4 day weekend

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…



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!

 



Free 4-Day Weekend Trip Planner

Ah, the 4-day weekend, a.k.a. a 4-day, a.k.a. a DONSA, a.k.a. arguably one of the best things about being in the Army. If you’re stationed OCONUS a 4-day provides the perfect opportunity to get out and take a quick trip to another country (like we did in Greece and Switzerland). The only down side is that you’ve got to do so much planning and researching and scheduling that it can make your head spin!

Make planning your next weekend getaway easy with this free Excel download!

Well, lucky for you, I’m a big nerd! I’ve got this weird Microsoft Excel obsession (yeah, I know, I should get that checked out) and am going to share with you the ultimate 4-day trip planner that I’ve created.

It’s got snazzy things like drop down menus

Drop Down Menu
Oooo. Ahhh.

You can fill in the blanks with all your trip information…

Fill In Blank
Pretty fancy, huh?

It adds up all your expenses for you…

Now that's just sexy.
Now that’s just sexy.

And it’s all yours! Just type in your email and follow the steps to get access to my super-secret page of free downloads!DOWNLOAD NOW!



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!



A Family Trip to Athens on a 4-Day Weekend

With the promise of a PCS on the horizon, I knew it was time to get cracking on my European travel bucket list. Sure, going to Latvia would be awesome, but what countries will I kick myself for having missed out on should we leave Germany in the next few months?

Greece. That’s the one I had to see. Ever since I took a Greek mythology class in community college I’ve wanted to take a trip to this ancient country and now I finally had the chance. With only a long weekend to explore the country we focused in on Athens.

Athens in 4 DaysAbout a week before our trip I booked a flight and an AirBNB. We did AirBNB for a few reasons.

  1. I wanted a place that I could do laundry for free since I only wanted to bring carry-ons
  2. I wanted a place with a kitchen so we wouldn’t have to eat out every meal
  3. We stayed at an AirBNB on our way to the Netherlands and loved it

Word to the wise: plan more than a week out (duh). I know I could have saved some money on lodging, or at least had more places to choose from, and definitely would have saved money on plane tickets for our whole family. As it was, I used SkyScanner and chose the cheapest flights that didn’t go through a sketchy country (but, honey, we could save $200 if we just take the 14-hour layover in Syria!).

Things went pretty smoothly before the trip. I was able to fit all of our luggage into carry-ons (thanks, Army, for teaching me how to pack) the night before our flight. Also, I was able to check in ahead of time online and print out our tickets. That way when we got to the airport we were able to just go straight through security rather than having to stop at the ticket counter. #winning. The flights went just as horribly as expected. We were those people with the crying baby. Eh, oh well. Like, seriously, I love that by the 3rd kid this totally just doesn’t bother me anymore. They were short flights. You only have to hear my kid scream for maybe an hour. I have to listen to her scream 24/7. You’ll be ok.

We flew from Nuremberg to Munich to Athens. By the time we got to our final destination it was almost midnight. Our AirBNB host was super awesome and he met us at the airport with keys to the apartment and was able to hail a cab for us and give them directions in Greek for us. Finally we made it to the apartment and crashed for the night.

The next morning we were up bright and early. Our apartment was 200m from the Acropolis and on the third floor and had a really nice view of the city. After we were all showered and dressed, the first thing we did was go to find a supermarket and get some groceries for our stay. We saved a lot of money by booking a place with a kitchen so we wouldn’t have to eat out every meal. Plus, eating out with kids is pretty much horrible (if you need more evidence read about our trip to Prague).

With our shopping trip complete, the groceries put away and some fresh coffee running through our veins we headed out to the Acropolis Museum. This was a really beautiful museum filled with ancient artifacts and art. It was less than €10 for adults and the kids were free. We enjoyed the chance to learn some of the history behind what we were about to see when we made our way up the mountain to the Acropolis, which is what we did once we finished at the museum.

Just so you know, entrance to the Acropolis is not cheap. It’s like €20/person over the age of 5. But, it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities so we forked over the money and started our hike. There are a lot of stairs so if you have little ones bring a carrier. Also, there is hardly any shade so it gets really hot and all of us got sunburnt, so be prepared with hats, sunscreen and water. Once you make it to the top, though, it’s all worth it.

The AcropolisHow amazing is it to stand in a place that somebody stood over 2,500 years ago? How amazing is it to imagine all the feet that slowly eroded the marble on which we walked, creating smooth dents in every stair? How amazing is it to imagine all the history, all the people and their stories, all the tragedies and triumphs, all the changes in the world that have taken place while these very buildings stood here, unchanging despite the chaos around them? It’s pretty amazing.

So we left the Acropolis full of amazement (please, say “amazing” one more time, Deb) and walked around to see some of the other historical sights. Of note was Mars Hill where the Apostle Paul is said to have preached and where you can get some great shots of the Acropolis. After dinner we went back out and saw the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s arch and explored a nearby public park.

The next day way Sunday. Oh, but it wasn’t just any Sunday. It was Greek Orthodox Easter. Which we didn’t know when we decided to go on our trip because it is not the same day as every other Christian religion’s Easter. Which meant almost everything was closed. Awesome.

Here are the things that were available for us to enjoy while everything else was shut down:Athens Guard

  1. McDonalds (of course)
  2. The beach
  3. Watching the changing of the guard at the Presidential Mansion
  4. Most of the shops in the famous Plaka neighborhood

So that’s where we went. We started with watching the changing of the guard, which was conveniently right across from McDonalds where we got the kids some ice cream cones. Then we paid waaaaay too much for a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket that would take us to the beautiful beach for an hour or so (seriously, we should have just paid a taxi), and then finished our day walking around the Plaka neighborhood where we saw dozens of little lambs being roasted rotisserie-style in typical Greek Easter fashion. The boys found this both fascinating and horrifying.

“But, mommy, lambs are cute!”

“Yes, but they’re also delicious, so…”

Hopefully they aren’t scarred for life. Also, I just realized I totally should’ve named this post “Athens: Carry-Ons and Carrion”.

Our last day we really only had time to pack up, tidy up the apartment and head out to take a bus to the airport.

We really enjoyed the few days we spent in Athens. The food was great (eat a gyro and try some real Gbeachreek yogurt!), there is so much history, the sunny weather was a nice break from the usually cold and grey German weather we’re used to a
nd the people were delightful. They were friendly, talkative and welcoming, and love children! Almost everywhere we went people were laughing with our children, admiring the baby and giving free trinkets to our boys. I really wish I had more time to explore the rest of Greece. I can’t wait until I have a chance to go back and see more cities and all of Greece’s islands. Goodbye for now, Athens, I’ll come back again, I promise!

ATHENSI hope you enjoyed the story of our vacation to Greece! What country is on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!