Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids – Part 2

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!

You’re about to dive into Part 2 of my one-day adventure in Dresden with three boys and no husband. I last left you in a park bench on the south side of the Elbe with some questionable characters for lunch mates. To read Part 1, click here.

Dipping into Dresden Neustadt

With bellies finally satiated, we traipsed across the Elbe to Dresden Neustadt, following Albertstr. until we reached a Platz of the same name. It’s not every day you get to stroll across a bridge that survived while nearly every other place in the city was bombed out. But of course, the little people in my party were oblivious to this historical fact. Instead, my boys just enjoyed the fountains at Albertplatz and admired the statues encased in falling water.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!

We like fountains, yes we do! We like fountains, how ’bout you?

All that rushing water made a certain little somebody have to go to the bathroom right.this.minute. You might not know this about me, but one of my biggest sources of travel stress flows from the difficulty of finding bathrooms in foreign countries. Most of the places I’ve visited do not have shiny porcelain loos in every store, restaurant, or train station like in America. Potties are often impossible to find, ridiculously expensive,  gag-me-disgusting… often all three.

I frantically looked around for any feasible WC possibilities while the little guy insisted that no, of course he could not wait (silly Mama!). The only option in sight – an automatic toilet.

I’ve used these contraptions in Berlin and Paris, and they’re a force to be reckoned with. It’s bad enough to have to wade through that mystery muck on the floor and ignore the thoughts of who might have been there before you.. but when strobe lights come on and the latest club hits come streaming through the speakers (yes, this really happened to me in Berlin)… Just no.

Plus, trust me, you do NOT want to get stuck in there. Apparently, these stalls are locked after every visit and completely cleaned and sanitized with water jets and streams of chemicals. Could you imagine…?!

But hey, when one of your posse has to go, he HAS TO go. So, one euro and five frightful minutes later, we emerged only slightly traumatized and decided we’d had enough of Dresden Neustadt.

We turned around and headed back toward the Elbe in search of gelato to soothe our shaken psyches. We found the creamy goodness near Augustusbrücke, and gazed at the row of masterpieces stacked against the horizon on the south side of the river… just waiting there for us to explore the moment the ice cream melted.

South Side

It was the Katholische Hofkirche that greeted us first. Old and darkened yet still fiercely beautiful, she must be regarded before reaching the more lovely and famous Semperoper. Read up on the opera’s history here.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!I loved the opera house – magnificent, imposing. My boys, on the other hand, just wanted to climb the gigantic statue of King Johann on horseback opposite the entrance. Boys.

Last, we stumbled upon the Zwinger, only a stone’s throw from the opera house. Gigantic and gorgeous, the Zwinger just might tie with the Frauenkirche for my favorite place in Dresden. The fountains, the deep turquoise rust, the sheer size, all highlights in my memory. I savored the atmosphere in the courtyard – crisp air, the melody of rushing water, and peace despite the crowds.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!

A Serendipitous Find

Our day in Dresden was drawing to a close, a fact I met with relief thanks to my exhaustion of toting a little man on my back and melancholy because of the beauty we would leave behind.

The boys and I retraced our steps to Prager Str. on the way to the train station when I noticed we actually had a bit of time to spare. How did THAT happen?! On a whim, I yanked them into an outdoor, REI-type store.

To our utter delight, we discovered a climbing wall (free!) with loaner shoes (also free!) that the kids could use. They gobbled up the last minutes in Dresden scrambling up and down, up and down, until the clock decided they could climb no more.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!

Adieu

When we could not spare even one minute more, we raced hand in hand toward the station and found our train. As we stepped aboard, I finally exhaled. I had done it – solo! And I did not hate myself or my small-ish companions! Small miracles, right?

Alone, I had managed to explore a completely new city with three little boys and without any help. We four shared a lovely day, and I will never forget experiencing the Jewel Box that is Dresden with my sons. Though I don’t wish to travel without Doc Sci, my husband and best friend, at least I know that I can do it should the need or urge arise.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!Places I would like to have visited with the luxury of more time:

  • The Fresh Tea Shop. Actually, we did go here (see photo above). The tea I ordered was fresh (yes, really) and so incredibly refreshing. I took the cup back with me to Leipzig and kept filling it up with water because the mint and fruit were so flavorful.
  • Pfunds Molkerei. This quirky place seemed right up my alley. The most beautiful dairy shop in the world, a milk bar where one can taste varieties of milk, cheeses paired with German wines and specialties like milk jam.
  • Dresdener Parkeisenbahn. A steam train for kids, run by kids. Awesome, right?!
  • Paddle Steamboat Ride on the Elbe. My kids love exploring cities from the water, and the Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt operates the largest and oldest fleet of historic paddle steamers in the world.
  • Playgrounds! Check out this link for a map with recommended places to let the kiddos burn some energy.
  • Dresden Children’s Museum. This for-kids-only area is part of the Dresden Hygiene Museum. How very German!

Now that you’ve seen the highlights, what would you want to explore first in Dresden? Do you have a scary potty story to share? Come on, don’t be shy!

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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!

Do Vegas Up Family-Style: 5 Kid-Friendly Activities

My memories of visiting Las Vegas as a child are of endless subdivisions and eternal buffets.  The Strip then wasn’t what it is today, and the best thing we found to do was play arcade games inside Circus Circus. 

But, boy things have changed!  As today’s guest writer Kendra Thornton points out, Las Vegas may surprise you as a family-friendly (and budget!) destination. 

Do Vegas Up Family-Style

Believe it or not, Las Vegas is one of the family-friendliest places to travel in the United States. While you may associate Vegas with the more adult-themed activities that have led to its negative reputation, it is important to know that much of this is just hype.

Las Vegas may be marketed toward those who will spend freely as they imbibe in libations; however, this can easily work toward your advantage.

Businesses frequently make it cheap to travel to and stay in Las Vegas because they know that most adults will spend big money once they hit the casinos and clubs. This makes it easy for you to utilize cheap travel packages to take your kids on less-expensive and family-friendly cultural activities that I have included on this list of my favorite Vegas hot-spots.

1. Chill at Serendipity

If you have never had frozen hot chocolate, then you are in for a treat. In the rest of the country, everyone else may be warming up to a mug of hot cocoa. However, drinking it cold Las Vegas style will be a thrill for your kids. At Serendipity 3, the fun is just beginning when you walk in and are greeted by funky décor and an exciting menu. Enjoy your frozen hot chocolate as you plan your next grand adventure.

2. Thrill at Adventuredome

Inside Circus Circus you’ll find the Adventuredome, a five-acre theme park that is sure to dazzle your kids. Here, roller coaster enthusiasts from all over the world come to find their thrills. Enjoy world-famous rides such as the world’s only indoor roller coaster with a double loop and corkscrew. Then, have fun rock climbing. Those who are less adventurous will also love the arcade.

3. Lounge on a Hoover Dam Houseboat

Even if your kids have seen it all, they still have not yet had the thrill of enjoying a stay on a houseboat. A houseboat on Lake Mead can be rented for a single night or several days. In addition to being an event to be remembered, this can also be less expensive than traditional hotel stays. On a Hoover Dam houseboat, you have lodging and entertainment covered. Then, you can take in the view while enjoying the nature-side of Las Vegas vacations.

4. Experiment with Indoor Skydiving

It may or may not be your kids’ dream to jump out of a plane. Here your kids can try it out in the safety of an indoor space. This thrill is achieved by using a wind tunnel to mimic the effects of an actual skydiving experience. As a parent, you can enjoy giving your kids a great thrill while making sure safety is a priority. As an added bonus, this is even less expensive than the real thing.

5. Experience a Venetian Winter

If you would have never thought Las Vegas could be a winter wonderland, then be prepared to be surprised. At the Venetian, the halls will be decked for the season this winter. Here, you can enjoy an ice skating rink. Then, listen as real-life carolers sing holiday melodies as they roam the halls. Every night, they serve spiced cider so you can sip and enjoy the sights while visiting with your family.

This year, experience an unbelievable vacation full of holiday surprises in the amazing city of Las Vegas. Although they may say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, your family will be too delighted with their adventures to keep them a secret. Whether you explore the Hoover Dam or dine on a divine frozen hot chocolate, every moment will be savored. By exploring the other side of Vegas, your family will always remember their time in this amazing city as one of their fondest memories.

Kendra Thornton is the former Director of Communications at Orbitz. She lives in Chicago with her 3 wonderful children and loves sharing travel stories and advice from her extensive experience traveling the world.  Follow her on Twitter here.

What other bloggers are saying about family-friendly Vegas:

Would you take your kids to Vegas?  Which one of these activities would your family enjoy the most? Signature-Marigold

Exploring Tuscan Hill Towns: Montepulciano, Pienza, & Lucignano

Thrifty Travel Mama - Taking the Kids to Tiny Tuscan Hill TownsThe landscape of Tuscany is littered with tiny hill towns.  Many of these enclaves are not well known outside of the immediate area (Torrita di Siena), while a others appear as regulars in the guidebooks (San Gimignano).  So, how do you know which ones to investigate and which ones to ignore?

Honestly, I have no idea.

Not the answer you were expecting?  The truth is, that even though I travel often and trip logistics is a hobby (okay, obsession) of mine, I still end up overwhelmed.  Too many options, too little time!

Don’t worry – I won’t leave you completely in the dark.  Here are two approaches that will help you sort through the list.  What?  You have no list yet?  Consult your nearest Lonely Planet, Best Small Towns in Italy or Wikipedia.

Location

With three small kiddos, this it the method I use most.  Punch your villa / vacation rental / hotel location into Google maps.  Zoom out a bit until you can see the surrounding location names.  Use the driving directions feature for any towns not immediately visible.

And since location and transportation go hand in hand, don’t forget to factor how you will get from your lodging to your day trip location.  I am a big fan of public transportation, but I have to say that in Italy, I much preferred to go by car to the small towns.

Be advised that if you’re traveling roads other than the autostrada (interstate with tolls) or the raccordo (highway), driving times will be longer than what is shown in the search results.  We limited our list to locations one hour or less by car.

Travel by bus in Italy is intermittent and rarely on time.  Train travel is better, and if you choose this method you’ll have any easy time narrowing down your list as few hilltop villages feature railway stations.

Interest

What are your family’s interests?  Love wine?  Try Greve in Chianti.  Enjoyed Under the Tuscan Sun?  Don’t miss Cortona.  Into religious history?  Stop in Assisi.  Find out what each town is known for, and narrow the list from there.

Today, I’d like to feature three hilltop towns we explored: Montepulciano, Pienza, and Lucignano.


Thrifty Travel Mama - Montelpulciano with KidsMontepulciano surprised me with its attractive alleys (really!), quiet streets, and unique shops.

As we trekked up the shockingly steep streets, I felt like REAL people lived here despite the obvious presence of tourists and souvenirs.  Perhaps as evidence, we happened upon two playgrounds frequented by Italian families.

We did not, however, see many children on the streets of Montepulciano.  One possible explanation is that cars are not banned in the city center.  Sure, these areas are technically pedestrian zones.  But, I never felt comfortable letting go of my child’s hand for fear of being run over by the constant stream of trucks and whizzing Vespas squeezing through the narrow lanes.  Alas, this is Italy – and we quickly grew accustomed to the perpetual hand holding.Thrifty Travel Mama - Taking the Kids to Tiny Tuscan Hill Towns

Thrifty Travel Mama - Taking the Kids to Tiny Tuscan Hill TownsThrifty Travel Mama - Taking the Kids to Tiny Tuscan Hill TownsOf all the landmarks in Montepulciano, T-Rex and Screech enjoyed the well at the Piazza Grande the most.  Doc Sci went all nerdy on me trying to explain the physics of lowering and raising water-laden buckets.  I tried to admire the architecture but found it difficult to ignore the twenty gazillion plastic chairs and concert equipment mucking it all up.

Montepulciano is known for its wine, so savor a glass or buy a bottle to go.


Thrifty Travel Mama - Pienza with KidsPienza was designed to be the “perfect” Renaissance town (more history and why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site here).

The architecture is lovely for sure; but, best of all, it’s flat and quite small.  In fact, if you don’t stop to gawk or eat, you could walk the entire thing in 30 minutes or less.

The centro storico is a treat for art or history buffs… that is, if you can manage an eyeful in between the crowds.  Better to wander behind the main square and catch a breathtaking view of the Val D’Orcia landscape.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Taking the Kids to Tiny Tuscan Hill TownsThrifty Travel Mama - Taking the Kids to Tiny Tuscan Hill TownsThrifty Travel Mama - Taking the Kids to Tiny Tuscan Hill TownsBesides a great spot for a family photo, this punto panoramico is an excellent area to give your nose a rest.  Pienza is known for its pecorino cheese, and they’ve got the stench to prove it.  If you don’t mind the odor, feel free to sample the different varieties offered in the shops.  But hold on to your pocketbooks and purchase your edible souvenirs at the grocery store across from the Agip gas station on the SS146.

Other than a decent playground on Via Enzo Mangiavacchi, we didn’t find many hidden gems in Pienza.  I’d say the village is worth a quick stop especially if Renaissance architecture is your thing, but refrain from making it the star of your day.


Thrifty Travel Mama - Lucignano with Kids Prior to researching villas, I’d never heard of Lucignano before.  We ended up booking Casal Gheriglio which lounges at the foot of the hill.  On one of our hang-out-and-do-nothing days, we decided to wander up and have a look.

What a treat!  Billed as a model example of how medieval towns should be, we appreciated the orderly streets… with nary a tourist in sight.  Lucignano was a breath of fresh air after the chaos of Siena and the crowds of San Gimignano.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Taking the Kids to Tiny Tuscan Hill TownsThough almost every nook and cranny was shut up on the day of our visit (Ferragosto), the playground was filled with families.  We couldn’t help but stare and giggle at the old men playing cards at the outdoor cafe.  What we assumed was Italian trash talk stood in sharply contrasted their pressed shirts and neatly combed white hair.  Perhaps Rick Steeves might have missed this “back door.”

If museums and shopping are what you’re after, look elsewhere.  Lucignano hasn’t yet been overrun by tourism.  The locals do have to eat, so you won’t be without a trattoria, pizzeria, and gelateria.  But, streets are hushed, and the most interesting thing to do here is burn up your camera taking photos… which is just fine with me.

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!

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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!

Snapshot: Amsterdam with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Amsterdam with KidsNo BeNeLux itinerary would be complete without a stop in Amsterdam.  Doc Sci and I have been to the city before, so I thought it would be fun to incorporate some kid-friendly activities this time.

I’ll outline our day in this post, but several of the activities deserve their own separate space.  Look for more complete reviews of specific attractions in the coming days.Thrifty Travel Mama - Amsterdam with Kids9:30am – Hop on a bus headed to Amsterdam from our home base in Haarlem.  Since we planned to walk everywhere that day, we decided the boys should have something to keep them interested and minimize “are we there yet” complaining.  T-Rex rode his scooter and Screech toured Amsterdam on his laufrad (balance bike).

I gotta get me one of those!

I gotta get me one of those!

We opted for the pram instead of the backpack carrier for Big Foot.  Was this the right choice?  It’s hard to say.  There are sidewalks in Amsterdam, but most of them are narrow and made of stone.  The hardest part was keeping the whole circus (pram, scooter, balance bike + two adults) somewhat together on the sidewalks.  But 10 hours is a long time to carry a baby and Big Foot sleeps better on the go when he’s in the pram.

Solution: If you can, do as the Dutch and rent a bakfiets for the day!

10:15am – Arrive in southwest Amsterdam and plot a walking course to our first stop.  Upon arriving at the bus station, we noticed one of Amsterdam’s public urinals.  Did we try it?  To quote the oft-sold saying, “What happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam.”

Free public urinal at the bus station.

Free public urinal at the bus station.

11:00am – Pop in to the most anticipated stop of the day, the Kinderkookkafe!  This place is (obviously) designed just for kids, and it’s awesome.  All the food is made by the kids themselves!  The boys put together pizzas while Doc Sci and I downed some delicious Dutch cheese sandwiches we had brought and drank tea to warm up (did I mention it was blowing snow when we left Haarlem that morning?).

The Kinderkookkafe, where kids are the star of the meal.

The Kinderkookkafe, where kids are the star of the meal.

12:30pm – Take a walk through Vondelpark, the most beautiful park in Amsterdam.  The place was hopping with tourists and locals alike.  Our favorite feature of the park was the multilingual lost and found.

Lost a glove in Vondelpark?  Check here.

Lost a glove in Vondelpark? Check here.

1:00pm – Shop at HEMA, the discounter (think Target) known for its Dutch design and reasonable prices.  We drank hot chocolate at the cafe which has an IKEA restaurant feel.  HEMA is a great place for budget travelers to stock up on unique souvenirs (we found a fun Netherlands puzzle for 4 euros) or any travel necessities you might have run out of or forgotten.  If you don’t love HEMA, it’s because you just don’t know it yet!

Knocking back hot chocolate at HEMA.

Knocking back hot chocolate at HEMA.

2:30pm – Hit up Kitsch Kitchen Supermercado for whimsical gifts and home items.  As luck would have it, the store was having an Easter egg decorating contest.  My boys were thrilled to be able to sit down and paint hard boiled eggs while I browsed the shelves.  I big fat puffy heart LOVE serendipitous events!

Painting Easter eggs at Kitsch Kitchen.

Painting Easter eggs at Kitsch Kitchen.

3:30pm – Get lost in a parade of clothing from past eras at Episode Vintage Doc Sci is always looking for quality denim in his size, and I can go for a fun peasant top any day.. as long as it fits me.  Alas, we didn’t find anything that day.  If you’re looking for cheap clothing, this is not the place.  Shopping at Episode Vintage is for those seeking one-of-a-kind or nostalgic pieces.

Piles of surprisingly organized vintage clothing.

Piles of surprisingly organized vintage clothing.

5:00pm – Order savory enchiladas and tasty tacos at Los Pilones If you’ve hung around Thrifty Travel Mama for long, you know that I’m always on the hunt for authentic Mexican food in Europe.  When I discovered that Los Pilones sells its own bottled chipotle sauce, I knew this was THE place to go for Mexican food in Amsterdam.  Yeah, buddy!

An enchilada end to our day in Amsterdam.

An enchilada end to our day in Amsterdam.

6:30pm – Catch the bus back to Haarlem.  We munched on stroopkoeken (Dutch syrup cookies) all the way home.  What an exhausting but enjoyable day!

Bye, bye Amsterdam - next time we'll have to get around by water taxi!

Bye, bye Amsterdam – next time we’ll have to get around by water taxi!

Have more than one day in Amsterdam?  Here’s what I would’ve added:

  • NEMO Science Center – Admission is expensive, but the place looks bonkers cool.  Plan to spend at least a half day to get your money’s worth.
  • The Dutch Riding School – It’s free to poke your head in and take a look at the riding classes.
  • Albert Cuyp Market – The largest street market in the Netherlands.  I also stumbled upon a tip that there’s a vendor selling fresh stroopwaffels on Saturdays!
  • De Kaaskamer – A store dedicated to Dutch cheese.
  • Pancakes! – Serving up every kind of pancake imaginable from blini to crepes to American-style flapjacks.
  • The Pancake Boat – For a two-in-one experience, the pancake boat offers all you can eat pancakes while cruising around the Amsterdam harbor area.
  • De Taart van m’n Tante – A super funky cake shop.
  • Bierfabrik – A restaurant specializing in organic, charcoal-grilled Cornish game hens.  Eat with your hands, and get to know your neighbor!
  • Le Pain Quotidien – Excellent choice for breakfast or lunch.  Think Panera gone all French.
  • Bagels & Beans – Perhaps not as exciting to US travelers, but expats craving bagels (Einstein Bros or otherwise) will love this place.  In addition to coffee (hence the beans), this chain brews loose leaf tea.

Have you been to Amsterdam with kids?  Did I miss any fun places that little ones would’ve enjoyed?Signature-Marigold

Snapshot: Antwerpen with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Antwerpen with KidsAfter our delightful time in Brugge, we needed to make our way up to Haarlem, the third home base of our BeNeLux week.  On a bucket list trip, I find it difficult to simply going from point A to point B.  It’s imperative to squeeze in one or two stops along the way.

I considered taking breaks in both Rotterdam (the largest port in Europe) and Antwerpen (the second largest).  In the end, I realistically thought we’d only have time for one.  Research showed that Antwerpen is prettier, and its cathedral is the tallest in BeNeLux.  I had my winner.Thrifty Travel Mama - Antwerpen with KidsDespite my best planning efforts, we almost scrapped our Antwerpen visit.  The GPS in our car is notoriously unreliable (it’s one of those built-in kinds with CDs and we haven’t gotten around to getting a new one), and even the printed directions I used landed us far beyond the city center.

We stopped at a petrol station to fill up and take a closer look at the map.  An older gentlemen was refueling his car and staring at us.  Instead of getting annoyed (my usual response to staring), I decided to ask his opinion on which autobahn was the best route to take north into the Netherlands.  He didn’t want to speak English, so I mustered up my best German and hoped for the best.

Well, the best is what I got.  Not only did this kind stranger advise me on the next road to take, but he offered to personally lead us to the city center when he found out we were (kind of) lost.

At least, that’s what I thought he said.  Everything was in German, after all…

Following our new friend - across the Mexico bridge!

Following our new friend – across the Mexico bridge!

Luckily for us, my baby brain did not fail, and we followed this gentleman along a harbor route with great views of giant ships right to the parking garage in the center of town.  Thank you, whoever you are!

Our friend led us here to the Het Steen, an old medieval castle right across from the city center parking garage.  I'm sure this fortress is worth exploring!

Our friend led us here to the Het Steen, an old medieval castle right across from the city center parking garage. I’m sure this fortress is worth exploring!

My list for our two hours in Antwerpen consisted of three things: gaze at ginormous freighters, wonder at the beauty of the Cathedral of Our Lady, and put Fritkot Max‘s best-fries-in-the-whole-of-Belgium claim to the test.

The boys loved climbing on this statue in the town square while we took in the view of the cathedral in the background.

The boys loved climbing on this statue in the town square while we took in the view of the cathedral in the background.

With one down and two to go, we ooh-ed and ahh-ed through Antwerpen’s town square on the way to the church.  We savored an eyeful of the sheer mass of the Cathedral of Our Lady, and then slipped inside for a few moments.  The Cathedral of Our Lady charges admission (probably because of all the Peter Paul Rubens works on display), but you can stand in the prayer area for free.

Cathedral of Our Lady.

Cathedral of Our Lady.

The craftsmanship of old churches is simply stunning.

The craftsmanship of old churches is simply stunning.

Doc Sci giving the boys a little lesson in stone construction (nerdy travel alert!).

Doc Sci giving the boys a little lesson in stone construction (nerdy travel alert!).

Just around the corner from the cathedral, we found Fritkot Max.  Doc Sci ordered a large for our family to share.  The fries aren’t salted, and that affected the taste for us.  So, in order to be truly scientific about it, Doc Sci thought we needed another large.  Even after consuming a few kilos of potatoes from Fritkot Max, we still voted Fritland in Brussels the best fries in Belgium.

Hot off the press!

Hot off the press!

As you can see, fries are a BIG deal in Antwerpen.

As you can see, fries are a BIG deal in Antwerpen.

While in Brugge, I had stumbled upon a super fun shop called Oil & Vinegar.  Doc Sci and I love to eat bread dipped in olive oil, and homemade salad dressing is a current obsession of mine.  We didn’t have time to shop in Brugge, so we hurried over to the Antwerpen location in the few minutes we had left.

Oil & Vinegar!

Oil & Vinegar!

As luck would have it, we discovered a small playground right around the corner from the store!  Score for us (we bagged some delicious bruschetta mix and basil olive oil), score for the boys (they let most of the willies out before we had to continue driving).

T-Rex and Screech blowing off steam.

T-Rex and Screech blowing off steam.

On the way back to the car, we quickly had a look at the water, but it was not possible to see many ships from the city center.  The best views came from the earlier detour guided by our new friend.  Serendipitous events make for the most memorable travel moments!

Goodbye, Antwerpen!

Goodbye, Antwerpen!

My snapshot of Antwerpen: industrial but beautiful, decadent but hardworking, fashionable but fun.

Have you been to Antwerpen?  What was your favorite part of the city to see, do, taste, or experience?Signature-Marigold