404 Destinations

The Devil’s Wall

The Harz Mountains is northern Germany’s largest mountain range.

Though not a part of the famous Fairy Tale Route (a 600 km route through Germany that includes many towns and sites made popular by the Brothers Grimm), the Harz region parallels it. The area is known for their witch and devil legends. Chances are some of the stories that the Grimm Brothers wrote about originated in these mountains. And it was this thought that sat in the back of my mind as we drove around town.

The Teufelsmauer – Devil’s Wall

Between the towns of Quedlinburg and Thale, we saw rocks jutting out of the earth. It’s called the Teufelsmaur, or Devil’s Wall.

Devil's Wall, Germany

 

There is a nice path leading around and to the top. We passed the time by counting the steps with our son. First in English, then German, Japanese, Spanish, and French. Our three-year old was able to walk on his own all the way up, which was a nice surprise.

Devil's Wall, Germany

The views from the top, along with viewing the wall up close, was one of my favorite experiences during our weekend trip in the Harz Mountains. Once there, all I could think of was Snow White’s famous witch. I could imagine her sitting on these stones, holding that poisoned apple, plotting her revenge.

When I got home I eagerly looked up the actual legends associated with this wall. Unfortunately, Snow White’s witch isn’t part of that legend. (Or, at least, I like to think it’s not part of the known legends.) Instead, the story goes that God gave the devil one night to claim the area he wanted by building a wall around it. The devil was almost done when something happened and morning came earlier than expected. He was so upset, he tore down pieces of the wall. So today, that’s what we get. A devil’s wall broken into three section in Germany’s Harz Mountains. (The full story, as well as the scientific explanation for the wall, can be found here.)

Should you visit the Devil’s Wall?

If your travels are taking you to the Harz Mountains anyway, take the time to stop and explore this area. You’ll get beautiful views and a memorable experience. If you’re traveling with small children, be prepared to carry them if they can not walk too much. This site is not stroller friendly.

This post is part of the Instagram Travel Thursday linky hosted by Skimbaco LifestyleDestination Unknown,  Hines Sight BlogHouse of Anaïs, and many others. Click on any of those links to access all Instagram travel posts.

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Even the Rijksmuseum is child friendly

Last week I found myself in Amsterdam aching to go to the Rijksmuseum. Aching? Really??

Yes!

On our previous trips to the city I had managed to avoid some of the city highlights, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s highlights. I’ve known that the Rijksmuseum was undergoing renovations, but that wasn’t the real reason I didn’t go.

I didn’t go because I’m just worried about my kids in an art museum.

It turns out, I had nothing to fear.

It turns out, the Rijksmuseum doesn’t mind kids.

It turns out, they even have special things for kids.

It turns out, I liked it so much, we went twice!

Rijksmuseum with kids, Part 1

(AKA: Does it count as a visit with kids if the kids were asleep the whole time?)

I’m not sure if I really intended actually going the first time we went. My kids were asleep in the stroller. The rest of our party was on a canal cruise and I needed to pass the time. I was sick, it was cold, and decided to just walk past the museums.

The day before we discovered just how long a long line could be. Even with a museum card or previously purchased tickets people had a serious wait in front of them. I thought if the line’s short, maybe I’ll go in. I approached the line and distracted myself by looking down into the lobby – the warm, inviting lobby.

Then someone said, “do you want to go in?”

Sure.

So he opened the obvious, not so obvious elevator and pushed “0” and we were on our way. (And for a while, I wasn’t even sure if he worked at the museum or was just someone walking by. I’ve since confirmed he DID work at the museum. I’ve also confirmed I’ll trust anyone that offers me warmth when I’m sick.)

Fortunately, I have a museum card for the Netherlands so I didn’t have to wait in line to buy tickets… because yes, the people that are waiting outside to get in then have to wait to buy tickets inside.

I walked past some renaissance art and headed for an area marked “Asian art” before finding a room called the Picknick room. There were placemats and blank postcards set up with colored pencils, art work, pencils, and pens inviting me to have a seat and draw. Which is exactly how I spent most of my time visiting the Rijksmuseum with kids the first time.

Rijksmuseum with kids, Part 2

(AKA: This time they’re awake!)

One reason we knew the museum was going to be child friendly was their map specifying a route that is interesting for kids. This included stops to see the Dutch Old Masters, doll houses, airplanes and more.

The highlight for my son was Rembrandt’s Night Watch. Not because he’s an art aficionado, but because of the excitement surrounding the piece and because the image is also used on the museum’s ticket. Plus, it’s massive.

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Around that time we discovered removable information sheets located next to some of the photos. We played a game of locating the art work listed on the information sheets, and pointing out a detail or two before moving on. Some of the staff even helped us locate the pieces.

While it was fun exploring the museum, kids are still kids. Ok, to be fair, I need a lot of breaks when I’m visiting an art museum.

The Rijksmuseum cafe and Picknick room were both good places for adults and children for those breaks. The cafe has a children’s menu that includes the very popular hageslag (chocolate sprinkles) on bread, or cheese and bread. The presentation was just nice enough to make it feel like a special occasion.

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After 4-5 hours at the museum, we headed back to our hotel. What was a big surprise to me is that the kids didn’t even nap while we were in the museum. I guess they were too caught up in the art, but it definitely exhausted them since they napped the whole walk back.

Thoughts and tips on visiting the Rijksmuseum with young kids

  • If you have a stroller you can avoid the long lines and enter via the outdoor elevator. It may take a little looking for, but it’s at the other end of the lobby from where the line forms.
  • It’s best to purchase tickets, or a museum pass, in advance.
  • It’s free for children under 18, but they will still need a ticket. When you enter the museum, the person checking your ticket will be able to give you one for your child.
  • You aren’t allowed to bring backpacks in the museum, so use a different bag to bring anything you will need for the children.
  • Keep your tickets or cards easily accessible because you have to show it at various entry points past the main entrance.
  • There are many elevators within the museum itself. The very first elevator you find will likely have a long wait, skip it and go to another one.
  • Go online and print pictures of some of the artwork you might encounter at the Rijksmuseum. Share those with your kids to start building excitement in the trip.

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This post is part of the Instagram Travel Thursday linky hosted by Skimbaco LifestyleDestination UnknownChild ModeHines Sight BlogLive.Do.Grow.House of AnaïsLuxury Travel Mom. Click on any of those links to access all Instagram travel posts.

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Hogmanay for families with young kids

As the official Edinburgh website puts it Hogmanay is, basically, a New Year’s celebration of,

THREE DAYS of spectacular events, incredible bands and amazing crowds from every corner of the globe.

Maybe not the most child-friendly sounding event, but I still think it’s worth a visit.

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Two years ago, our family was lucky to spend New Year’s in Edinburgh and it is something I want to repeat again soon. While we couldn’t (or didn’t want to, at least) attend the crowded concerts and many events, we still did a lot. We took in the city’s sites, visited their Christmas Markets, took a day trip to St. Andrews, and participated in one of the coolest events I’ve ever experienced.

Edinburgh’s Torchlight Procession

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To kick off the three days of “spectacular events”, the city hosts a torchlight procession. It starts in Old Town, winds down the streets and park until turning on to Princes Street, then marches past the shops, restaurants, hotels, and bystanders until it ends at the top of Calton Hill.

There is absolutely nothing as exhilarating as being part of this procession. Last year there were 35,000 participants. That’s a lot of people. Watching the lit torches ahead of and behind us, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, sent shivers down my spine.

My son had just recently turned one when we went. I worried that the crowds would be too much, but decided we could just step away at any moment if they were. It turned out they were never a concern. There wasn’t a mad rush to make it to the end. It was a peaceful walk.

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Once we started the climb to Calton Hill there were electronic signs letting us know event details. We made it to the top, extinguished our fires, grabbed a quick sandwich from the food truck (one of my best meals in Edinburgh), then listened to the live music, bagpipes, and watched the fireworks show over the city.

For most people reading this, it’s probably too late to book tickets for Edinburgh for Hogmanay this year. If you can make it there, the procession is a free event. The torches are available at a low-cost, but advance sales are sold out. There’s limited supply available the day of, so check there on December 30.

I highly recommend it.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE. I’LL SEE YOU IN 2014.

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Düsseldorf’s Christmas Markets for families

With Köln and Düsseldorf being only a short train ride from each other, there’s a lot of friendly(?) competition between the two. Which is a better place to experience Karneval? Which is a better place to work? To live?

While Köln has a lot going for it: a huge cathedral on the Rhein, direct train to Paris via Thalys, and a beautiful city center, there’s at least one area that Düsseldorf wins – hands down. It’s the better place for families with young kids to see the Christmas markets.

Why Düsseldorf’s Christmas Markets Reign Supreme (over Köln’s) for families

1| Less crowds

Köln’s main markets start right next to the train station. In Düsseldorf, you have to go three stops on the subway to get to them. There are also a lot of markets. If you find that one’s crowded, move on and circle back later. Chances are the crowds have subsided.

2| Family activities

In our short time in Düsseldorf I saw a ferris wheel, several rides, and an ice skating rink. Seriously: family fun at Christmas right in the heart of Düsseldorf.

3| Space to wander

Yes, the crowds are smaller, but there’s also generally more space. The markets seem to have wider “halls”. Not to mention, they’re all located near the Rhein River promenade and the Hofgarten. Have an antsy toddler? There’s plenty of space for them to run around.

 


disclaimer: My most recent trip to Düsseldorf was with Farrah from the Three Under. Although I have gone to the markets before with my clan, this particular trip was without kids. My thoughts above are based on a combination of our girls’ trip and other trips I’ve made in the past. Alternatively, I’ve only been to Köln’s Christmas Market once. I was with the whole family, it was harder to see all the markets to give a proper judgement on some of the topics above. I very well could have missed the super family friendly area with lots of rides and few people. My tip: they’re less than an hour from each other so do both!

Either way, Köln still wins my heart for the Christmas Market with the best food. And not just between it and Düsseldorf, but for all the markets I’ve been to in Germany. 

After exploring a million markets in Düsseldorf, Farrah and I headed to an afternoon tea

 

 

This post is part of the Instagram Travel Thursday linky hosted by Skimbaco LifestyleDestination UnknownChild ModeHines Sight BlogLive.Do.Grow.House of AnaïsLuxury Travel Mom. Click on any of those links to access all Instagram travel posts.

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Köln (Cologne) Christmas Market with Kids

Yes, I’ve written a lot about Christmas markets recently. ‘Tis the season and all that jazz.

Fact is – I love them. It really livens up the fall-to-winter transition around these parts, plus there’s always this great feel of community. Even if the community feels like a million people you don’t know all cramming into one small square in the spirit of the holidays.

Last weekend I took my first trip to one of those super-busy markets, Köln’s Christmas Market. I’ve been hesitant to go there because of silly reasons. My parents went a few years ago and their pictures didn’t really impress me. But, it’s only a short drive from where we live, it’s free, and what else are we to do on a Sunday afternoon in December?

Getting there

There’s currently some construction going on downtown. This didn’t seem to make the traffic any worse (or better), it just is what it is. Four of Köln’s big markets are focused around the cathedral area, which means it’s easy to just take the train to the main train station. So, traffic shouldn’t be an issue for most people.

(Please note: Vodafone did not sponsor this post… 😉 )

Parking, for those that need it, is actually easy to find. There are several signs letting you know which parking garages have free spaces, how many they have, and which direction you need to go to get there. We parked really close to the markets and there were still a lot of spaces available in our garage. The crowds must have all come from the trains.

Crowds: The bad and the good

I went on a Sunday. It was crowded. As I mentioned in a previous post, Christmas markets along the border tend to be more crowded during the day, and especially on weekends, because of the influx of people from other countries. It was difficult to navigate with a big double stroller, but I can’t imagine how I would have felt if I made my walking boy walk. There were just far too many crowds.

The good news is that even on a Sunday afternoon, the market crowds are really concentrated at the Christmas Markets. The surrounding areas, while busy, are nowhere near as busy. Plus, a walk along the Rhein is always fun.

The best part: the FOOD!

I don’t think I’ve been to a Christmas Market in Germany that made me want to return all the gifts I’ve purchased so that I could have money to eat more. Aside from the standard fare (bratwurst, mushrooms, crepes), they had cheese spätzle, grilled beef sandwiches, raclette, baked apples, these delicious thick noodles that I can only describe as bigger and tastier gnocchi with an assortment of toppings, soup, grilled garlic bread with an assortment of toppings, apple strudel, and so much more. Seriously, the best food options I’ve seen.

Our highlight

Other than the food we did eat, I really loved our ride on the small ferris wheel. Many Christmas Markets have large ferris wheels that seem intimidating for me, as a mom of 2 toddlers. If Köln has a larger ferris wheel, I didn’t see it. This small one, though, is at one of the markets (the busy one pictured above). It was built in 1902. Watching it go, it seemed to go so fast. Still, my son wanted to go on and I went with him.

Upon sitting down and the wheel lifting us about 5 feet off the ground, I remembered I’m terrified of heights. All of a sudden I couldn’t really see my surroundings, held on to my son for dear life, and tried to get back into myself. It took a couple of rotations until I calmed down and enjoyed the ride. My son loved it the whole time.

Overall, this has jumped into my top 3 favorite markets. I loved it so much, I’m contemplating getting a hotel there for a few nights so that we can beat the crowds, check out the other markets, and eat some more cheese spätzle.

(Also, Thrifty Travel Mama is doing a series this month on expat holiday celebrations. My post is up there today about how we celebrate in Germany. Don’t worry, I talk about more than just the Christmas Markets. Check out my post and the rest of the series. It’s really interesting!)

This post is part of the Instagram Travel Thursday linky hosted by Skimbaco LifestyleDestination UnknownChild ModeHines Sight BlogLive.Do.Grow.House of AnaïsLuxury Travel Mom. Click on any of those links to access all Instagram travel posts.

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