Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Saalbach's Kohlmais: Where Mountain Dreams Come True

It was hard to gauge how family friendly our summer trip to Austria was going to be. I thought my kids would be in awe of the mountain landscape, something very foreign for this Midwestern family. And they were. (Read my post about our time on Asitz Mountain in Leogang here.)

But I also figured that moment of wonder would last about 30 seconds, and I was right.

What would we do after the enthusiasm died away? I knew we'd still hike... we always do on outdoorsy trips, and we always manage to find a way to keep the kids' legs moving and spirits up, though sometimes we have to get creative so motivation doesn't wane. As we made our way up the Kohlmais Mountain in Saalbach via gondola, we pointed out interesting sights to the kids, trying to get them excited about discoveries they'd want to make as we made our way back down on foot.

But we needn't have bothered, because lucky for us, the mountain did all that work for us by creating the most engaging and fun children's trail we've ever experienced, called Montelino's Adventure Path.

Not only we were treated to some of the most magnificent views of my life all along the trail, but we got to enjoy play area after activity station after sports challenge, on and on and on as we made our way down the mountain.

The stops along the way weren't the least bit intrusive. Rather, they blended in nicely in a natural way. For example, at one station we threw pine cones at a rope target, and then collected our cones back into beautiful baskets for the next hikers to have a turn. No obnoxious neon colored plastic slides or rubber padding in sight. In fact, they blended in so well that we never even noticed them when we peered down at the mountain from the gondola.

Also, I'm a sucker for lunch with a view.

(What I love more than anything in this photo is that it showcases Little Arrow's undying love for spaghetti bolognese, which he ordered every single time we went out to eat on this week-long trip, no exaggeration.)

If I had to craft my perfect family travel day, it would include views like this, crisp mountain air all around, whiffs of weiner schnitzel and freshly baked pretzels floating by. I can't see how it gets any better than this for families.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Floating in the Clouds Atop Leogang's Asitz Mountain

A good friend of mine studied abroad in Austria while we were in college. When she came back to school after living there for a semester, the thing I remember most is that she said, "Wunderbar!" a lot. (She also taught us how to wear our scarves the way Europeans do, and I still think of her every time I wrap myself up that way.)

When my eyes first saw those Austrian Alps as we drove from Munich during our summer trip, I finally understood what that wunderbar! nonsense was all about. I can't think of a better way to describe those majestic mountains. They are truly full of wonder in every possible way.

The mountain view from the top of the Asitz mountain in Leogang was without a doubt the most breathtaking landscape I've ever seen. Perhaps my feelings toward it is due in part to the fact that the morning started out wet and foggy. We thought there was a good chance we'd take the gondola to the top, only to be completely surrounded by cloud cover. Maybe there's something to the "playing hard to get" philosophy because I'm fairly certain that's what the mountain was doing to us as we made our way toward the top. But Asitz did not let us down, and the skies partially cleared just as we arrived at the summit.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Day in Wells Saves the Day

On tonight's episode of Family Travel Gone Wrong: A family pulls into a parking spot in the center of the small city of Wells in Somerset, England, a 20-minute drive from their campsite. They arrive very wet, having woken up to a soggy campsite after a torrential downpour all night. (Miraculously, our Coleman Instant Tent stayed completely dry!) They had spent the previous 24 hours stranded at their campsite when the matriarch of the family (me) locked both sets of keys in the trunk of the car, leaving them with only one wallet, a little bit of cash, a tent and some clothes. All other belongings including phones, food, camping supplies, books, etc., were locked inside the car. This family endured the drama of three different mechanics attempting to unlock the car over the previous 24 hour period.

True story.

Needless to say, we were in need of a hot meal and something (anything) to go our way if our weekend camping getaway was to be salvaged.

Wells delivered.

After refueling (oh, what two cups of steaming coffee does to an exhausted parent's disposition!), we embarked on a walk about town. It was raining again at this point, but we were so overjoyed to be out exploring with full, warm bellies that we barely noticed.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Biking Through Munich with Kids

Getting from point A to point B when sightseeing through a city with kids can be exhausting, exhilarating and exciting (how's that for alliteration!) My kids have delighted in various subways, trains, buses, etc. as we've traveled around European cities. And we've withstood a few epic tantrums on public transit also. But in Munich, we found our new favorite way to get around: bikes!

Truth be told, we love to ride bikes as a family, but we almost always head to places with dedicated bike paths. I'm not very comfortable riding my bike through city streets, in and out of traffic, especially with the boys, so we've never rented bikes during city visits. Until Munich, when after our first day there, we realized it was relatively flat and had bike lanes on almost every major street (often protected by a curb away from vehicle traffic). It was the type of biking that seemed both safe and fun, and we knew the boys would love it.

The weather forecast was glorious on the morning of our second day in Munich. After a quick game of footie in a nearby park (and coffee for mom and dad, naturally), we headed straight to Mike's Bikes rental office. (They offer organized tours that leave from the Marienplatz, but we wanted the flexibility to go wherever we wanted that day.)

We had a route in mind, but the staff there provided us with a helpful map that showed good streets for biking. They got us fitted with bikes and helmets (and a tandem tag-a-long for Big Arrow and a seat for Little Arrow), and off we went. (I'll break down our exact route at the end of the post for those wishing to re-create our day.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

3 Days in Munich with Kids

I'll admit that Munich, and Germany in general, wasn't high on my list of places to travel around Europe. I don't know why. I really don't. It just never had the appeal that other destinations have had for me. But my husband has persistently put it on the top of his travel wish list for years. And so when we began mapping out a week-long summer trip, he finally got me to commit to going.

We were going to kick the week off in Munich for three days. When I began reading about the city, I realized it was going to be a great fit for our family. Plenty of culture, sightseeing, and yet a fun, family-friendly feel to it. Indeed, it lived up to this and then some. It's one of the most laid back European cities I've been to. Maybe it's all the beer and pretzels.

Beer and pretzels. What's not to love about Munich?

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Stories Behind Those Vacation Photos

Like many people, I spent a portion of the last few months drooling over the photos friends posted of their summer travels on Facebook and Instagram. It's probably my favorite aspect of being active on social media: the chance to window shop all sorts of destinations and get a glimpse into what everyone else's vacations were like. I suspect I receive "likes" and comments on my own travel photos for similar reasons.

But anyone who has traveled knows that these brief glimpses don't always tell the full story. Especially when you add kids in the mix.

I don't think there's anything wrong with sharing wonderful vacation photos. I post hundreds each year myself. But I hope it doesn't set an unrealistic expectation for others when they embark on their own journeys.

Our May trip to Scotland is the perfect example. My photos suggested gorgeous scenery, interesting historical places, and 24/7 smiles. But had you traveled with us that week, you'd know there was much more to it than what friends saw on Facebook. Let me give you a few examples, from just one day of our travels there that week.

We started the day in Stirling with a brief stop at the castle there. As we were walking through the very quiet parking lot toward the wall where you could admire the view of the town and surrounding countryside, a car veered away from its lane and over to the walking path we were on. An older American woman rolled down her window and yelled at us for not holding the hand of our 3-year-old, saying he was certain to get hit by a car. A few things to note: He was walking on a pedestrian path. There were hardly any cars around. And the only car that came near him was HER car. Also? Mind your own business, lady.

We shrugged it off although it really rubbed me the wrong way. But this was the photo I posted on social media, taken a few seconds after that irritating interaction: