We were excited to find family friendly wineries in Stellenbosch! When it came time for our amazing safari experience to end, we hopped a plane back to the Western Cape and continued on with our South African adventure. These top 2 wineries to visit in Stellenbosch with kids are ones not to miss!
After we saw all the sights in Cape Town and enjoyed all the wild animals in the bush, we were ready to relax a little before heading back to Germany.
And what better place than the winelands just outside of Cape Town! Think the Margaret River region in Australia or Sonoma, California...only with these gorgeous mountain tops as our background.
There are various wineries which are kid-friendly and a few even have a play center to drop off the littles while you sample all the vino until your heart is content. The ones with play centers are generally an all-around more expensive experience, though.
We decided to see the kids with us and go with the wineries which had lots of outdoor space or a playground attached. One specific winery had a water feature the kids fell in love with. More on that in a bit...
Deciding to have small children accompany you to one of these delightful places is an entirely different experience than making it an adult's only venture. If you are in the market for a tour or day trip around the winelands sans children, then I highly recommend checking out Trip Advisor's list.
As I mentioned earlier- we did our research on the best wineries to visit in Stellenbosch with kids, and we were not disappointed with the two options we chose. They featured playgrounds, kid-friendly picnic options, and lots of green space.
Spier Wines was our first winery visit -
R310 Baden Powell Road, Stellenbosch
We chose to book a picnic for our family and purchased a bottle of this deliciousness to enjoy while there.
The kids mainly relished the freedom of no longer being boxed up in the car.
I mean, who truly needs a playground when you have nature to climb?
For The Kids: If you make a visit to the Spier wine farm, children get three grape juices to taste and a coloring activity sheet about insects in the vineyard. This should keep them entertained for a bit while sampling their two sparkling grape juices and one still. Your children will enjoy being included in the "wine tastings."
If you are looking for a hearty meal after a light picnic in Stellies (Stellenbosch to the locals), be sure to make a stop at Tiger's Milk. They have several locations around the Cape, but we put this on our list while out and about in the wineland region. It's a great spot to visit in Stellenbosch with kids! Fab selection of burgers, pizza, and other grilled bites. Their tagline says it all "Dude Food Made Real Good." The outside seating is a plus for the kids, not to mention enjoying a refreshing pint on the porch as well.
Warwick Wine Estate was our second winery visit -
On the R44 between Stellenbosch and Klapmuts
GPS Co-ordinates - 33 50 27 S - 18 51 54 E
This was our favorite discovery! We booked a picnic here as well, but the kids had their own unique boxes filled with yummy eats and treats, like homemade marshmallows and popsicles.
Side Note: if you notice the architecture atop the main buildings, it is reminiscent of Dutch design. As a former history teacher, I find it fascinating to see Dutch influence even in the historic construction of the vineyard buildings. A few vineyards in Australia are the same way- plus the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. Fun facts, but I digress...
The cushy lawn pillows under the umbrella were my favorite. Perfect for lounging with a chilled glass.
There was a playground, splash pad, and fountain which the staff encouraged the littles to enjoy. We didn't bring swimsuits, but this is where it comes in handy to always have a change of clothes in the car...or a simple pair of athletic shorts, because it was summertime in South Africa after all!
And if I'm being completely transparent, we wanted to check out Leopards Leap because we read it was super kid-friendly and had two massive jungle gyms. Well, we went in and they clearly did not want our business. The tasting room was sparsely full and no one was on the grounds outside. Still unsure why they refused our business, but a heads up if looking into Leopards Leap. The area of Franschhoek where the winery is located is breathtaking, but our short experience was embarrassing and disheartening. Nevertheless...onwards!
Much more to see, taste, and experience in the wineland region of South Africa.
Travel to Franschhoek on the R45.
This place caught our attention from the road, and it was calling our name for dinner. So glad we made the decision to pump our brakes! The incredible dinner view from the porch and sunset stroll through the vineyard afterwards made it worth the stop.
Bonus: It's no secret we are full-on lovers of AirBnB's for SO many reasons. But this one took the cake when traveling with little kids. It had a massive play room open to a beautiful deck, safety gated swimming pool with a large variety of floats and toys, plus a tree house complete with swing and slide. A sandbox and assortment of lawn toys could be found underneath.
Let me know if you are interested, and I'll happily pass along the info! It was a gem, and the owners were top-notch as well. Hubby and I were happy to come back here every evening to fully relax. The early mornings were amazing as well. We didn't have to worry about them escaping, drowning, or hurting themselves. Win! Win! Win!
If you find yourself planning a trip to South Africa, definitely don't miss out on the winelands or think you need to skip it because you have babes in tow. I hope you enjoyed my review of the Top 2 Wineries to Visit in Stellenbosch with Kids. Let me know if you have questions about planning, and be sure to save this post for later!
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Going on a safari can be a once in a lifetime experience, and one you don't have to put off until your kids are older. Living abroad gave us the opportunity to make it a reality, and we weren't going to skip it simply because our boys were 2 & 3 years old.
Planning the excursion can be stressful, but I hope my tips from the ultimate guide to African safari with toddlers will be beneficial in your packing and prepping.
Honestly, I highly recommend taking small kids on safari! The innocence and amazement of their experience is priceless. They aren't wrapped up in devices, taking selfies for social media accounts, constantly texting the entire time, or thinking the whole trip is boring. I would do this trip again in a hot minute, and here's why...
Planning a Safari with Toddlers? Here are Nine Crucial Tips to Help You Thrive in the Bush:
- Book a lodge with a kids camp, child care facility- This will allow you the opportunity to go on a game drive sans children, if you so desire. It's not necessary, but a nice option to have just in case. The place we chose had a unique Junior Rangers Program for the kids, and it was golden. They were to look for special things to check off while we were out. It was neat to watch them get excited and be proud of their little accomplishment.
DOING YOUR RESEARCH? I highly recommend, Khashana to assist. Friendliest, most knowledgable couple on the planet!
- Don't schedule every single safari offered- It's tempting to go on every scheduled drive, but it's difficult for little ones to keep up. And in reality, it's exhausting for mom and dad, too. It's typical to have two safaris included for the day. One at sunrise and one at sunset. Both are difficult on the tiny bodies. My eldest has always been up with (or before) the sun. But my youngest will sleep until 9/9:30 if I let him, so he had zero interest in getting up before the crack of dawn. Although, he was stoked once we were out in the bush!
- I stayed in the lodge with my youngest a couple of mornings, and likewise for the evening tour. The game drives can last 3-4 hours long, and sometimes it's too much for them to do two in one day. He and I ended up missing a couple of the tours, but I was okay with it. I knew we would all be better off for it. He got to rest, and it gave me a break. Yay for a moment of peace and quiet. Hubby and my eldest boy had a blast on a few of the safari tours alone. It's also amazing for them to have that special one on one time.
- Also vital to provide them ample time + a safe space to run around and get their energy out. Being in those game drive vehicles for hours on end with the expectation of silence and stillness is tough on little balls of energy. Build in time for them to let loose and be a kid.
- Make sure the car has blankets- They will come in handy for multiple reasons. Even in the summer months, it can be quite chilly during those early morning and late evening drives. Most of them start at 6am and 4pm.
It sounds scary, but blankets can also be great protection if you spot an aggressive animal. Naturally, one should be as quiet as possible. But a sudden movement could also startle the animal into pouncing towards the vehicle. Therefore, it's optimal to have the blankets for protection.
- Our ranger told us if the kids made a sudden movement and the lions spotted them, to throw the blanket over them immediately. It would deter their focus on where the movement was coming from.
- It's also a must to put them on the middle seats when you knowingly might run across aggressive animals.
My initial momma instinct freaked out. I mean, wouldn't you?! But everyone behaved - even the animals, so all was okay in the end. Whew!
I kept my wits about me, though, and all went smoothly. I explained to the boys they had to be very very still and quiet. Which, in my head I'm thinking, no way this is going to work. I explained how if I startled them, then they would get scared or cry, and how we wouldn't want to do that to the animals. They liked quiet and could hurt us badly if they felt scared.
- Prep the kids for what they might see- it's not uncommon to see a lion ripping apart and feasting on a wildebeest or the mood striking during mating season. Also discuss decaying carcasses and bones. Various things to consider when on safari.
Remember: Nature doesn't have a filter.
One of our most endearing experiences was crossing paths with Thandi a few times. This sweet rhino was the sole survivor of a poaching incident in 2012. Her horn may be gone, but her spirit and offspring are alive and well!
THANDI'S STORY: Commemorating 8 Years Since Rhino Poaching
- Always have sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, jackets, and bug spray- The safari themed clothing and accessories aren't just for fun photoshoots. They are used in real life. Take the wide-brimmed hat, wind breaker type jacket, and slather on all the sunscreen. Like I mentioned before, the open plains can be very windy tricking you to think the sun isn't so strong. But holy cow! Your skin will be scorched come evening. I didn't find the bugs to be too bad while out on the game drives (mostly because the winds helped move them right along), but it's still good to have some spray on hand. Most likely your ranger will stop every now and then (especially if you aren't having much luck finding any animals) and the repellent will become your bff near stagnant water.
- Pack snacks and water- This is always a good rule of thumb when traveling with littles. BUT (and this is a big BUT) only bring them out when the ranger tells you it's okay. If you are anywhere close to an animal sighting, all food and beverage needs to be well hidden. Your ranger might even question your belongings prior to climbing inside. They are usually very kind and understanding individuals, and grasp the need to have snacks on hand for the kiddos. However, the ranger in charge might hold it for you while on the drive and place it in a safely locked cooler underneath the vehicle.
- Take photos & videos- This seems like a no-brainer. But while you're taking pictures of these amazing animals, don't completely forget about your littles. They can make sudden movements & noises to get your attention, which is not good for the animals you are trying to capture on film. It increases the chances for them to get scared or pounce closer to your vehicle out of curiosity in what has made that movement or noise. So keep a side-eye on them, whisper to them, touch their head or body once in a while to let them know you are with them.
- Hand over the reigns- did you bring binoculars? Give them to the kids, so they can see up-close as well. Let them take photos or videos, too! This is wildly fun for them and great to do if non-aggressive animals are around or none at all. Spot a giraffe? Let them film for a bit. The goofy smile that spreads across their face is worth it. Kids thrive on independence, and this slice of creative freedom will make them beam.
- ENJOY THE MOMENT- savor this precious, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with your children! In some instances...put your camera down, snuggle your little one, and talk about what you are experiencing together. We saw giraffes, hippos, rhinos, wildebeest (we affectionately referred to them as Timon and Pumbaa), gazelles, lions, zebras, and even a monkey with a blue booty! The elephant families were my favorite. At a watering hole, we counted almost 30 of them grazing around together. The teeniest babies were the cutest and never left their momma's side. Special types of deer, fox, ostrich, and an array of wildly gorgeous birds.
WHERE WE STAYED: After much research, we chose Kariega Game Reserve for our safari experience as a family. It ticked all of our boxes, and we are incredibly grateful to the staff and our ranger, Craig, for the careful attention they took to our young kids.
Taking a safari is magical. To see these wondrous creatures up close in their natural habitat and not behind a gate or glass at a zoo is so so special. To share these moments with your family and make lasting memories is priceless! You may feel the need to not take a single moment for granted, but be smart about the journey. Rest when you or the littles are needing it, and you'll enjoy the quality of game drives over the quantity of them.
Everyone has their own reasoning for taking kids on safari at specific ages. It can be challenging at times, but we throughly enjoy experiencing the world through the eyes of our boys. They get excited about the littlest things and notice details we would normally glaze over. Young children have an innocence about them before cell phones, social media, hobbies, friends, and love interests take over. Mom and dad are their best friends, and they want to seize every opportunity with you! It's heartwarming to reminisce those moments.
Giraffes Can't Dance is one of the kids favorite books. While prepping our trip, they both repeatedly exclaimed how excited they were to see "Gerald." Once on safari, they would burst with joy about all the Geralds they saw... not giraffes- but Geralds. Cutest thing ever! The excitement captured in those videos would not be possible on the open plains in 10-15 years with teenagers.
Take advantage, friends! Plan those trips and take them now!
I hope my tips from The Ultimate Guide to African Safari with Toddlers was helpful for you!
Have you been on a safari tour? If so, where did you go? How long did you stay? There are other African countries I would love to venture through on safari, and I value your opinion. Let me know in the comments below!
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Do not listen to the naysayers. You can (and should!) go to South Africa with young kids in tow. Don't wait until they are older to do safari. They will love the excitement of a big city. Promise! And they will even enjoy the gorgeous winelands.
I will walk you through each situation. But first, let's get started below with eight unforgettable things to do with kids in Cape Town.
Living through German winters can be incredibly depressing without seeing the sun, especially after living on the equator in Singapore. We decided to take matters into our own hands and strategically plan time in a sunny environment after Christmas to get a healthy dose of Vitamin D and beat the depressing 3:30pm sunsets.
Last year, we found uber cheap tickets sending us to Chase the Sun in Malta! And two years ago, we spent time adventuring around South Africa with our two and four year old boys starting in Cape Town. After a few days in the Mother City, we chased the Big Five through safari and spent the last few days back on the western coast in Stellenbosch. More on that in a bit.
Here are a few things we enjoyed as a family in Cape Town!
1.) Table Mountain Cable car- a few things to note! Check the weather first thing. A total waste of time, money, and effort if a clear day is not in the forecast. As soon as you spot a clearing during your visit, book your tickets asap. Even with a reserved piece of paper, the line is crazy crazy long on a beautiful day. With that being said, pack some water and snacks for the wait time. Ours was well over an hour. Standing for that long in the hot sun is torture to little kids without food.
2.) Bo-Kaap- the most colorful area in the city! You can join organized tour groups to see the street more in-depth, but I usually suggest shying away from them when having littles in tow. However, I would recommend taking your kids to Harvest Cafe & Deli, a mighty tasty spot with an impeccable rooftop view of Table Mountain.
3.) The Cape of Good Hope in Table Mountain National Park- so many disclaimers for this one. The entry is expensive, and you will pay per individual in the car. Due to the road getting there, the line to get inside the park will be quite long. Umm there are also aggressive wild baboons...
And since it is the tip of an entire continent, the wind is unbelievably strong. Eeep!
But, is it worth it? Absolutely!
And if you have littles who are obsessed with Paw Patrol like mine were at the time. The lighthouse tower looks exactly like The Lookout...or at least my kids thought so!
If driving down from Cape Town, be sure to plan your day for adequate time in the park. It's a chunk of change and a long way to drive for a hurried couple of hours.
4.) Boulders Beach- on your way back to Cape Town, be sure to stop at this incredible spot! It's amazing to watch the little cuties waddle around and duck up and down in the water. But if you have kids with you, it's PURE magic! Definitely one of my favorite memories from this trip.
We met up with strangers for sundowners while the boys played on the beach. Well...kinda. I met Brandy on the internet and immediately fell in love with her story and family. Want more details of our family meet up and sons jumping waves together for the first time? Click below!
5.) GOLD Opulent African Cuisine- hands down, #1 place to eat in the Cape! It's a live, 14-dish, dinner show that fully immerses you in authentic African culture. Five stars all around; you will not be disappointed! Massive hit with the kids, too.
They were highly entertained and tried unique Ghanaian, Ethiopian, Tunisian, Mozambiquan, Zanzanian, and Malawian cuisines.
6.) The Castle of Good Hope- this prestigious fort was originally constructed in the 17th century and is known as the most well-preserved fort of it's time in all of the world. The Castle of Good Hope was founded in Table Bay to give ships a rest break en-route to Asia from Europe. Visitors can pay for a guided tour or take a self-guided one like we chose. Again, I'm not really a fan of group tours with littles. Be sure to research the exhibitions online prior to your visit.
7.) Blue Train Park- if you find yourself in the city with kids and need a break to let them run wild, check out the Blue Train Park. There is an actual blue train they can ride, lots of green space to run wild + playground equipment...and what parent wouldn't love the relaxing backdrop of the seaside? And if you're lucky, sit back and watch the paragliders run off Signal Hill while you're kiddos swing their hearts out!
8.) V&A Waterfront Marina- Feeling mentally and physically kaput from sight-seeing? Then make your next stop the V&A Waterfront Marina. You will find everything you need and more! Shopping, dining, entertainment, and tours. An array of large chain places to boutique artisans are around every corner. Boredom will not strike you as you meander the main tourist spot in CT. The kids were amused watching the fancy yachts ferry in and out. But you will also find playgrounds and a train going about the crowds for the kiddos to ride and enjoy.
My favorites at the V&A Waterfront Marina?
- Ferrymans Tavern- so much goodness to say about this place! Friends of ours recommended it, because we could sit outside yet it was covered and had a playground for the boys. Live music paired with delish food and beer can't be beat!
- The V&A Waterfront Food Market- an eclectic indoor market with an array of street food vendors sure to please everyone in the family.
- The Watershed- want to support local artisans and take home a unique souvenir? 1,000% put this shopping mecca on your list. I picked up a beaded mask of an idigenious tribe (it cruelly stares at me every night from my dresser) and a necklace made from ostrich eggs. Super cool spot!
- Ginja- amazing cuisine, incredible sunset view of the harbor, and best service we had in Kapstadt!
- The Cape Wheel- a no-brainer if you have kids! Although if you are riding solo or with a partner, the 360 view of the city and coastline from the clouds is breathtaking. Check it out!
The Mother City was a hit with everyone in our family. It has an immense cultural diversity of various ethnicities, religions, and languages which can be experienced throughout the city. It's full of playgrounds and attractions for kids. And if all else fails, let them play along the gorgeous seaside!
All in all, don't be afraid of taking your young family to Cape Town! It can be daunting like any big city, but the cultural experiences, unique cuisines, and warm sunshine during winter can't be beat! Also helps to pour your expectations down the drain when traveling with kids. Ha! This was the boys 25th country, so trust me on this. Cape Town is also a fabulous jumping off point to the rest of gorgeous South Africa...and that is exactly what we did. Next stop is Port Elizabeth and a few days on safari. Stay tuned!
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Living in Europe has many perks. One of the best happens in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
The pure magic of Christmas markets begin to blossom at the end of November. Decorations begin going up as streets are lined with twinkly lights. Tall pine trees are strategically placed in village squares. Stages are built for church choirs and children's classes to sing a multitude of joy each night throughout the Advent season.
As the markets open for business, the sights, smells, and sounds ring clear from street the street. Glüwein, the world-renowned beverage of choice, is being mulled together with warm red wine, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star aniseed, orange slices, vanilla pods, and a dash of sugar. The smell of freshly roasted chestnuts, savory sausages, and sweet crepes also fill the air.
Orchestrated bands are known to ribbon themselves throughout the crowds playing folklore sounds and handing out candy to kids.
The littles enjoy kinderpunsch (a non-alcoholic version of glüwein) while riding trains, carousels, playing games, and sometimes petting animals from a live nativity scene.
The artisanal crafts sold down the streets of Christmas markets also hold timeless value to the moment. They are local and handmade. Soaps, ornaments, figurines, decorations, oils, spices, candles, purses, and many winter accessories such as scarfs and gloves. Last year, I purchased a wonderfully woven hat to keep me toasty while walking the boys to school during the frigid, German winter.
Even outside of Germany are some spectacular Christmas markets. Our family favorite was Strasbourg and Colmar, France. Around every corner, I expected to see Belle whisking through with her basket wishing everyone in the town a good morning...and of course, the Beast not far behind. It's that magical.
I mean, where else can you view life-size Christmas bears strapped to the side of a building for decoration? Don't you want to grab one and take it home? I did! The French bakery below made it feel all the more like a real life fairytale.
Want to feel the magic of Christmas markets again? Yeah, me too. I'm utterly gutted they closed down this season. I know why, but it still stings. As someone who lives thousands of miles from home and will not see family for Christmas, I need these magical, spontaneous moments in my life.
They were a wonderful distraction from the homesickness that crept in around the holidays. Not only to distract from my own empty emotions, but to also create whimsical memories for my sons' childhood memory bank.
This is the main street in our village. Sigh. An overall blah empty feeling.
As much as I wish we were creating new memories dashing about the European Christmas markets, I've had fun reminiscing with you. There is so much joy in this season, even if we aren't able to continue on with certain traditions.
The thrill of hope remains!
A new year is on the horizon. Enjoy this time with family and those around you. Make a new tradition. Get creative with what you have on hand. And if you have kids under roof, I promise they don't care about the fluff. All they want is a cuddle from you.
Turn off the TV. Put your phone down. Curl up with a blanket and something warm to drink, and watch the twinkly lights on your tree. Get lost in the mesmerizing moment for awhile.
It really is a magical season and monumental way to end 2020. I pray you all have a restful and memorable Christmas.
All too soon, it will be gone again. Only to be replaced with New Year's resolutions, planning, and goal-setting. This wonder will be replaced with the hustle and bustle of reality. For now...soak up those last moments of the year.
If you never grabbed the Advent Calendar, click to savor the last few days of inspiration. Consider it my gift to you!
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Ceske Budejovice is nestled down between the German and Austrian borders, just north of the hidden gem of Cesky Krumlov.
Being the capital city of southern bohemia, it has oodles of unique architecture, charm, and a controversial topic on none other than...beer. Digging in and discovering the truth about Ceske Budejovice is an essential add to any itinerary. It would truly peek the interest of my American readers, because this symbol did not originate in the good ol U.S. of A...
Hint: Budweiser - the King of Beers was not brewed in America. Ouch! The truth about Ceske Budejovice boasts the birthplace of "Budvar" in the heart of its town centuries ago.
Want to know the deep, dark truth? A full historical explanation can be found here.
A few other spots should be added to the sightseeing itinerary while researching the international mystery of Ceske Budejovice.
1.) Town Hall -
Located in the southwest corner of Otakar's square, the prominent bluish grey facade and baroque architecture will make you full stop. We were driving by, and I made hubby park so I could snap a photo. Truth be known, I snapped many a photo. But this was my fav. If time allows, hang out for a bit. Your ears will be filled with a delightfully, different tune on the hour from the clock tower.
Four gargantuan statues representing: justice, bravery, wisdom, and prudence are just a few major features of the 1387 structure. The many coat of arms are symbolic of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. And the gargoyles are not to be missed. Just look up!
2.) Otakar's Square-
Every significant European town boasts a main square which was once the Old Town focal point. Bakers, musicians, butchers, banks, and hotels once lined the square. Nowadays, you will find cafes, bars, shops, and a few residential townhomes.
Don't miss the focal point of the square, Samson's fountain. It is the tallest in the Czech Republic and was constructed around the same time as the beautiful Town Hall. Grab a coffee and a seat on one of the many wooden benches and savor the moment. No better way to pass time.
Want a different view? Climb the Black Tower for optimal views!
3.) The Black Tower-
It's a mighty 225 steps to the top but oh so worth it.
Not to be missed! Rain or shine, I highly recommend the climb. Even with a four and six year old, it's doable. A fascinating story about the guard and his family who lived inside await you at the top. Can you believe they had a pet goat in the tower? The guard was required to ring the bell every day, but also notify people of fires. You can see and touch the multiple, gargantuan bells along the hike to the top.
After that satisfying hike of the Black Tower, head on over for the most flavorful ice cream in the world.
Guys, no lie...we've traveled all over the world, and this place had the best tasing ice cream I have ever consumed in my entire life. ZMRZ is an inconspicuous place off the beaten path, but trust me when I say - it is a MUST. We went based on a recommendation of a colleague, and I'm over the moon we added it to the itinerary.
Need more convincing? Over 100 Google reviews and 5- stars for this ice cream paradise. I ordered a simple chocolate, but the menu list an array of exotic flavors. You will NOT be disappointed!
But the #1 thing I recommend while traveling to new places? Discovering a local hang out. Občerstvení Malý Jez did the trick while in Ceske Budejovice.
5.) Občerstvení Malý Jez-
This quirky beer garden is as local as they come with all-star reviews. Find a shady spot and enjoy a refreshing brew or ice cream before heading into the park.
Come to find out, a Pikador is the Czech version of an American hotdog. Instead of a sliced bun, these come solid. The chef will shove them over a metal pole carving out the inside. This makes a nice home for the hotdog and keeps it surprisingly warm. Of course, I slathered on the ketchup and washed it down with a Radler. We've also experienced hotdogs served like this in Iceland
After lunch, we scooted across the street to the park, Malý Jez. One of the best things to do when adventuring with kids is give them a chance...to be kids! Run, climb, swing, dig, and even swim. Since we were on a day trip from Cesky Krumlov, we packed their swim shorts just in case. Cheery little boys were very happy we did.
Take a minute to explore the frothy, delicious truth about Ceske Budejovice, but be sure to indulge the other parts of this enchanting city. Whether passing through to Cesky Krumlov or trekking onward to Prague, it is well worth a stopover or day trip!
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When most folks talk about the Czech Republic, the conversation will almost always shift in the direction of Prague. And while the capital city is a lovely lovely town, the bohemian country has a plethora of towns rich in history and cultural goodness. Český Krumlov is a pocket of hidden enchantment, and right now is THE time to go explore.
One of the most picturesque towns in all of Europe is nestled along the Vltava River. Boasting a castle, baroque and Renaissance architecture, this quaint town can be covered side to side in under 20 minutes.
As soon as Germany opened their borders in June, we were outta here! Český Krumlov is known to be a touristy hot spot. But due to international restrictions stemming from COVID, we found the streets sparsely traveled. The locals were thrilled to see us and even more excited to hear native English speakers. It meant tourism. It meant a boost in their economy. The AirBnB we rented. The restaurants we chose. The souvenirs we decided upon. Each of these decisions, gave the locals a bit of hope for future travelers.
Dining at the picturesque restaurants along the river was a highlight of mine. We aren't vegan but did stumble upon this most delicious spot, Laibon.
I mean, check out the enchanting view. The kids loved watching the ducks swim across the river and hop up onto our platform during dinner.
On the flip side, the highly authentic Krčma Šatlava would be #1 for my carnivore loving readers. The clammy, dimly lit, dungeon environment provides a medieval feel while watching your food cook up over open flame.
A casual stroll through the State Castle and climbing to the peak was one of my favorite memories. I mean, check out the view!
The swirling river encompassing the city with the overlooking tower is breathtaking. Also a great notch on the itinerary if you are traveling with tiny balls of energy.
It really is something spectacular!
If you are craving a Western style breakfast with bacon, scrambled eggs, and all the fixins’ - be sure to check out Cafe Vlassky Dvur; you won’t be disappointed. There is also a small play area with LEGOs and such, if you have minions in tow.
When researching accommodation, get after that "needle in the haystack" inside the city. The location of our spot was worth it for a few days. There was a souvenir shop on the bottom, and that patio area turned into the cutest coffee shop with a few scoops of ice cream on the menu. Something for everyone in the family. Loved our AirBnB.
We parked our car about a ten minute walk from the apartment - just across the bridge. There is enough to keep you busy for a few days without having access to your vehicle.
Walking along the rushing waters of the Vltava River is calming yet refreshing. But if you’re feeling spunky, grab a kayak! We saw plenty of people get soaked splashing off those ravines.
One of my favorite spots was Retro Cafe & Restaurant. We stopped for a quick, sight-seeing break. And man, was it a gem to stumble upon! It's located on the backside of a building...facing a gorgeous playground. In true European fashion, hubby and I relaxed with a local brew while the boys played their hearts out. It gave us a chance to catch up and have a real conversation while the kids ran and climbed and ran and climbed. We also snagged freshly made mint lemonades for the boys, which they thought were (almost) as good as an ice cream treat.
FUN FACT: the beers we were sampling actually came from the original Budweiser. This would perk the interest of my American readers, since Budweiser is thought to have originated in St. Louis. It's true birth place is located in České Budějovice, just north of Český Krumlov. Super interesting story here!
Our storybook getaway was coming to an end. As we piled in the car to head home, I knew this would be a place to encourage others to visit. And I hope you do. Cheers!
Check out our day trip to Ceske Budovice and the truth behind the city’s best kept secret!
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If you are a nature lover...mountain seeker...enjoy fresh air...and views for days and days...then, get ready to swoon over Switzerland! Oh and who can forget the famous Swiss chocolate?? Take me there.
In five days, we covered four cities and saw the most breathtaking landmarks. Switzerland is known for it's Alpine skiing, but don't completely disregard it during the summer. The weather is the most delicious and enjoyable. We went the last full week of June (shortly after Europe opened its borders due to Covid), and everything was delightful.
Are you curious about swimming in glacier water, historic city tours, hiking behind majestic waterfalls, devouring mounds of chocolate, and your car taking a train ride with you inside...?? Then read on!
We stayed in a rustic AirBnB above (literally above, up on the mountain) Interlaken. Although, we had grand plans of exploring as far as we could for as long as we could. Our first stop was the majestic area of Lauterbrunnen.
Standing in the parking lot staring with dropped jaw was enough to make my heart skip a beat. However, hubby found a couple of unique waterfalls to explore.
Staubbach Falls was the first one. It's a short, steep hike to get underneath the misty water. There is a parking lot just before the entrance on the left, which is only ONE FRANC to park. If you've been to Switzerland, it sounds too good to be true. But this place is legit!
Side Note: Switzerland is ridiculously expensive. To find anything normal priced is a miracle.
If you are sensitive to cold water, wear a light-weight, rain jacket with hood. The wet stuff drips through the rocks from overhead and will come from all angles- especially depending on how the wind is blowing. Some type of hiking boot or outdoor shoe would be preferred. Nobody likes walking about in soaked sneakers all day, and there are good sized puddles along the trail that are difficult to step around. Our boys are 4&6 years old, and loved every minute of it. Anything outdoors involving the possibility of getting dirty is their jam!
Once back down at the bottom, we stopped at a nearby playground for a backpack lunch. This is the single easiest way to save money while traveling. Grocery shop and make your own meals. Another reason traveling via AirBnB is my favorite go-to for accommodation.
This simple tip easily saved us $1,000 over the week.
Trummelbach Falls was the second. Y'all, this place...we saw some pretty amazing waterfalls in Iceland. But this series of glacier melt was crazy cool because of how close we were able to get.
You can hike to the top or have the option of taking the elevator. By taking the lift, you would miss out on various viewpoints though. My crew did half and half. We took the elevator part of the way up and then hiked the remainder. And on the way down, we walked the route which we didn't see going up. It was awesome, you guys. Well worth the few francs for entry. A little scary at some points due to the insane rushing waters and very cold. The boys enjoyed seeing their breath. It was THAT cold. We wore our rain jackets to keep us warm and fairly dry.
Children under four years old are not permitted entry. It's not safe.
Before calling it a day, we made the extra drive to Grindelwald. And man, I'm glad we did! It had been high on my list for a long time. We didn't do anything, per se while there. But I was able to get some spectacular shots while the boys were sword fighting outside the car. Ha! You do what you have to do, right?
This day was filled with such extreme highs and lows. The fam was thrilled to experience the icon of Switzerland in person. Or better yet, to my kids...the mountain of Toblerone.
You guys, we followed the map and *thought* we were driving to a place where we could catch the train to Zermatt. In all reality, that is exactly what we did. Only our car is what caught the train to Zermatt. Y'all...! If this had happened to anyone who struggles with anxiety or claustrophobia, it would not be good.
The problem escalated when we were following the flow of traffic, and it turned into a line that we couldn't get out of. Seriously. We drove onto a platform with bars on either side of our car, and there we sat. Literally like a sitting duck. We are generally very detailed oriented and super planners when traveling (well, my husband is at least!) but this took us all by surprise. We were translating signs around us that basically said turn off your engine and do not stick your head outside the window.
Hmm...makes perfect sense why we paid 27 Francs to get past a certain point. We were both confused as to why it was incredibly expensive for a toll or fee to access a road. When in actuality we were rolling aboard an "autoverlad"- a train for our car.
The autoverlad was a twenty minute, high speed ride that shot us through a pitch black dark cave of a mountain. It did save us about 40 minutes from driving around the mountain. But holy cow! Since we were unaware of what was going on, we had zero clue how long it was going to last. Seriously, don't attempt it if you have anxiety or claustrophobia.
Okay! Off the autoverlad, parked the car, and hopped the shuttle to Zermatt. This eclectic ski town is car free and is only accessible by train.
Once in Zermatt, we bought the crazy tickets which would power us to see the iconic Matterhorn. I say crazy tickets, because this was by far the most expensive thing we did and it was kind of disappointing. You can see the best views of the mountain from below. The closer you get, the more it loses it's grand appeal. The lookout had incredible views of the valley, up-close vantage point of paragliders, and other devine Alpine ranges. Although in my humble opinion, the grandest views...are seen far away from the bottom.
If you have time, there is a cafe and gift shop at the lookout point.
Otherwise, gazing at glaciers and standing in awe of God's raw beauty was enough for me. We began our trek back down the mountain via train to Zermatt and enjoyed an ice cream stop before boarding the shuttle to our car. And this time, we did NOT take the autoverlad back to our AirBnB.
The scenic route was worth the extra time! Choosing alternative routes can be a welcomed surprise.
If you do decide this route around, I HIGHLY recommend Grimsel Pass. It was one of the most breathtaking areas I've ever driven through. Unfortunately, I was too busy drooling out of the window to take any photos.
The capital city wasn't a huge focal point for us when planning, but it pleasantly surprised both of us! It was hubby's birthday, so I booked him a walking tour of the city while I took the kids to play in the park and have a picnic lunch. He's not big on history but does enjoy learning about the places we travel from a local. I booked this tour as a surprise for his birthday through, AirBnB Experience.
AirBnB Experiences provided by a local give you fun insight and clues to the area you wouldn't otherwise discover on your own.
We also stopped to see the city bears of Bern-
Went swimming in one of the free, local pools at, Marzili Bad-
Highly recommend a look into this! The birthday boy took a float in the Aare River around the city-
(more on this in my highlights of Switzerland on Instagram)
The tour guide told him this is something the locals enjoy doing as the river has a swift current. It's easy to swim or float on your own; although, very refreshing melted glacier water.
Fun Fact: As the glaciers melt, the rivers, streams, and natural pools fill up for swimmers in the summer. However, the warmer the air the more the mountain icebergs melt. This makes the water colder when the air is warmer. Therefore, the swimming holes are freezing cold in the hot August heat.
We also walked down the famous and gorgeously decorated Kramgasse.
It's also home to Kaspar Brunner's clock tower, Zytglogge. The residents of Bern have been consistently counting on this classic mechanism to tell time for over 600 years.
From 1903-1905, Albert Einstein rented out a second story floor with his bride and young son, Hans. During his time in Bern is when he discovered the life-changing Theory of Relativity. There, you will find a coffee shop in his honor and museum hosting a multitude of artifacts from his life.
Keep an eye out for a photo opt around town with the world-renowned genius. There are four opportunities to snag a selfie on a park bench with him; one being in the lush Rose Garden.
-Lucerne & Zurich-
Woowhee this was a long day. We checked out of our AirBnB and headed to Lucerne. The Chapel Bridge is a Swiss icon and a must-see when driving through. The wooden structure has experienced several fires causing portions of it to be moved, rebuilt, and mosaics to be repainted over the centuries.
Another amazing focal point when researching Lucerne is the lion monument, Lowendenkmal, tucked away in the center of the city. It's only a ten minute walk from the bridge and a great shady spot for a packed lunch.
We headed back to the car and made our way to Zurich for the night. Before turning in, we made a short stop by the Lindt Chocolate World. My, oh my...
Oh, and before I forget...we ate ONE meal out in five whole days. And it was 140 francs. This pretty much equates to similar in euros and US dollars, and I'm not even joking. This was zero percent fancy. It was casual. Outside. Pretty much a biergarten where we ordered some chicken wings, french fries, bratwurst, and I had fish. And it was, in fact, 140. The groceries we bought for the other five days while we were there totaled around 200. Guys...those groceries provided us all breakfast, lunch, dinners, and a special birthday cake. Insanity, I tell ya. Insanity!
Heading to Vietnam? How to Explore Hanoi...with Kids!
Our original plan was to drive through Lucerne AND Zurich on our way back to Germany. Hahaha! Oh the ambition. We soon realized just how ambitious that was and booked a room for the night.
I'll be honest; I am 100% team AirBnB since our kids are out of Pack N Plays. The space they provide is priceless. We split the kids up and put them to bed separately, because that mimics their bedtime routine at home. It gives my husband and I time to chill out and reset once the kids are in bed. It also provides a space for us to make breakfast and have slow mornings. We are on top of each other in a hotel room every waking second and bedtime is a nightmare when we are all in one room. Why not rent an AirBnB when they are the same if not cheaper than a hotel?? Especially when you can have a view like this?? Whew, I digress...
Anyways, we sucked it up and powered through one night of hotel dwelling. Little sleep and nerves on the frazzle, but there was no way we could've "seen" Zurich and made it back to Nuremberg after Lucerne.
A train stop was right outside our hotel, so we hopped aboard and headed into the city center for some good-hearted exploring.
Most of Zurich didn't stick out or give me that wow factor like most European cities do. It was typical modern buildings and streets. Meandering down Bahnhofstrasse was pretty neat though. A few years ago it was rated the most expensive real estate in all of Europe and lists all the high-end designers. However once you wander into the Old Town, it all changes. That specific area stole my heart. The quaint boutiques, architecture, and cafes had me swooning for awhile.
TRAVEL TIP: All fountains in Switzerland are 100% filtered for drinking. You are welcome to monkey around the bars for a quick sip or refill a reusable bottle. Money saved!
Lastly, a fun thing for the kiddos and great view for adults is taking the Polybahn to the top of the Universitat Zurich. The littles will enjoy the "train" ride, and you will be glad you went the extra mile for the city view.
2 MUST DOs for Switzerland!
1.) Make sure you have plenty of Swiss Francs as they don't accept Euros, and cash is still king. Plus, ATM fees are outrageous.
2.) Purchase a Swiss vignette before or just after crossing the border. They can be found at gas stations or border crossing stations for 40 CHF.
All the jokes of Switzerland being "neutral" amongst chatter is real. They are not part of the EU. So if you are accustomed to traveling throughout Europe, definitely check specific laws prior to entry.
Switzerland is a breathtakingly, beautiful country! Depending on which border you are closest to, the locals will speak a mixture of Swiss German or French. But for the most part, everyone we came in contact with spoke perfect English. The locals were super nice and didn't seem annoyed with tourists. It was refreshing! The biggest damper was the expense of everything. And I do mean everything.
Overall, would I recommend Switzerland? Absolutely! But bring cash (lots of it), pack lunches, plan hikes, seek out waterfalls, and drive for as long as you can. Every turn has a jaw-dropping, storybook view of those lovely, majestic Swiss Alps.
Be sure to check out the Switzerland highlight reel on Expat Actually's Instagram page for video footage of each spot with even more tips.
And don't forget to sigh-up below for more tips on adventurous international travel as a family. Click below!
Have you been to Croatia?
It had been on my radar for years, and what better excuse to explore than our ten year anniversary! Our 2&3 year old boys joined our ambitious itinerary of covering four cities in one week, and we all had a blast.
Here is our recommended route for easily covering the Dalmatian country-
Some people will claim it's the coolest city along the Dalmatian coast. The rich history and natural beauty will be enough to satisfy your Croatian thirst. The Monument to the Sun is a fabulous place to sit and gaze at the sunset. It's also interactive and was a huge hit for the kiddos. As you run across, it lights up and responds to your movement. Crazy cool!
Along the edge is the super famous Sea Organ and #1 rated attraction in Zadar. There are creatively cut steps forming into the water along the promenade. As the waves roll in, the underwater pipes fill and exhale with water making a soothing harmonica sound. They play a meditative 7 chords of 5 tones from 35 pipes installed underneath the stairs. The air inside is pushed up and out by the incoming crashing waves. The boys being so young and full of energy, they too, even sat down to listen and stare at the peaceful ocean. It's not to be missed!
Plenty of ruins are peppered throughout the city. Some you can climb, which the kids will revel in, and others are roped off and charge an entry fee to explore.
The 9th-century, Byzantine-style, Church of St. Donatus is one not to miss. You can climb the accompanying tower next door, which dates back to the 12th century. Breathtaking views of the harbor await you atop.
Fresh food, spectacular wine, and fantastic for kids. It was highly recommended by our AirBnB host, and it certainly didn't disappoint! Another reason I highly recommend going the AirBnB route. Much more of a personal touch with the owners instead of receptionist in the hotel lobby.
Overall, Zadar was a spectacular place for our introduction to Croatia. It's centrally located if you want to explore further: north to Zagreb or south to Dubrovnik. The latter was next on our list of places to spend the night. But first...
We rented a car in Zadar for our adventure along the Dalmatian coast, and our first stop was Krka. The waterfalls in Croatia are mind-blowing, and we were fortunate to experience a pretty epic one. On our way to Dubrovnik, we made a half-day stop in Krka to swim in the majestic waterfall. And holy cow! I'm so glad we did.
There are five entrances to Krka National Park. The most popular are Skradinski Buk and Roski Slap. However, there is free parking at Lozovac. Krka National Park entry fee is 20 euros during high season or 150 kunas (Croatian currency). If you are a hiker and nature lover, there is an incredible trail from the Lozovac entrance which is 875 meters (1/2 mile) in length. We would've chosen this option over the boat if we didn't have little people in tow.
Parents' Travel Tip: Krka National Park is NOT stroller friendly! Be prepared to wear the babies or carry the toddlers.
The line to get on the boat, and likewise back to our car was completely redonculous. The three year old ended up sitting on my foot because he was so tired, and the two year old completely passed out in my arms for a solid hour. Eeek!
But worth it? YES. 1,000%
After slowly tip-toeing around the edge of the slippery lake, we found a decent spot to toss our towels and dip our toes. Well...and let the three year old loose for a bit.
After taking in the beauty of the lower falls, we hiked about a mile up the cliffside to get a peek at the expansiveness of this wonder. We were in awe!
As I mentioned up top, we patiently waited our turn for the return ferry. After living in buttoned-up organized Germany, THIS drove me crazy. No particular line or roped off way to congregate. People were pushing in from the sides or walking around through the woods to break in line. Ugh. Please don't be like those people. Remember kindergarten? Wait your turn!
Back on the road and hoping to reach Dubrovnik before nightfall; we first had to cross into and out of another country...
BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA
We didn't have reservations for a stop over nor time for a meal, but driving through was breathtakingly beautiful. The small country has an even smaller coastline. And if you look at a map, it actually breaks up Croatia. So you either have to drive through Bosnia or sail around the tip of the tiny country to reach the south end of Croatia. Kinda crazy but was cool for us and our road trip. Also, Mostar was highly recommended to us, but unfortunately, we didn't have time to stop. If you are interested, 5-star accommodation can be booked for $80/night. The smidge we were able to drive through was beautiful!
And since B&H isn't part of the EU, we had to wait in line to have our passports examined/stamped by custom officials before driving on.
Side Note: if you are driving through the EU, you can cross borders with no problem. Going from one country to the next, there is no difference in one side of the road to the other. But if you approach a border country that isn't affiliated with the EU, then you must stop for clearance to enter.
Next up on our road trip of easily covering Croatia was the capital city of Dubrovnik. Ahhh, yes. The azure blue waters and rocky cliff coastline was mesmerizing. And to swim here? Dreamy! I mean, who wouldn't love gazing at castle ruins while floating in this? It was one of our favorite family experiences.
I use to teach history and LOVE places chock full of the good stuff. And this place? Rightfully so, since it dates back to the 6th century as part of the Holy Roman Empire. It went through significant changes over the centuries belonging to different countries, and now remains the seat of Croatia.
The walls themselves date back to the 16th century! Having a walk along the top is definitely something to put at the top of your daytime itinerary. Keep an eye out for the brave and curious little ones, though, as the walls aren't much higher than my waist in some places.
A full walkthrough will take as much as two hours, but it is without a doubt the best way to see Dubrovnik.
The nooks, crannies, and staircases (!) of the Old Town are remarkable ways to see the city down below.
We actually got lost one night wandering through the maze of connected neighborhood pathways.
Stroll along the Stradun. We did this during the day but came back once it was dark. This is the main street in the Old Town. Lots of delicious restaurants, shops, cafes, and ice cream bars to choose from. I HIGHLY recommend seeing the Old Town at night. It looks like a curated movie set. The cobblestone streets glisten and shine from years of polishing underfoot. My amazement came from every single stone being the same gorgeous light color. It almost seemed as though the thoroughfares were painted.
Travel Tip: Always always carry a map! You never know when cell service will drop, your phone will lose battery, and there is no one in sight that speaks your language. Remembering this was HUGE that particular night!
Game of Thrones fans will be thrilled!
The food is a major draw of Croatia in general, but Dubrovnik has some pretty magical spots to dine. We didn't realize how fancy this place would be for small children upon entering, but could not leave once on the terrace. I mean, check out this view! King's Landing and the ocean...swoon. Be sure to stop by Restaurant Posat if you are in town.
We had a pretty spectacular time in the capital city. I would recommend at least two days to see the highlights. Any less and you would be shorting yourself from some real gems.
Lastly, we rounded out our trip by heading back north. Halfway between Dubrovnik and Zadar lands you in the harbor town of Split. This was our final destination and a great one to end on.
The second largest city in Croatia was founded back in 3rd century BC. It later became home to the famous Diocletian's Palace, which was constructed in 305 AD for the Roman Emperor. We were fortunate to stay in a partially renovated section of the walls to the palace. That's right, the actual WALLS to the palace have been transformed into tiny studio, dungeon-type apartments. One of the coolest accommodations we've ever had the opportunity of staying, and I most definitely recommend!
Wandering the palace, surrounding ruins, and eating our way through Split was how we decided to best spend our last day in Croatia. However, the city is also best known for its sports. Split has produced numerous world-famous athletes and also houses a few, well-known stadiums and arenas.
Overall, we had many amazing adventures during our road trip through Croatia. Four cities, seven days, and two toddling babes made it a whirlwind extravaganza for sure. I would've added a couple more days to truly soak in the experience, but I was crazy happy with what we were able to fit in.
Croatia was a bucket list item for over a decade. Celebrating our 10 year anniversary there was a dream come true, especially sharing the adventure as a family.
It is more than idyllic beaches. This central European country has it all, and the best part - Croatia is super affordable, and you can easily cover Croatia in seven days. There is adventure, charm, culture, and lots of nature. I give it a high five all around! Let me know if you have questions about any of the cities or traveling through the country. You can reach me through the 'contact me' tab. Happy to help!
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5 Must-Dos in Three Days
After our whirlwind exploration of breathtaking Halong Bay, we returned to absorb the culture in the gritty city of Hanoi. There is no easy way to get from A to B. The Vietnamese countryside is crazy back and forth, back and forth. We also shared a van with a few other random travelers with no air conditioning and a manual stick drive.
As you can imagine, it took a lot for us to stomach the 4 hour ride back to Hanoi. But we made it. There are other more efficient (albeit more expensive) ways to reach Hanoi from Halong Bay, but we are notorious for making a dollar stretch as far as possible and still mostly travel like backpacking college kids. The situations can be tough with little ones sometimes, but we keep our cool and make it work.
"It's all part of the adventure!"
Speaking of making the dollar stretch as far as possible, we generally stay at AirBnBs or similar type properties we find on Booking. We discovered The Golden Sun Suites Hotel on Trip Advisor and it also included breakfast. Such a gem in the heart of the city.
Your morning will also melt into magic when you can walk out of your door and buy fruit off the back of a bike or head down the street for a delicious food cart...why would you want to stay at a boring resort?
By the way, these people aren’t homeless. Every alleyway has pop-up food stalls and stools/benches beside them, so patrons can have a place to sit and enjoy their meal. The next two photos are streets. Perfectly normal humans- sitting, chatting, eating away. That would not be possible if they reopened.
"Genius, if you ask me!"
~A Few Things To Do In Hanoi~
1.) Engage With The Locals!
Whether it is waiting on food to cook or stopping by a souvenir stall, strike up a conversation as best as you can. You will be fascinated walking away. This lady adored the boys, and even though we aren't huge on collecting souvenirs, we each bought a hat from her.
(see end picture)
The pictures below depict a very valuable lesson to teach your children at a young age - treating everyone with respect, even if you cannot understand them. Don't shy away or whisper talk about them. Respect them, their culture, and language. Even try saying something to them. This has happened in a few foreign cities. But I watched from a safe distance and let Jack mingle with the local kids. In this example- they were playing a game, and he wanted to join in. It took about 2.5 seconds for all the kids to realize they didn't speak the same language. But that didn't stop them from figuring out how to communicate and play together. It's a heart-warming thing to witness.
2.) Hoàn Kiếm Lake-
Travel days are always exhausting, and the previous day had us zonked. After our super calculated trip in Halong Bay, we were craving some relaxation. No tours. No deadlines. Much needed free time to explore at our own pace. We meandered a few blocks over to this gorgeous lake near our hotel. The little fella could toddle around, and the big fella could burn his ball of energy. Perfect! There is also a temple on a small island reached via a wooden bridge & a tower on another island. Visible behind the little guy.
Find this lake, though, especially if you have kids with you! There is a plethora of simple things to keep them busy. No playgrounds, but they can run, watch birds, pick flowers, play hide and seek, climb benches, etc. The walking path is massive, wide, and outlines the entire lake. I say this because in our western mindset, it's easy to get trapped in thinking our kids need a specific "thing" to entertain them. They don't. They need space. Lots of space.
3.) Water Puppet Show at Thang Long Theatre-
One thing I recommend you pay to do in Hanoi is the water puppet show. It's a cultural must if you want to experience a local thing! This tradition has been going on for over 1,000 years. Be aware that some kids might not do well with it, though. I had to take the little fella out towards the end, because he got scared. I recommend going, but be mentally prepared for it. The flashing lights, live music, and foreign language can be a bit much for a little one. The big fella was fully entranced though. I think it's the age, but also depends on the child as well.
4.) Vietnamese Coffee-
Even if you are not a big coffee drinker, I will still tell you to put it high on the list. You will not find coffee quite like this anywhere else in the world. It's strong, sweet, and delicious! I'm typically not big about having sweetener in my coffee, but this...this is different. The mixture of flavors is indescribable. I mean, the concoction includes sweetened condensed milk!
In case you return home with a hankering for the good stuff, here is a recipe I highly recommend from MokaBees!
5.) Visit a Temple-
If you are in Asia, there will be a temple. Lots of temples. Everywhere you turn, there will be a temple. The ones in the city center are smaller but still loaded with culture. Great lesson for the kids and easy sight-seeing stop for the adults.
#1 Tip: Bring a shawl or scarf. As is typical upon entering temples, you must cover your shoulders. Some are stricter and require full-length coverage, even for guys. Josh and I both had to purchase flowy pants and borrow a robe to gain access to the Golden Buddha Temple in Bangkok. Be prepared to fork over the funds for entrance into the temples if you aren't carrying adequate accessories for coverage.
#2 Tip: Keep your head up always. If it is your first time visiting southeast Asia, a major heads up would be to keep your head up and be aware at all times. The most affordable (and therefore widely used) mode of transportation is the motor bike. Not a motorcycle...don't call it that. Ha! It's a motorbike through and through. These things will whiz around a corner and take you out if you are not careful.
Hanoi is an incredible city!
I hope you can fit it into your travels one day. I'm definitely glad we took a few days to absorb a bit of city life in Vietnam instead of passing through only to explore Halong Bay. The culture, food, and historical ruins all A+. Hanoi is a great city to ease into southeast Asia if you've never visited. It's not overwhelmingly massive, yet not too far from the countryside either. Great location and enough to keep you busy for a few days.
Be sure to read about our glorious time in Halong Bay just days before this. It is packed with information on what to do and the best time to visit as a tourist!
I’ll close with these thoughts...
1.) As American passport holders, Josh and I were both warned of traveling to Vietnam for pleasure. These fears solely stemmed from the Vietnam war, which fueled all through the 1960s and came to a halt entering the 70s. Historically, this wasn’t very long ago. Many men lost their lives and tensions ran high for years following the war. In our experience, we were never threatened and didn’t have any negative reactions when people asked where we were from. Actually, a lot of folks were intrigued and were full of curiosity about the US.
2.) We also experienced the same warnings about traveling with our sons. Foreigners, in general, are an anomaly in most of Asia, especially when traveling through rural areas. Most residents have never seen blonde-headed/blue- eyed human beings. Oh cool...wrong! It makes you feel somewhere between an alien and a celebrity. It’s VERY common for people to stare, take pictures, and touch your children (on the head or cheeks). Although, I had a few friends warn me of taking my fair-skinned, little blondie/redheaded babies to Vietnam due to the high risk of kidnapping. One lady even told me they would fetch a high price tag for child trafficking. Say what?!? Why would you tell someone that?? Of course, I was on guard the entire time but not once did we ever feel threatened. I've felt uneasy in other countries before but felt okay here. There are certainly countries I wouldn’t step foot in for obvious reasons and I’m not naive to bad people being in the world, but I’m also not going to stay in my regional bubble for the rest of my life. There is a great, big ol world out there, and I want my children to experience the beauty of different cultures and landscapes. Wherever you travel (even in the US), you have to be vigilant and keep an eye on your kids.
In the end, I am incredibly thankful we didn’t listen to the nay-sayers. We would’ve missed out on many incredible experiences. We also met other fellow Americans while in Hanoi and Halong Bay. One family was from California and traversing several cities in Vietnam with their three young kids in tow. All little blondies and the youngest around Evan’s age. My momma advice– don’t be naive, but also don’t live in fear. YOU know best! Listen to your instincts, and you will be just fine.
Have you been to Hanoi? Is it on your future list?
Looking for future travel tips?
With children? On a budget?
Join me below!
One of our most favorite and involved trips from Singapore was to Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam.
First, we flew 3 hours to Hanoi, spent one night there, then 4 hours on a bumpy shuttle bus through winding roads of Vietnamese terrain to spend two nights aboard this beauty (the Paloma) exploring a little further into Bai Tu Long Bay in the South China Sea. It was a lot... especially with one and two year olds, but it was worth it. Always is.
Based on our experience, I have compiled a few things you can (and should) do if you visit one of the bay areas and the best times to plan for a comfortable atmosphere.
WHEN TO VISIT
The best time to visit either Bai Tu Long or Ha Long Bay is from October-January. We went in April, which was cheaper but there was a constant misty drizzle of rain. You can expect that February-April. I would avoid May-September due to the heavy rains and tropical storms.
We reserved a family room, because it allowed us to spread out and comfortably house Evan's crib. So glad we did; look at that view!
Tip: if you are traveling with little littles, then be sure to call ahead and ask them to have a crib/cot set up for you. Most accommodations have them and will assemble for free. Toting around a Pack N Play is the last thing you want to include in your luggage, especially if you are backpacking around a region. The kids are enough to tote around.
These cute cabins had little balconies attached, and I'm so glad they did. Because without them, I wouldn't have been able to snap this incredible picture on Easter Sunday!
Overview of our Adventurous Two Days:
- Fishing Village
- Pearl Farm
I’ll splice together Hanoi in the next post. But for now...here’s a recap of our two night/two-ish day experience in breathtaking Halong Bay!
We settled in, tossed on some long sleeves, and quickly hopped on a smaller fishing-type boat to have a mini hike. We could've stayed on the Paloma, but opted to take full advantage of our situation. I recommend you do the same! We were zonked tired, but one can always rest when they return home. You don't take time off work to sit in your bed the entire time, do you? GO see what you came to see! For us, it was a crazy hike to watch the sunset.
We conquered three sets of these stairs. Super proud of the big fella for walking the whole way! He was two years old and bursting with energy, but be mentally prepared to carry your little to the top just in case.
Finally made it!
The inside was filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Parts were slippery and tricky to traverse while wearing the little fella. I had a few people give me strange looks because of the baby wearing.
One gal even said she was amazed that we brought them to Vietnam at all. I gave her a smile and just said, "awe, thanks!"
You never know the reaction you will receive from folks while traveling with kids. Some are snooty about it, and others will adore your offspring and treat them like cherubs.
We played on the beach and watched the sunset before taking the wooden fishing boat back to our ship for the night.
Fun Fact: Legend has it, the gods sent a family of dragons to protect the Vietnamese against invaders. After a battle victory, the mother dragon settled in Halong Bay and her children attended to her from Bai Tu Long Bay.
The Golden Hour - completely unedited
Today’s adventures started upon this teeny boat. I won’t lie; I was quite uneasy getting into this haphazard thing. Once everyone had boarded, the edge of the boat was seriously close to the water level. I had a humbling glimpse of what refugees experience. I can’t even fathom the reality. And later found out the little bitty thing was double capacity!
Viewpoint of the cave at the entrance...deep and dark, it was!
The big fella absolutely LOVED this! Our guide gave him a head lamp and mentioned bats lived in here and might fly by while we were inside. He constantly talked about finding Batman and enjoyed playing in the sand and rocks. It was supremely precious...
The stalactites (top-down) were hollow if you banged on them. Of course, every kid enjoyed the echo noise. The stalagmites (bottom-up) sparkled unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Glitter seemed to be poured over them. I was in awe!
"Alone in the cave with a baby!"
I stayed behind at one point since I was wearing the little guy, because the hike up inside was too steep and slippery. My momma bear instincts reared their head. Although, I didn’t realize staying behind would leave me in the pitch.black.dark with a baby!! Hello?! I was deep inside a cave! I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. Nothing! I sang to the little guy while we stood alone for a solid 20 minutes. I kept telling myself I was doing it to keep him calm, when in all reality I was doing it to keep myself from freaking out. Ahhhhh
We gathered our things to head back out for a few beach hours. The tour guide used a little charcoal grill and fed us lunch on the beach before heading back.
We left our swimsuits on the boat, but that didn't stop a certain someone from fishing around in his clothes... We made the most of it. The little fella toddled around the kayaks and threw sand, while the big fella made friends with older kids on our boat and let their imaginations run wild building and playing in the sand.
Back on the Paloma, we did another quick change for dinner before calling it a night. Whew! What a lovely, yet exhausting day.
Almost forgot...! I took the little fella back to the room to get settled for the night, while hubby took the big fella squid fishing off the back of the boat. Super cool experience for the memory books. Highly recommend this if you get the opportunity.
Curious about exploring Thailand with a baby and one year old? Check out our whirlwind journey to Krabi!
Good morning- ready to conquer day two!
Our last day in Bai Tu Long Bay was super packed. The picture below is worth a thousand words and a good indication of our day ahead!
Remote Fishing Village-
After breakfast, we took a 7am boat ride to a remote fishing village. I had zero idea what this really meant. Come to find out, around 1,600 people live in four floating fishing villages in the bay area. It was something else to witness with my own eyes.
"It felt like a living, breathing, National Geographic article."
We found ourselves on another small, row boat. They said it was only big enough for our family of four. Welllllll, I wanted to tell them about squeezing ten people aboard to the cave yesterday. I knew the capacity shouldn’t have been that much! Yikes.
I know it’s nerdy, but I love how you can see the rock erosion from over the years. One of the fishing villages can be seen below. Tiny shacks hovered above water.
"Only recently have kids been boated out of the villages to school. Teachers were once brought into the remote communities to educate the kids. Mind blowing to process."
There are few very, vivid moments I have of travel which stop me in my tracks, and this was one of them. Paddling through the floating villages and waving to kids on the "porches," I had so many questions...
- What do they do for food besides fish? How often do they get fresh fruits and veggies?
- What is the bathroom situation like?
- These villages being close knit communities, how do they have privacy?
- Where do the kids play since there is no land?
- And the dogs sitting on the docks...I had so many concerns
- With no insulation and protection from the elements, how do they survive in the dead of winter and intense summer months?
- What about monsoon rains? They are real in southeast Asia!
I've never been able to bring myself to take pictures of locals in their natural surroundings. No matter the country, it feels invasive and disrespectful. So- I wave, smile, and move along. The pictures I do take are from a distance. I like to capture a bit of the memory, but try my best to file it away in my mind when it comes to people.
The Pearl Farm-
Paddling to the other side of these remote neighborhoods brought us to a community of pearl villagers.
We were able to witness a worker cracking one open, removing the stinky, soft tissue, and letting us touch the pearl inside. The perfect ones are used for jewelry, and imperfect pearls are ground into powder for cosmetic use. Most of these pearls take 4-8 years to reach maturity. Fascinating...and smelly!
By the way, the lady in the striped shirt would not stop singing our praises of traveling with the boys. She originally moved to Hong Kong with her husband’s job nearly 40 years ago. Her sons are now 32 and 35 and grew up traveling around southeast Asia. She thought what we were doing was magnificent and would have a tremendous impact on the boys, even at such a young age. She understood. She knew the struggles and joys that come with living so far from home, and also raising children in a vastly different culture. I couldn’t thank her enough for the uplifting compliments.
People, be this lady!
Halong Bay is an incredible, natural wonder on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is comprised of 1,600 islets and 775 limestone formations.
A few glory shots taken on our rowing boat going back to the main boat...
“Here is the unfinished works of the Beings… here is the stones which the Giant played and threw away." -Vietnamese poet, Xuân Dieu
Such beauty surrounded us for three days and two nights. Bai Tu Long Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin of the South China Sea is where we floated and explored. I didn’t know this until we neared the end of our trip, but Bai Tu Long Bay has only been opened to the public since 2012. The emerald waters and fairly untouched lush limestone along the beaches and caves were some pretty amazing eye-candy.
We were thankful for our the incredible, albeit ambitious, time in this corner of the world. Our crew is all packed up and ready for the crazy adventure back to Hanoi.
So long Bai Tu Long Bay!
Curious of the other bays, national parks, and top attractions on the main land? I recommend checking out Lonely Planet.
STAY TUNED - The saga continues back in the gritty city of Hanoi, Vietnam!
Want more travel tips and ideas for kids?