.

St. John's Church.

St. John’s Church.

From here you can see the Burg.

From here you can see the Burg on the hill high above Stein am Rhein.

Then, on a whim, I decided to follow a touristy-looking sign to something called Badi Espi.  I guessed it might be a museum or at least a photogenic building.  Nope – Badi Espi is an area of the Rhein fenced off for swimming!

The boys had left their swimsuits in the car, but that didn’t stop us from stripping off shoes and socks and wading into the river.  Cool, refreshing, and clean – we couldn’t believe our good fortune!  Even Big Foot dipped his toes.  I was relieved to find a decent free bathroom on site, though I bristled at the food stand prices.  Five euros for  a single hot dog!  We didn’t bite.Thrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with Kids

To the right in the picture, you'll notice a diving board for bathers wanting to take a dip outside the fence.

To the right in the picture, you’ll notice a diving board for bathers wanting to take a dip outside the fence.

Back at the parking lot, we noticed two great attractions for children – a large wooden playground and small kiddie train.  Want to ride?  Find fares and a timetable here.

In regards to parking, the lot adjacent to the old town seemed adequate even for a sunny Saturday.  Machines accept credit cards, Swiss francs, and euro coins.  I didn’t notice any free parking; every inch of the road leading in to town required motorists to pay up. Thrifty Travel Mama | Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, with KidsThe quaint Swiss town of Stein am Rhein deserves a spot on every traveler’s Bodensee or northern Switzerland itinerary, especially in summer.  Pack Swiss money, passports, and swimsuits, and treat the family to a picture perfect day on the Rhein!

Taking the family to Switzerland?  Check our adventures on top of Europe at Schilthorn and on the river at Rhein Falls with kids!Signature-Marigold

Nerdy Travel Dad: The Atomium, Brussels

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - The AtomiumIn honor of Father’s Day this past weekend, Doc Sci has whipped up another post for nerdy and not-so-nerdy travelers to Brussels.  Whether you dig atoms and molecules or not, you’ll want to check out his review.

On our recent trip to Belgium with the boys, the Atomium was the one place I just HAD to see.  This structure is truly a wonder to observe.  The design is meant to be a full scale model of an iron crystal unit cell only way, WAY bigger… 165 billion times bigger.

For those of you not here for the brainiac review, I’ll start with a few practicalities..

  • Admission for children under 6 is free; adults are 11 euro each.  Ogling the structure is free.
  • Wait times can be horrific because the Atomium is crawling with school children.  Check your intended visit time with the chart here.
  • Bathrooms are crowded, grimy, and not free (30 cents).  No changing tables in sight.
  • Use a backpack carrier for babies.  Strollers are not allowed inside.  Though there is an elevator to initially get to the top, visitors must use stairs to travel between spheres.
  • Parking is plentiful in front of the Atomium (metered) as well as in the Miniature Europe car park (flat fee) next door.
  • For those coming by public transport, the metro stop Heysel / Heizel is located a short walk from the entrance.
  • The park surrounding the Atomium is an excellent spot for a picnic or simply letting the little ones roam around.
  • Should you need to grab a bite to eat, a cafe is located near the entrance.  A fancy schmancy restaurant with a view is located on level 8.

Next, a disclosure.  We (okay, my wife) read loads of reviews that mostly said the same thing.  The tour of the Atomium is expensive and overrated.  The exhibitions are rather boring, and the big highlight is being able to view Brussels from above.  Unfortunately, the Atomium is located so far from the Brussels city center that it’s impossible to see anything of note even on a clear day.  So, since we are a thrifty bunch of travelers, we opted out of the tour.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - The AtomiumA much cooler option (though unfortunately only available for school children that live in the area) is to spend the night in the Atomium.  It’s rather obvious from the special offerings to the admission priority that school children are the Atomium’s bread and butter.  If you do decide to pay to go inside, consider yourself warned.

But, all that being said, I still consider it worth any family’s time to take a ride out to see the Atomium.  It’s just awesome to stand there and be dwarfed by science. 

Now on to the cheat sheet bits.  The main things to remember are:

  1. 165 Billion
  2. Elementary iron crystal
  3. Body Centered Cubic

165 billion is the amount of magnification.  This makes for interesting conversations with little ones who can’t quite count past 20.  The iron crystal bit just lets us know what type of unit cell it will be.  And from looking at the model, we can tell that it is a body centered cubic structure.

From there we can go on to tell our prospective (captive!) learners that each lattice point (ball) represents an atom.  At this point, your offspring with either stare at you blankly (8 and under), or whine about what a nerd you are (13 and older).  If you dare, continue to elaborate on how densely packed the atoms are and how that creates certain scenarios and so on.

But, a better idea is to have your children pick a spot with a good view of the Atomium.  Provide paper and colored pencils.  Have them sketch the structure (it’s really just circles and straight lines).  Later on, compare their drawings to other pictures/diagrams of actual atoms.  Help older children correctly label their interpretation of the structure.

For little ones, I honestly couldn’t figure out a way to dumb this down to 5, 3, and 0 yr old levels.  Telling my preschool boys that the huge shiny thing in front of them is actually a model of an iron crystal, (what’s iron? what’s a crystal?) blown up a billion times (is that more than 100?) makes no sense.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - The Atomium

To T-Rex, I simply said, “Wow, look at that big thing.” (Brilliant, I know.  They don’t give PhD’s away to just anybody.)

He replied, “Daddy, it’s GINORMOUS.  Can we go inside?”

Instead of saying no, I opted for, “Maybe, but do you want to know something amazing instead?”

“Uh huh.”

“This thing is a HUGE model representing something super tiny.  So tiny, in fact, that it could be inside you.  So tiny that you couldn’t see it just by looking at it with your eyes.”

“Whoa.”

The beginning of science career?  Most likely not.  But I’ll settle for a love of learning and an appetite for exploration.  So, despite our reluctance to spend 22 euros for what is most likely a lame tour, I definitely think the Atomium is worth a gander if for no other reason than to be fodder for good discussion.

Headed to Brussels?  Check out our Snapshot of Brussels with Kids.

More Nerdy Travel Dad: The Strandbeests, The Zaanse Schans, and Essen Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex.

Nerdy Travel Dad: The Strandbeests!!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Trave Dad - Theo Jansen StrandbeestsNerds and nerdettes, you’re not going to want to miss today’s post.  Our family personally met a famous artist/engineer in his studio on our recent BeNeLux trip!  Keep reading for the low down on our encounter with these beach creatures.

In one of those serendipitous travel research moments, my wife stumbled upon a small detail hidden in a random corner of the Dutch shoreline near The Hague.  “Theo Jansen Beach” it said.  Thinking it might be some kind of famous surfer bar, she googled it, but found something much more amazing than booze instead.  Take a look at the 2 minute video below.

Amazing, fascinating, freakish, right?  If you’re like me, you want to see these things in action.  Unfortunately, Theo Jansen didn’t have any work on the beach at the time of our trip to Holland (to find out where the beasts are, look here).

BUT, we found out from his website that anyone can visit his studio near The Hague at anytime.  No need for a wild goose chase in the Dutch countryside; the property is right off a major highway.

Theo Jansen’s workshop is atop a small hill on the side of the road (no parking, just ditch the car on the shoulder and walk up).  Just between you and me, trust me when I say that calling it a “workshop” is kinda pushing it.  The building is little more than a shack to keep Theo protected from the elements when working, and it’s piled high with projects and a case of instant soup envelopes.

This guy developed a formula for creating “new life” as he says, forms that are able to walk across the beach on their own.  A wall next to the shack contains explanations regarding  the proportions and walking motion.  Several creatures greet visitors, inviting the interested to physically experience the creatures.

The sentinels.

The sentinels.

This walking motion and the particular proportions proved to be the two key elements to creating the beasts.  Each animal has a center shaft where all the feet connect in an offset manner.  Wind powers the beasts’ movements depending on the intensity of the gusts.  Theo is now creating a process by which this wind energy can be stored in bottles so the beasts can walk even when the weather is calm.

Theo Jansen’s ultimate goal is to create a beast that can exist completely independent of human help.  He literally believes he is creating a new species of life..

T-Rex is impressed.

T-Rex is impressed.

Wanting to see these engineering wonders for ourselves, we gambled that Theo would be at his studio on the day we passed through.  The odds were in our favor, and Mr. Jansen happily greeted us when we knocked on the shack door.

The studio is littered with PVC pipe, the color of Dutch cheese.  As Theo explained, these tubes are then bent, drilled, and heated to his specifications.  Large sheets catch the wind, and recycled soda bottles capture it.

T-Rex was gaga over all the tools in the workshop, and the two of them even chatted a bit in German and English about the gadgets and gizmos lying around.

Small 3D printed Strandbeest with propeller inside the studio.

Small 3D printed Strandbeest with propeller inside the studio.

Theo really enjoyed seeing the boys faces light up as their eyes followed the movement of a tiny beast across a table.  This particular teeny tiny beast had been 3-D printed and sent to Jansen by a student which is quite impressive considering the large number of moving parts needed to make the thing work.

Instead of being outraged that others are printing his work, Theo is delighted.  In fact, he considers this the method of beast reproduction.  These clever creatures use humans to multiply their species.

After seeing the little ones in Theo’s workshop I must admit I really want one (Father’s Day – hint, hint!).  Apparently, I have good company in my admiration for these marvels.  Adam Savage has also developed quite an affinity for them.

Outside the workshop, we tested some beasts with our own hands.  From pushing and pulling a few little guys around the hilltop, I can only imagine what the full-scale beasts look like in person scurrying along the sand and splashing in the waves.

Father and son geek out time.

Father and son geek out time.

I wished we could have stayed and talked the genius Jansen’s ear off, but T-Rex was cold, Screech wanted a snack, and we couldn’t push our luck with a sleeping Big Foot.

Would I go visit Theo Jansen’s studio again?  You betcha.  I hope Mr. Jansen is still around when my boys are old enough to understand the engineering and design principles behind these creations.  Science + Art = always a winner in our traveling family’s book!

Headed to The Netherlands?  Check out our Snapshot of Amsterdam with Kids, and don’t miss a visit to the Zaanse Schans – Nerdy Travel Dad approved!

Nerdy Travel Dad: Visiting Zaanse Schans in Holland with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Zaanse Schans, Holland.My absolute favorite thing about traveling as a family is the ability to visit the same destination but experience it through the lenses of our different and unique personalities.  I (obviously) blog about what interests me in a new location, but I also enjoy hearing and sharing a different viewpoint every now and then.

So, I’m super excited to introduce a new feature on TTM – a series of Nerdy Travel Dad posts written by my husband, Doc Sci!  If you’re looking for a cheat sheet on the educational aspect of the places we visit as a family or if you simply care more about how things work than how they look, this Nerdy Travel Dad series is for you.  

Thanks to the popularity of WIRED magazine’s GEEKDAD and celebrities that not only embrace but promote their geekiness (hey, Adam Savage), it’s never been a better time to be a nerd.

I love traveling, but my fascination with new places differs significantly from that of my wife.  Example.. while she ogled some ridiculous bunch of fluorescent flowers at  Keukenhof, I  calculated how many times the “flower engineers” had to cross breed the tulips to achieve such spectacular color.

But, on to Holland!  When my wife told me we were going to a kitschy place outside Amsterdam to experience traditional Dutch culture, I’ll admit I was a tad bit skeptical.  However, after pulling up to the parking lot and seeing all the gigantic, old school windmills and random people walking around in wooden clogs, I decided the Zaanse Schans could be a place where my kids might actually learn something as opposed to just stuffing their faces with Gouda.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

The Zaanse Schans goes beyond typical Dutch tourism.

The Zaanse Schans goes beyond typical Dutch tourism.

On the surface, the Zaanse Schans is a typical tourist destination where one can part with their euros in exchange for souvenirs and snacks.  Shops making clogs and cheese, a bakery, a smattering of museums and several windmills dot the landscape.

But, look more closely and you’ll see that many of the buildings at the Zaanse Schans (hereafter known as ZS, because scientists like acronyms) have open areas where visitors can learn and observe the old ways.  Educational opportunities abound. 

Get smart.  Leave your pram at home.

Get smart. Leave your pram at home.

However, before I get to the nerdy stuff, here are a few practicalities my wife is insisting I include..

  • Admission to the park and many of the buildings is free, though some do charge a small fee (including all windmills).  Choose your own adventure by only paying to go in one or two, or purchase a combination ticket covering all the Zaanse Schans attractions.
  • Parking is 7,50 euro for the day.
  • Strollers should be left behind if at all possible.  It’s difficult to maneuver prams over the bridges, and many of the shops are too small to accommodate buggies.
  • Toilets are NOT free.  Each visit costs 50 cents, so go easy on the coffee!  Bring coins, because change will be given in 50 cent increments.  You don’t want to break a 20 here…
  • Changing tables for babies are located in the restroom near the entrance, but not the one near the back of the park.
  • The area is windy and chilly, so dress appropriately.
  • Dining options include the pancake house (fun but pricey), the restaurant (outrageous), and quick snacks/drinks sold in the windmills.

The absolute highlight of ZS is the collection of windmills.  All of the windmills charge an admission fee, but the spice mill has an area on the bottom floor that one can visit free of charge.  Since we had already been up inside a windmill at Keukenhof, I decided to gauge the boys’ interest in the spice mill before coughing up the money to visit the rest of the mills.

Windmills!!

Windmills!!

The main thing I tried to communicate to T-Rex and Screech was the idea that wind can be used to help us do work.  The spice mill interior is not set up to show how the big sails up top are connected and moving the cogs and wheels down below.  It is my understanding that the windmill innards are visible from the admission area.  Regardless, older children will be able to visualize the basic engineering principles of torque, rotation, and interconnection.

Text

The Spice Mill.

Get the wheels in little heads turning by asking questions such as… How can a vertically rotating rod can be connected in such a way to move things horizontally?  Why are such big sails needed?  Why do the small cogs move so much faster than the big cogs?

Unfortunately, Screech and T-Rex are a little too young (ages 3 and 5) to really engage in these topics.  While in the mill, T-Rex was more interested in a spice trading map with a blinking light that moved along the worldwide routes.  Still educational, but not exactly what I had in mind.  I tried to give him a quick rundown regarding the technology of the LEDs that made that map possible… but to no avail.  He just wanted to push the buttons.

We then moved on to something more up my boys’ alley – food.  The ZS cheese shop offers a five-minute presentation on how cheese is made.  Unfortunately, the man in costume talked WAY too fast, and we were herded like cattle into the store immediately after the talk.

(Tip: don’t buy your cheese at the Zaanse Schans.  If you like a particular variety, jot down the name, and then search for it in a nearby supermarket.  For more Dutch supermarket souvenirs, click here.)

The Cheese Master.  Free sample, anyone?

The Cheese Master. Free sample, anyone?

Surprisingly, Screech and T-Rex were both quite interested in how one of their favorite snacks is made.  Since I wasn’t able to answer all their questions during the presentation (and you won’t be able to either), here’s a quick version for the kiddos you can probably memorize or pull up on your smartphone.  Oh and if you want to sound super smart, make sure to call it biotechnology.

In order to make cheese, you need milk.  Then…

  1. Curdle the milk.
  2. Separate the whey (liquid).
  3. Press the solid curds into a mold.
  4. Bathe the cheese in brine (salty water).
  5. Mature for a period of time; the longer the wait, the more intense the flavor.

See here for more big words, and a few cheesy videos.

The Zaanse Schans cheese display.

The Zaanse Schans cheese display.

Moving on to fashionable footwear… A brief display lines the entrance to the Dutch wooden shoe shop, demonstrating the process of making a log into a clog.  Don’t miss this!  It’s an excellent way to introduce your children to low-tech tools and encourage them to look for new uses (clogs) for ordinary items (logs).

Get your souvenir photos in the gigantic wooden clogs before going inside to learn how these Dutch shoes are made.

Get your souvenir photos in the gigantic wooden clogs before going inside to learn how these Dutch shoes are made.

Parents of young children, take note!  There is an open section in the clog shop that’s chock full of fascinating sharp objects that Screech thought were part of the experience.  While we weren’t looking, he slipped under the loose rope and started making his own.  Okay, not quite, but a few more seconds and he would’ve had new shoes.. or needed stitches.

The Zaanse Schans wall of clogs.

The Zaanse Schans wall of clogs.

Nerds, divas, introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between will enjoy trying on the various clogs for sale.  A plethora of sizes and styles are available, just come prepared to pay in case your little one won’t part with his new fashion statement.

Unknowingly, we both picked the same pair of clogs to try on.  Props to T-Rex for taking this photo.

Unknowingly, my wife and I both picked the same pair of clogs to try on. Props to T-Rex for taking this photo.

Despite my initial skepticism, I am giving the Zaanse Schans the Nerdy Travel Dad seal of approval.  Should you and your posse find themselves in Amsterdam, take a short detour to the north for a dose of Dutch culture and historical technology.  Or, just come for the windmill pictures.  Whatever.

Headed to Amsterdam?  Check out our Snapshot of Amsterdam with Kids, and don’t miss a visit to the Kinderkookkafe!