Last year I wrote a post of 50 American experiences I want for my children as a celebration of American Independence Day.
This year, I want to give a little gift. I created these fun airport code journaling cards with the hopes that you can find equally fun uses for them. My suggestions? Use them as an impromptu personalized travel journal by printing them out and taping them to the cover of your favorite notebook. Or print on colored card stock and put it in a divided page protector for a photo album. Or printout a few of them and play a game.
- The cards measure 3 x 4 inches. Do not set the printer to “fit to size”.
- There are 29 cards based on the 29 busiest airports in the US (via this list from Wikipedia). They are in alphabetical order according to city, then by the actual airport code.
- Don’t print all of them if you want don’t want to (they print out one per page), but select the pages that correspond to the cities you want.
- Chances are I’m missing your favorite airport. If you’d like me to add it, let me know in the comments and I’ll let you know when it’s done.
To download the free pdf click: Airport code Journaling cards.
Oh, and here’s my daughter playing with some I printed up, cut out, and added some details to. Possibilities – endless.
Happy fourth everyone!
(Oh, by the way, follow my board dedicated to printables I make. Everytime I post one, I pin it there. And if you use any and blog about it, I’ll pin it there too!)
I’ve been a mother for a little over 3.5 years. That means I’ve been a mother who travels with her kids a little over 3.3 years.
Becoming a mom was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was in my mid-30s and very used to my previous carefree life. After the shortest longest 9 months (more accurately 41 weeks and 1 day) of my life, there was a whole being whose soul existence strongly depended on me being responsible. Remembering to feed him, bathe him, protect him. On top of that I had post-pregnancy complications that made me move a little slower, with more pain than I remember having before.
It was a mental and physical challenge. And it seemed to never let up.
It took me a full year to feel good in my new normal. To get out of the haze.
When I had my daughter less than 2 years later, the cycle started again. Except now I was used to the sleepless days and nights. I just had to get used to protecting the kids from each other. My post-pregnancy complications this time made sleep more difficult and driving over cobblestone roads next to impossible. Again, it took me a full year to feel good in my new normal.
My truth of traveling with babies
Within both of those separate years of having new babies, we traveled. We traveled because we had to. We traveled because we wanted to. We traveled to see family across the pond. We traveled because we knew we weren’t going to live in Europe forever.
As with everything when a baby comes along, we had to change our style. We packed more, planned more, somehow slept even less, and concerned ourselves more with where we were when it was time for the kids to eat.
It was hard, but it wasn’t impossible.
Looking back I realized something about that time in our lives. New mommy-hood was easiest for me when we were traveling. It felt more right than anything else. I felt more alive because I wasn’t sitting at home waiting for life to happen. We didn’t eat at fancy restaurants, or sit at cafes and bars chatting it up with the locals, or do many things in our new travels that we resembled our old travels. But, we were traveling. We were doing what we love most, even through the pain and challenges.
And I think that’s what makes me different
At least different from the people who treat traveling with kids as a chore. For me, I can’t imagine going out and exploring this world without my kids. And I don’t know how people can just stay home. It would stifle me, it would bore me, and it would make me resentful.
If I had any anxiety about how my travels would be once I had kids, it’s gone now.
I have two toddlers who love to travel. They both love all forms of transportation, constantly wonder when our next trip to a hotel will be, and can typically sit pretty content in a car, a train, and a plane. And that’s even without an iPad or any electronic distractions.
They have their own travel preferences. My son loves fancy hotels and fast trains, my daughter loves walks and animals. They enjoy talking about going on vacation and looking at pictures afterwards.
It’s fun. It’s exhausting. It’s more than I thought it could be.
Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces. –Judith Viorst as seen at Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt Cafe in Berlin
My parents love Ritter Sport chocolate. I’m not sure how well-known it is in the US, it is sold at some Targets and other grocery stores. In my family, Ritter Sport is THE German chocolate. Scratch that – it is THE chocolate. The one thing my parents answer when I ask what they want from Germany.
Berlin even has a whole store dedicated to Ritter Sport chocolates and products. Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt (Ritter Sport Colorful Chocolate World).It’s popular enough to be one of the recommended sites for families from Visit Berlin and their Berlin Welcome Card. I never really understood why. There are a ton of family friendly activities in Berlin – does a chocolate store selling chocolates found on every corner deserve a place in a “top 10” list?
For my parents – it did. Since they were visiting and our itinerary included an overnight in Berlin, I had to take them to Schokowelt. This was not my choice. I had so much I wanted to show them in Berlin. But, they flat-out told me, “skip it – take us to the Ritter Sport Store.”
Ok, mom and dad.
What to expect
For those unfamiliar with Ritter Sport, here’s the gist.
Delicious chocolate. Many flavors. Colorful packaging. Squares.
I love their branding.
The shop in Berlin includes a very small museum, a cafe, a cafeteria, and the store selling tons of chocolate and Ritter Sport items.
The ground floor cafeteria is the first thing you walk through. Immediately to your right: a counter that seems to be a place for Ice Cream sundae toppings. On further inspection you find out it’s a place where you can your own SCHOKOKREATION. (More on this in a moment).
The Schokolateria offers an assortment of drinks and chocolate snacks. The setting (chairs, signs…) fit the brand by relying on colorful and square design. It’s lots of fun.
(Photo Credit: Ritter Sport)
Within the Schokolateria you get to become your own Willy Wonka and make a chocolate bar with your own fillings. There are over 21 choices, and you get to pick 3 fillings plus the type of chocolate you want. I picked gummy bears, rice cereal, and gold stars in dark chocolate.
It was amazing.
The staff mixes the chocolate, throws it in a mold and gives you a ticket to pick up your chocolate 30 minutes later.
(Obvious tip: place your order first thing so it’s ready when you leave.)
The downside to the SHOKOKREATION
This could easily be a memorable, exciting, and tasty experience. Unfortunately, I think I caught someone on a bad day.
I imagined a Marble Slab-type experience. Pick my chocolate flavor and add-ins from the display, then watch as they mix it in a bowl. That’s what the people in front of me did. That’s what the people were doing when I walked in.
When the staff member got to me, though, she pulled out the card to note what I wanted. There was still a family ordering in front of me. I thought we were going to wait for them to finish so I could see the options. Instead, the staff member huffed impatiently. I told her I couldn’t see the choices. She pointed to the sign behind her with the listed items and didn’t say a word. As I was trying to figure out what some of the things were, she tapped her pen against the table. There was no one behind me, but I felt rushed. I gave her my 3 add-ins expecting to at least watch her put the chocolate and add-ins in the bowl and mix (again, as I’ve seen others do). Instead she handed me a ticket and told me to come back in 35 minutes.
I recognize that this may seem ridiculous. However, I think I missed out on part of the fun of making your own candy bar. Plus, I paid for it. A regular candy bar in the store is €0.85. This “experience” was over €3 and I’m willing to bet that the show of picking flavors and watching them mix-it is supposed to be part of the attraction. If it’s not, then they’re really missing out on a great opportunity and should reconsider.
Directly behind the SCHOKOLATERIA is the SCHOKOSHOP. The walls are filled with small and large squares of colorful chocolate packaging and flavors. There are options to fill bags, buy already assorted bags, get a meters worth of chocolate and more. There are also branded polos, backpacks, and soccer balls. My absolute favorite was a cooler bag for regular sized Ritter Sport bars to fit in perfectly.
Again, the only fail in the SCHOKOSHOP was the staff. My dad had asked for help finding the caramel chocolate, and the employee said they don’t have it. I was confused when my dad told me this because I saw the caramel variety in the mini-chocolate section. My mom went in to look for herself, found a giant bar, and purchased it within 5 minutes.
Upstairs you’ll find a small walk through area where you learn more about Ritter Sports process in making the chocolate. The explanations are in English and German. The displays are interactive. My three-year old loved them. Afterwards, there’s a short film, old commercials, and a place to take your own photos.
And finally, the Schokocafe (also upstairs). In addition to the chocolaty goodness on display at the SCHOKOLATERIA downstairs, the cafe has breakfast, lunch, and chocolate items. Things like chocolate soup (with churros), crepes, and varieties of fondue. Perhaps this is just a little slice of heaven right in Berlin. (Whatever you do, don’t click on this .pdf to the menu – I warned you!)
Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt: Great products, not so great staff
Almost every employee we encountered seemed uninterested in their job, impatient with the customers, and bored. Especially at the Schokocafe upstairs. But, it’s hard to let them get you down when you can simply ignore them and enjoy the surroundings. Because it’s so conveniently located it’s worth at least a stop inside for a snack and a drink and to stock up on some tasty treats for friends back home. Just don’t expect the colorful and cheery atmosphere of the brand from the staff.
Thinking about going?
- Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt is conveniently located a street away from Unter den Linden and a few blocks from Gendarmenmarkt and Checkpoint Charlie. It is among some of Berlin’s higher-end shopping, but also close to places like H&M. The Friedrichstr. S-bahn and U-bahn stop are only 2 streets away and the U-6 at Franzoeischestr. leaves you right around the corner from the shop. In other words, it’s easy to make it part of your Berlin itinerary.
- For those with strollers, the shop is small and can easily get crowded and difficult to navigate with the strollers. The elevators are kind of hidden in the back to get upstairs.
- If you have children between 7 and 18, you can sign them up for a Chocolate workshop. You have to do it online in advance. You will find more information here: Bunte Schokowelt Schoko Workshop.
Who should go?
This is definitely not just for kids, but is obviously kid-friendly. You’ll likely end up somewhere near this shop and if so, stop in! It’s worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity. For those with Berlin plans outside of this central area don’t go unless you really love Ritter Sport or need some branded trinkets to take home. It’s a small shop, museum, and cafe so it does not take up too much time.
For more information
- The official Ritter Sport Schokowelt Berlin website.
- There’s also a larger museum in the Stuttgart area for RitterSport.
- There are a ton of varieties of Ritter Sport chocolate, but they’ve also created a Pinterest board with fun FAKE assortments.
- The story of the “Sport” in Ritter Sport.
- Traveling to Germany with kids? Check out my Germany Destination Guide.
If you’re familiar with the area around the Disney World Resort in Orlando (I-drive, 192…), you’re familiar with tacky tourism souvenir shops, chain restaurants, mega hotels, and heavy traffic.
You’re probably also very familiar with this – Disney’s iconic Cinderella Castle.
It’s not just centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom. It’s also the symbol for Disney movies and television credits.
Most people also know that the main inspiration behind Cinderella’s Castle is Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle.
So what’s so surprising about Neuschwanstein?
Neuschwantstein is often pictured secluded in the hills of Bavaria. It’s easy to imagine the tranquil setting. However, the bottom of that hill (Schwangau) is the German equivalent of tacky tourist area. Which is a slight exaggeration, but the area does seem to personify every Bavarian (and thus, German) stereotype.
Instead of Mickey ears they sell lederhosen.
Instead of all-you-can-eat buffets they have currywurst and spaetzle.
Instead of miniature fun parks there are multiple nature hikes in the mountains and lakes.
Instead of a Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum visit King Ludwig II’s museum or the lesser-known castle practically next door to Neuschwanstein.
Instead of grand resorts with pools and valet parking there are private vacation rentals in half-timbered homes.
Instead of traffic jams people rely on great public transportation options or horse-drawn carriage rides.
Basically bottom-of-the-hill Neuschwanstein is surprisingly touristy, but equally charming.
If only I had known.
Unfortunately, most accounts of Neuschwanstein are pretty clear that it’s pretty shallow. Beautiful on the outside, drab on the inside. I made a decision to just make a quick stop en route from Stuttgart to Garmisch instead of dedicating the day to explore the area. And unfortunately, the GPS system played a few tricks with our routing which made us later than expected. So we really did not have enough time to see everything the area had to offer.
Neuschwanstein: Things to do
Our less than 2 hour visit was filled with schnitzel sandwich snacking, postcard browsing, sign reading, and posing for photos in front of gorgeous landscapes. Here are some things I would have been happy to do if we had a few more hours.
- Take a hike: Pick up a map at the tourist center or follow one of the signs. Everything is clearly marked with expected completion times and routes. Plus, how often can you hike up to a castle, or around a clear lake with Alp views?
- Learn more about the crazy King: This area of Germany meant a lot to King Ludwig II. He spent his youth there and built one of his three castles there. Visit the museum dedicated to his life and story.
- See a castle, no not that castle: I knew Hohenshcwangau was near Neuschwanstein, I didn’t realize they were neighbors. Ludwig lived in Hohenschwangau (when it was called Schwanstein (for language buffs Neuschwanstein means NEW Schwanstein and when naming Neuschwanstein, they changed the name of Schwanstein to Hohenschwangau – and believe me this can be more confusing, but I’ll leave you to finding the sign with more information (or you can email me if you want to learn more))) and although not as iconic from the outside it is worth a tour indoors.
- Perhaps a paddle boat: Between the castles and next to the Ludwig Museum there’s a large lake. Other than the estimated 90 minute walk around the lake, with gorgeous views of mountains and castles along the way, paddle boat rides are available in good weather.
- Marienbrucke: For excellent views of Neushwanstein, head to this bridge that dates back to the 1800s. It’s a little scary for my taste, but the more adventurous are rewarded with a better story and photo.
- Eat more Bavarian food: There are several restaurants, many with postcard views of something memorable. Try popular Bavarian dishes in the quintessential royal setting.
- Shop for tacky souvenirs: Ok, some of the souvenirs are not so tacky. The shops at the bottom of the hill sell both Bavarian and German branded items (most likely the cheap things actually made in China), to the quality brands Germany is known for (from Christmas ornaments to Steiff Teddy Bears to cuckoo clocks and biersteins).
- Compare and contrast the details of Ludwig and Cinderella’s castles: What parts of Neuschwanstein did Mr. Disney use as inspiration?
Thinking about going?
- Schwangau is about two hours from Munich, Innsbruck, and Stuttgart making it a good base to explore many areas.
- There are plenty of day trip operators, especially from Munich, available. Otherwise there a combination of trains and buses will get you there, but you should purchase your tickets in advance online if you are interested in touring the castle.
- For those driving, there are many parking spaces available for a small fee (at the time of our visit in the Spring of 2014 it was 5 Euros). While we had no issue finding parking, if the lots are full consider parking in nearby Fussen and taking the busses to Schwangau.
- You can easily make this area an all day – or longer – destination. There is more than enough stuff to do in the area, especially if for nature buffs.
- From my perspective, there were several trail opportunities that appeared stroller-friendly, though we didn’t do anything too extensive.
Who should go
I recommend this area of Germany to families who like to hike. Between the two castles and the museum there are definitely enough activities to fill a day, but I don’t know if those things alone would be enough for young kids. The trails, however, would be a fun way to explore the area. If you’re a King Ludwig II fan – you don’t need convincing. If you don’t know anything about him, I’m sure you’ll learn to appreciate him after a visit. Is this a must-see for Germany visitors? Well, my first visit to this castle was after living in the country a total of 7 years, so I guess that depends on you!
For more information
- Check out my post about another Ludwig castle, Herrenchiemsee.
- Neuschwanstein‘s official website
- Hohenschwangau‘s official website
- A great post from Little Siteseers and their day in the Schwangau area (hint: they did a lot more than we did).
- Monkeys and Mountains has visited many castles in Germany and didn’t like this one. But, she does still give great tips for those who want to go.