Europe

A Night in Brussels

Two years ago, while stationed in Germany, we took our first trip out of Bavaria and headed to France. I keep putting off writing about it because it was a two-week trip and so much happened that writing about it is going to be a massive effort. However, if I don’t write about it now I may never get around to it so it’s time to buckle down and get to typing!

The problem with writing about something two years after it happens are that things start to get fuzzy. I can’t remember what day of the week we left home – probably Friday or Saturday. I can’t remember if it was before or after my son’s second birthday – he was some age very close to two. I wanted to be really informative and describe how in the heck we fit all of our stuff into our car, but I can’t – we shoved it all in there somehow.

Anyway, sometime about two years ago, when I had a five-year-old and a twoish-year-old and I was not-too-hugely pregnant with our third child, we decided it would be a good time to take a summer vacation to France. We had the brilliant idea to try camping. It was a little bit because we’re adventurous. It was mostly because I’m cheap. Actually, camping was not absolutely horrible. It had its moments, but overall it was a good way to save money and I would do it again with a few tweaks.

We chose to start at the top of France and work our way down. We went through Belgium and stayed the night in Brussels on our way up to Normandy. We stayed in Normandy a few days and then headed down to Euro Disney in Paris. I also wanted to see the city of Paris so we stayed a few more nights in a campsite in Paris before heading down to Canes for a few nights. On our way back we drove up through the French Alps, through part of Italy and stopped for a night in Liechtenstein before finally arriving back home in Bavaria.

After all plans and reservations were made, the day finally came to load up the car and head out. Between the camping gear, suitcases and children our car was filled to max capacity (who really needs to see out the rear-view mirror anyway?) and we were on our way to our first destination: Brussels, Belgium.

We arrived in Brussels late afternoon and checked into our hotel (if I were a better blogger I would have a link to the hotel here. Sorry. I don’t remember the hotel we stayed at, but really it was nothing too fantastic, I promise). Even though we had our tent and everything, we didn’t want to camp since we knew we really were just stopping to sleep and walk around down town a little bit before getting up to drive the rest of the way to Normandy in the morning. I do remember that parking was difficult – remember to search for a hotel or room that has a parking spot included.

 

After getting settled in, our evening was spent walking past sights like the European Union headquarters, The Royal Palace of Brussels and The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. The streets

were pretty empty and quiet (oh, hey! It must have been a Saturday! Look at me! Memory like a steel trap!) and it was nice to walk around without crowds. After touring the cathedral we got our obligatory Belgian waffles from a street vendor and then headed over to a playground to let the boys get their energy out.

I do remember that Brussels seemed to me much more like an American city than anything we’d seen in Germany. Not only did it seem like many of the buildings were newer buildings, but it was a much more culturally diverse place than the places we’d seen in Germany. In our experiences of small-town Germany almost everybody looked German and spoke German, but in Brussels we saw people that looked like they were from all over the world and heard many different languages.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the first restaurant that looked appealing (pretty sure it was an Irish or British pub?) and then made our way back to the hotel for the night.

In the morning we woke up, got ready and started out to France. The rest of the short drive through Belgium was nice from what I remember. Lots of green, quaint villages and a castle here and there, and then we were in France! An evening really is not enough time to fully experience a city, let alone a country. To do it real justice, I’m sure we should have at least spent three or four days in Brussels alone. Instead of just walking past the palace, we could

have taken tours and instead of just settling for the first restaurant we came across we could have tried real local cuisine. If you are only staying in Belgium for a night, it might be nicer to go to a smaller village so you really could see the whole town rather than a big city like Brussels where you can only get a tiny taste before you have to leave. Either way, we had to stop for the night somewhere and we got to see a country we had never seen before in the process. That’s a win in my book.

If you want to know more fun activities to do in Brussels with kids check out this post from Mom Aboard or this post from Travel With 2 of Us. Check back in a few days for the story of the next leg of our trip – Normandy!



Tropical Islands Water Park near Berlin

So this isn’t a particularly long post, but I’d be amiss if I forgot to tell you guys about a super-cool place our Unit Ministry Team took our Single Soldiers on a day trip last year. If you’re already headed toward Berlin and looking for a unique place to stay there is a gigantic former blimp hanger that has been converted to a water park/hotel.  If you are adventurous and don’t want to stay in a traditional hotel room, they also have little tents inside the hangar you can stay in!

If you aren’t staying overnight, Tropical Islands still serves as an awesome water park to go to for the day. They have a wave pool, indoor rain forest nature walk, water slides, a hot air balloon, huge playground area, hot tubs, kiddie pool, man-made sandy beaches, sauna and spa, shopping, food and, of course, alcohol in abundance. There are activities that go on throughout the day like dance classes and skits. They have showers and lockers there as well, so if you aren’t staying overnight you do not need to worry about where to put your stuff. My son, who was five at the time, loved it.

If you check out their website you can see the schedule for upcoming special events such as holiday parties and indoor beach soccer championships.

The only downsides were that it is not particularly cheap at €42, but kids up to age 5 are free. So, is it worth it? If you are already headed to/near Berlin I say yes. We had to drive a total of 10 hours in one day (5 there and 5 back) and that was a little much, especially since there are water parks – albeit not as big or in a blimp hangar – a lot closer to where I live. If you’re looking for a place similar but closer to the Graffenwoehr/Vilsek/Hohenfels area, I suggest the waterpark in Nuremberg (like I mention in this post) which has many of the same things, just smaller.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below! Have fun!There is a gigantic former blimp hanger outside of Berlin that they have converted to a water park/hotel. If you’re looking for a unique place to stay near Berlin, this may be the place for you. If you are adventurous and don’t want to stay in a traditional hotel room, they also have little tents inside the hangar you can stay in!

 



Hiking Kallmünz Castle

One of the things I love about Europe is that in every town you can find houses that are older than the United States of America. Your perspective of “old” totally changes. Even more fascinating is being able to hike up to the 800+ year-old remnants of a castle in which knights or royalty once lived only a short drive from your house.Just a 15 minute drive from Hohenfels is a town called Kallmünz, which is home to such a castle. People have lived in this little corner of the world since the Bronze Age. You guys, that’s like from 500 B.C.! People started building primitive outer walls of this castle possibly as early as the 900’s and by the 13th century the castle’s inner walls were fully constructed and its residents were being mentioned in early Bavarian chronicles.

Just a 15 minute drive from Hohenfels is a town called Kallmünz, which is home to such a castle. People have lived in this little corner of the world since the Bronze Age. You guys, that’s like since 500 B.C.! People started building primitive outer walls of this castle possibly as early as the 900’s and by the 13th century the castle’s inner walls were fully constructed and its residents were being mentioned in early Bavarian chronicles. From 1459 to 1641 the castle bounced back and forth between Bavarian and Palatine hands and then it was ransacked and burned during the Thirty Years War by the Swedes (dang it, Swedes!). Since then it’s been ruins and people pillaged the rocks from the castle to build other stuff until it was set up as a historical site.

I found MilliGFunk’s blog post and followed her directions to figure out where to park (thanks!). Once we got there I strapped our new-born to my front and my husband strapped our two year old to his back and we walked about a half a mile up a hill to Kallmünz castle. The path was a little rocky, but if you have a stroller with good tires you would definitely be able to push it up without any issues. There is no cost for parking or to get into the castle.view-from-kallmunz

When you get up to the castle you can take in a great view of Kallmünz and the river Naab below. It is also really neat to walk around and look at the ancient well, stone outlines of castle rooms, imagine being an archer looking through tiny windows, and try your best to read the German signs (or use an app to translate if you’re fancy) so you can learn a little history.

If you’re up for a hike and you want to get in touch with your inner princess (or medieval wench – whatever, no judgement), I highly suggest taking an hour to go check out Kallmunz Castle. Let me know how you like it! 



Berlin on a Budget

I think those who travel the world with children are a special breed of crazy. We are the rare few who have vision in abundance (I’m going to see the world! If we just pack this stroller, and this carrier, then we can make it to this city in this amount of time and for only this little amount of money!), persistence to the point of self-harm (I don’t care if baby is teething and toddler is potty training, we’re going to see Greece, dangit!), passion that exceeds natural human caution (oops, we’re pregnant again), and a lack of patience and discipline (sure, I could see Europe when I’m financially secure and don’t have 3 small kids in tow, but I’m here NOW and therefore need to see it NOW).

I also think this crazy is genetic. My mother is this breed of crazy. The last time I was in Berlin I was a baby and my mother took my brother and I on so many trips around the city that she “wore the wheels off” of the umbrella stroller she pushed me in. So that’s where I get this from. And that’s why I wanted to go to Berlin again – to see if I could find some thirty-year-old stroller tires.

I think the hardest thing about planning our trip to Berlin was deciding what to take the kids to see. There were so many child-friendly options! We were only going on a trip for a long weekend, so we knew we could only see two or three things.I think the hardest thing about planning our trip to Berlin was deciding what to take the kids to see. There were so many child-friendly options! We were only going on a trip for a long weekend, so we knew we could only see two or three things. My parents suggested the zoo and this blog post by Not a Ballerina had a great list of museums. We decided on the natural history museum because my boys love dinosaur skeletons. We also decided on a free walking tour of Berlin through Sandeman’s (we also went through this company in Amsterdam and attempted to use them in Prague).

We left on a Friday after school and battled through the traffic to arrive at the hostel we were staying at before nightfall. This was our first experience with a youth hostel and honestly, it wasn’t bad. We had a family room which meant we were not sharing our room with any other people and we had our own bathroom. Breakfast was served buffet style in a small cafeteria, there was free Wi-Fi, and plenty of vending machines and Foosball tables.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was in a good location (near the subway and free parking), affordable and quiet. We were able to park our car near the hostel and then just buy day passes on the subway to get around the city, which worked out really well.

Saturday morning we got up and ready and headed to the Berlin zoo by subway. First of all, let me just take a second to mention how great the subway system was in Berlin. The trains and stations were clean, timely and not at all crowded. I remember when we went to Paris trying to get on a train was nerve-wracking because there was hardly enough room to shove your way in and never any room to sit down. Later on our tour of Berlin we learned that the city had been expected to grow to a population of 10 million people by 1950 but due to war and then the division of East and West Germany, the population dwindled and to this day is only at about 4 million people. This means that although it is a big city with great facilities, transportation, and lots to do, to me it never felt crowded or too busy which I liked a lot.

Anyway, back to the zoo. It was AWESOME! Seriously, the Berlin zoo is one of the bestzoo
we’ve ever been to (definitely better than the Zurich zoo). It is beautifully landscaped, you are close to the animals, they have a great playground for the kids and of course great German restaurants on site. My oldest especially liked the nocturnal animals exhibit where you get to go underground in a dark room and see lots of animals that are only active at night. I enjoyed the exhibit too. I remember going to the Honolulu zoo and seeing the anteater, which was always just lying there, and wondering if he ever moved. Turns out they’re nocturnal so I actually got to see an anteater moving in Berlin. So cool! (I know, I know. I’m a nerd.)

We spent the morning and lunchtime in the zoo and then headed back to the subway toward the Brandenburg Gate to catch our afternoon walking tour. The tour was a nice way to get around and learn a little something about the major sites of Berlin. We got to see things like the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Concert House and the place where Hitler supposedly committed suicide. Our guide was very informative and interesting. After the tour we got some Döners (mmmm…) and headed back to our room for the night.

jarsSunday morning we went over to the Berlin Museum of Natural History. They have the largest fully assembled dinosaur skeleton in the world displayed in this museum. They also have a T-Rex skeleton, displays on how taxidermy is done, all kinds of weird creepy jars of things in formaldehyde, models of the solar system and all kinds of rocks and crystals. The building itself is not that big. It only took us maybe two hours to see the whole place so it is a nice thing if you only have a little while to spare. After the museum we went back to the hostel, packed up and checked out and headed home.

All together I found Berlin to be a very child friendly place with a lot of fascinating history. With all the things to do and see in the area I think we could have easily spent a wholet-rex week there, but I was pleased with how we planned our weekend and think that our whole family really enjoyed it. Check out the city for yourself and let me know how you like it!

P.S. Still didn’t find those stroller wheels. Guess I’ll have to go back again someday…



Ultimate Oktoberfest Roundup

Guys! Oktoberfest starts THIS WEEKEND! Eeek! I’m so excited! I’ve been to other fests, but this year will be the first time I hit up Oktoberfest. In honor of this momentous event, I’ve rounded up posts on everything to do with Oktoberfest so you (and I) can be ready. Here we go!Ultimate Oktoberfest Roundup

General Overviews of Oktoberfest:

Insider’s Survival Guide to Oktoberfest

5 Honest Tips for Oktoberfest from Someone who has Actually Been

Oktoberfest, Munich – A Beginner’s Guide

Dates and Times:

Dates and General FAQ’s

For fests all over the area check out #6 in my post 10 family activities for under 10 Euro near Hohenfels

Transportation:

Driving

Taking the Train

Bus trips Through Graffenwoehr MWR or Hohenfels MWR

How to find Last Minute Oktoberfest Accomodation and Transportation

What to Wear:

Understanding the Lederhosen Culture

How to buy a Dirndl

Guide to Buying and Wearing Lederhosen

Guide to Buying and Wearing a Dirndl

What to Eat and Drink:

What to eat at Oktoberfest in Munich

7 Badass Bavarian Foods you Must Try

Best Oktoberfest Beer Tents

Festing with Kids:

DOWNLOAD NOW! (1)
Just click the picture… you know you want to!

Give the kids something to do while you have a beer – download my Oktoberfest Scavenger
Hunt! >>>>>>

Munich’s Oktoberfest – fun for Kids too!

Children at Oktoberfest, for sure

Travel Stories: Oktoberfest with Baby ist Wunderbar!

Can’t make it to Oktoberfest this year? Throw your own party:

Oktoberfest Party Fun

Prost! Here’s Everything You Need to Throw an Epic Oktoberfest Party

I hope you find this useful! If you want more info, check out my Oktoberfest Pinterest board.

See you Saturday!



37 thoughts you have when you return to the USA from Germany

It is amazing how much you forget about your own culture after you’ve lived abroad for a year! Things that I used to take for granted blew my mind when I visited home for a few weeks this summer. Here are some of the things I thought when first arriving back in my amazing homeland. USA! USA!It is amazing how much you forget about your own culture after you've lived abroad for a year! Things that I used to take for granted blew my mind when I visited home for a few weeks this summer.1. I’m so excited to be here!
2. Yay, everybody’s speaking English!
3. People are so friendly!
4. The roads are so BIG!
5. The cars are so BIG!
6. The parking lots are so BIG!
7. The parking spaces are so BIG!
8. The yards are so BIG!
9. The trashcans are so BIG!
10. Ugh, why is everybody driving so slowly?
11. I can pay for my gas at the pump!
12. There are so many television channels and they’re all in English!
13. But why do they have so many commercials?
14. That’s okay, American Netflix is awesome!
15. People really are kinda chubby here…
16. Mexican food!
17. Chinese food!
18. Sushi!
19. Pancakes!
20. Buffalo wings!
21. I’m gonna get kinda chubby here…
22. Yes! Everything is open on Sunday!
23. And everything is open after 8pm!
24. Walmart, how I missed you!
25. Target, I missed you even more!
26. Everything is so cheap!
27. I don’t have to pay in cash!
28. I don’t have to pay to use a shopping cart!
29. I don’t have to pay to go to the bathroom!
30. I don’t have to pay for my grocery bags!
31. Or meticulously sort all of my trash and recyclables!
32. Is that grown woman really wearing her pajamas to go shopping?
33. Oh well, at least I know I won’t be judged for wearing my flip-flops around town!
34. Why is there so much trash on the side of the roads?
35. I think I actually miss Germany?
36. Oh! Is that a drive through Starbucks?!
37. Never mind, there’s no place like home!



One Step Away

So this one time I took a ten-month paid vacation to the Middle East. Since this is supposed to be a blog about travel tips, here you go: If you want to see the Middle East, take a time machine, go back ten years and join the army. I promise you’ll get to Iraq.

This other time, eight years later, I took a few hour tour of the city of Belfast, Ireland. Although much time had passed, the first thing that came to my mind when we started driving around the city was my deployment.

In Iraq I remember thinking “My God, why the hell do people stay here?”
I came to realize for many, leaving was just not an option. How can you leave if you have no rights because you are a woman? If you have no opportunities because you are poor? If you have no idea there is anything else because you are uneducated? If other countries won’t take you because you’re the wrong religion or color or speak the wrong language?

In my mind the people left in war-torn countries were only there because they were unfortunate victims of their circumstances. Either that or they were the bad guys. To me, it seemed like Iraq was simply beyond saving so there was no reason anybody in their right mind with the ability to escape would stay.

It really wasn’t that simple though. If it were a conventional war where the US were fighting the Iraqi Army and there were traditional “good” and “bad” guys then my analysis might have been accurate, but the official Iraqi Army was on the same side as the US. The people were fighting were members of various terrorist organizations, crooked Iraqi cops, civilians and others, all of whom were also ceaselessly fighting each other.

The problem in my opinion was that rather than having loyalty to their nation, the people of Iraq first had loyalty to their immediate family, then their clan, then their race, then their sect of Islam, then, maybe, their country. There was no unity, no patriotism, and no national pride. Granted, these things too can and do cause war between countries, but Iraq couldn’t even get it together enough to make a country that would stand on its own for more than a week once the crutch of the US government was taken away, let alone start a formal war against any sovereign nation.

And while all of this was sad, it was not personal for me even when I saw it first-hand because I do have rights and money and a good education and I’m Christian and white and I speak English. To me the people of Iraq lived in a backward culture. Even though they were the same freaking religion and from the same freaking country and they spoke the same freaking language and their skin was the same freaking color, they somehow fabricated things to divide them. In my mind, I was living on another planet and could not picture America as a place with any parallels to that desert country.

I left Iraq, moved around the world with the Army to awesome places like Hawaii and Germany, got married, had kids and Iraq became for me at most a chrysalis where I transformed from a naïve and nervous teenage girl to a strong and self-assured woman and at least a distant memory.

Then Belfast hit me in the face.

Why on Earth would people who led lives so seemingly similar to mine chose to stay in a place where military helicopters hovered overhead, and 20 meter high barbed wire topped walls and hotel bombings were the norm? To be fair, quite a few people did leave. The wealthy, the middle class, the highly educated got out while they could and, unfortunately for the working class people of Belfast, took their talents, skills and money with them.

The people of Belfast, who, just like the Iraqis, were all the same freaking religion and from the same freaking country and they spoke the same freaking language and their skin was the same freaking color, took up arms against each other.

In a nutshell, the thirty or so years that Belfast was a war zone was due to the Protestant majority wanting things to remain as they were (which meant they could legally persecute Catholics by keeping them from applying for jobs, denying them political offices and just generally treating them as second class citizens) and to stay a part of the United Kingdom and the Catholic minority wanting all of Ireland to unite as a nation independent from Brittan and to have the same rights as Protestants.

According to our tour guide who lived through The Troubles (as these times are called in Ireland) as a Catholic, leaders of both sides played up the conflict as a religious one to their advantages. Catholics and Protestants separated themselves, moved to homogenous neighborhoods and built walls between them that remain to this day.
Unlike Iraq, the people of Belfast did have national pride. The Catholics wanted to be an Irish nation. I can relate to wanting independence. The Catholics wanted the same rights and status as Protestants. I can relate to wanting to fight for equality. This did not seem like a foreign planet. It seemed like a culture eerily similar to mine.

If Iraq was ape and the US was man, Northern Ireland was my missing link.

I left with the feeling that war is not a thing reserved for other people, it’s merely one step away. In the case of Northern Ireland, while the war was not entirely religious, by choosing to focus on the differences in their religion the situation went from one that was a potentially manageable political disagreement to one that became a bloody crusade.

From across the Atlantic Ocean I see what is happening in my own country and sense something ominous on the horizon. I see political disagreement, which is nothing new, but rather than focusing on uniting as a country to fix our problems I see people jumping at every opportunity to point out differences in race, gender, religion and economic status.

“Catholics are destroying our Irish culture” seems pretty damn similar to “Gays, Muslims, Refugees, the Black Lives Matter movement, Cops, Liberals, Conservatives are destroying our American Culture”.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have beliefs or speak your mind. I’m just saying be careful. Consider that perhaps, even way back in 1768 when it was published in the Boston Gazette, “united we stand, divided we fall” may just have a grain (or boulder) of truth in it.

I was a teenager when my mother went back to college. She had to fill out applications and in the area of the application in which she was supposed to indicate her race she marked “other” and wrote in “human”. This is the example I strive for. Maybe by the time my children grow up they won’t have to indicate their race on an application form. Maybe their religion can be between them and God and that pact can be respected by others. Maybe they can be different without being ostracized. Maybe they can just be American; nothing more, nothing less.

 

So this one time I took a ten-month paid vacation to the Middle East. Since this is supposed to be a blog about travel tips, here you go: If you want to see the Middle East, take a time machine, go back ten years and join the army. I promise you’ll get to Iraq.


Why a weekend in Salzburg is the Perfect Getaway

Do you live in Bavaria? Have you been to Salzburg, Austria? If not, WHY NOT?! Salzburg was our favorite weekend trip so far! Read on to find out why!

SALZBURG

  1. The size. If you’ve only got a few days, Salzburg is the perfect city to check out. The old town is small enough that you can explore all the major points of interest in a couple days without rushing, having to take public transportation, or walking too far for your kids’ little legs. We drove down after school let out on a Friday and were able to see everything on our list by 3pm the next day, leaving us enough time to make the drive home before dark.
  2. Location, location, location! Salzburg was only about 3.5 hours from where we live in Germany. On the way down our GPS took us on back roads and the drive was beautiful. *Note* make sure to set your GPS to avoid highways on the way back! We didn’t and traffic on the highway was terrible (and not as scenic). The city itself is gorgeous with an awesome mountain/cliff that you walk through to get into the old town, a scenic river, lovely streets and shops and they speak German – not that I’m fluent in German AT ALL, but I at least have learned how to order food and ask where the toilet is, which is more than I can do in any other language besides English.
  3. It’s so musical. Do you like Mozart? Do you like the Sound of Music? Of DoADearcourse you do! You can check out Mozart’s birth place, take a picture with his statue and even get a Mozart chocolate Easter Bunny (if you’re willing to pay €27 and are there at Easter time)! Sound of Music fans can check out the gardens at Mirabell Palace & Gardens where the famous Von Trap children jumped up and down steps singing “Do, Re, Mi”. My kids loved running through the tunnels of leaves in the gardens and seeing the unicorn statues. If you’re a die-hard Sound of Music fan you can pay to do a whole tour where they’ll show you more filming locations used in the Sound of Music. We just enjoyed the free gardens because, hey, they’re free, and we had other stuff we wanted to check out that day.
  4. There was fun stuff for kids. Did you know Salzburg is home to one of the best preserved medieval castles? You can see it resting atop its giant hill from the old town. We decided to head toward it and see if there was a way to easily get to the top. As it turns out, you buy a ticket for a rail car ride (which is relatively inexpensive and stroller friendly!) that takes you up to the top. Our boys loved the ride up almost as much as they loved exploring the old castle and looking down at the city below. We also went to the Salzburg Spielzeugmuseum (toy museum) which our boys thought was awesome. To me it seemed less museum more play-center, which was actually great for our family. It’s totally interactive with giant build-it-yourself marble runs, train sets you can play with, dolls and stuffed animals to play house with and even a slide to take you from the 3rd to 2nd floor (because who needs an elevator?)! In addition to these activities, just walking around was fun for the kids because of the street performers, horse-drawn carriages and the opportunity to eat delicious würst at every corner.
  5. No hidden costs. We made sure that the hotel we booked had parking included and was within walking distance of the old town. That way once we got there we were able to just leave our car in the hotel parking and not have to worry about transportation costs. This seems simple enough, but in other cities (I’m looking at you Zurich!) we’ve experienced hotels which “included” parking at a cost of $25/day that they didn’t mention in the booking. Also, we didn’t have to pay to get into places like gardens or cathedrals. Souvenirs were reasonably priced as were tickets to attractions like the palace and toy museum. Food was very affordable, especially if you eat from the street vendors.  Also, with Salzburg being right on the German border, if you are part of the Esso program that the military provides you have plenty of opportunities to get your gas in Germany to save some money on your drive.

So that’s it in a nutshell! We loved everything about Salzburg! It’s a got all the conveniences of a major city yet with a small-town, friendly atmosphere that you and your family are sure to enjoy.

Why you should go to Salzburg if you have a free weekend

Have you been to Salzburg? What was your favorite thing about this city? Comment below! If you need help planning your trip to Salzburg, check out my free 4 day weekend planner!

 



10 family activities for under €10 near Hohenfels

Exploring Europe is awesome, but often times it can be time consuming and expensive to plan and take exotic trips with your family. Sometimes all you have is an afternoon to kill and a few bucks in your pocket. From numerous Google searches I know that it can be hard to find something to do nearby when you don’t even know the language or what to look for online. I’ve done the “work” for you and checked out all kinds of cool places with my family just so I can share them with you (I know, it’s a hard job but someone’s gotta do it)! Here’s a list of fun stuff for you and your kids to check out near Hohenfels all for under €10 per person!

P.S. If you’re looking for more fun things to do without going too far check out my post on Boring Sundays in Bavaria10 Family Friendly Things to do near Hohenfels

  1. Explore a cave in Velburg

The entrance to this cave is located in the Erlebinswelt Velburg complex which has a high Caveropes course, ATV tours of the forest, a biergarten and hiking trails. All of these things look pretty awesome and if you have older kids, be sure to check them out, but with little ones and a small budget you’re probably better off sticking with the cave. You have to buy tickets at the booth for a guided tour as you are not allowed in on your own but it’s only €4 for adults and €2,50 for kids ages 3-15. We ended up going on a tour with a group from a nursing home which actually was nice because they all seemed to find our children endearing rather than annoying. The cave is nice and cool so this is a good activity for those hot summer days!

  1. Check out a monument to victory over Napoleon and a medieval castle near Regensburg

Befreiungshalle Kelheim (Kelheim Hall of Liberation) was built by King Ludwig I to commemorate both the victorious battles against Napoleon and the unification of all the German races. Check out the giant limestone and marble statues and enjoy the view of Bavaria. Nearby is Burg Prunn which is a medieval castle which dates back to the year 1037! The castle has interactive exhibits so you can truly get an idea of what it was like to live in the middle ages. Buy a combination ticket and see both in one afternoon for €7,50 (or use your Bavarian Castle Pass and get in free like I talk about in this post).

  1. Go to a Chocolate factory

Chocolate? Check. Coffee? Check. Gummy bear cave? Check. Animatronic elephants? Check. I love it when a place is less than 20 minutes from my home and easy to find – like, you literally can see it from the highway easy to find. This little chocolate factory is fun for younger children and the only cost you’ll incur is that of the delicious chocolate you will WildLifeParkinevitably buy.

  1. Play at the Free Wildlife Park

This place is only 30 minutes from Hohenfels, is open all the time and is free! They have deer, pigs, donkeys, sheep, a lake with waterfowl of all kinds, nature trails and an awesome playground. Plus, they have an automatic animal food pellet dispenser so you can feed the animals for 50 cents. Read more about it in this post by MilliGFunk!

  1. Step back in time with the Open Air Museum

This is an outdoor museum set up like an old-timey farming village where you can experience what it was like to be a farmer, beekeeper, black smith and many other things. Sundays you can buy bread that’s baked in their antique oven, they hold special historical and cultural events throughout the year and of course they’ve got a playground too. Only €12 for a family day pass.

  1. Go to a fest

If you want to experience Bavaria in all its glory (think beer and lederhosen) then you need to check out some fests. Everybody knows about Oktoberfest in Munich, but throughout the summer and early fall almost every town in Bavaria has some type of Volksfest. Click on the “Go to a fest” link above which has all the major fests in Bavaria listed alphabetically by town.

  1. Fossil hunting and museum

I don’t know about you, but my boys absolutely love dinosaurs. Bring out your inner paleontologist by checking out this fossil museum. Buy the combo ticket and rent some chisels and shovels (combo ticket and tool rental comes out to less than €5/person!) and start excavating the nearby dig site. You can take the fossils you find home with you too. Super cool!

  1. Take a guided city tour Amberg or Regensburg

Take a tour of a city you think you’re familiar with and you’ll be surprised how much you can learn! Walking tours are a great way to get some exercise and discover hidden secrets nearby. Amberg and Regensburg tourist information offices both offer guided tours in English. Amberg’s is only €9 for a whole family! Regensburg is not as cheap at €16 for the family ticket but they also offer special kids tours in English if you have a group of kids (perhaps a scout troop or playgroup) that look pretty cool.

  1. See Walhalla & take a trip to Ikea

Perched on a hill overlooking the Danube is a giant memorial modelled after the Parthenon IkeaIceCreamand named after the home of Viking gods. Inside it is filled with busts of famous Germans. It only costs €4 for adults to go in and look around. Staying outside and taking in the spectacular views is free. Walhalla is basically just one big room so it probably won’t take you more than 30 minutes to see the whole thing. Why not go ahead and take the 12 minute drive to Ikea afterward to grab yourselves some 50 cent ice cream cones? Is this just an excuse to go to Ikea? Maybe. “Honey what did you and the kids do today?” “We went and saw an architectural masterpiece/treasure-trove of German culture and history and went to Ikea”

  1. Give glass blowing a try

I haven’t been to the Joska glass center yet but really want to check it out! Apparently Bavaria is famous for glass making. There are driving tours of eastern Bavaria that take you through numerous towns renowned for their glass making abilities. This place is one of the stops on the glass route that looked the most interactive and kid-friendly. It has a huge kid’s play area, restaurants, shops and – wait for it – you can blow your own works of glass to take home with you!

Phew! That list should keep you occupied for a while! Let me know if you’ve tried glass blowing and how it is or if you have any other things you would add to the list in the comments below! Don’t forget to share this with your friends on Facebook and save it on Pinterest for later!



How to do a Weekend in Zurich with 3 Kids

Last summer on our vacation to France we drove back home through Switzerland. It had some of the most beautiful landscapes we had ever seen and we decided to put it on our list of places to go back and visit when we had a chance. A free weekend finally presented itself and I started planning.

Last summer on our vacation to France we drove back home through Switzerland. It had some of the most beautiful landscapes we had ever seen and we decided to put it on our list of places to go back and visit when we had a chance. A free weekend finally presented itself and I started planning.

After a quick search on the internet we decided to check out Zurich because not only is it the biggest city in Switzerland, it was the closest to our home and I don’t know about you, but for me 3 small children + long car rides = torture equivalent to gouging my own eyes out with a toothpick. I headed to the library to pick up a travel guide, went on booking.com to find a hotel last minute, loaded up my Esso card, packed our bags and before you knew it we were ready to go! Here’s how you too can do a weekend in Zurich with 3 kids!Fraukirchen

  • Pick your route. The drive to Zurich from Bavaria is absolutely beautiful… at least I think it is. Kinda hard to tell while you’re doing passenger seat yoga to try to reach behind you to put a bottle in a screaming baby’s mouth while simultaneously opening fruit snacks for your two-year-old and talking your six-year-old down from a near panic attack because he can’t get through this level of whatever the heck he’s playing on his LeapPad. But I imagine there are stunning mountains, lakes and farm fields full of friendly cows. After about four hours in the car we made it to Zurich and our hotel around 3pm. If driving like this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you could try the train like Urban Bliss Life talks about in their post about traveling to Zurich with kids. Looks like fun!
  • Find a place to stay. We stayed in the Crazy Cow Hotel because a. It was pretty Cowaffordable, b. it had parking and c. uh, hello?! Do I need a reason to stay in a cow themed hotel?! Some other options besides hotels that we use a lot are AirBNB (like we used on our trip to Greece) and staying at campsites (like we did on our trip to the Netherlands). Or, if you prefer books to cows and you have a little more cash to spend check out this freakin’ awesome Library Hotel in Zurich that Points and Travel writes about!
  • Take a walk around the city. We checked in, parked the car, and got all our stuff situated in the hotel room before starting out for a walk around the city. Per our travel-guide book’s suggestion we started out at the main train station, walked Grossmuensterdown the famous Bahnhoffstrasse where we saw some famous chocolate shops (which we could not afford to buy anything at), luxury brand clothing and watch stores (which we could not afford to buy anything at) and fancy hotels and restaurants (which we could not afford to buy anything at). Window shoppin’ like a boss. Then we walked up to see Fraukirchen and Grossmunster – the famous churches of the city. The city is gorgeous, very clean and very expensive. It seemed like everybody was very well dressed and we saw some very expensive cars driving around. I guess banking is working out pretty well for the Swiss. We ended up eating cheeseburgers for dinner because we’re so cultured. Hey, the Swiss are famous for their cows and not only did we eat those famous cows we topped them with fine cheese from those cows. Don’t judge me! After dinner we walked along the lake and then found a park for our little guys to run around in before we walked back up to our hotel for the night.
  • Take advantage of your weird sleep schedule.  Surely a long day of driving followed by hours of walking followed by staying up late would help small children sleep past 6am on a Sunday morning, right? Ha! Hahahahahaha! You’re funny. Up we rose, that beautiful Sunday morning, at the crack of dawn! All we had on the agenda for the day was to check out of the hotel, go to the Zurich Zoo and make the drive home. However, the zoo does not open at 6am (I know, crazy, right?). Fortunately, there was a coffee shop we had spotted down the road that did open at 6am so us adults grabbed ourselves a couple cups of strong coffee and all of us had some chocolate croissants for breakfast. Then we walked through the city center again because we had some time to kill. It was actually really nice with nobody around; very peaceful compared to the Saturday afternoon traffic. We were able to find a souvenir shop that was open so we could buy another spoon for my collection and take some pictures without a bunch of other random people in the shots.Bahnhoff
  • Find child-friendly attractions. Our kids love zoos so if I hear there is a good one where we’re going, we usually check it out. The zoo in Zurich was nice, but be prepared because it is pretty pricy (like over $50 for our family) and parking is extra. I think the zoo in Nuremberg is landscaped better, has more shade (we got very hot) and the maps are easier to follow (we could not find the lions in Zurich for the life of us). That being said, it did give the kids a chance to see some cool animals – the elephant exhibit is pretty awesome –  play on the awesome playground there, and stretch their legs so it still was a good way for us to spend the morning. Space in Your Case has another good list of kid-friendly attractions in Zurich if the zoo is not your thing.

The drive back home was just as beautiful as the drive there. Ultimately, we enjoyed Zurich. Things that we could have done better: understand that the cost of living is very high therefore everything from food to hotels to souvenirs are more expensive than anywhere else we’d been in Europe; maybe schedule a walking tour so we could learn more about the sights we were looking at. This was a beautiful city in a beautiful country and I hope you get a chance to visit someday too! If you have any questions or comments, hit me up below!



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