Bibione: A Sandy Beach Near Venice Italy

sandy beach near venice italyWhen we started discussing visiting Venice, Italy, I didn’t exactly have beaches on the mind. Why go to a beach when you have the city of VENICE right there?

Personally, there’s only so much walking around the maze that is Venice that I could do. Especially when the temperatures were hitting 97 (in early June). After a bit of searching for an appropriate Italian beach, we ended up driving to Bibione, Italy, a small town up the coast of Italy, on the Adriatic Sea.

If you look on a map, Bibione is a little more than halfway to the coast of Slovenia. When we were in Ljubljana, we actually met some Americans whose travels brought them from Venice to Slovenia.

We did not have a beach name in mind– just figured it was a coastal town and, once there, we would aim ourselves towards the ocean and go from there.

Luckily, once in Bibione, we knew the ocean was to our left. Once we found a parking spot, we unpacked our bags and were ready to hit the beach.

We were lucky enough to stumble across a public beach on our first try. Many of the beaches tend to have spots reserved by hotels, so this was good luck. For €18,50, we rented an umbrella with two chairs (and a small table) for the day.

I couldn’t believe our luck- the attendant assigned us to the end spot on the first row– which was really helpful when we had to do the “ouch my feet burn” run across the sand to the beach.

As there was no shade in sight– €18 was definitely a bargain to hide from the sun. You do not have to pay to use this beach– but you’ll have to park your towels down by the water’s edge– the chairs and umbrellas are for paying customers, only. There are employees who do check the chair area to make sure there aren’t any non-paying customers lounging about.

This beach was perfect for a family day trip. The beach was sandy, the water was calm and blue, the crowds were not rowdy. One small inconvenience was the nonstop vendors who walked up and down the beach, peddling everything from hair braids to sunglasses.

Definitely worth the drive if you’re tired of the touristy feeling of Venice– or just want to hit the day at a nice beach.

 

Westpark in Munich, Germany

spielplatz munichThere’s no doubt about it- I’m always on the look for a new playground. I also happen to love green spaces– especially after spending lots of time in the urban jungles of the world. While the English Garden in Munich gets all the attention (and tourists), there’s a much better park on the West side of town– Westpark!

germany playgroundsOn a sunny day, Westpark will be filled with locals– on bikes, carrying grills, with soccer balls, blankets, kids, picnics– you name it. On the days we visited, you could find my family at one of the “adventure playgrounds.”

munich with kidsWestpark is a 178-acre park, extending about 2 kilometers from East to West. Garmicher Strasse divides the park into two sections, though there is an elevated bridge to cross the road easily. The major draw for us, besides all the grass and trees, were the playgrounds. One playground is on the far West side of the park, near the restaurant and the biergarten. This was the “biggie” for us. It had tire swings, multiple climbing structures, plus the major draw– the giant slides.

The slides kept my children occupied for hours. The best part? To get back to the top, they have to run the stairs, which they happily did for those several hours. I like to call this “sneaky exercise,” especially when we tend to overindulge on pastries and gelato.

munich playground

Kids of all ages ran for the tire swings– which they all managed to get to death-defying heights. My favorite part is how the joy of swinging high (and close to each other) made all the kids laugh. Happiness knows no language barriers, that’s for sure!

There were several toilets near this playground- a huge BONUS for this bladder-challenged Mama. There are also benches at the bottom of the slide, but there’s really not enough for everyone on crowded days. While it is tempting to sit and watch, I recommend going down the slide (hint: chose the middle) at least once. They really are quite fast and are definitely a rush of adrenaline!

We hit the biergarten before searching for the “water playground.” The biergarten serves traditional Bavarian food– meat, meat, meat, beer and pretzels. My vegetarian child definitely had a bit of trouble finding a meal at this restaurant– but that’s pretty much been a common problem at almost all German eateries.

munich park

The other major playground is on the East side of the park– take the elevated walkway across Garmicher Strasse. Once there, take the path to the far right– going AWAY from the lake and the center of the park. This is the “water playground,” which also has a slide, which is much slower than the other ones. There’s also a small stream that goes around the playground– multiple kids were playing and digging in the streams.

If you’re into walking outdoors, or just want to enjoy a beautiful sunny afternoon in Munich among the trees, it is definitely worth the travel.

What: Westpark in Munich

Cost: Free to enter

Getting there: U-Bahn stops include Heimeranplatz, Westpark and Holzapfelkreuth

A Day in Lovely Ljubljana, Slovenia

ljubljana sloveniaI never expected one of my family’s favorite places in Europe to be in Slovenia. There’s a lot of very large cities on the continent that get a lot of attention. Ljubljana isn’t one of them.

Ljubljana is the capital and largest city in the country of Slovenia. As far as European capitals go– it is a small one, with roughly 283,000 residents.

We stayed within walking distance (10-15 minutes) from the downtown area, which has the Ljubljanica River running through it. Several bridges connect both sides of the downtown area, making it very easy to get around.

ljubljana downtownWe ended up spending our evenings roaming around the downtown area, enjoying the sights the town has to offer. In fact- this area is absolutely beautiful at night– the cafes and restaurants are all full (even on a Sunday evening), giving it a very fun vibe that can rival even the biggest cities. The restaurant choices were varied and, of course, one can’t take more than a few steps without coming across yet another gelato vendor.

Situated over the downtown is the Ljubljana Castle. We made the decision to go up right before it closed for the night– we paid for a funicular ride to the top, and then strolled the grounds for a bit, enjoying the nighttime view of the city. We walked down the low-lit paths back to the town center– a nice way to burn off a few of those gelato calories, as well.

Ljubljana isn’t one of those cities with a very long “must-do” list. Since the country of Slovenia is small, we used it as a jumping point for a couple of day trips. We easily made the trip to Croatia to visit the Adriatic Sea, as well as to drive over to the Skocjan Caves for the day. We ran out of time and couldn’t see Lake Bled, which is another beautiful day trip from the city.

If you’re wanting non-stop “go-go-go,” Ljubljana might not be the place for you. If you’re wanting a relaxed atmosphere, tons of bustling cafes, friendly people, affordable prices and unique outdoorsy day trips, then you’ll love it as much as we did.

Skocjan Caves, Slovenia

skocjan caves sloveniaOnce we decided to visit Slovenia, the next question was, “what exactly is there to do there?” Turns out…some pretty interesting things, that’s what!

We visited the Skocjan Caves and we’re all very glad we did. About 45 minutes outside Ljubljana, the caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. No wonder they’re on the list– these beautiful caves are definitely worth preserving.

I know that sounds all high-brow– these caves are “world heritage,” and “worth preserving.” When we were discussing which caves to visit (there are two we were choosing from), our conversation went more like this: “I think Skocjan are bigger. And prettier. And they have a scary bridge.” “OKAY!”

Visitors descend into the caves in tour groups. The frequency of these tours depends on the time of year– less in Winter, more in Summer. We visited in late Spring and had the first tour– check the times before visiting, otherwise you might end up waiting around awhile for the next one.

Once the tour started, we all walked downhill to the entrance to the caves. At this point, the groups were separated. The German-speaking group went first, followed about five or so minutes later by the English and Italian group.

While the website says the tour lasts about 1.5 hours, ours ended up being 2, due to the fact that our guide had to explain everything in two languages.

I’m not going to lie- if you’ve ever visited any natural caverns or caves, the beginning of the tour won’t be the most exciting. While the cave is a “wet” cave (meaning, it is still forming and changing), my personal feeling is, if you’ve seen one stalagmite, you’ve seen them all.

Still…they were beautiful, just not life changing.

The real treat is the second part of the tour– the part with the river running through. Visitors walk along paths that snake around the outside of the cave as a river rushes through below. The cave is lit by low lights on the path, and the mist from the water gives it a magical vibe.

I also couldn’t help but think about the movie “Descent” while walking through the cave. (Long story short: Group of women go into caves. Bad things happen. The end.) Don’t watch Descent before going down here. Or Lord of the Rings. (That Gollum creeps me out.)

About halfway through, there’s a very high steel bridge visitors have to cross. As I am terrified by bridges, let’s just say I hurried across while keeping my eyes fixated on a wall in front of me. I noticed a few other visitors doing the same.

The end of the tour involves a lot of stair climbing. This is definitely not a tour for those with limited mobility, or for those who would have troubles climbing a lot of stairs. I felt sympathy for the parents who were having to carry their small children up multiple flights!

Fun tip- you can’t bring your camera inside the caves. There are multiple signs warning visitors not to take photos, but, of course– some people did. We left our camera in our trunk– hence no pictures from inside. Honestly– there’s no way a hastily taken picture would have done this justice. You’re just going to have to see for yourself.

The end of the tour involves a funicular ride back up to the top. From there, you can either walk to the scenic overlook (see the photo), or back to the entrance. We had lunch at their cafe before braving the 5 hour drive back to Munich.

This was definitely worth the drive to get there!

What: Skocjan Caves

Where: Matavun 12, Divača, Slovenia

Cost: (2015) in Euros– 16 for adults, 12 for students and seniors, 7.50 for children 6-14

Playground in Bichl, Bavaria, Germany

playgrounds near munichI’m not exactly a “hit-the-museums” nonstop kind of gal, especially when traveling with children. First– I find museums a bit boring. Second- it really isn’t fair to the little people, especially if that’s not their thing.

I try to find playgrounds for our downtime in Germany, when possible. And…let’s face the truth: Germany has a lot of awesome playgrounds. From giant climbing structures to “death trap” slides– there really is something for everyone. Of course, not all playgrounds can have huge structures.

Bichl Germany PlaygroundSome are smaller.

We found the playground (spielplatz) in Bichl, Germany on accident. I saw it zip by out of the corner of my eye when we were out looking for a lake. So, the first non-rainy day we had, I loaded up the kids and out we went.

Compared to a lot of American playgrounds, this is a decent-sized park. Compared to many German ones, it is a tiny blip on a map. Situated in the tiny town of Bichl, (population: 2,000) there’s plenty of parking across the street. Bichl Spielplatz

The main draw of this playground has to be the zipline. Both my kids made a beeline for it, then spent a good time taking turns zipping down and then bouncing once they reached the end.

They might have even convinced their old lady to take a turn (or two).

There’s several other structures available, as well. The Bichl playground also has a castle/fort (with an interior climbing net), plus several parcour ropes to climb between structures. There’s also a slide, pingpong table (BYOB, kids), a smaller climbing house for kids, and the rope swing that is a must at every European park we’ve been to so far.

Playgrounds in BavariaAcross the street is a restaurant (Biergarten, of course) and just down a few steps is a bakery, where I quickly ran for a “to-go” coffee once I realized the sun wouldn’t be coming out that day.

This was definitely a nice little park- perfect for letting the kids use their muscles after being cooped up due to non-stop rain.

The Bichl playground is in the center of town, which is situated between the cities of Penzberg and Bad Tölz.

 

Zugspitze Germany: The Mountain Views You Can See on a Clear Day

When my husband suggested visiting Zugspitze, a nearly 10,000 foot mountain peak in Garmisch-Partenkirchen Germany, I figured– why not? On a clear day, visitors can see 400 mountain peaks  in four countries.

On a cloudy day, they can see mostly clouds.

When we went? We saw this:

zugspitze snow

Complete whiteout conditions. I would almost say it was beyond a whiteout. That’s not a map on a white wall. That is a map on a railing overlooking the mountains. I don’t know about the rest of ya’ll, but I couldn’t get the gnawing feeling that I might bump into one of these three on the top of that mountain, and I really did not want that to happen, thank you very much.

top of zugspitze

It was both terrifying and mystical at the same time. Perhaps I was a bit on edge already, as the trip up to the top in a crowded Alpine ski lift gave vision of a crash ending up on the 6 o’clock news back home.

But, first things first…you have to get there before you can be killed by a giant snowbeast named Marshmallow.

zugspitze mountainTo get to Zugspitze, one must buy a train ticket. You take the train to the lift, or in our case, you take the train to a bus, which then brings you to the lift as the tracks were being worked on. Once at the lift, you wait your turn as the lift returns to base with a bunch of terrified, yet happy to be on ground, passengers. You board…and hang on.

Soon, you’re sailing way above the Alpine trees, hanging on by a wire. In our case, we sailed into whiteout conditions in the clouds, which made the journey even more terrifying. Our lift was full of visitors from a variety of countries. Fun fact: Terror knows no language barrier!

Once at the top, you can climb out to the overlook, if you’d like. There’s also a restaurant (that I noticed served both coffee and alcohol, which I definitely felt was needed after the lift).

After you’ve had your fill at the top, there are two choices to get down. You can go back the way you came, or take the “train.” Before you take the train, you need to take another lift down. We did this way.

zugspitze lift

Ahh, whiteout conditions again. There’s another restaurant at the bottom of the second lift– a table service one and a self-service. We chose the table service, where we had hot chocolate, alcohol and kuchen (which I will not refer to as cake, because it isn’t). The kids took turns going outside to play, as it had started to snow (IN MAY!). They also took turns falling down in the snow and getting wet.

Afterwards, we took the train down through a tunnel. I’m not going to lie- by this point, everyone on the train was really, really tired. Lots of people were nodding off, only to wake up to the smell of someone’s flatulent dog.  (Ahh, memories.) This was definitely the scenic route– it took about 45 minutes, which can be a lot when the kids are tired and antsy. Once you’ve exited the tunnel, you do get a couple nice lake views.

And then you have to board the other train to bring you back to your car.

The trip to Zugspitze cost us 125 Euros for a family of four (including two children ages 9 and 10). It was definitely not a cheap day trip. In fact, I felt it was a little high for me to spend the afternoon on snow beast high-alert.

But, the rest of the family seemed to enjoy the trip, and even got to make a few snow angels in the process.

What: Zugspitze, Germany

Where: Olympiastraße 27
82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen

 

Linderhof Castle in Germany: Day Trips From Munich

Linderhof Castle GermanyWhen it comes to Bavarian castles, Neuschwanstein Castle is the star of the show. Most anyone who is planning a trip to Germany will tell you of the “Sleeping Beauty” castle and its inspiration for Walt Disney.

Less know of Linderhof Palace (or Castle), the smaller castle of the eccentric King Ludwig II of Bavaria. While Neuschwanstein was never fully completed, Linderhof was. Ludwig often spent his days here, alone- with a variety of servants, of course.

Ludwig Castle Germany

 

 

 

Personally, I found Linderhof a better visit than Neuschwanstein. It is closer to Munich, easier to access (no bus or hike up the hill needed),and has fabulous grounds to explore.

Also, and this was a definite selling point for all in our group (kids included)– it has a grotto. Yes. The King used to sit in a boat in his personal (heated) grotto as servants rowed him around the lake. (Wonder if the bothered to do rounds of “Row Row Row Your Boat?”)

The tour to the grotto is for both German and English speakers. First, the guide will give the facts in German, then a recording is played in English. In our group, (in May) we were the only English speakers there, so everyone else cleared out quickly, leaving us alone with the guide in the grotto. She did help answer any questions we had.

linderhof grotto

While the house tour lasts about only 30 minutes (options in English or German), the self tour of the entire estate can easily last hours. There are a few hills to hike to get to some of the more remote locations (and the grotto), but nothing like the hills of Neuschwanstein.

ludwig castle linderhofWith a variety of statues and water features, not to mention panoramic views of the Alps, there’s plenty to do besides the palace.

Info: Linderhof Palace

Address: Linderhof 12, 82488 Ettal Germany (South of Munich)

Hours: 9:00-5:30 (according to sign at palace)

Cost: (2015) for a family of four to tour everything- 17 Euros

Wildpark Poing Germany: An Afternoon Excursion

poing wild park munichI’m pretty sure most people would refer to Wildpark Poing as an animal park with a playground. I’m going to have to differ– I think it is a playground with an animal park.

Situated about 26 minutes from central Munich, the Wildpark is a nice way to spend an afternoon with kids– especially if you’re vacationing in the area.

So, why do I consider it a playground with an animal park? First, the playground is great. It is large, with tons of structures for kids of all ages to play on. We’d hit several structures, only to see a few more in the distance. And, of course, it has the type of slide we jokingly refer to as a “death trap” in our house: hard to climb up with a crazy drop down. I absolutely love that my children have the chance to climb on these crazy slides.

poing wildpark slide

 

The playgrounds are next to a very large picnic area– you can enjoy lunch (purchased or brought in) while the kids run crazy from structure to structure. Adding to the ambiance are peacocks (and a few roosters) roaming in and out of the tables.

poing wild park picnic tables

So, what playground pieces are we looking at, exactly? Well, first and foremost- the crazy slide. There’s a wild west fort near the back, with a few teepees thrown in behind. The playgrounds offer multiple slides, plus a few merry-go-rounds, as well. There are several structures where kids pulled themselves with ropes or chains, as well as a water play area. Don’t forget the teeter totters, climbing areas or pirate ship.

playground munich

Seriously. Bring a book and sunscreen. You’ll be here a while.

munich with kidsEventually, you’ll have to pull the kids away from the playgrounds, as there are actually animals to see (and feed). Yes! You get to feed some of the animals! Purchase a bag of feed at the front for half a Euro, and set out for feeding the deer, goats and geese. The deer will come up to visitors on the road, and it is OK to feed them from your hand.

You can also feed the goats, who tend to get a bit more aggressive when it comes to taking food. (Insider tip: WATCH YOUR BAG! Sometimes the goats will rip or pull the paper bag from you!)

Make sure to check your map- in the back are horses and donkeys, plus an adorable bear family in the very rear of the park.

bears poing wildpark

Aren’t they just the sweetest?

I’m not going to lie- we were getting a bit tired (and sweaty) by the end of our 3.5 hour tour of the park. Definitely something to keep in mind on a warmer day! Luckily, we had a variety of snacks in the trunk of our car (wash your hands at the restrooms near the entrance/exit!), which helped avert disaster.

Like most of Germany, we did not find any water fountains on our walk– so definitely pack several- especially for the kids after the playground.

Check online for opening days and times, as they can change varying on season.

Information:

Name: Wildpark Poing

Location: Osterfeldweg 20, 85586 Poing

Website: http://www.wildpark-poing.net/

Cost: 7.50 Euros for adults, 4.50 for children.

Dining in Zurich: Cheaper Options for Families

migros take away zurichI heard again and again,  Zurich, Switzerland is expensive. I just never realized just how much so. Somehow, naively, I thought I would be immune to the high cost of visiting Zurich, thanks to trying to eat on the cheap, when possible.

I was wrong. Dead wrong.

For example, I spend roughly $8 on three drinks at the Starbucks near our house. We needed a resting place for a bit while in Zurich, for all three of us to recharge (in the shade, it was a warm day) while I poured over our maps. Again, we stopped at Starbucks. The same drinks cost us the equivalent of $20 in the US.

I spent roughly about 165  Swiss Francs in Zurich in one day alone. This was solely on food for one female adult and two elementary-aged children.  Also, did I forget to add…we were eating at the “cheap” places? cheap zurich eats

Our first night in, the only place we could find open was a shop that sold a variety of food, from Doners, to burgers to Italian food. We picked the burgers (minus the fries), as they were the cheapest options on the menu. Add in three drinks, and we hit 30 Swiss Francs for a meal I could describe as barely edible. (I’m STILL not 100% sure what was under that red sauce on the burger. Potato salad? It sure tasted like it.)

A bit of researching concluded our best option would be to hit the Zurich grocery stores that also had restaurants in them. There are two that I found: Migros and Coop.

The Coop we visited was a grocery, department, and drug store all in one- with a very nice restaurant, to boot. The restaurant resided on the top floor and turned out to be a great place for to share a light lunch. The children and I filled two medium-sized plates (you are charged by the plate size at some of the salad or warm item bars) with a variety of pasta, salad, and vegetables. We also split a piece of bread– I told you, it was a small, light lunch. Our water bottles were empty and we didn’t see anywhere to fill them up (Editor’s note: there are places! Look near the restroom.) so we threw in a bottle of water, as well. It cost us roughly 25 Swiss Francs ($27 USD as of 2015).

zurich water fountainsWhile the lunch did not disappoint, taste-wise, (seriously, my kids were overly excited about carrots and broccoli), we were definitely not full.

We went over to Migros for dinner, hoping to eat in their restaurant, but apparently, they only serve in the restaurant for lunch. Instead, we ate in the take-away section, splitting two 1/4 slice pizzas for 12.80. We stayed for dessert, which was a great option- indulging in Creme Cornets (2.60 each).

Breakfasts were also at Migros, as it was the closest to our hotel. We each had a Zmorge Hit, which was 2 pieces of bread (we all had croissants and a roll), with butter and jelly, plus a fruit cup and coffee (or hot chocolate). Total was 20.70 Swiss France for the three. zurich water fountain

One thing I’ve found surprising about Europe is the lack of public water fountains. We definitely did not have this problem in Zurich. There are fountains everywhere, though most do not look like fountains at all.

If you see water freely flowing through a spigot in public? It is a fountain. Fill your bottle up with crisp, cold Swiss water! It took a bit of cajoling to get my kids to drink from these fountains, as we’re used to “do not drink this water” signs back at home. I promise you– we all survived, with no intestinal distress.

In fact, I saw several young women taking pictures with the fountains. The one that is the bottom half of a person? Almost the same size as my 9-year-old son. The craftsmanship of these fountains was so superb, I couldn’t help but want to find a bit more info on them.

Turns out- there are 1,200 fountains in the city of Zurich. You can actually have a guided tour of the fountains from the months of July-October.

German Playgrounds: Schulberg Playground in Weisbaden Germany

I love crazy playgrounds. Plain and simple. The crazier, the better. Let’s just say, when my sister-in-law brought us over to the Schulberg Playground in Wiesbaden, Germany…I was over the moon. (I didn’t even play!)

schulberg playgroundThis amazing playground is a 35m (115 feet) oblong structure, with a variety of nets, dips and slides to play on. Perfect for a variety of ages- we had kids in our group from age two to ten– all were very happy playing on it. It overlooks the Wiesbaden city center from the top of a hill.

Both of the kids said it was their most favorite part of visiting Wiesbaden…and I think I’d have to agree.

weisbaden playground