Monday, August 24, 2015

German Festivals

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Do you like carnival rides? Fair food? Beer?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you would love Germany between August and October. There are several big famous fests like Oktoberfest in Munich or the W├╝rstfest in Bad Durkheim. These are major events with lots of food, rides and fun. It is not all about the drinking and it has a definite carnival atmosphere.

traveling with kids

But there is a lot of drinking and if you are going with the kids, here are my recommendations. You should arrive right at the opening of the event. The lines will be shorter, the food is tasty, and the people are sober. Enjoy. And then, around dinner time, it would be a good time to go home. Because after dinner, at these big fests, people start to get their drink on.
traveling with kids


But what you may not realize is that just about every town has a weekend during fest season that they celebrate something. Each village is famous or hearkens back to some event or trade in its history. And that historical memory is worth a party. These are on a much smaller scale and have a wonderful community feel. For example, in September, the town we lived near had a fest where we celebrated the traditions surrounding making coal and blacksmithing. The little town’s center would turn into one big block party with food being served by different vendors, and kids playing on the fountain. There would be artisans selling their wares and of course, the highlight would be to go watch blacksmiths pounding things out the old fashion way.

traveling with kids

 Bigger towns may have a couple carnival rides too.

traveling with kids

At these hometown fests you will eat much more specialized regional foods and there is sure to be polka music.
traveling with kids
Mandelen which is German for toffee covered roasted almonds

traveling with kids
ginger bread hearts


If you get a chance, take your family and party like a German!


If you are interested in hearing more from us, there are a couple ways for you to keep in touch!

 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tips for Traveling in Germany

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We were lucky enough to live in Germany twice. The first time was for three years and it was before we had children. During these years we would drive off in a direction with nothing but a small suitcase and a travel book. We would have a general plan, but really play it by ear and stay wherever we wanted as it became time to find a bed. The next time we moved to Germany, we had three children between the ages of 5 months and 7 years. Our travel style definitely was quite different but it was still a tremendous amount of fun. Gone were the days of not having a hotel reservation, but there were still opportunities for spontaneity and having children motivated us to see areas we would have overlooked otherwise.
traveling with kids
Rotenburg ab de Tauber

When you do your research either through a travel book (We like DK and Fodors) or some tech-savvy app, you will get all sorts of great travel tips. But I would like to share some of the biggest lessons we learned about traveling in Germany.
First, Germans, like most Europeans, have small families, so hotels are not ready to accommodate a family of five or more. Yes, in Germany, we were a freakish anomaly with our huge brood of three. If you fit the German mold, I recommend you stay at a Gasthaus or pension. These are small family run hotels and have a wonderful local flavor. But, if you have 3 or more children, it would be much less expensive and easy use an apartment service like homeaway.com. This way, you are all in the same location (not having to pay for two separate hotel rooms) and you will have access to a kitchen.

traveling with kids


That brings me to my next big tip; Shop at local grocery stores. Eating out can be expensive and if you can pick up things at a store, you can still experience German food but at a lower cost. That is even easier if you have a small kitchen in your accommodations. This also allows for you parents to have a quiet evening snack or drink after putting the kids to bed.
 
If you are staying at a Gasthaus or pension, breakfast is often a part of the deal. If not, you need to know that restaurants that serve breakfast are very rare. What is available is a Backarii … a German bakery. And these are amazing. I highly recommend that you visit one for breakfast or for mid-day snacks.

traveling with kids


If you are visiting a city, I highly recommend you take the train. Public transportation is efficient and fits well into a budget.  Most cities have discounted tram passes for family day passes and you may want to take advantage.  Plus, it can be a lot of fun for train loving kids.  My son would put up with any museum if the day had a train ride.  Duetche Bahn is the train that goes between cities and the Strassenbahn, or S-Bahn, is the tram for in the city.  You can drive out to the city and then simply take the S-Bahn to all your sites.

Learn polite German words. Most Germans speak wonderful English, but good manners goes a long way. And if you ever get lost on a windy road, knowing a few key phrases is very important.  I recommend a greeting of the day, please, thank, you, a few numbers, and a couple directional phrases.

traveling with kids


The road signage and right of way rules in Germany are a little different in the United States.  I recommend that you go to AAA or similar organization and ask for a European study guide.  Through such and organization you can also get an international driver’s license.  This makes travel easier if you are renting a car and greatly improves your safety.

traveling with kids


There is no such thing as "free" in Germany.  You pay for your water at dinner, your ketchup at McDonald's, and to use public restrooms.  Yes, you heard me, at a public restroom you will be expected to pay any where from 20 Euro cents to 1 whole Euro ... usually the lesser amount.  But you will want to always have change for potty breaks.  Another thing that as Americans, we can find surprising is that the public restrooms are sometimes coed. Don't let this alarm you, there are stalls and you will be just fine.  The advantage of paying for use of the toilet is that there is almost always someone in there cleaning up.  Thus most public toilets are relatively clean.
Another thing to be aware of is that Germans do not usually dress as casual as those in the United States.  In order to not stick out or to look poorly dressed in restaurants or museums, I recommend that you wear only dressier jeans and a nice top.  Men would do well to wear a polo or other shirt with a collar.  And women would be appropriate with a blouse, or nice top.  I am not saying that you have to be 'dressy', but going out and about in a t-shirt and sweats is certainly not appropriate.  I also advise you wear comfortable walking shoes but not sneekers.   

In addition, you are likely going to want to visit the beautiful old churches and cathedrals that have amazing art, architecture, and stain-glass windows.  When visiting these sites, it is polite to not have exposed shoulders or skirts that go much higher than your knee.  I found these rules are more strictly enforced in Italy, but still, in Germany it does not hurt to be respectful as many of the churches play a role as both a tourist attraction and a place of worship.

traveling with kids
Now you are zipping around the city on public transportation, smartly dressed, and change in your pocket but are hungry.  The food in Germany is quite tasty and you will want to sample the local fair.  As you order, you will look over the beverage menu and may be surprised at some of the prices.  As I mentioned earlier, there is no free table water.  And water tends to be more expensive than the local beer or wine selections.  If you enjoy beer and wine, this is great news!  Enjoy living on a budget while sampling these tasty beverages.  If you do not drink alcohol, just make sure you add into your budget money for juice and water.

traveling with kids


Well, all of these tips may have seemed quite random.  But they are some of the important details that made our travels more smooth and enjoyable.  You will have a list of places you want to see, but the logistics of going to and fro and the interactions you have with the locals will set the tone and mood of your trip.  Paying attention to these details should be helpful.


If you are interested in hearing more from us, there are a couple ways for you to keep in touch!

 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Anchorage, Alaska: summer time

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I have been sharing some tidbits about my favorite places to see when we were in Alaska.  Like I highlighted the fun of downtown Anchorage in July.

If you are visiting Anchorage, Alaska in the summer, join the crowd. This is prime tourist season; for good reason. It is simply stunning in the summer and the only time it is ‘warm.’ Winters in Alaska last from October until May, thus there is limited time for tourists to explore if you want warmer weather. And, because there are so many folks joining you in your Alaskan adventure, it is quite expensive.

Alaska


But, don't let that scare you off!  There are a ton of family friendly adventures in this great frontier state.

Alaska

Your own family adventure can consist of hiking, fishing, glacier cruises, and eating amazing seafood. Our children especially enjoyed seeing the wildlife at the zoo and game farms as well as spotting it along our drives. Just make sure you pack for inclement weather. Warm in Anchorage can mean 60 degrees Fahrenheit and often it rains and there are chilly winds. Though some summers will have highs in the 70s and beautiful sunny skies.

Being so far north, the daylight hours are abundant.  With the long days, you will get caught up in all your fun activities and not realize it is 4 hours past your kid’s bedtime. So, enjoy but be aware that you may need to sleep at some point during your trip. A sleep mask for each member of the family may be a good thing to add to your packing list.


Good tourist sights to get you started on your plan are:

If you are planning on hiking, which I highly recommend, purchase some bear mace and bear bells upon arrival. The bells will warn bears that you are coming along the trail and that will give them time to leave. Most don’t want to be around humans and only get aggressive when startled. So give them some warning. In the event you do startle a bear and they charge, the bear mace is very effective for scaring them off. Good tips on what to do when encountering a bear are found HERE. Moose also can be quite dangerous and you should keep your distance. They actually harm far more humans than bears.

Alaska


You do want to actually see some animals though and you will want your camera for all those not too close encounters. Just please, make sure you and your children give plenty of space to the wildlife.
There are an abundance of parks surrounding Anchorage. Some you may want to check out are:

Chugach State Park
Eagle River Nature Center (actually located in the Chugach)
Arctic Valley Ski Area
Denali National Park

Eating in Anchorage is a seafood lover's dream.  There are several casual and upscale restaurants to choose from and if you are staying downtown, they are easy to walk to.  If you are staying farther out from town, street parking is metered except for after 6pm and on weekends.

Our children love to walk around town to look at all the unique Alaskan souvenir shops and eat street food.  The reindeer dog is my son's favorite.

If you arrive in August, you may consider climbing the hillside out of town and go berry picking. Wild blueberries grow in abundance and are a tasty treat.  My youngest had the one to eat/one for the bowl picking method.

Alaska


Getting out on the water is also a great way to experience the Anchorage area and the wildlife of Alaska.  We took a cruise on Major Cruise line out of Seward, Alaska. (about a 3 hour drive from Anchorage that is full of gorgeous views)  The captain of the boat gave a running commentary on the wildlife and geology of the area.  As we walked on the dock to the boat my four year old was giddy with excitement and announced, "This is going to be amazing!"  And she really was right.  We did not see any whales, (unusual) but we saw endangered Stellar sea lions, Dall's porpoise, lots of sea birds, eagles, and sea otters.



Glacier and Wildlife Cruises

Well, there are just a few ideas that prompt you to consider exploring Anchorage, AK as a family.

If you have visited Alaska in the summer, what was your favorite activity?


If you are interested in hearing more from us, there are a couple ways for you to keep in touch!

 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Turnagain Arm, AK

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When traveling to Alaska, seeing wildlife is definitely on the agenda. If you are in Anchorage and have a vehicle available to you, driving along Turnagain Arm is a great way to see some beautiful terrain and wildlife.
family traveling Alaska
Eli enjoying the view
Turnagain Arm is located just south of Anchorage and drives along the water and Chugach Mountians (driving guide HERE). You drive out of Anchorage South and enjoy the views. As you leave the city, you will pass through a protected wetland that has long wooden board walks that birders use to get closer to nature without venturing too far from the city. And as you travel, tell the kids to keep their eyes out for wildlife on both sides of the car. On the passenger side, there is the waterway and you will see anything from eagles, marine birds, to marine mammals. On the driver’s side are steep rocky cliffs that are home to Dall sheep.

source

family travel in Alaska

family travel in Alaska
The kids used the view finders to spot wildlife in the water, air, and mountains.

Beluga whales often can be seen during the months of mid-July through August. In August, when my family was going out to see the bore tide, a pod of beluga was just feet away from the shore at one of the look-outs. The kids were thrilled to see them splashing around so close.

family travel in Alaska


On the rocky cliff side we have often seen Dall sheep roaming around. There are several pull off points along the road so as you spot them, pull over for a better look. But CAUTION: you are not the only one trying to spot wildlife and pull over. The driver must pay careful attention as the other cars may suddenly pull over or out onto the curvy two lane road.

family travel in Alaska


Another reason to go to Turnagain Arm is to watch the rip tide. As a result of the terrain, there are a few times of the year when the tide comes into the inlet very fast and creates a wall of water. Depending on the tide and weather, it can be rather ho-hum or quite dramatic. You can find expected dates and times HERE.

bore tide in Alaska
The bore tide varies in level of impressiveness and this one was neat to see but not as thrilling as they sometimes are.

Where you can watch the tide, you also have plenty of space for the kids to roam around a bit, have a picnic, or look at the tide pools. If you are lucky, the wales may come and say hi too.


If you are interested in hearing more from us, there are a couple ways for you to keep in touch!

 
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