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The Wandering Millers https://wanderingmillers.com International Adventures with The Wandering Millers Wed, 23 Jan 2019 23:27:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 152042248 Common Scams to Watch for in Marrakesh https://wanderingmillers.com/common-scams-marrakesh/ https://wanderingmillers.com/common-scams-marrakesh/#respond Wed, 23 Jan 2019 23:27:05 +0000 https://wanderingmillers.com/?p=588 Tourists often fall victim to scams when traveling abroad. You’re in a unfamiliar place, with an unfamiliar culture, and possibly a language you don’t understand. While visiting Morocco, we had the opportunity to observe some of the most common tactics used to persuade tourists into handing over money or overpaying for goods. Initial Thoughts Before …

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Tourists often fall victim to scams when traveling abroad. You’re in a unfamiliar place, with an unfamiliar culture, and possibly a language you don’t understand. While visiting Morocco, we had the opportunity to observe some of the most common tactics used to persuade tourists into handing over money or overpaying for goods.

Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco

Initial Thoughts

Before we get into the list of most common scams and how to avoid them, I would like to clarify a few things.

First, Morocco is a very safe country to visit. We visited the country with an 8 month old and felt perfectly safe, even at night. In fact, it is ranked by the US State Department as a Level 1 (Exercise Normal Precautions). For comparison, many popular European countries (France, Spain, Italy, and Germany) are ranked as Level 2 (Exercise Increased Precautions).

The people of Morocco are some of the most kind and friendly people who we have ever met. The hospitality and warm welcome that we received  was outstanding. Unfortunately, there are some people who use this to take advantage of  tourists. It’s easy to fall for a scam if you genuinely believe the other person is trying to help you.

Finally, Morocco is a relatively poor country that is still labeled as developing according to the IMF (International Monetary Fund). With that, you have thousands of people competing for tourism dollars. If they don’t make enough money in a day, their family could go without their next meal or roof over their heads. I’m not justifying shady approaches to earning a buck, but consider what you would do to take care of your family in the same situation. This mindset makes it easy for me to accept and not get worked up when I interact with a person who is trying to get a few dollars (or in this case, Dirham) off me.

The Souks of Marrakesh are a maze. Don’t get lost! Or do… It’s more fun that way!

Bad Directions

The Medina (old city) of Marrakesh is a maze. Many of the passageways are covered and there are few easily identifiable landmarks to help guide your way. Unfortunately, this opens up the opportunity for locals to take advantage of disoriented tourists.

Nearly every day, we had people stop us and offer to help point us in the right direction. While we did encounter locals who genuinely wanted to help us, we found that an equal number of people wanted to lead us the wrong way.

As I mentioned above, everyone is competing for money. The souks are literally a maze, and some areas get more tourist traffic than others. Some shop owners pay people to direct tourists down certain alleyways to improve their chances of getting more visitors to pass their shops. Usually, the directions are technically correct, but you’ll end up taking the long way.

Solution: We were fortunate enough to use our GPS on our phone to help guide us. It wasn’t perfect, but we could at least tell what direction we were headed.

If you do need to stop for directions, we found the best approach is to ask a shop owner or restaurant who you have just done business with. Since they already have your money, they have less motivation to send you the wrong way. Also, if you are unsure, ask a few people for the same directions. If they all point you the same way, you should be good to go.

Arriving at the Museum of Marrakesh after being pointed in the opposite direction.

Closed Attraction

We also encountered many seemingly helpful strangers letting us know that the museum or palace nearby was closed. Like clockwork, they usually offer to take you to a nearby shop or restaurant to kill time until it reopens. The hope was that we would spend some money there.

Solution: Trust your guidebook. If it says the attraction will be open, it is very unlikely that you will arrive and find it closed. The best approach is to go to the location and see for yourself or ask someone you can trust like the staff at your hotel.

Handing You Merchandise

Scenario…. You are looking around a shop. The shop owner invites you to take a closer look at an item and hands it to you. Seems innocent enough, but once you have the item in your hands, it will be hard to give it back. It’s not like you can just walk away.

This is a very common tactic for street vendors in the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa. One street vendor was bold enough to try and place a toy that he was selling in Finn’s hand. Fortunately, big brother is an experienced traveler and quickly stepped in between them with a quick “NO!” (proud parent moment right there!).

Solution: If you don’t have a genuine interest in a product, don’t take the item. A good strategy is to put your hands behind your back and lean in for a closer look. That way, you can avoid being rude but not end up holding something you don’t want. If you do find yourself holding an item and the shopkeeper wont take it back. Politely place it on a nearby shelf and walk away. This is much more difficult to do with a street vendor.

Taxi Ride to Nowhere

Most of the Medina is closed to vehicular traffic except motorcycles. If you are staying in or close to the Medina, you will be able to walk to most sites. If you need to get around outside of the Medina, taxis are readily available and very cheap.

Some taxi drivers will tell you that they are not allowed to take you to your exact destination. Instead, they offer to drop you off at another location that is a short walk away.

This is very common when trying to return to Jemaa el-Fnaa. One driver told us that he wasn’t allowed to enter the square and could drop us off nearby.  We didn’t know any better, but quickly found out that this was not true. Taxis are allowed to enter the main square. Turns out that the drop off location was a friend’s shop with whom the driver had an arrangement.

Solution: Be very clear where you want to go. Show them on a map from your guidebook and let them know that you don’t want to stop anywhere else.

Marrakesh is known for beautiful, colorful pottery and tile…. and also cats.

Overpriced Items

This is more of a way of life than a scam, but still something to be aware of. Most items are priced at 3 to 4 times what the shop owner is willing to accept. Nearly everything is negotiable, but I have my limits. Personally, I won’t waste my time negotiating over an item that is only a couple dollars. Better to save your energy for the big ticket items. After a full day in the souks, you will be exhausted.

Solution: Prepare yourself to negotiate. Just be courteous and have fun. It’s all part of the experience. Let the kids try their hand at negotiating too! 

Photo Ops

As a tourist, you are likely to take hundreds of photos during your stay. But not every photo is free. Jemaa el-Fnaa especially is full of amazing sights and spectacles….. snake charmers, monkeys, dancers and musicians in traditional Berber garb. They will lure you in and encourage you to take pictures or videos. Just keep in mind that they will expect to be paid. Even shop owners may want a small payment to photograph their shop or merchandise.

Solution: Make sure to negotiate a price before you snap the photo.

Spices for sale in Marrakesh.

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Salzburg, Austria – 2 Day Itinerary with Kids https://wanderingmillers.com/salzburg-itinerary-kids/ https://wanderingmillers.com/salzburg-itinerary-kids/#comments Tue, 16 Oct 2018 23:07:20 +0000 https://wanderingmillers.com/?p=466 The city of Salzburg is a true gem of Central Europe and wonderful place to visit with kids. Famous for being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a major setting for the 1960s film The Sound of Music, the city has something to offer everyone. We stopped in Salzburg on our way from Vienna …

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The city of Salzburg is a true gem of Central Europe and wonderful place to visit with kids. Famous for being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a major setting for the 1960s film The Sound of Music, the city has something to offer everyone. We stopped in Salzburg on our way from Vienna to Munich. After visiting the bustling Austrian capital, it was a nice change of pace. 

Getting to Salzburg via Train

While there are plenty of ways to get to Salzburg, our preferred mode of transportation in Europe is always the train. Trains, especially in this part of the continent, are extremely efficient and comfortable. The train station is located just to the north of the city center. I recommend purchasing the Salzburg Card at the station TI (tourist information office) as the public bus is included. The main bus terminal is located directly in front of the train station. There are lots of different bus lines that leave from this stop, so be sure you know which bus will take you where you want to go.

View of Altstadt (oldtown) and Hohensalzburg Fortress from the river.

Salzburg Card

Many cities across Europe offer a city pass that gives you access to various attractions, museums, and sometimes transportation at a discount. Not every card is worth the price depending on your itinerary, so make sure you do your research. However, the Salzburg Card is one of the best values that we have found. It covers all of the major sites, river cruise, and public transportation (including the Untersberg gondola and funicular to Hohensalzburg Fortress). If you are traveling with small children (ages 4 to 6 years old), check to see whether the places you are planning to visit offer free entrance before buying the card.

Where to Stay

The city center of Salzburg is very walkable. You’ll be able to reach all of the major sites on foot (except for the Day 2 itinerary). I recommend staying close to the river. This will place you within 10-15 minutes from every major point on this itinerary. Most of the major attractions are on the south side of the river in the historic city center (Altstadt). We stayed on the north side of the river near Mirabell Palace in the charming Hotel Stadkrug. If you decide to stay further from the city center, be sure to take advantage of the bus transportation included with your Salzburg Card.

Aiden navigating the streets of Salzburg

Day 1 Itinerary

Hohensalzburg Fortress

The most iconic landmark in Salzburg is the Hohensalzburg Fortress standing watch over the city. The fortress, perched on the hill, is easily accessible via the Festungsberg funicular. We visited the fortress first thing in the morning and found the grounds and museum fairly empty.

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Explore Altstadt (Oldtown Salzburg)

After visiting the fortress, we rode the funicular back down and spent some time wandering the streets of Altstadt (Oldtown Salzburg). There are plenty of restaurants and shops in this part of the city.

Narrow side street in Altstadt (Oldtown) leading toward the fortress.

Residenzplatz

Next, we visited Residenzplatz to check out the fountain and grab a quick bite to eat. The fountain, located in the middle of the square, is one of the largest baroque fountains in Central Europe.

Salzburg’s Residenzplatz

Salzburg Cathedral

Adjacent to Residenzplatz is the Salzburg Cathedral. The cathedral is famous for being the location where Mozart was baptized. Stop in and check out the amazing architecture and paintings through the cathedral.

Ceiling of Salzburg Cathedral

Mozart Birthplace and Museum

Mozart’s birthplace and museum is a must see if you are visiting Salzburg. However, I’m not going to lie and say this was the most exciting place to visit. There is a good chance that most kids will be a little bored here (unless of course they’re some kind of musical prodigy). I recommend visiting the museum after taking a break for lunch to allow the kids to let out some energy. It’s a pretty small place, so you won’t spend a lot of time here.

I recommend giving the kids some background on Mozart before the trip. Purchase a book that you and your child can read together (like Who Was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?). You can also find a selection of classical music on the seat-back entertainment center on the plane.

Mozart birthplace and museum

Mirabell Palace and Gardens

We visited the Mirabell Palace and Gardens during the summer. The gardens were beautiful and full of color. I’ve read that the grounds are underwhelming during the winter, so you might want to swap this itinerary item for another indoor activity (perhaps the Salzburg Museum) if visiting in the off season.

Holly and Aiden in the Mirabell Gardens

Aiden being silly with the Mirabell Garden statues

Day 2 Itinerary

Untersberg Mountain and Gondola

Untersberg Mountain is the prominent peak just south of Salzburg. The mountaintop can be reach via a 10-minute gondola ride. It’s not often that you can find such breathtaking views with the kids in tow.

Check out our complete guide to Taking Kids on the Untersberg Gondola

View of Untersberg Mountain from Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains

We’ve truly saved the best for last here. The trick fountains of Hellbrunn Palace were the highlight of our visit to Salzburg. In fact, I rank this as one of the most kid-friendly activities in all our trips to Europe.

Check out our guide to Visiting the Salzburg Trick Fountains with Kids

An outdoor entertaining areas where the archbishop hosted dinners and surprised his guests.


Thank you for visiting The Wandering Millers. A travel blog that follows a family of four on adventures around the world! For more info, please see our about page. 

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Visiting the Salzburg Trick Fountains with Kids https://wanderingmillers.com/trick-fountains/ https://wanderingmillers.com/trick-fountains/#respond Mon, 08 Oct 2018 01:42:20 +0000 http://wanderingmillers.com/?p=47 The trick fountains at Hellbrunn Palace, located outside the city of Salzburg, are a truly unique experience. The grounds contain the main palace, gardens, folklore museum, and zoo. However, the trick fountains are the main attraction, especially if you are traveling with kids. In fact, I rate this as one of the most kid-friendly places …

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The trick fountains at Hellbrunn Palace, located outside the city of Salzburg, are a truly unique experience. The grounds contain the main palace, gardens, folklore museum, and zoo. However, the trick fountains are the main attraction, especially if you are traveling with kids. In fact, I rate this as one of the most kid-friendly places in all our trips to Europe. It’s the perfect mix of fun and entertainment for the kids and interesting history for the adults.

Planning to Visit Salzburg? Check out our recommended kid-friendly itinerary

View of Hellbrunn Palace from the trick fountains.

Getting to the Trick Fountains

Public transportation in Salzburg is really great. From the Salzburg city center, the bus takes 15 minutes. Bus #25, which runs all the way to the Untersberg gondola, also passes Hellbrunn Palace (stop is called Hellbrunn). I recommend visiting Hellbrunn Palace and Untersberg Mountain in the same day. We went to Hellbrunn Palace after Untersberg to avoid having to cross the busy road with our son. You’ll have plenty of time to visit both places in the same day.

Check out our guide to taking kids on the Untersberg gondola

How Much to Budget

I highly recommend purchasing the Salzburg Card. Entrance to the trick fountains is FREE with the card. Public transportation to the palace is also included.

If you don’t have the Salzburg Card, the cost depends on which attractions you want to see. The standard ticket (12.50 euros for adults and 5.50 euros for kids) includes the trick fountains guided tour and entry to the palace and folklore museum. You can also purchase a combined ticket (22.50 euros for adults and 10.10 euros for kids) which includes the zoo. You might get better pricing with the family pricing option depending on how many adults and children are in your group.

Tipping – Don’t forget to bring some euros to tip your guide at the end of the tour. We left five euros for our family of three (this was before Finny came along).

What to Bring

One thing to know about the trick fountains tour… You WILL get wet. Maybe not soaked, but certainly sprayed or splashed through to tour. If the tour guide tells you to stand in a certain spot to avoid getting wet, just remember that you are visiting the TRICK fountains. We fell for that a couple of times during the tour. Forget about the kids…. they will be drawn to the water and will probably “accidentally” get drenched by the end of the tour. Assume the worst and pack accordingly.

Recommended items to pack:

  • Plastic bags (to protect your phones, cameras, changes of clothes, etc.)
  • Sandals, if visiting during a warmer time of the year.
  • Change of clothes for at least the kids.

The Guided Tour

The guided tour lasts about 40 minutes. When you purchase your tickets, you will be assigned a time for your tour. We visited on a day that wasn’t extremely busy and only had to wait 5-10 minutes.  Our tour guide gave us a full history on how the fountains came to be and let us see them in action.

On the tour, we saw more than just fountains. There are numerous mechanical, hydraulic, and sound-producing contraptions all powered by water. I was impressed that these very complex and intricate pieces were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. One room produces the sound of dozens of birds all with water. There is also a mechanical town with about 200 moving pieces and characters. Check out the photos and videos below.

Our tour guide giving the kids a history lesson. Little do they know… they are in for a wet surprise!!

Aiden enjoying one of the many surprises at the trick fountains.

This room makes bird sounds with just water. It sounds like being in an aviary. 

One of the many mechanical features of the trick fountains.

The mechanical village features about 200 moving parts all powered with water.


Thank you for visiting The Wandering Millers. A travel blog that follows a family of four on adventures around the world! For more info, please see our about page. 

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Taking Kids on the Untersberg Gondola https://wanderingmillers.com/kids-visiting-untersberg/ https://wanderingmillers.com/kids-visiting-untersberg/#respond Tue, 02 Oct 2018 06:06:42 +0000 https://wanderingmillers.com/?p=468 Untersberg Mountain is located just south of the City of Salzburg straddling the border of Austria and Germany. It’s the perfect day trip if you are looking to escape the city and explore the majestic mountains. The best part is that it is easily accessible to families traveling with children. Planning a trip to Salzburg? …

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Untersberg Mountain is located just south of the City of Salzburg straddling the border of Austria and Germany. It’s the perfect day trip if you are looking to escape the city and explore the majestic mountains. The best part is that it is easily accessible to families traveling with children.

Planning a trip to Salzburg? Check out our recommended kid-friendly itinerary.

Aiden looking out over the City of Salzburg.

Getting to the Untersberg Gondola

Public transportation in Salzburg is safe, clean, and reliable. Getting to the gondola takes about 25 minutes by bus from the Salzburg city center. You have a few options, but I recommend Bus #25. The last stop (called Untersbergbahn) is directly in front of the lift station. The bus also stops at Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains. I recommend visiting Hellbrunn Palace after Untersberg to avoid having to cross the busy road with the kids. You’ll have plenty of time to visit both places in the same day.

Check out our guide to Visiting the Trick Fountains with the Kids

How Much to Budget

The gondola is a bit pricey. The cost for adults is 25 euros and 12 euros for children. However, you can ride the gondola for FREE with the Salzburg card. The Salzburg card also covers public transportation, so the bus ride is included as well.

What to Bring

The gondola takes you to an elevation of 1,776 meters (5,826 feet). The temperature at this elevation will be cooler than at the base of the mountain. We visited the mountain top in the month of July and the air was noticeably cooler. We were quite comfortable in long pants and t-shirts (Aiden wore shorts…. but only because the boy hates long pants). Keep this in mind and plan accordingly. It isn’t unreasonable to pack a light jacket, especially when visiting in the morning or cooler part of the day. During the late fall or early spring, it is possible for there to be snow on the summit as the locals use the mountain for skiing and snowboarding.

I also recommend bringing comfortable walking shoes, snacks, and bottled water.

Tip – If the kids get cold, the restaurant has really great hot cocoa. 🙂

The Ride to the Top

The ride up takes about 10 minutes. The views from the gondola are spectacular. The gondola cab has windows on all sides, so you’re sure to get plenty of great photos. For those in your group who are scared of heights (ahem… Papaw), I recommend taking a spot in the middle of the cab away from the windows. The views coming back down are just as wonderful, so you’ll have a second opportunity to get that perfect shot.

Riding the gondola to the top of the mountain.

Exploring the Top of Untersberg Mountain

Once you reach the top, you’ll exit the building to an observation area that looks north over Salzburg. After taking in the views there, take a short hike up to the official summit where you can look across the border into Germany.

Important – The trails are well maintained and there are fences and railings in some of the more precarious areas. However, remind the kids not to stray off the trails or climb on top of any boulders or railings. It’s best to avoid an unnecessary trip to the hospital. Besides, getting quick medical attention from the mountain top might take some time.

Summit of Untersberg Mountain

 

Hiking the trails on Untersberg.
Hiking the trails on Untersberg.

 

Aiden hiking to the Untersberg summit.
Aiden hiking to the Untersberg summit.

There is no limit to the amount of time that you can spend visiting the mountain top. Just be aware of the departure time of the last gondola if you are visiting later in the day. You don’t want to miss the ride down (or you will definitely be putting those comfortable walking shoes to use!!)


Thank you for visiting The Wandering Millers. A travel blog that follows a family of four on adventures around the world! For more info, please see our about page. 

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Keeping Kids Healthy On a Plane https://wanderingmillers.com/keeping-kids-healthy-on-a-plane/ https://wanderingmillers.com/keeping-kids-healthy-on-a-plane/#comments Tue, 18 Sep 2018 00:16:30 +0000 https://wanderingmillers.com/?p=379 Nothing can ruin a trip faster than a sick child. While there are numerous places that your child can pick up a bug, no environment breeds germs like a commercial airplane. There are lots of things you can do to make sure your kids stay healthy on your trip. Let’s face it…. Kids are disgusting. …

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Nothing can ruin a trip faster than a sick child. While there are numerous places that your child can pick up a bug, no environment breeds germs like a commercial airplane. There are lots of things you can do to make sure your kids stay healthy on your trip.

Let’s face it…. Kids are disgusting. Just the other night, I was sitting on the floor with our nearly 6 month old baby. I looked away for a second and felt the wet, warm sensation of his lips wrapped around my big toe. Sick, bro! And it’s not just babies. Older kids are no exception. Everything from snotty noses to open mouth sneezes to forgetting to wash their hands after using the restroom.

Baby Finn on his first international flight.
Finn on his first international flight.

Disinfecting Wipes

First things first. Everything you are about to touch – seat, armrests, tray table, and seat back display – is infected and crawling with bacteria and germs. You think I’m exaggerating? Check out this study. The key to staying healthy is avoiding contact with bacteria and viruses all together. Bring along some disinfecting wipes and take the time to clean any surface that you plan to contact. This should be the first thing you do when you sit down and get settled. Have the kids help with their own space. It doesn’t hurt to offer wipes to other passengers around you especially if they have the window seat and plan to touch your clean space every time they get up to use the restroom. If you are on a long flight, you should repeat the process mid-flight.

Hand Sanitizer

No doubt your child will need to get up to use the bathroom or stretch their legs several times during the flight (if they are like my son, it will be 20 seconds after the boarding doors close). If and when nature calls, be sure to have them sanitize their hands when returning from the “danger zone” outside of your sanitized bubble. Come on now…. You know they didn’t bother to wash their hands.

Open the Air Vents

This one seems a little counter intuitive. A lot of people imagine the air vents recirculating cabin air. However, an airline pilot friend told me that the air goes through a filtering process and is the cleanest air on the plane. His suggestion was to open the vent and point it so it blows directly in front of your face. This will not only give you an endless supply of fresh air but will work to push the stale cabin air out of your space. Since cabin temperature is usually the equivalent to summer in Antarctica, be sure to pack an extra sweatshirt or jacket to compensate for the additional cool air.

Antibiotic Ointment

Another handy piece of advice from my airline pilot friend. Take a Q-tip and use it to lightly coat the inside of your nose with antibiotic ointment. This helps trap any germs or bacteria in your nasal passage.

Pack Your Own Food/Healthy Snacks

I’m a firm believe that the human body is capable of healing and protecting itself if provided optimum nutrients. Let’s face it…. airplane or airport food is far from the healthiest options. You’re on vacation after all. Why not cut loose and let the kids eat that slice of pizza and candy bar for lunch? The problem is that the immune system is incapable of working at 100% without proper nutrition. Plan ahead and pack some healthy snacks to take with you such as fresh or dehydrated fruit, nuts, seeds, and granola bars.

Drink Lots of Water

Drinking plenty of water is just as important as putting the right food in your body. It’s easy to forget to stay properly hydrated yourself, let alone trying to track how much water the munchkins are drinking. Bring more water than you think you will need and make sure that everyone is drinking it. To help track water consumption use a pen or marker to mark the side of your child’s water bottle with lines associated with a certain number of hours. Encourage them to drink to each line by a certain amount of time or landmark. For example, challenge your child to drink a full bottle of water before you fly over Greenland.  This will help them keep track of their water consumption while giving them something to keep them entertained.


Thank you for visiting The Wandering Millers. A travel blog that follows a family of four on adventures around the world! For more info, please see our about page. 

Don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list and follow us on Facebook

 

 

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Bratislava, Slovakia – Day Trip Itinerary with Kids https://wanderingmillers.com/day-trip-bratislava/ https://wanderingmillers.com/day-trip-bratislava/#respond Thu, 09 Aug 2018 05:35:19 +0000 http://wanderingmillers.com/?p=277 We’re a huge fan of day trips. It’s a great way to squeeze an extra country or city into a trip. One of our favorite day trips was to Bratislava, Slovakia located just about an hour train ride from Vienna, Austria. Not only is the city easy to reach, but it is one of the …

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We’re a huge fan of day trips. It’s a great way to squeeze an extra country or city into a trip. One of our favorite day trips was to Bratislava, Slovakia located just about an hour train ride from Vienna, Austria. Not only is the city easy to reach, but it is one of the cheapest day trips we have ever taken.

There is an excursion pass which can be purchased at the main train station in Vienna for about $20 per person. The pass includes round trip train tickets between the two capital cites plus public transportation in Bratislava.

From the train station, you can take one of the city buses toward the old town. The train station is also the main bus terminal, so there are lots of buses. Be sure to check the map or ask a local for the most direct route. You can also walk from the train station to Michael’s Gate in about 25 minutes. We decided to walk to old town in the morning and rode the bus back at the end of the day.

NOTE – Besides the train tickets above, all of the locations in this itinerary are FREE to visit!

Michael’s Gate

Michael’s Gate, built around the year 1300, is the only remaining gate from the original part of the city. If you plan to walk from the train station, you’ll spot the green spire from a ways off. Once you walk through gate, the old town comes alive. The bustling streets leading from Michael’s Gate are filled with lots of restaurants and shops.

View of Michael's Gate from one of the busy shopping streets in Bratislava.
Michael’s Gate

View of old town Bratislava facing away from Michael's Gate
Old Town Bratislava

Main Square & Old Town Hall

Next, make your way to the main square. Take some time to check out the fountain and town hall building. This is a great place to stop for a mid-morning snack. Near the square, you can find a local TI (Tourist Information) office. Stop there to pick up a free map of the city and get some information from the staff.

View of Bratislava town square and fountain.
Bratislava Town Square

 

Cumil, Man at Work Statue

One block from the main square, you’ll find Bratislava’s most iconic art sculpture – Cumil the Man at Work. The sculpture represents a sewer worker stopping for a break in the middle of the day.

Aiden posing with Cumil the Man at Work statue.
Cumil, Man at Work

 

Bratislava Castle

Standing watch over the old town is Bratislava Castle, the most recognizable feature of the city’s skyline. Make the walk up the hill to explore the castle grounds and gardens. The castle grounds are free to explore. The museum costs extra.

Just to the east of the castle, you’ll find a small shaded playground that overlooks the old town. Take an opportunity to let the kids run around for a bit. If you packed food, this is the perfect spot to stop for lunch.

Aiden standing in front of Bratislava Castle
Bratislava Castle

 

St. Martin’s Cathedral

From the park on the hill, take a moment to spot the steeple of St. Martin’s Cathedral. While the cathedral itself isn’t that impressive, it does contain a unique feature. The cathedral was built on top of an old cemetery. In the middle of the floor, you will find a glass panel to view an excavated section of the cemetery with several exposed skeletons.

The steeple of St. Martin's Cathedral as seen from Bratislava Castle.
Steeple of St. Martin’s Cathedral

View through glass panels of two skeletons in excavated cemetery.
View of excavated cemetery.

 

Church of St. Elisabeth

Before heading back to the train station, stop at the famous blue church of Bratislava, the Church of St. Elisabeth. We unfortunately arrived later in the day when the church was closed and did not get to see the interior, but the exterior is the main feature.

The Church of St. Elisabeth is unique and painted blue.
Church of St. Elisabeth

 


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Forget School! Let Your Child Travel https://wanderingmillers.com/child-skipping-school/ https://wanderingmillers.com/child-skipping-school/#comments Mon, 06 Aug 2018 23:05:21 +0000 http://wanderingmillers.com/?p=183 Parents typically look forward to summer vacation when the kids are out of school. An opportunity to loosen up on the strict schedule, enjoy more outdoor activities, and of course travel!! The problem is that everyone else has the same idea. This drives up the costs of flights and hotels during the summer months. Not …

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Parents typically look forward to summer vacation when the kids are out of school. An opportunity to loosen up on the strict schedule, enjoy more outdoor activities, and of course travel!! The problem is that everyone else has the same idea. This drives up the costs of flights and hotels during the summer months. Not only does it cost more, but you’ll see longer queues and bigger crowds at major sites.

So, why limit yourself to just a few months of the year?

For our family, travel is a priority. With our extensive travel wish list, it’s impossible to squeeze everything we want to do into just summer vacations. Of course, that leaves us with the dilemma of whether to allow our son to skip school for a couple weeks each year for a trip (or two).

Aiden sitting in the grass in the Tuileries Garden opening a bag of pastries from a local bakery.
Aiden enjoying a snack in the Tuileries Garden in Paris.

Our first big trip abroad was when Aiden was in the 3rd grade. We found great ticket prices to Europe for the month of October. Until then, we had never let him skip school.

Concerned about pulling him out of school for nearly two weeks, we decided to discuss the trip with his teacher. Much to our surprise, she was totally excited and encouraged the trip. Not only did she reassure us that there wouldn’t be an negative impact to his studies, she helped us develop a study plan to ensure that he didn’t fall behind.

One of our planned stops was Italy, so leading up to the trip, the teacher read the book I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii with the class. Aiden’s assignment was to visit the historic site and prepare a presentation for the class for when we returned. She also created a study packet with two weeks worth of assignments and homework to complete during our numerous hours of transit time by plane or train. We also purchased a journal for him to write in every day.

Aiden standing on the stone lined street and posing for a picture among the ruins of Pompeii.
Aiden posing for a picture among the ruins of Pompeii.

There is no doubt that experiencing another culture is an educational experience in itself. There are some things that simply cannot be taught in a classroom.

Unfortunately, Not every teacher or school will be as supportive. Some schools actually discourage any extended absences from school. The reason may not be related to education at all. For many schools, they receive funding for each student for each day they attend. If students miss school, they don’t receive funding for that day for that child. Take the time to understand how your school is funded. It may explain why you might not receive warm support of your travel plans. Fortunately, we live in a school district that is funded through property taxes, so the school gets paid whether the student misses a day or not.

Ultimately, our trip was a huge success. Ever since, we’ve continued to have at least one trip during the school year. We do our best to avoid critical times of the year such as state testing. Other than that, the rest of the year is fair game. Let’s face it. Our kids are only kids once.


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Finding Vegetarian or Vegan Food on an International Trip https://wanderingmillers.com/finding-vegetarian-or-vegan-food-on-an-international-trip/ https://wanderingmillers.com/finding-vegetarian-or-vegan-food-on-an-international-trip/#respond Fri, 03 Aug 2018 01:24:02 +0000 http://wanderingmillers.com/?p=258 My wife and I became vegetarians in 2013. Living in Southern California, there is no shortage to vegetarian or vegan options. When traveling abroad, we’ve found that finding food options can be a challenge in certain areas. Like anything, major problems can be avoided if you do a little research and plan ahead. While the …

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My wife and I became vegetarians in 2013. Living in Southern California, there is no shortage to vegetarian or vegan options. When traveling abroad, we’ve found that finding food options can be a challenge in certain areas. Like anything, major problems can be avoided if you do a little research and plan ahead. While the focus of this post is centered on finding vegetarian or vegan options, the concept can be applied to any allergies or dietary restrictions.

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Our visit to a public market in Burma.

Useful Phrases

Probably the most important thing you can do is learn how to communicate your dietary restriction. Memorizing a few simple phrases can save a lot of headache and risk of accidentally consuming a product that you normally wouldn’t eat. While it is easy to find people in large cities who speak English well enough to communicate what you want, rural areas are different.

Some recommended phrases to learn:

“I’m a vegetarian/vegan”

“I don’t eat meat” 

“Does this contain ________?” (then learn a few words like “meat”, “eggs”, “cheese” or “dairy”)

“I’m allergic to _________” (This is especially useful as restaurants tend to take an allergy more seriously than simply a dietary choice.)

B.Y.O.S. (Bring Your Own Snacks)

Never underestimate the power of having snacks readily available in the event you are having trouble finding food. We learned this lesson the hard way a couple of years ago on a trip to Paris. We packed a few snacks for the plane, but assumed that we could just buy what we needed upon arrival. We didn’t think about the fact that our flight was arriving very late in the evening and all of the stores would be closed. Ever since, we always pack plenty of snacks to last throughout the trip. Not only does this keep us from being left hungry, it is also cheaper than buying snacks everywhere you go. Plus, as you eat the food you brought, you will free up room in your bag for souvenirs.

Some of our favorite snacks:

  • Fruit
  • Nuts and Seeds – great source of protein to keep you full and a lot of calories in a small amount.
  • Oatmeal packets
  • Pretzels
  • Bars – I recommend Larabars. Plant-based and lots of different flavors.  My personal favorite below. 🙂

Larabar Gluten Free Bar, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, 1.6 oz Bars (10 Count)

Hit the Grocery Store or Local Market

We’re definitely foodies and enjoy eating at restaurants. However, restaurants can sometimes be tricky. This is especially true in areas where the local food tends to be tailored toward local produce. For example, it can be difficult to find non-seafood restaurants in coastal areas.

We have found that we also enjoy visiting local bakeries and shops for a quick snack to eat at a nearby park. Since we usually rent an apartment through Airbnb or Homeaway, we often buy food from a local grocery store or market anyway. This makes it easier to prepare some of our own food and pack lunches.

Besides the convenience, you’ll also save lots of time that you can use to explore the city more. Plus, you’ll get more of an opportunity to mingle with locals rather than a restaurant packed with other tourists.

Try New Things

According to the United Nations, there are hundreds of thousands of edible plants. We  only eat a small number of them (I’ve read that 90% of the fruits and vegetables that Americans eat come from only about 20 different plants). Many of these foods are only found or consumed in certain areas around the globe. Take the opportunity to try and experience a new food that you may never see again.

“Of the 4 percent of the 250 000 to 300 000 known edible plant species, only 150 to 200 are used by humans. Only three – rice, maize (corn) and wheat – contribute nearly 60 percent of calories and proteins obtained by humans from plants.”

~ United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization

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Water Caltrops that we found at several roadside food stands in Thailand.

 


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What is a Country? https://wanderingmillers.com/what-is-a-country/ https://wanderingmillers.com/what-is-a-country/#comments Wed, 04 Jul 2018 19:20:08 +0000 http://wanderingmillers.com/?p=55 I often get asked how many countries I have visited. Seems like a straightforward question. My personal goal is to reach 40 countries across all seven continents. So, surely I have an official list that I simply use to check off each location that I visit, right? Not exactly. Believe it or not, it is …

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I often get asked how many countries I have visited. Seems like a straightforward question. My personal goal is to reach 40 countries across all seven continents. So, surely I have an official list that I simply use to check off each location that I visit, right? Not exactly. Believe it or not, it is actually very difficult to say for sure depending on each person’s definition of country. There are many places and territories around the globe that are “gray” areas when it comes to sovereignty.

blur cartography close up concept

The United Nations officially has 193 member states and 2 observer states – the Holy See (Vatican) and Palestine. Other sources online will list nearly 250 countries. So, why would different sources have different counts? It all boils down to each group’s criteria used to determine whether a location qualifies as a country. While it may seem like the UN’s list would be the most straightforward, there are several things that need to be considered.

Disputed Countries

Not every country within the UN is unanimously accepted as a sovereign nation. Some member states remain unrecognized by other members. For example, Israel is not recognized by 31 members. North Korea remains unrecognized by South Korea (surprise, surprise), France, and Japan.

Constituent Countries

Several of the UN member states are sovereign nations made up of a few smaller constituent countries such as the United Kingdom which consists of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Another example is Aruba which is part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. Most people wouldn’t visit the Caribbean island and answer yes when asked if they have been to The Netherlands.

Some places in the world are simply too unique to not count as a entirely different place. Greenland fits the bill here. While Greenland is technically a constituent country that is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, it differs from it’s parent nation if numerous ways. Greenland is located on another continent, has a unique landscape, separate culture, and even its own language.

Autonomous Territories

Some places, while not technically countries, operate as though they were. Hong Kong which was reunited with China in 1997 after being a British territory for 156 years. Even though Hong Kong is officially a part of China today, the territory has maintained a level of separation. Hong Kong still has it’s own currency and passports. It can even negotiate international trade agreements on its own separate from China.

Personal Preference

What you consider a country may vary depending on where you are from and how you view the world. In fact, you may not even care about counting countries at all. You can still travel a lot and visit the same places over and over (which is perfectly OK!) For me, I didn’t create my 40 country/7 continent goal for bragging rights. I did it to ensure that I am always visiting new and unique locations around the globe. At the end of the day, it really boils down to how each traveler wants to define their own journey.


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Visiting Crystal Cave With a Baby https://wanderingmillers.com/visiting-crystal-cave-with-a-baby/ https://wanderingmillers.com/visiting-crystal-cave-with-a-baby/#respond Wed, 27 Jun 2018 00:40:59 +0000 http://wanderingmillers.com/?p=241 When most people think of Sequoia National Park, the first thing that comes to mind is gigantic trees. While the trees are the highlight of the park, there are lots of other hidden gems to explore. One of our favorites was Crystal Cave. We were a little nervous after speaking with the park ranger about …

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When most people think of Sequoia National Park, the first thing that comes to mind is gigantic trees. While the trees are the highlight of the park, there are lots of other hidden gems to explore. One of our favorites was Crystal Cave. We were a little nervous after speaking with the park ranger about taking a 3 month old infant, but it ended up being quite enjoyable and totally doable.

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Entrance to Crystal Cave.

Cost

All visitors (including infants) must have a ticket to enter the cave. You can purchase your tickets online or at one of the visitor centers (we bought ours at the Foothill Visitor Center). Check which locations sell them before you go. The cost for the standard tour was $16 for adults, $8 for kids (under 12), and $5 for infants (under 4).

Getting There

The road to the Crystal Cave parking area is clearly marked and located just two miles south of the General Forest Museum. Unfortunately, the free shuttles do no go to the cave, so you will have to drive your own vehicle. Once you turn onto the road, you will go about 6 more miles until it dead ends into the Crystal Cave parking area. Despite being only 8 miles from the main hub of the park, plan for the drive to take at least 30 minutes due to the winding and narrow road. There are several places where it is barely wide enough for two cars to pass. With that said, there are few places to pull off, so keep the diaper bag and snacks within reach in case you need anything. Just give yourself plenty of time and take it slow.

What to Bring

Water is an absolute must. There is no access to water at the parking area or on the trail. There is a small office that sells bottles of water and snacks, but there is no guarantee that will be open. Also, bring a light jacket. The inside temperature of the cave is 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. I wore jeans and a t-shirt into the cave and didn’t find it to be terribly cold. We did bring a nice warm jacket for the baby.

Note – You are not allowed to take any large items such as backpacks or baby carriers into the cave. You can take a water bottle and camera (no camera bag). All large items have to be left unattended at the entrance of the cave. We used the baby carrier on the hike down and just carried Finn inside the cave. We did also take a full bottle, which ended up coming in handy as he decided he was hungry mid-tour.

Also, traveling with kids means that you probably have lots of snacks in the car. Be sure to remove all the food items from your car and place them in the bear proof lockers at the trail head. If you have every seen one of those YouTube videos of a bear breaking into a car, you’ll understand why. Just pray the bear can’t smell the stale Cheetos wedged in your back seat :).

Planning Your Schedule

Including the drive there and back (from the museum, budget more time if you are coming from another part of the park), hike in and out, and cave tour, you can expect to spend at least 3 full hours.

The Hike Down

The park website labels the trail as “steep and strenuous”. While the trail is 1/2 mile long, we didn’t find it terribly difficult even with a baby in tow. You do have to move a little quicker on the way down so you can keep up with your tour group, but you are able to take more time hiking back up after the tour so use that opportunity to rest and take the photos you didn’t get on the way down (there are a couple nice waterfalls near the bottom, so listen for the water to know you are getting close). There are a few hazards to be aware of when hiking the trail with kids:

Rockfall Areas – There are a few areas that are clearly marked as rockfall areas. While the chances of getting hit with a falling rock are slim, the ranger encouraged us to “walk with purpose” in these areas.

Rattlesnakes – There are several sections of trail that are in the sun which is a perfect place for snakes to warm themselves. While we didn’t run across any snakes, we did pass a couple who warned us that they had spotted a rattlesnake not far ahead. Fortunately, it was gone by the time we got there.

Poison Oak – We spotted a good bit of poison oak along the trail. Best to keep the little ones out.

Inside the Cave

The cave itself was quite impressive and much more than I was expecting. There is a fairly clear path that is easy to follow. The path makes a loop so you won’t get lost if you get separated from the group.

While the cave is artificially illuminated, our tour guide made sure to provide a flashlight to any parents with small children so we could easily and safely make your way out the cave in the event that a child got scared. We did make it the entire tour, but quickly discovered that our baby is a sympathy crier and couldn’t resist joining in when the other tiny travelers decided to cry. On the bright side, we got a great feel for the acoustic properties of the cave itself (I’m sure the sleeping bats weren’t as amused).

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Inside the Largest Cavern of Crystal Cave

Our guide was fantastic. He shared a lot of great information about how the cave was formed. At one point, our guide had us turn off all our electronic devices and stand very quietly. He then proceeded to turn off the artificial lights for 15-20 seconds so we could experience the cave in it’s natural state. I have to admit that the sensation of total darkness and silence (except for the occasional sound of water dripping from the cave ceiling) was pleasantly tranquil.


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