Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Amalfi Coast with Kids

Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius

In late September we visited the Amalfi Coast, it was incredible and literally one of the best trips ever!  We started our trip with a flight into Naples and a few days in Capri, as I discussed in a previous post, which you can access here!  After a few days in Capri, we headed to the Amalfi Coast. This was a great time of year to be in these spots.  The weather was gorgeous for both beaches and seeing the sights, and there were no crowds.  Perfect!

Car or no car?
When planning this trip, we were faced with the decision of whether to rent a car or rely on drivers, ferries, and public transportation.  We watched the Rick Steves episode on the Amalfi Coast and saw the cars and busses in traffic jams on the top of very precarious cliffs, and decided against renting a car.  This was totally the right choice!  I am so glad we left the driving to the experts!!!  Words cannot describe the driving conditions in the Amalfi Coast, it is not for the faint of heart!  While in Positano we used ferries and walked to get around.  We then had a driver take us back to the airport in Naples to fly home.  This worked really well.  A car was not necessary and would have been a huge hassle.

Where we stayed...Sorrento and Positano
When researching this trip, I came across many conflicting thoughts on where to use as a base for exploring the Amalfi Coast, and visiting Pompeii and Vesuvius.  Rick Steves, who we love, suggests using Sorrento as a home base.  Other bloggers and travel writers suggested Positano as the most beautiful spot, and still others liked Amalfi.  I decided to trust Rick Steves and go with Sorrento as a home base.  I found what I thought was an adorable community of cabins amidst a grove of lemon trees, and we booked a few nights there.  After checking in, it became apparent that this was more of a backpacker hangout, and was quite a long walk into the main town area.  Also, Sorrento is gorgeously perched atop cliffs overlooking the sea, but you cannot really SEE the sea from most of the town.  It was more built-up and urban than I was anticipating and I kind of regretted our decision to stay there.

So, we switched hotels!  We stayed one night in Sorrento, spent the following day with a guide and driver at Pompeii, Vesuvius and Herculaneum, and then at the end of the day had our driver take us to our new hotel, Hotel Conca d'Oro.  This was the best choice EVER.  Hotel Conca d'Oro is up some very Positano-esque steps, on the edge of a cliff, with amazing views, wonderful decorations, gorgeous rooms, and delicious breakfast.

Positano is breathtakingly gorgeous and amazingly beautiful.  It was REALLY gorgeous.  Positano is much more beautiful than Sorrento, and much more authentic, in my opinion.  And while it is much smaller, it is still a great base for exploring this part of Italy.  It is easy to walk down to the beaches, to all the shops and restaurant, and the little harbor.  And it is incredible - so many stairs all over the town!  I am so glad that our hotel in Sorrento did not work out for us, because it landed us at one of the most wonderful places we have ever stayed.

What we did...


So, if you are in this part of Italy, Pompeii is kind of a must-do.  We hired a driver for the day to take us to Pompeii, Vesuvius and the Herculaneum.  We had a guide take us around Pompeii.  There are many guides and drivers available, it's easy to find one.  We were impressed with Pompeii and enjoyed learning about the different fast-fast food joints and homes.  The views of Mount Vesuvius are incredible, and to learn that it was twice the size before the eruption is crazy!  The kids liked playing in the water areas and peeking around corners and doors.  I feel so blessed that we were able to visit!

Looking into Vesuvius!

After Pompeii we headed to Mount Vesuvius.  Our driver parked, and we hiked up.  The views were incredible, and it was so neat to see some steam and smell the sulfer of the volcano.  I really enjoyed this hike and am so glad we did it!

Herculaneum, with the modern town
Playing house!
I had never heard of the Herculaneum before we visited this part of Italy.  Basically, Pompeii was covered by soot and ashes, and Herculaneum was covered by lava.  It's much closer to Vesuvius.  Additionally, while Pompeii is a very busy and huge archeological site that is more remote, Herculaneum is an archeological site in the middle of a town.  Much of it has not even been excavated as there are apartment buildings and other structures on top of it.  Herculaneum is better preserved and less rigid.  You can explore more.  The children even got to play house in the ancient homes, and were climbing and exploring a lot.  I highly recommend seeing both Herculaneum and Pompeii.

The Amalfi Coast is a rocky coastline.  There are not long stretches of white sandy beach, at least we did not see any!  However, Positano has two beaches that are rocky and absolutely gorgeous.  We rented umbrellas and chairs and rafts and were swimming and playing all day.  Additionally, there is a ton of sea glass to be found.  We collected an entire jar of it which we brought home.  We spent two days at the beach in Positano and it was so much fun.
En route to Amalfi
Amalfi Cathedral

We wanted to explore another town on the Amalfi Coast, so we decided to check out Amalfi.  There are hop-on hop-off busses that connect the towns along the coast on that very precarious highway on the cliffs, but we decided to opt for a ferry.  We took a pleasant ride to Amalfi, had lunch, and walked around.  Positano is much more beautiful, but it was nice to see another town.  Amalfi also has an incredible cathedral that I really wanted to see.  It contains the crypt of St. Andrew, so we spent some time learning about the Saint who shares our son's name.
One of the many amazing restaurants!

The Food!
The food is amazing.  Everywhere.  Every meal.  Absolutely delicious pizza, pasta, vegetables, salads, seafood.  We enjoyed the food very much!

This was absolutely an incredible trip, and one of our best.  The beauty and history of this part of the world is incredible.  And, the combination of cliffs, ruins, great pizza, volcanoes, beaches and sea glass made it a huge hit with the children as well!

Monday, April 20, 2015

A German Forest - the Herz Region

We recently spent a weekend in a more rural part of Germany, the Herz Forest.  Both my husband and a friend's husband were traveling, so we did a mom and kids weekend.  It was a blast, and here are some highlights about this less-well-known part of Germany.

Where IS Herzberg am Harz?
Herzberg am Harz is a forest region with some slight elevations that is about 2 and a half hours northeast of Frankfurt.  It has some skiing areas, tiny villages and towns, and local legends about witches (Hexen auf Deutsch).  It was a mining area, and is known for hiking and outdoorsy activities in the Harz national forest.  A perfect weekend getaway for two moms and six kids!

Where we stayed...
We stayed at Harzer Hof.  It is a gorgeous hotel in a tiny town, right on the main street.  It has an incredible yard that was perfect for the children to play in, and really beautiful rooms.   This hotel is a great base for exploring this area of Germany.

Some cool activities....

Unicorn Cave.  The Unicorn Cave, or Einhorn Hoehle, is a very short distance from the Harzer Hof hotel.  This cave is in the middle of some gorgeous woods and is great for hiking and exploring with children.  A highly recommended destination!!

Rhume Quelle.  The Rhume Quellle is a natural spring near to Herzberg am Harz.  It has great historical significance due to the naturally occurring blue water.  We took a nice walk around the spring, and explored the woods surrounding.  It is fascinating to think that ancient coins were discovered in the spring from people believing the water could grant wishes!

Models of the mines!
Samson Mine Museum.  The Samson Mine was a really cool excursion.  We took a tour of the mine, which was in German, but the guide did translate a bit.  This tour really gave us a sense of the lives of the miners, and how long it would take them to get down to the pits - several hours!  It is the site of one of the first elevators, which dramatically changed the miners lives as they could get into and out of the mines much more easily.  We all found this fascinating.  There is also a cute town nearby that is worth a visit!

Cable Car.  As the Herz region has some elevated areas, in the winter time there is skiing.  We visited in the warmer months and took a cable car up to the top of an elevation for lunch at a beer garden and some exploring.  It was gorgeous.  There are also several tobogganing runs in summer months.

Witches!  There is a long history full of legends of magic and witchcraft in this area, and the local shops love to capitalize on this!  There are witch-themed restaurants and shops in many small towns in the area that are just waiting to be explored.

The Herz region of Germany is a great destination for families with children and people looking for outdoorsy activities.  It's not possible to walk or take public transportation easily, so a car is required, but this is certainly an interesting trip that is well worth a weekend!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nuremberg and Playmobil Land

This past August, we decided to drive a couple of hours south and check out Nuremberg (we wanted to see Hitler's Rally Grounds) and Playmobil Land (as a reward for the kids seeing Hitler's Rally Grounds).  It was a really fun weekend, and one we would highly recommend.

We left Frankfurt on Saturday morning, spent Saturday afternoon at the Hitler Rally Grounds and accompanying museum, explored and had dinner in historic Nuremberg, and spent all of Sunday at Playmobil Land.  A perfect weekend getaway!

First Stop...Nazi Party Rally Grounds and Documentation Centre
We drove directly from Frankfurt to the Nazi Party Rally Grounds and Documentation Centre.  We parked and entered the Documentation Centre, and had a snack in the cafeteria as we discussed the history of the building.  To be in a Nazi building was quite amazing.  I noticed how hurriedly it had been built - the grout around the bricks is all sloppy.  It's those little details that make visiting historic sites so authentic.

Hitler's Podium Today
Signs on Podium Structure
We toured the museum.  It basically explains the rise to power of the Nazi Party, and how such a dramatic takeover was orchestrated.  It was interesting to my husband and myself, but a bit dry for the children.  We then walked around the lake to the Rally Grounds.  The pictures of Hitler on the podium at the Rally Grounds are so iconic, it was fascinating to see them in person.  It's now basically an old parking lot.  The podium is accessible, but the steps and surrounding structures are in disrepair, and even had an old warning sign on it.  The importance of this place was lost on our kids, but to be in such a photographed spot that was the place of power of the Nazi empire was significant and disconcerning to me.   The children did enjoy the lake and ice cream trucks, and the ducks, and liked cooling off by dipping their toes into the lake.   I'm glad we visited.
Kids are not super into the significance of this place!

Where we stayed....
We chose to stay in central Nuremberg rather than at Playmobil Land.  This was a great choice as it was really fun to walk around Nuremberg in the evening and explore the historic (albeit rebuilt) center, and city walls.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn Nuremberg City Center, which we really liked.  Our room was enormous, and the location was great.  We would recommend this hotel!!

Spinning the good luck rings!
Nuremberg is pretty!
We explored the city center of Nuremberg, and spun these good luck rings on a historic fountain (being very careful NOT to spin the fertility ring), found some local beer, and ate at a fabulous restaurant where our three-year-old discovered that Nuremberg sausages are her most favorite food item in the entire world.  Check out the restaurant Goldnes Posthorn, a local favorite.

Playmobil Land
Playmobil Land is awesome.  It's a short drive from Nuremberg city center, and has adequate parking facilities.  It wasn't unpleasantly crowded on a summer Sunday as it is thoughtfully designed and laid out.  It's very reasonably priced to get in, and actually has no rides, it's not a theme park.  It's rather a huge play land with life-size replicas of the famous Playmobil sets.  We visited with three kids age 3, 6, and 8.  I was a bit concerned that the 8 year old might feel too old - but that was not the case.  It's very physical and our 3 year old was actually a bit young for many things.

They loved putting their father in jail at the castle, exploring the wild west and panning for gold, paddling on boats at the pirate ship, and climbing, playing, and experiencing the entire place.  We had theme-park-esque food for lunch and stayed for most of the afternoon.  Our last stop was the indoor area which is a place to play with literally every Playmobil toy you can imagine.  A great way to wind down after playing outside all day.  We are already planning a weekend in Nuremberg next summer - we definitely want to go back to Playmobil Land.

This was a great weekend which perfectly balanced history, culture, and play.  We had a blast!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Capri with Kids!

This past September, we visited Capri (and Sorrento and Positano, but that is a separate post).  It was fabulous, and easily one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited.  We were visiting during the last week of September, and I think that there could not be a better time to visit.  It was not very crowded and the weather was perfect - hot enough to enjoy the beaches and pools but cool enough to walk around comfortably.  A truly wonderful trip.

Why Capri?
Capri from the Ferry
We decided to do a week-long trip to the Amalfi Coast, and planned on seeing Pompeii.  We bought plane tickets into Naples, and started to plan.  The one tip that kept coming up in our research was that everyone wished they had more time in Capri, as most people do Capri for just a day trip.   So, we decided to spend two nights in Capri.

How to get there?
We flew into Naples, arriving late at night.  We stayed at a small boutique hotel named Fresh Glamour Accommodation.  This funky little hotel is in a very central location.  That being said, we felt that Naples was not super nice and a bit difficult to navigate.  I am certain there are awesome sights to see in Naples, but we did not see them.  Instead, we went to the ferry terminal and caught our ferry to Capri!

Anacapri vs. Capri
After some debate, we chose to stay in Anacapri, the smaller town on Capri.  This was the BEST CHOICE EVER.  The entire island is spectacularly beautiful, but as far as a place to stay, Anacapri is much smaller and more authentic than Capri.  It seems less touristy, and is easier to explore.  There are taxis and busses that go between Capri and Anacapri, and most Anacapri hotels provide transfers to the ferry terminal.

Where we stayed
We absolutely loved our hotel in Anacapri.  Hotel Villa Ceselle is beautiful, in a convenient spot, has gorgeous grounds, very helpful staff, and a delicious breakfast.  Our hotel room was two stories and had a back garden.  It is paradise.  The hotel is affiliated with another hotel with a gorgeous pool, where we spent a fabulous afternoon.  Our kids swum, explored, and tried their best to catch lizards.

We really enjoyed exploring the town Anacapri on foot.  There are countless delicious restaurants, shops (including a pet store that had chipmunks for sale), an adorable playground (with a wine cafe conveniently placed across the street), and lots of side streets with villas and views.  It is truly a delightful spot.

The Blue Grotto
The tiny entrance to the Blue Grotto
The Blue Grotto is perhaps the most famous site on Capri.  It's a sea cave that is entered via a row boat.  You have to lie down flat to get through the entrance to the cave, which is an experience in and of itself!  The water is brilliantly blue due to reflected sunlight.  The staff at Hotel Villa Ceselle suggested that we arrive around 10:00 in the morning.  So, we took the public bus to the Blue Grotto stop, and found the stone staircase leading down the cliff where we awaited our turn to climb into a rowboat with a guide.  We fortunately only had to wait approximately 30 minutes, but if we had arrived later the wait would have been much longer.  Additionally, the seas were relatively calm.  The Blue Grotto is not accessible if the water is too rough due to the size of the entrance.   We loved this experience, it was incredibly fun and beautiful.

Chairlift to Mount Solaro
We walked from our hotel to the opposite end of Anacapri, and took the famous chairlift to Mount Solaro.  I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant to do this because our 8 year old daughter had to take the chair lift alone.  Our 3 year old went on my lap, and our 6 year old went on my husband's lap.  However, she sat safely still and we loved the chair lift.  It was gorgeous!  And Mount Solaro, the highest point on Capri, is breathtaking.  We had fresh lemon slushies at the top and hiked around a bit (again trying to catch lizards).  It was a must-see!

The taxis on Capri are all very fancy convertibles.  The roads are tiny and windy, and the views are spectacular, so the taxi rides are incredibly fun.  We loved picking out our favorite taxi from the row and thought the ride was a blast.

Little Rocky Beaches
The island has a few little rocky beaches.  We loved all the sea glass, and looking for special stones.

Boat Ride Around the Island

We also took a boat tour around the island on a private boat.  This was not the most pleasant activity as the water was quite choppy and it was difficult to enjoy the sites.  It was not a particularly windy day, so I would not recommend this activity unless you and your family are really into boating.  We wound up ending the activity early and getting dropped off in Capri.
We absolutely loved Capri.  There are no words to describe what a magical place this is.  I am so glad we took the time to spend a few days there!