Berlin: The Place To Be!

The capital of Germany is a city that is rich with history, tradition, art and culture. Since emerging as the
capital of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701 the city of Berlin has played a key role in
shaping the world as we know it today.

Berlin is a vibrant and fascinating city – the perfect destination for a family expedition.
Not only will you find plenty of activities and points of interest to
amuse the kids, but you will inevitably soak up the history that is living around you, ensuring that
this is a holiday that will help open your children’s minds as to how the world works.

Cycle the streets
If your kids are up for a bit of cycling, grab some hire bikes – there is a great network of cycle paths
throughout the city and you’ll be able to cover a lot more ground as well as getting some exercise.
There are cycle tours of the city and the cost of the one I took was by suggested donation.
Fuel up on pretzels or curry wursts if you get tired.

Walk the wall
While East is now connected to West, it is still important to understand how the Berlin wall divided
this city in every way. Only a mile or so of the wall remains and it is now a powerful memorial that
runs along the Spree River. It is painted vividly and it is fascinating to wander along and experience it
first hand. Also visit Checkpoint Charlie – the most famous border crossing during the cold war and
often a key setting for spy thrillers.

Ride the trains
Berlin’s public transport system is one of the best in Europe – clean, efficient, and easy to use. The
ticketing system is fairly easy to follow, but there are also multi-day tourist tickets available which
can make things a bit simpler if you know that you’re going to be moving around a lot. They don’t
have ticket barriers but they do have a lot of plain clothes ticket inspectors riding the trains who will
dish out fines with ruthless efficiency if you try to ride the trains without buying a ticket.

Learn the history
Germany’s role in World War II is still very much recent history and you can feel that wherever you
are. Berlin was the target of 363 air raids during the war – the devastation was extreme and much
of the city had to be totally rebuilt. If you only do one educational or historical thing while you
are in Berlin, make sure you take your family to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Simple but incredibly clever in its design, the memorial is 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid
pattern on a sloping field – representing an ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.
It is emotionally overwhelming. The Reichstag Building which became home to the German parliament
after reunification is also an excellent place to visit. A mixture of old and new architecture it
is topped by a spectacular glass dome and from the rooftop you have 360 degree views of the city
including the Bradenburg Gate.

Live the lifestyle
One of the most enjoyable things about Berlin is just hanging out in the eclectic and cool
neighbourhoods such as Mitte or Shoneberg, exploring the local shops and soaking in the local
atmosphere. It is a surprisingly liveable, friendly, and welcoming city.

Berlin is truly one of the world’s great cities in every sense of the word.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Hindrik Sijens Inside the glass dome of the German parliament building.

Munich : More than the Oktoberfest!

When you imagine old-world Germany, the world of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, chances are you are conjuring up images of men in lederhosen, huge steins of beer, rich comforting food, and a love of music and dancing. Chances are you are conjuring up Bavaria – an ancient medieval kingdom that now forms the state of Bavaria within Germany. Munich is the capital of Bavaria, and traces its history back to the 12th century. It has a long and illustrious history that Bavarians are incredibly proud of and continue to enthusiastically celebrate. Munich is a stunning city, but also surprisingly family friendly. In this article we share some hints and tips to help you plan your family’s fairy tale expedition.

Politics

Politics is a subject best avoided on a family holiday, but recent German history has had such a profound impact in shaping the world as we know it today that you are a little obliged to educate your family while you travel through this region. It was in Munich in the early 1920s that German national socialism and the Nazi party first rose to prominence. When the National Socialists took control of Germany in 1933, Munich was a key centre of power. The first concentration camp was established at Dachau – just 10 miles out of the city. Heavily damaged by air raids during World War II, Munich was completely rebuilt after the US took control in 1945. Since then Munich has prospered economically, but a further political twist came in 1972 when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and assassinated by Palestinian extremists during the 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich.

The old city

The best way to appreciate Munich is to walk its old streets – despite the bombings and reconstruction of its recent history, the old street layout has been retained and many historic buildings have survived. Start in the central square of Marienplatz in front of the town hall. Old city gates that date back to the medieval fortifications are still standing. There’s also some amazing churches in the city that may not interest the kids too much – but at least try and get them to the Frauenkirche, the city’s cathedral and a stunning building.

The food

One of the best ways to experience a city like Munich is through its food. There are a lot of Bavarian specialities, some of which may not be to the liking of your children, but make sure that you get a good start to your day with a meal of the traditional white sausage, served with sweet mustard and a freshly baked pretzel. The tradition is that these are only eaten before 12:00 noon – this dates back to before refrigeration and ensured the freshness of the sausage. Everyone loves apple strudel and Bavaria is the home of apple strudel – always served with a generous helping of vanilla cream.

Oktoberfest

While a massive beer festival may not seem particularly child friendly, Oktoberfest is a lot more than just drinking beer – for two weeks in late September Munich comes alive with millions of people, dressed in traditional costumes and enjoying themselves. You might think that people would only wear the traditional lederhosen or dirndl if they were going to a beer hall or a party, but everyone just seems to wear them everywhere at this time – proud of their Bavarian heritage and embracing the spirit of the occasion.

Brush up on your fairy tales and dive into the weird and wonderful world of Munich and the ancient kingdom of Bavaria.

Photo Credit : Creative Commons, Nicholas Vollmer

Celebrity Spotting In London’s Primrose Hill !

London is one of those surprising cities – little pockets and neighbourhoods that most visitors won’t have time to discover but are the kind of things that make London an incredibly liveable city (if you have a bit of money and a decent job). Primrose Hill has always been one of London’s most fashionable neighbourhoods, and if you are looking for a way to entertain the kids then here are a few suggestions on how to make a family friendly expedition to this little corner of London.

The view

The hill that gives this area its name is just on the northern side of Regent’s Park (one of the best parks in this surprisingly green city). The hill is 256 feet high (78 metres), which perhaps doesn’t sound that big but due to London’s low-rise planning regulations, the view that it affords you is absolutely breathtaking. One of the reasons that this area survived as open parkland during the development of London was that it was appropriated by King Henry VIII as a hunting park, during the mid 1800s it was declared as a public park. When the weather is good this is the perfect place to roll out your blanket and relax over a picnic or simply unfurl your kite and let it catch the breeze while you admire the views across London.

The celebrities

With it’s streets lined with expensive Victorian terraces, Primrose Hill is the kind of desirable London neighbourhood where everyone wants to live and no one can actually afford – unless you are a celebrity. Part of the fun is wandering the streets and keeping an eye for famous faces, or people who look like they should be famous, or might be famous, or think that they’re famous. Supermodels, actors, and people who are famous just for being famous all choose to make their home in Primrose Hill. If you don’t manage to spot the real thing, then waxworks Madame Tussaud’s is just down the road so you can always go and have your picture taken with a lifelike representation of your favourite stars.

The shops and cafes

Primrose Hill does great shopping. This is the neighbourhood where you will find the designer boutiques and independent retailers that seem to have disappeared from the high streets of most other parts of the United Kingdom. Cake shops, delis, bakeries, and cafes all thronging with glamorous locals out enjoying the relaxed lifestyle of this area. Plus there are some really great pubs in Primrose Hill. If you are looking for a family-friendly “gastro-pub” that serves up a proper Sunday Roast lunch then you are spoiled for choice in Primrose Hill.

Green spaces, liveable neighbourhoods, hills with amazing views and top kite-flying credentials. Sometimes it is hard to believe that London is such a massive city teeming with millions of people. You might not be able to afford in the glamorous streets of Primrose Hill, but take the family for a visit and at least pretend for a little while.

photo credit: Creative commons [Duncun]

London’ Soho: Not Just For the Adults !

London’s Soho may not seem like an obvious choice for a day out for the family. This is one of London’s most famous entertainment and nightlife areas – full of pubs, sex shops, gay bars, and the normal edginess that can make a night out on the town an exciting proposition. When you’re trying to entertain the kids though, this is normally the type of area that you would stay away from. But things have been changing in Soho – here’s a few family-friendly activities that are worth exploring.

Picnics
If it’s a sunny day, a great place for a picnic is Soho Square. This is an ancient little square, typical of London, and dates back to the late 1600s. There are often table tennis tables set up here so you can challenge the kids to a game. If you are making this expedition educational, Soho Square features in the Dickens’ classic “A Tale of Two Cities”. There’s also a bench hear that commemorates singer Kirsty MacColl (remember she sang with the Pogues on the fantastic song “Fairy Tales of New York”) although that may be a bit of an obscure reference for the kids.

Movies
Soho is home to much of the UK’s film, media and post-production industry. As you wander the streets of Soho you will see a lot of posters of film and television productions proudly displayed in the windows of the agencies that have worked on them. See if you can spot Hammer House which is the famous film company that produced a slew of gothic horror classics. You are also just one block away from the cinemas of Leicester Square so you could also make your Soho excursion a real movie-loving experience.

Shopping
Soho has great shopping – some really interesting and fashion-forward boutiques. However, to keep it interesting for the kids, head to Carnaby Street. This little shopping street became famous in the 1960s, setting the trends for the decade and becoming synonymous with Mod fashion and the big British bands at that time such as the Small Faces, The Who, and the Rolling Stones who were often seen shopping here when performing nearby.

Treats
There are some great cafes and restaurants in Soho – and a couple that will definitely get the kids excited. For ice-cream head to Gelupo in Archer Street. An offshoot of the well-respected Italian restaurant Bocca di Lupo (which is across the road), Gelupo makes the kind of ice-cream and gelato that you dream of – amazing flavour combinations. Head down Wardour Street and you’ll find the chocolate shop of Paul A. Young. This is a chocolate lover’s heaven – lots of samples to try and a huge array of truffles to choose from (make sure you try the salted caramel – amazing). A few doors down stop for cake at Princi. This is busy, bustling bakery with a stunning array of cakes to choose from.

These days there is a lot more to Soho than lap-dancing bars and dingy back-alleys. Take the kids on a London adventure and show them the best of this vibrant and exciting neighbourhood.

Photo Credit : Creative Commons, Simon and his Camera

London’s Covent Garden: A Theatre and Foodie Hotspot

Covent Garden is one of the most exciting and vibrant areas in central London. But is it a good place to take the kids? Absolutely. In this article we share some of our top Covent Garden highlights for a family expedition.

The market
Covent Garden as we know it today was shaped by a large fruit and vegetable wholesale market. In the early 1970s, due to increasing traffic congestion, the wholesale was relocated. This historic market buildings were protected and refurbished as a shopping precinct. The old market is now a buzzing, thriving area – filled with shops, market stalls, cafes and restaurants, and some of London’s best buskers. You can easily spend a couple of hours here, wandering around the different market buildings, exploring the shops, tasting, trying, or just sitting in the sun and being entertained.

The theatres
As well as being the home of London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden is also home to some of London’s most famous theatres. Take the kids to a matinee of one of the many shows or musicals on offer. A big favourite with kids is Disney’s Lion King – it has been running for years at the Lyceum Theatre which is right in the heart of Covent Garden. Another extremely popular show is Matilda. You should be able to pick up some cheap tickets or some returns for a matinee performance.

Seven Dials
This is an iconic part of the Covent Garden neighbourhood – seven streets all intersect into a small roundabout with a central monument. You can sit on the monument and watch the world go by. There is great shopping around Seven Dials. This is also the home of Neal’s Yard Dairy which has a huge selection of English cheese, as well as Monmouth Coffee which many in London would argue is London’s best coffee.

New Row
One of the coolest streets in Coven Garden is New Row. If you need a treat to keep the kids upbeat then head to La Gelatiera – this is artisan gelato made fresh daily on the premises. They have some surprising flavour combinations that you might be a little skeptical of at first, but you can try before you buy and this is top drawer gelato that never disappoints. There is also really good coffee just a few doors down at New Row Coffee where you can fuel up on your caffeine and also use their free wifi if you need to check a map or upload some photos.

London Transport Museum
The London Transport Museum can be found in Covent Garden. It may not sound that interesting, but this is definitely something that the kids will enjoy – old buses, old tube trains, all the ins and outs of London’s public transport system that will be your best friend on your travels around this city.

London is one of the world’s truly great cities, but it is an enormous place and there is a lot to explore. The best way is to break down into bite-size, manageable chunks. Covent Garden is a great place to start.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Blowing Puffer Fish

Living it up In Mayfair, London !

If your family plays the board game Monopoly at all (or at least the traditional UK version), you’ll be familiar with Mayfair as the most expensive dark blue property on the board. The actual district of Mayfair is one of the prime spots in central London – just on the east edge of the massive Hyde Park. This is a land of foreign embassies, luxury hotels, boutique and designer label shopping, and some of the most exclusive residences in the world. Is it worth a visit? Absolutely. Take the kids and wander around the streets of Mayfair – there is a lot to explore. In this article we share with you a few of our favourite discoveries in this fashionable part of town.

Start the day right
If you are travelling by tube, get off at Green Park station and begin your Mayfair adventure with breakfast at The Wolseley. This looks and feels a bit expensive, but they do an amazing breakfast and it is surprisingly child friendly. This is an old-world cafe in the great European tradition. A lot of fun, reasonably priced, and the breakfast options are stunning.

Get Educational
If your kids are into science at all then the The Royal Institution has a lot of fun, hands-on exhibits that really helps to bring the world of science alive.

Window Shopping
You probably won’t be able to afford to buy much from the big label shops that line New Bond Street, but the window shopping is good fun. Spectacular window displays vividly illustrate the strength of London’s fashion scene. This is a good opportunity for some celebrity spotting too.

Burlington Arcade
Wander down the Burlington Arcade and you’ll realise that shopping can be elevated to an art form. This is a beautiful covered walkway with small boutique stores on either side. Shoppers are greeted by sharply dressed doormen and the shops feature a lot of things that you probably didn’t realise that you desperately want. Stop in at Laduree for some Parisian macaroons – stunning.

Grocery shop with the Queen
Fortnum and Mason is London’s famous department store and proudly supplies groceries to the Queen. It’s a stunning store that befits this grand old business.

Stop for afternoon tea
It depends on what is going to appeal most to your family. High Tea at the Ritz Hotel is pretty spectacular, but if that might not be quite right for your children another good option is afternoon tea at Brown’s Hotel. This is London’s oldest hotel and comes with a lot of history. The first UK telephone call was made from here, Agatha Christie set one of her mysteries here, and Rudyard Kipling was staying here when he wrote The Jungle Book.

The history of London means that it is a city of enormous contrasts – some of its neighbourhoods are little worlds of their own, existing in a rarefied way of life that seems completely at odds with how everyday Londoners actually exist. Immerse your family, give them a taste of what is possible. Monopoly will never be the same again.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, JR P

Osaka, Japan: Street Food Heaven

Osaka is one of Japan’s most vibrant and exciting cities. It has always been an important commercial and trading hub, but it’s also one of the best destinations in Japan for an exciting and fun holiday with the family. In this article we take a look at some of the things that make Osaka one of the top places to visit in Japan.

Street Food
Each region in Japan has their own special dishes and variations on traditional cuisine. Osaka is particularly renowned for its street food. Head to Dotonbori Street in the centre of town. This whole area surrounding the Dotonbori Canal is Osaka’s main entertainment district, and at night it really comes alive with heaps of people out and about enjoying themselves. Dotonbori Street is a food street – it is lined with restaurants and food stalls and at lunchtime you will see the locals queuing up at their favourite eateries. One of Osaka’s specialties is Okonomi-yaki – the fried cabbage pancake that can be flavoured with seafood or pork. This is a fun dish that kids will enjoy – it is generally cooked in front of you on a sizzling hot plate. The other dish that Okasa is particularly well known for is Takoyaki or Octopus Balls. These are surprisingly delicious – actually pieces of diced octopus cooked in a soft batter that is shaped into a ball during the cooking process. There are restaurants where they will show you how to cook your own – patiently turning the batter to cook it into shape in the special pan – but actually the ones that you buy from the street stall are generally nicer. One word of warning is that Takoyaki are always served piping hot and the soft batter inside the ball will burn your mouth instantly unless you are patient and let them cool a little. I have learnt this from bitter experience, but every time I still burn my mouth. Every time!

The Castle
Osaka is home to one of Japan’s most famous castles – it played a major role in the unification of Japan in the 16th Century. The castle is situated in a large park which is a great spot for a picnic – particularly during cherry blossom season or in Autumn when the colour of the leaves is spectacular. Like most castles in Japan, the Osaka castle has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. In the early 1900s the castle was the site of one of the Japanese army’s arsenals and in the lead up to World War II the armoury at the castle was employing 60,000 workers. As a result it was heavily targeted by the bombing raids of the United States and the castle and the entire area was severely damaged. A full restoration has since been completed. Today, the castle building houses a military museum which is only okay, but the climb to the top of the tower is well worth doing for spectacular views across the city.

Day Trips
Osaka is well connected by Japan’s extensive train system. Kyoto is just a thirty minute train journey away and there are a huge amount of things to do and see there. One option you might want to consider is Nara. Only half an hour away by train Nara has a lot of history but it is also fun for the kids as Nara’s park and extensive temple grounds are home to hundreds of deer who will follow you around patiently hoping that you will feed them something.

There is a huge amount to see and do in Osaka and the surrounding region. Your family expedition will be an adventure that you will all treasure for years to come.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Luke Ma

Kyoto, Japan: A Great Family Holiday Destination

Kyoto is Japan’s ancient capital of capitals, it was from here that the Japanese emperors ruled the country through the ages until eventually the capital moved to Tokyo. Awash with temples and ancient history, Kyoto was deliberately spared from the air-raids by the United States during World War II because of it’s cultural importance. So while Kyoto is obviously the perfect destination for history buffs and temple lovers, what does it offer the whole family? Is this somewhere you would take your children while on holiday to Japan? Absolutely. I’m going to share a few hints and tips as to why I believe Kyoto is one of the world’s great destinations for a family expedition.

Cycling
One of the great things about Kyoto is that it is flat and everyone cycles everywhere. The city is situated in a basin surrounded by mountains so cycling around the city streets is easy. The pavements are wide and everyone cycles on the pavements (it is what you are supposed to do). There are plenty of bike hire places so hire some bikes and hit the streets – you will have a lot of fun and soon be navigating the city like locals.

Food
Even if your kids are not the most adventurous eaters, there is so much to choose from within Japanese cuisine that you will have a lot of fun tasting and trying the different options available. Kyoto has a lot of great cuisine to try – one of the most popular local dishes is Shabu Shabu which is a steamboat style of cooking (where you cook your own food at your table). Your kids will also love Tempura (deep frying in a light batter) – definitely the only way to eat vegetables; and of course there is sushi – Kyoto has a couple of really good sushi train restaurants where you carefully watch the plates as they trundle past, keeping an eye out for something that is going to take your fancy.

Cherry Blossom
Kyoto is one of the best places in Japan to experience the spectacular cherry blossom season referred to locally as Sakura. It is hard to describe just how overwhelming cherry blossom season is in Kyoto until you have actually experienced it. There are cherry blossoms lining every street and surrounding all of the temples and key buildings. The exact timing of when the trees will blossom varies depending on the weather – in the lead up to cherry blossom there is a daily cherry blossom forecast, predicting the start of the blossom, the peak of the blossom, and the end of the blossom, it is about a two week period in total. Streets and stores are decorated, hotels are completely booked out, special food is served, and there is a tangible sense of excitement and anticipation throughout the city. The blossom really is spectacular and your kids will be in awe.

Embrace the history and culture of Japan as you take your family on an expedition that they will never forget. Kyoto is fascinating, exciting, and surprising.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Norio Nakayama

Tokyo, Japan: Family Fun at the Sumo!

Tokyo is one of the most exciting, vibrant, and busiest cities in the world. But the prospect of taking your family there for a visit might seem a little overwhelming – the language, the alphabet, the food, and the sheer pace of a city this size. Sure you could take the easy option and take the kids to Tokyo Disneyland, but that is really defeating the purpose of having a travel adventure together. In this article we share with you a few hints and tips on how to tackle Tokyo with the family and have an amazing travel experience.

Embrace public transport
The public transport system of Tokyo is going to become your best friend – it is by far the easiest way to get around the city. It obviously gets busy at peak times in the morning and the evening, which are best avoided, but most of the time you won’t feel crammed in like a sardine and you will be able to find your way easily. Looking at the transport map is initially overwhelming, but there is always an English version of the map available, all the ticket machines have an English language option, and most of the the ticket office staff will speaking enough English to be able to help you. The ticket pricing can be a little confusing, so buy a Suica card which is the stored value card that enables you to touch in and touch out of the ticket barriers. Once you get the hang of it you and the family will be riding those trains like a local.

Eat lots of food
If your kids like Japanese food then you are going to have a great time trying all the different seasonal and regional varieties of food that can be found in Tokyo. You don’t have to go to the Michelin starred restaurants ( although there are plenty of them) as most places are fairly child friendly. A lot of cafes and restaurants still have smoking sections that aren’t particularly isolated, so you may feel you want to check that out before deciding to eat somewhere. Visiting the enormous Tsukiji Fish Market is definitely an option – you don’t have to be up crazy early for the tuna auction (unless you want to), once the market opens to the public there is a lot of action to see. This is a working market though so you will want to keep a close eye on the kids. Stop for a sushi breakfast in the market – super fresh. It’s important to note that Yakitori bars generally don’t allow children, although you might be able to perch on one of the outdoor tables.

Dive into the culture
Japan’s history and culture is obviously ancient and fascinating, and you can ensure that this is an educational trip without being too boring. If you can time your visit to Tokyo with one of the regular Sumo tournaments this is an exciting way to see this incredible sport up close and personal, and get an appreciation of the role it plays in Japanese culture today. If there isn’t a tournament on then you can visit the area where the Sumo training stables are, but access to these is generally very limited.

Tokyo is fantastic city. Is your family ready for the adventure?

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Simon Q

Valencia, Spain: Festivals, Food and Fun Family Times.

Valencia is one Spain’s most fascinating cities – a history stretching back to the Roman Empire when Roman colonists settled there around the year 100BC. When the Moors from Northern Africa took control of most of the Iberian peninsula (around 700AD), the churches and temples that had been built by the Christian church were converted to mosques and the city remained a centre for Islamic culture until 1238 when the Christian King of Aragon conquered the city, expelled the Muslim population, and converted the mosques back to churches. Fascinating if you are interested in history, and appreciate the mix of architectural styles that can still be found within the old city walls. But is it the ideal location for a family vacation? Absolutely. In this article I’ll give you a few hints and tips on how to make the most of your family’s visit to Valencia.

Festivals
The Spanish love their festivals and throw real energy into their celebrations. The best festival in Valencia is Las Fallas. This is a festival that originally began as a competition between the city’s carpenters, building effigies of their patron saint that would then be burnt as bonfires. This tradition has grown and evolved and now each neighbourhood in the city builds their own effigy – competing to create the largest and most elaborate construction. The effigies are then burnt in the street on the final night of the festival and everyone goes out and enjoys themselves. Like most festivals in Spain this runs late into the night so you will want to try and ensure that everyone has a siesta so that you can stay up late to enjoy the fun.

Food
Head to Valencia’s central food market (Mercat Central de Valencia) for a fantastic food experience for the family. It has an huge number of stalls offering all sorts of fresh produce, meats, seafood, fruit and vegetables. This is a great spot to grab an easy lunch – jostle your way into a counter seat at one of the cafes and snack on a great variety of tapas-style goodies. Even if your kids are not particularly adventurous eaters, the small plates of tapas food are a great way to get them to try a few of the different things that you will have seen around the market – if they don’t like it you will just have to finish it off yourself! Grab a glass of Fino or Tempranillo too – tapas always tastes better with a small glass of sherry.

Outdoors
Valencia was founded in a strategic position on the banks of the Turia River. In 1957 the river flooded and devastated the city, and killed over 80 people. To avoid any future flooding, the river was diverted, the new course taking the river around the city, leaving the old dry riverbed running through the city. The old riverbed has now been turned into a fantastic park that is always full of locals out enjoying themselves. There are cycle paths, football pitches, climbing walls, and cafes. There’s also a great adventure playground which features a huge model of Gulliver (from Gulliver’s Travels) tied to the ground with ropes (which the kids can climb on).

Ancient and fascinating, but also vibrant and exciting. Your family expedition to Valencia will be an adventure that you will treasure for years to come.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Keith Ellwood