Traveling Through Europe with an Infant: Ditch the Train and Rent a Car

Before setting off on our European adventures with our 6 month old, I wondered which is easier…travel by train or to rent a car. I read a few blogs and it was a pretty even split on what people thought. After much consideration, we decided to rent a car for the following reasons:

  • We could adjust our schedule as necessary. Babies will have their emotions and it doesn’t matter what time it is. We didn’t want to be tied down to a train schedule.
  • We had a lot of stuff. Many forums will tell you to rent equipment, like strollers and cribs. We prefer to have our daughter’s own equipment with us because we know she likes what she has and as we adjust to time difference and the changing of hotel rooms every few days, at least her bed could remain consistent.
  • A stop anytime or anywhere would be easy.
  • My husband loves driving and in Germany he could get his NASCAR speed rush. He was very careful with baby on board.
  • Freedom. We didn’t have to worry about anyone else in our space when baby cried.
  • Attractions outside of the touristic zones were more accessible by car.
  • It was easier to design our trip.
  • The price was lower than buying train tickets for 2 people.

Whatever you decide, let it be right for you. If you get tired easily from long distance driving, the train may be best for you. You need a lot of patience to drive in countries that are foreign to you because you have to figure out the signs, tolerate the style of driving, and be more aware and alert. Finding parking will also be a bit of a challenge, but it is possible. The most important thing is to be very patient every step of the way and help each other.

Traveling with a Baby

We did it!! We traveled from Dallas to Munich with our 6 month old baby girl.  The journey was about 18 hours. In most cases, the trip is not this long, but we flew into Frankfurt and then drove to Munich.  We also had a two hour delay at Frankfurt airport while waiting for our rental car.

Speaking of rental cars, if you are visiting from North America, it’s likely best to stick with American companies like Hertz and Budget.  We went with Europcar and it was disorganized and they didn’t have enough cars.   Although we had booked on Expedia and already paid for our rental, we ended up spending an addition $360USD. The car we wanted was not available and they ended up selling us a better car along with insurance. I think it was their trick. Let me also note that we spent more than an hour in the line.  By the time we went through the rigamarole of securing a vehicle, we just wanted to get out and start our trip.

Our baby girl did so well.  She was a bit fussy at times in flight and after the flight, but we managed to relax her by playing with a toy or showing and talking to her about the things around us.  She also breast fed quite a bit and we gave her a bottle a couple of times. She doesn’t care for pacifiers, but if your little one does, definitely have that ready.  I kept everything that I needed for my baby within reach.  If you are traveling with a spouse or companion, have them sit next to you, so they can help as much as possible. It’s better than relying on a stranger to help.  Even for short flights, you may need the help to grab something from your bag that is stored under the seat in front of you.

Here are the things I had in my backpack for the baby:

  1. two teethers
  2. three face towels
  3. gum massager
  4. twelve diapers and portable change pad
  5. baby wipes
  6. diaper cream
  7. breast feeding cover
  8. three rattles
  9. baby’s mirror
  10. tiny baby stuffed animal that plays music
  11. 18 oz of breast milk in a small cooler bag with ice pack
  12. four breast pads
  13. ear muffs/noise canceler
  14. one muslin blanket
  15. one set of extra clothes for baby
  16. Wet One wipes

I like to make sure that my baby is warm and covered.  I dressed her in a long sleeved onesie and a pair of pants.  She wore socks with a pair of Robeez, which I got for a really good price at DSW.

The moment we got on the plane, my husband wiped down the seats and the tray tables with Wet Ones wipes.  It’s no joke, the airplanes are thilfy. As frequent travelers we have gotten used to wiping down everything, including the seat belts and arm rests.

I hate using the restroom inflight, but there are moments that it cannot be avoided and with a baby, you will have to change a diaper at least once. On a previous trip from Dallas to Vancouver, I only had to change the diaper once.  From Dallas to Frankfurt, I had to change my baby 3 times.  Thank God, it was always wet and not dirty!  Fortunately, the change table in flight was actually well kept.

Let me share a few musts before you decided to embark on this trip.  You must have the following to make it successful:

  1. Patience
  2. Patience
  3. More Patience

If you lack this, you will drive yourself and your spouse/companion crazy.  Your baby can also sense your nerves. The more calm and relaxed you are about everything, the better the experience will be for you and everyone around you.

When your baby gets a little fussy, breast feed or give a bottle and if that doesn’t work pick him/her up and go for a walk.  Talk you your baby with love and joy! Give a toy, read to him/her. Don’t worry about the people sitting around you.  They will appreciate what you are going through and may even offer to help or give you tips.  Be open, but remember you know your baby best.  Do what you know will help relax your baby.  Keep yourself hydrated, but if you don’t have anyone to help you with the baby, you might want to reconsider drinking too many liquids.

Lastly and perhaps most important, you are going to need to wear your baby.  We got the Ergo 360 and love it!  Going through security was easy without a stroller.  We checked our stroller and car seat for free and we fit a few other essentials in the stroller bag too!  Our little girl loves being in the carrier, facing outward, so that she can view what we see too.

As for the car ride to Munich, our baby slept most of the way.  We stopped a couple of times to breastfeed and give comfort.

Do you have experience with traveling with a baby? I’d love to hear about it. If you have any specific questions, let me know that too. I’ll offer some suggestions.

 

 

 

 

Christmas Season in Austin

Christmas day has passed, but you can still experience the joy that lights in the sky and bring smiles to families everywhere.  A favourite Christmas light festival is held yearly at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters in Austin until January 2, 2019.

Every year this local spot decorates their patio with 1 million lights and entertains the community with live piano music. I didn’t expect the place to be so busy. Parking was free at the Oyster Marina across the street and herds of families were coming and going from this venue. The line up inside coffee shop was likely a 30 minute wait and thankfully they had express stations set up in three other spots around the exterior of the property.  We got our hot chocolate and chocolate brownie from the express station and only waited 2 minutes.  With plenty of seating available on the deck, it was easy to find a place for two to sit right next to the marina-side.

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California Sea Lions

San Francisco’s Pier 39 is a destination for everyone. As a local or a visitor, this is a great area to take a stroll, have lunch and experience a bit of nature along the Pacific Coast.

I was recently in San Francisco and although I have been many times, I decided to spend more time at time at the wharf.  This was my first time back at the Fisherman’s Wharf in 10 years.  I spent a few hours here, checking out the stores, walking along the pier and of course gazing at the sea lions at Pier 39.

The famous sea lions will always have a home at Pier 39.  Since the earthquake in 1989, sea lions arrived in San Francisco and docked themselves here and by 1990 they had claimed the site as their own.  With goodwill, the Marina Staff sought the advice of the Marine Mammal Center and after extensive research it was concluded that these sea lion be welcomed in their newfound home.

A few facts on California sea lions:

  • Intelligent, playful, and have a very noisy bark
  • They can bite, so do no provoke them
  • Male sea lions can be as large at 7ft weighing in at 850 lbs and the Females can reach 6 ft in length and 220 lbs.
  • Sea lion have external ear flap and seal do not
  • You can find Sea lions across the Pacific Coast, including Vancouver, BC
  • In California the Marine Mammal Protection Act has made it illegal to for visitors to feed or harass the sea lions

 

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Visit the local shops and restaurants. My favourite store was the The Spice & Tea Exchange.
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The population of sea lions vary depending on the time of year. It looks like there were about hundred on this day, but there can be thousands at times.

 

Have you been to Pier 39?  How was your experience?

 

Walk Across the Sydney Bridge for Free

One of the greatest once in a lifetime experiences in Sydney is the $200 Sydney Harbour Climb.  I remember watching Oprah and a crew of people, harnessed up to walk across the famous steel arch.  Last December, I remember my husband and I having the thought of whether or not we wanted to embark on this thrill, gut wrenching experience. It was almost an automatic no for me, but I wonder if my husband would have opted in if he was with his pals.  The experience is far too scary and unnecessary for me.  I much prefer the more predictable and free option!  After walking in The Rocks area we reached the entrance for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

 

The Rocks

Looking for gorgeous views of Sydney on a clear sunny day? Then you must put walking across the Sydney Bridge on your list of free things to do.

 

Let the views begin and don’t take the engineering of the bridge for granted.  Take your time and appreciate this distinctive landmark.

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The bridge connects two major commercial areas, The CBD of Sydney and Milsons Point.  When you get to the other side you will be in Milsons Point.  I’m not sure if the vendors are always set up at the foot of the bridge on the Milsons Point side, but if they are be sure to stop and look at the handmade crafts, antiques, and fashion from local artists.

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After walking across the bridge, you might want to take a break under one of these trees or chillax on the benches before hopping on the train to get back to CBD.  Alternatively, you may want to continue exploring the Milsons Point area.

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Get an Opal Card and load up as you go.  We bought our card when we arrived at the airport and loaded up the card as necessary throughout our stay.  Taking the transit in Sydney is super simple.

A Piece of Arkansas in a Day

What comes to mind when you think of Arkansas?  From Little Rock to desegregation to Bill Clinton to the Arkansas Razorbacks, this state is known for its friendly people and Southern hospitality.  We experienced the love at every stop we made.  Our top 3 sites to see in a short and sweet timeframe are The Little Rock Central High School, River Market District, The Bill Clinton Museum and the Big Dam Bridge.

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Many years ago I heard Minnijean Brown speak during a Black History Month event in Vancouver, BC, which is where she currently resides.  Minnijean Brown is one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African Americans who challenged racial segregation.  At the time I heard her speak, I didn’t imagine I would one day experience the city and see the high school with my own eyes.  You too, should make a stop at Little Rock Central High School and the museum to embark on a a piece of land with so much history.

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A visit to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum is a must.  The Clinton library is filled with archives, including the daily agenda for each day of Clinton’s time in office.  I enjoyed the short film, looking at all the memorabilia from his election campaign and even items from his childhood.  The museum also has a wide collection of exquisite art, classified as the White House Collection of American Crafts.  These pieces are the exact items that were used to decorate the White House in 1993.  A guided tour of the museum is available at 9:30am, 11:30 am, and 1:30pm.  We preferred the self guided tour and spent about 2 hours here.  Make sure you see the replica of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room.  Cost to enter is $10 for Adults.

 

 

Before or after you finish the Clinton Museum, take a walk through the River District and check out the local restaurants and shops.  You can also take a walk along the many pathways in the area.  Arkansas is very green and has a diverse landscape with some of the nations largest parks.

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Big Dam Bridge – longest pedestrian bridge in North America

Make your way out to the longest pedestrian bridge in North America, the Big Dam Bridge.  This bridge is 4,226 feet in length and has never been used by trains or any vehicles.  The bridge isis reserved for pedestrians and cycling and is often used for cycling races.  The region expects to have healthier people and an improved economy.

Have you been to Little Rock?  What did you see and love about the city?

For more gems in Arkasas, check out this blog.

 

 

Three Sites for Everyone to Experience in Atlanta

No matter what your style or scene is, these top three highlights of Atlanta are sure to make for a good time for anyone.  There is a mix of history, broadcasting, good food, and a sensational museum to be enjoyed at all ages.

We spent 2 days in Atlanta and here is what we covered and highly recommend for you:

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  1. CNN Tour.  We paid $15 for an exclusive behind the scenes glimpse of what happens in the news room at this CNN Headquarters.  We were able to ask all the questions that we wanted.  I’m sure there is a lot of sensitive information that wasn’t shared, but the overview on production and what takes place during breaking news moments locally and globally was still interesting.  The whole experience was about 1 hour and we finished at the gift shop where it was possible to buy souvenirs, including a picture of yourself as a reporter (for a fee).  If you’re hungry, there is a food court in the atrium with typical fast food and some healthier options.

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2. Sweet Auburn Historic District.  The story of MLK is more than Black American history. His story is global and for all humankind.  MLK was born in Atlanta.  Along Auburn Avenue, you will embark on the home MLK was born in, the church his father pastored at, which later became the church he pastored at as well.  MLK is also buried here and there is a memorial site with a couple of museums all within the same two blocks.  Be sure to catch the two mini film documentaries in the museum, one which is the virtual tour of the interior of the home he grew up in and the other film is about MLK’s life.  You might think that you know all there is to know about him, but I’m sure you will discover something new here. Estimated time to spend here: Minimum 1 hour, but plan for 2.5 hours.

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3. Coca Cola Museum.  Besides the amusements parks I have been to as a child, I don’t think I have seen so many happy faces in one place at the same time.  Coca-Cola has always been sensational with their marketing.  They really are putting smiles on people’s faces.  Upon entry, we were given a small can of coke before we entered a room with a ton of artifacts, including the first fountain that was used to dispense the cola.  Our tour guide told stories, shared facts and figures and even hinted at giving us the recipe.  Throughout the entire experience we were teased with the notion of getting the recipe. At one point, I thought we were actually going to walk into a vault with a variety of concoctions.   I found this museum to be quite fun because the design continued to heighten our senses with the use of images, collectors items, movies, samples, and interactive displays.  Estimated time to spend here: 1.5-2 hours

If you have enough time, you can fit in a visit to the Aquarium.  I hear it is one of the best experiences of all aquarium visits in North America.  The next time, I visit this city, I’ll have to check it out.

Have you been to Atlanta? What would you say are the top 3 things to do?

World Tourism Day 2018

In support of world tourism, September 27th has been marked as World Tourism Day to promote growth of international travel and inclusiveness.  This year UNWTO (UN World Tourism Organization) is focusing on innovation and digital advancements in the tourism industry.

Technology has certainly helped me travel with more ease.  I have been booking flights online for more than ten years and only used a travel agent to help with making more grand arrangements for my wedding guests and celebrations.  Planning a trip is quite an enthralling experience and the tourism industry is constantly changing.  Booking last minute travel and finding deals has become easier.  Navigating through cities using google maps has made getting lost in a city a less risky experience.  Using apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor make planning the agenda super easy.  I often refer to blogs and instagram photos to map out must see places in a city.  I even find the best doughnut shops with Instagram!

Traveling through security has also seen a ton of advancements.  From automated bag check in processes to automation at the security check to boarding passes scanned on mobile devices to TSA Pre-check and now most recently something call CLEAR.  Everything is about speed.

Connecting with people across the globe continues to get easier and safer.  Don’t let language be a barrier.  Google translate and other devices can have helped me connect with people and move around with more comfort than travelers did 20 years ago.  My Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese are very weak and while in Colombia, Brazil, and Japan, I did my best to speak their local language and people always appreciated my efforts.  Thank you Google for the help!

Traveling to many cities internationally will you give you a real perspective of what problems exist and the gaps from country to country.  We are witnessing countries create smarter cities and others that are still dealing with simple issues like lack of safe drinking water.  The Smart Cities Council has a vision to use technology to improve livability, workability, and sustainability across the globe. I look forward to more positive environmental impact that digitalization will have on all countries across the globe.

“Harnessing innovation and digital advances provides tourism with opportunities to improve inclusiveness, local community empowerment and efficient resource management, amongst other objectives within the wider sustainable development agenda”, said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.
Photo credit: Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

1 Day in Denver

If you have a layover in Denver you can easily head into the city for a few hours by train.  The ride to Union Station is 45 minutes.

Here’s how we spent a few hours:

Union Station – This award winning historic landmark deserved at least a few minutes of our time before we took on the rest of this trendy city.

 

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If you’re hungry there are 10 chef-owned restaurants all ready to welcome you in and around this building.  We heard about a brunch spot called Snooze, but the wait was an hour, so we moved on and stumbled upon a new spot called Milk Market.  Arrive early enough and you can secure a Bingo card to get in on the game action while you eat.

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16th Street Mall – Walk and shop along this popular tree lined street while you also get up close and personal with skyscrapers of this Mile High City.  There is a free shuttle that runs along this street, but we chose to walk. Be sure to look down some of the alleyways to see the murals (street art) and a random happy face.

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The day we visited there was a free food festival with music, vendors and obviously tons of food in the Civic Center Park. Everything was very close together and this is definitely a walkable city. We went to the State Capital and a County Building in the Civic Center Park.  From far we took in views of the Denver Art Museum, however I was not able to get a good picture because there was too much sun from the angle I was standing. Do stop by the Denver Art Museum as the design is quite fascinating.

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Colorado State Capital

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Civic Center Park, Denver

We took in some of the county tunes in the park!

 

Tattered Book Store – Our final stop before getting the train back to the airport was at the Tattered Book Store.  At a time when people are buying more books online, it is always refreshing to walk into a indie book store that still feels original.  The owner of this retail chain is an advocate for readers in America and freedom of speech.

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Have you been to Denver?  What did you do while you were there?

 

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