I take the train a lot for work. I’m not daft, but I’ve been trying for a while to work out how “ticketless” DBahn, the German train company, are in this day and age of mobile technology. And I’ve finally cracked it!!
It’s not what you might imagine. It says online that you need a paper copy. But do you?
German trains are generally awfully efficient (except the night train from France which has been an hour or so late every time I’ve taken it – bear this in mind if you have an onward connection). But their policy on paper/online ticketing is anything but efficient.
IN FIRST CLASS you can show your mobile screen (tablet etc, in my case an IPad), which has the QR code (that bar code cube in the corner) and your journey/ID details, as evidence of your ticket. All with a “thank you madam”, a smile and not even the batting of an eyelid.
IN SECOND CLASS, with the same evidence of your ticket, on the same day, with the same company, just in a different class, you are bombarded by the dual efforts of the Dbahn and the SNCF ticket inspector (it was a cross border train), telling you that a screen copy to scan, rather than a paper copy, is not enough. Tough, you’ll have to buy another ticket. And no smile.
Luckily, this was just an experiment. I had a paper copy as well.
The reason for the experiment? I’ve been trying forever to work out the rule, which is applied on and off, it seems, at the whim of whoever checks your ticket. Sometimes it’s kinda difficult to find a printer if you make your booking after leaving home.
The whole idea of the QR code and an online ticket, is surely MOBILITY? Mobility is somewhat restricted if you are obliged to carry a printer in your pocket.
So, when travelling on the Dbahn rail network, if you are in Second class, make sure you have a paper copy of your ticket unless you want to face a battle with a ticket inspector lacking basic customer service skills. When travelling in First class, don’t worry, there are special rules for you.
I forgot. The other difference between First and Second class was this delicious sweetie. Unfortunately nothing useful, like free wifi (you have to have a contract already with Dbahn’s partner, Telekom, for that). And, admittedly, the seats are a tiny winy bit further apart.
Have you had any weird ticketing experiences with DBahn?
Mums and dads and kids are filling pencil cases, finding lunch box lids which fit, and labelling clothes just now, ready for the new school year. As are we (not the lunch box or the labelling bit, because we are in France). But what do you do if you decide to take a year, or more, off school?
We’re no experts, but this is a brief account of what we did and how we did it, when we took our 15, 13 and 9 year olds out of school last year to go travelling. At the beginning, we didn’t know anyone else travelling long term with older kids or where to look for the best advice. As we found out during the year, there are lots of families who have been travelling, sometimes for years, with tiny kids in tiny crocs, right up to teenagers doing online university courses. That was very reassuring and we chatted with and met up with some of them once we hit the road.
Our sons were 15 and 13 when we left on our trip, and our daughter, 10. They were schooled in France at a regular French school at the time of our departure, the elder two having started primary school in Scotland. The French primary school was such a good start for them with a new language – a tiny rural school with 15 pupils (a fifth of them ours).
“I couldn’t do it, I’m not a teacher”, is what a lot of people say. I was one of those adults who didn’t know what they wanted to be when they grew up. Right up until I was nearly 40. So although I do now teach (English) and really love it, being motivated to homeschool/unschool and having children who want that as well is possibly more important than formal qualifications. I know some fantastic “real” teachers, and some not so good ones too. Cultivating a passion for learning is what it’s about.
I take homeschooling to mean following a school-type curriculum (although often in a very different way) away from school; and unschooling, allowing your children free reign to initiate learning about anything and everything that makes them curious, however and whenever. There’s often an overlap between the two. And even the names cause a bit of debate. Is it unschooling? Is it world schooling? Is it homeschooling? I couldn’t really care less. What I definitely don’t believe is that unschoolers are a wonderful group of kids who “fart sunshine and rainbows” (a great quote I thought from a parent who unschooled and whose son is now going to regular school). This post isn’t about the rights and wrongs of any type of schooling. It’s just about what we did and how we did it.
And did we ask the kids first if they wanted to go? No. Rightly or wrongly, we figured that asking someone to do something when we and they had no idea what “that” actually was, was a bit counterproductive. We “sold” it positively, and we tried hard to listen once we’d set off. It wasn’t forever. That would have been different.
The first steps
We wrote this standard letter to the Education Department, copied it to our local mayor, and bought these books from a regular bookshop in France. The kids chose the publisher (there are several) based on the one they liked the look of most – colours, layout, indexes etc. They followed the French curriculum. Different countries have different rules – google it first of all, and find an internet forum for homeschooling in your area.
It might not be the best advice in the world, but if you know how beaurocratically enormous all thing French can be, wait till the last minute to send the letter, when it’s a bit late to do anything more. And when it’s the school holidays. I remember giving up years ago applying for the equivalent of a family railcard after nothing short of a small truckload of documents was requested. No time – no dossier.
Then we set off, I have to say at this point with the fanciful idea of being up at 7, breakfasted by 7.30, and ready for “schoolwork” from 8 – 10.
That lasted a week. In all honesty, even a little less than that. It might have worked for some families but it was a disaster for ours. We forgot the plain old fact that teenagers have a changing bodyclock and morning are, basically, tough. And sticks aren’t as useful as carrots.
We nagged for a while, being new to it all, but by the time we hit Spain (our first country) we began to relax. Maybe it was the wine. 1€69.
So, we suggested to the older two to count the number of lessons and chapters in the book and divide it out, as they wanted, to cover it in a year. And they just, well, got on with it. The less we pushed the more they did. For a day, or sometimes even a week, it was only maths. Other times it was mixed. And for an hour, or maybe 2, a day. The nagging lingered for a couple of months but we could see that as it died away, the motivation rate increased. The boys were “riding solo” by about January, 5 months into the trip.
Katie, at 9, wanted a bit more help and structure. Her brothers were also a big help to her with French, because she has already (it wasn’t very hard) way surpassed her mum and dad’s level. She did shorter spells of up to an hour of “book” work.
Non “book” work?
A lot of the school book work looked and was a bit boring. It’s the stuff you need to do to get through school. We felt we ought to keep it up because we were only going to be out of the “system” for a year.
We got a lot more out of other learning opportunities. We’ve given some examples below. They’re not unique or new, but they were all around every day all day.
- Khan Academy – a free online programme which we used for maths. There were badges and stars to be earnt and games to play. Or, when there was no internet access, we did maths with a shop or a restaurant from a window hatch at the back of the campervan. It was funny to see that Katie’s second “shop” attempted to attract more custom with a “free wifi” sign. You learn that sort of stuff pretty fast when you say goodbye to your 24-hour internet connection at home.
- Cooking. Food is an awfully good way to break down barriers and get to know people. From tagines and bread in Morocco, to Käsespetzle (cheesy pasta) and Apfelstrudel in Austria.
We cooked at friends’ houses or with local people, and learnt new recipes from the horse’s mouth so to speak. We shared and swapped lunch and stories/hand gestures with shepherds minding goats in the Atlas Mountains, and traded and tried out recipes in Nafpaktos in Greece.
Katie made friends with someone called Mafoud in Tafraoute, Morocco, and they made and served each other Scotch and Berber pancakes. What people eat, how they make it and how they eat it gave us a big insight into people’s lives elsewhere. It also helped Katie with her nemesis, “Fractions”.
- Writing blog posts. This was great for both French and English practice, and it’s a good incentive to write another post when you get comments or likes from around the world. Their writing skills definitely improved, and now, for example, Adam is putting his translation skills to work by helping out a local newspaper in return for advertising his magic shows. It’s given them a lot of confidence; thank you to everyone who commented and liked – it was you who did that.
- Learning about destinations, the currency, basic phrases, culture, etc etc. Kind of obvious, but seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling a culture counts for a million words in a book. Sometimes we researched in advance, but mostly it was whilst we were there or after we’d left and we wanted to know more.
There’s an incentive to learn a language from local kids if you want to play their game, or teach them your game. And if you want to make sure your 50 Baht isn’t buying you eye-bleedingly hot street food in Thailand. “Mai pet” (not hot) is a phrase that won’t be forgotten.
- Visiting landmarks or famous sites to learn history. Happy history like the Greek Olympics to difficult history like the concentration camps in the Second World War. It’s also a bit of an eye opener to see history from another perspective. As it is hearing the local news which can be very very different to the media portrayal back home.
- Making crafty stuff. Katie did this a LOT. To the point where we had to restrict her cardboard and general garbage intake into the campervan for fear of not all fitting in any more. Or by getting her to leave designs on paper, rather than realising them.
- Reading. I am the only bookworm in the family, but on subjects like nutrition or the human mind, or exercise or technology, the boys downloaded and read a lot. We didn’t carry around many books with us, but it’s easy these days to download articles or books from the internet. We also got significantly better at reading maps and not getting lost.
- Sport, especially running and swimming. Easy to do most days. We squeezed in a Pilgrims’ Way trek along the Camino Frances to Satiago de Compostela with Grandma, and a 10K run in the Thessaloniki Alexander the Great Marathon (Adam running, us cheering and getting the bus). Adam wrote us all fitness programmes: I’m not sure if I was touched by the personalisation or slightly put out that mine was called “Mum’s Bum”.
- Managing our travel budget. Matt was almost exclusively responsible for this, and he did a really grand job. We were all a little scared of losing receipts on Matt’s watch. He set up a spreadsheet and entered daily totals.
- Watching TED and other videos. Here we’re actually watching Breaking Bad. Chemistry.
It’s early days. All three are moving up to the class they would ordinarily have been going into in September ie they didn’t redouble. Katie had a formal “contrôle” with the Education Department because she was moving up to secondary school. Like an oral test and then a chat with chocolate biscuits.
The new term has not yet started. We will see how it goes. The boys are excited to be seeing their friends again. Fairly early on in our trip we moved going online and Skyping/messaging with friends way up the priority list. Maintaining contact with friends we realised was more important than we had imagined, both to see that they were on a par with school work but also just to chat.
Katie is a little nervous about the jump from a school with 15 pupils to one with several hundred. The whole “moving up to the big school” is understandably scary and exciting at the same time.
I am a little nervous that they will wonder why it’s necessary to be in school from 8am to 6pm most days. And what that will do to their desire (and free time and energy) to research or read about things that really interest them. But maybe I needn’t be.
It’s been an experience which has been indelibly etched in our minds. Only time will tell how easy it will be to slot back into “normal” school. More on that later…….
We went to Crieff Hydro for my gramp’s and my brother’s birthday, I really enjoyed it, thank you to my grandma for all the organizing.
It’s in Crieff, which is and hour north of Edinburgh the fancy name is Crieff Hydro Hotel and Resort. Here’s their website if you want to check it out, it’s a really big place they have a 900 acre resort area ! They have loads and loads of activities for kids and adults too. When I was there with my grandparents and cousins I did segway and woodland combat, I preferred the segway it’s a 2 wheel sort of well “vehicle” that has 5 gyroscopes that detect 60 movements a second ! So you have to lean on it to make it move, I thought that it was a really cool idea.
Website : http://www.crieffhydro.com/
Most of the activities have a charge but there are some free ones. The pool is free for all hotel members. I went there in the mornings before breakfast, I usually did between 30-50 lengths !
The food. If you want to put on 15 kg in just a few days then here’s the place to come ! You can just have so much, a huge breakfast and we didn’t have anything for lunch or we would have blown up. Then tea that we had at 3 different restaurants for 3 nights. The croissants for breakfast were delicious all together i must have eaten 20 !
On my grandpa’s birthday, the 16th, we did a badminton tournament that my uncle won. My uncle couldn’t do much sport after his operation, so we didn’t get the chance to play tennis. I would have beat him at that ! That day we went on a segway, it was the best thing ever. Grandpa didn’t go on because it could of hurt his hip but he did air rifle instead, so we did a sort of segway driving test for 10-15 mins to get it working. Then we went off in the woods for over an hour hike, it was really fun.
Unfortunately Charlie had a wee crash but everything was fine. And just when we were coming back another accident occurred, Ellie my cousin, hit grandma and they both fell off ! But again it was great fun and no one was injured !
Grandpa’s cake was delicious !
Then on the 17th, Adam’s 16th birthday, we didn’t do that much just chilled, I went for a swim then had a huge breakfast with everybody else. That afternoon we all met up in the cafe area to celebrate Adam’s birthday but most importantly eat the cake, the cake was delicious it had chocolate sponge and chocolate frosting on top !!!
After that I hired a mountain bike for an hour and went on a cycle in the woods, I took the same path that we did on the segway the day before. And when I was at the top of the hill, I had a great view.
I saw a small path going to the right of the main one I decided to follow that one to see where it lead, I arrived at the end of it and it had “Witch’s Track”, “Ride at your own risk”, “Helmets must be worn”, so it was pretty weird I decided first to walk down to see what is was like.
It was the best track I have ever seen ! It had jumps and wooden tilted corners, excellent.
And finally the last meal we had in the poshest restaurant at the Hydro, it was called the Meikle Restaurant. It was delicious, I think I had salmon with lemon butter sauce.
The day after we left at noon ish back to Elgin, we all had a fabulous time, thanks a lot to grandma and grandpa for organising it !
We moved to France from Scotland 7 years ago. Our kids were 9, 7 and 3. Now they are 16, 14 and 10. There have been ups and downs living in another country, but here are three (of many) positive things which stand out for us about the kids growing up in France.
1. They like beetroot.
And they eat unnaturally large quantities of green beans, and snails on special occasions.
Beetroot and green beans feature highly on the school dinner menu. The French not only have an appreciation of good food, but they understand the social importance of eating.
We didn’t expect to see on the “what to bring” list for one of the kid’s football matches that a napkin had higher priority than football boots. And I remember in the early days, that pit of the stomach feeling on a Monday morning finding the napkins were still at the bottom of the laundry basket, again. The shame.
Our kids now look at us forlornly if dinner takes less than an hour. I used to be the queen of sandwiches at the desk at lunchtime. It’s not good. They have taught us to slow down. And enjoy.
2. They have sussed meeting and greeting.
I was a tiny bit surprised to hear when we arrived in France that sneaking away from a party without going round everyone individually to say goodbye is called “partir comme les anglais” or “leaving like the English”. Blimey that’s a bit harsh I thought.
The French generally give each other a kiss on each cheek (or shake hands); two or three or four kisses depending upon which part of France you are from or how well you know the person. It’s called a “bise” and it’s not a pretentious air kissy thing; it’s the standard way to say hello (or goodbye).
We watch the kids now with their confident bise or handshake, no matter whether it’s a group of 15 year olds or a bus load of old ladies. That makes us happy. We are maybe easily pleased.
3. They speak French.
When I first arrived in France I thought I spoke French. I studied it at school for 5 years. I did exams. I could listen to the recording and answer the questions in the book about where Henri the removal man had put the washing machine pretty well.
I got to France and I couldn’t understand a damned word.
Now we have three permanently-present French teachers with us (a bit embarrassing at Parents’ night at primary school with your youngest but otherwise quite useful). They switch from French to English without batting an eyelid. Being able to communicate in another language is becoming more and more important every day as our world gets smaller, and if I could have one wish it would be to be bilingual. And it’s said that mastering one language opens up the brain to learning another.
Kids make that look easy. To hear another language glide effortlessly out of the mouths of your offspring is beautiful.
Because it’s probably the most beautiful city in the whole country. UNESCO like it so much that they have listed 170 of the town centre buildings as worthy of special note. That’s practically the whole place.
They also sell excellent beer. But be warned, if it looks like 1.1% on the label that’s just a spec of dirt; it’ll be 11%!. The Eggenberg brewery is located in the town.
Cesky Krumlov has remained relatively untouched since the Middle Ages. It sits on the two banks of the Vltava river with the imposing 13th Century castle towering above.
A bear still guards the entrance to the castle. We only actually saw a duck in the enclosure below the entrance bridge; a very brave duck or a duck who has made friends with a bear.
The views of the medieval town from the castle walls are impressive. It’s the second biggest castle in the Czech Republic, after Hradcany Castle in Prague. The tower which was also started in the 13th Century is a beautiful piece of architecture. Inside is a bell dating from 1406.
Further up the hill from the castle are the gardens and the revolving open-air theatre. It’s not the stage which revolved but the seating, to turn and face a new outdoor set. It now revolves automatically – it was first operated by 40 soldiers hiding beneath it.
TOP TIPS……. 1. The town can get very busy during the day with tourists. They generally come on day trips from Prague or over the border from Austria. But when we were there at the end of May, the place was really quiet early in the morning and in the evening, before and after the influx of tour buses. Definitely the best time to wander round.
2. If you are travelling by campervan, on the castle side of the river on the way out of town, there’s a parking area where you can stay overnight for 10 euros.
It’s an easy walk to the the castle and the town. There’s a gatesman until about 7 in the evening and it’s fairly quiet at night, although it fills up with buses during the day. GPS N48.81549 E14.30865 Follow signs to main bus parking.
3. There are lots of places to eat. These are a few of the ones we tried:
* Laibon, on the river, non castle side, there’s a sign at the top of the lane
This is a vegetarian restaurant with lovely views of the river and castle. The inside is vaulted. Good food, good beer, good view.
* Dwau Maryi (Two Marys), next door to Laibon
This places serves traditional medieval food like mead, buckwheat, millet and big platters of meat to share. It also has a lot of information on the menu about the traditional ingredients and herbs used, and what and when a typical medieval person would eat. Katie found it really interesting.
There are big chunky wooden tables outside overlooking the river and floodlit castle, or you can eat inside up the higgledy piggledy staircase. I think the place gets very busy in the summer but it was fine at the end of May.
* Na Louzi, Main Street (Kajovska 66)
This is my favourite. I’ve been a couple of times after having been taken there by a local friend a few years ago. Traditional food includes goulash, roast pork, and there are vegetarian options too. It’s a little place seating about 30 inside at 6 wooden tables.
* Hotel Zlaty Andel, just along the same street from Na Louzi
Again this place was recommended by a local friend. It’s a lot bigger than Na Louzi and it has wifi and friendly staff. Inside there’s a little electric train which chugs round the bar suspended from the ceiling. There are chairs outside where you need to get you picture taken too. The traditional blueberry pancake desert here is nice.
Or if you fancy a little snack, try a trdelnik, a flaky pastry cake with various flavours. They are sold in open fronted shops around town.
4. Check on the internet whether there might be a summer performance on the revolving auditorium. Even not in motion, it’s an impressive and unique outdoor venue.
5. Most places take euro and Koruna, so you don’t really need to convert money unless you are staying for a while in the Czech Republic.
Returning home after 10 months away in the campervan didn’t go quite as we’d envisaged.
We were imagining mixed feelings, a bit of stress about unpacking and then repacking to visit Scotland and family 6 days later, and generally being a bit lost about what to do first.
We had time for none of that. Fate took care of it all. Adam’s appendix decided it was going to have an “-itis” the first night back in its bed. By midnight the following night he was in the operating theatre having it whipped out, after a day of ultrasounds, X-rays, scans, hurls in ambulances and blood tests. We hit the ground running.
The only thing we’ve managed to empty out the campervan is the milk.
This was also possibly due to the minor sidetrack the night before of being robbed in a motorway aire (whilst trying to contact the UK because my poor brother had just had an unexpected trip of his own to hospital). And of the exhaust falling off the campervan after an exemplary 30000km of driving. An easy repair, Neil advises, if you have a week but not a day.
But you know what, it’s been ok. We gave up doing what we planned and instead have caught up with as many neighbours/friends/school chums as we can. And that’s the way it should have been all along. The unpacking can wait.
We had heard of the Alpine Coaster for quite a while now, we were planning on doing one on our travels. We were looking for a camper van stop and the next morning we went out and just next to us a 2.6 kilometre alpine coaster track ! Adam and Katie went there first. Then dad and Katie and later on my brother and I. You can walk up or take the cable car which we did. For kids 3-6 it’s 4,70€ for the alpine coaster and for the alpine coaster and the cable car. Children up to 15 or 16 I think are 4,70€ or 7,00€ for the cable car and adults 6,60€ or 10€.
The cable car is really cool going up you go up quite far to be honest. Adam and I took the combo pack you can do the alpine coaster and the flying fox, you’ve probably been wondering what the flying fox is since the beginning . It’s a 564 m long zip line, 40 m above a lake going up to 70 km/h ! Oh yes up to 70 km/h. For just the flying fox it’s 8,90€ for children and adults excluding the cable car.
There is also an adventure park at the top. So anyway we got the combo for 12€ it’s 17€ for adults, but you can find every price you need on their website which is at the top of this post. The flying fox was amazing, really good I have never done a zip that long, always 20-50 m but this was 564 m !
It feels really weird while you are in the air, Adam went first and I took some pics at the arrival area then me.
Once you have done the flying fox, the arrival area of the zip line is the departure area of the alpine coaster. So we did that after, in one luge each. Katie at the bottom ready to get us on camera.
So we boarded on the luges and green light, of we went, there are sort of levers on the side that you can pull back to brake, but I hardly used them !!! It was even better than the flying fox I think, mainly just because it lasts longer the zip line is something like 30-60 sec this is 3-5 mins.
You can reach up to a speed of 40 km/h, there is this really fun 360 deg area on the way down. It was really fun.