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Moving to France with Kids

By Jen

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.

Splitting wood is hungry work
Splitting wood is hungry work

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.

Learning to write loopy French
Learning to write loopy French letters

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.

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Czech Republic: the beautiful Cesky Krumlov

By Jen

Why visit Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic?

Because it’s probably the most beautiful city in the whole country. UNESCO like it so much, they have listed 170 of the town centre buildings as worthy of special note. That’s practically the whole place.

View of cesky Krumlov
Cesky Krumlov from the castle gardens.

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.

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Looking down on the old town centre.

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.

Bell tower Cesky Krumlov
Bell tower in Cesky Krumlov

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.

Revolving auditorium in cesky Krumlov
The revolving auditorium in the castle garden.
Revolving Auditorium Cesky Krumlov
There’s now space for 600 people per performance.

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.

Cesky Krumlov
Day trip tourists.
Cesky krumlov
Quiet streets on the evenings

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.

Restaurant cesky krumlov
Laibon Vegetarian Restaurant
Laibon Restaurant Cesky Krumlov
Food at the Laibon Restaurant.
Laibon restaurant cesky crumlov
Inside the Laibon

* 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.

Castle at night Cesky Krumlov
The floodlit castle at night.

* 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.

Na Louzi restaurant Cesky Krumlov
The outside of the Na Louzi Restaurant
Na Louzi Restaurant, Cesky Krumlov
Na Louzi restaurant.

* 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.

Zlaty Andel Cesky Krumlov
Zlaty Andel restaurant and hotel
Zlaty Andel Restaurant Cesky Krumlov
Chairs at the entrance to Zlaty Andel restaurant

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.

Trdelnik stand Cesky Krumlov
Trdelnik stand

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.

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Home Sweet Home

By Jen

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.

 

Matt on the Flying Fox, Zip Line

Austria : Alpine Coaster and Flying Fox, Golm

By Matt

Website : http://en.golm.at/alpine-coaster

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 up...
The Cable Car up…

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.

Cable Cars
Cable Cars

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 !

Flying Fox, Zip Line
Flying Fox, Zip Line

It feels really weird while you are in the air, Adam went first and I took some pics at the arrival area then me.

Flying Fox, Zip Line
Flying Fox, Zip Line
Flying Fox, Zip Line
Adam on the Flying Fox, Zip Line
Matt on the Flying Fox, Zip Line
Matt on the Flying Fox, Zip Line

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.

Alpine Coaster Track view from the Cable Car
Alpine Coaster Track view from the Cable Car

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.

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Austria: Hiking in Salzkammergut


By Jen

Salzburg is in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. It’s full of mountains and lakes waiting to be climbed up, walked round and swum in.

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Attersee is the biggest lake, and at 170 metres, the second deepest after Traunsee.

One of the warmest lakes is Hintersee if you fancy a swim. It can get up to 26 degrees in the summer.

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There are many walking trails – heading upwards not only allows you to experience the fantastic views, but also to avoid both the swimming crowds round the lake in the summer and the fog which settles there in the winter.

Here are two walks we did in the hills around Attersee.

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Walk 1 – Schoberstein – at the bottom of the Attersee

1037 m

Approx 1.5 hours to summit

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Park round the corner from the lakeside hotel in Weissenbach, or in their car park in the winter when the hotel is closed. There was plenty of space for a campervan, although that might be different in peak summer season.

The path is clearly marked. It starts at the left hand side of the hotel, passes up through an old garden and then into the woods at the back. The ascent is about 1 1/2 hours; this part is fairly steep but manageable.

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Nearer the top, there’s a chain to hold, and if you’re afraid of heights don’t look down. Katie is a little, but she managed.  For younger children, this bit might be tricky.

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The last few metres is a bit of a scramble up the rocks – and then you’re there. The views are great.  The summit is 1037m.

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This is the same view taken in November when the fog is lying over the lake. It was like pea soup at ground level and a chilly 5 degrees; up top it was beautifully clear beyond the cloud level and 16 degrees.

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Walk 2 – Feichtensteinalm, behind Hintersee

1249m

Approx 2 hours to summit, other peaks can be added on

Follow the road beyond the little town of Hintersee until you can go no further. There’s a large parking area at the edge of the woods.

We were meeting friends who were taking their horse up to the mountain pasture for the summer. There are certain days in June when lots of horses head up en masse, this being one of them. It avoids the horses who arrive earlier bullying the new arrivals – there is still a bit of bickering as they form a natural pecking order but once they are settled in, it’s very special to see the horses cantering free over the mountain.  The younger horses form one group and the older horses another group.

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The walk to the top takes around 2 hours from the car park. It’s firstly through forest.

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Then it’s in the open. It can get very hot without shade in summer, remember a hat. It’s open meadow and the path climbs up towards the summit where there’s a little restaurant.

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The mountain flowers are beautiful.

Neil and our Austrian friend, Margaret, climbed to a nearby summit. Katie and I followed the horses to make sure they had settled in.

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Where to stay with a campervan

We were lucky that our friend lives nearby and has a house on the edge of the forest. Thank you Margaret, Ernst and Anna xx.

We also stayed at a farmstay just beside Hintersee. Big, clean shower,; electric hook up – 13 euros a night. It’s a turn off to the left between Mondsee and Hintersee, just before the lake. Coordinates -

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Austria: Salzburg, Sound of Music DIY tour

By Katie and Jen

There are several companies offering Sound of Music tours in Salzburg. We priced it as 85€ on average for a family.

A tour does mean having to scurry behind someone in a pink and green checked dirndl (dress) holding a flag on a long stick, and getting on and off brightly coloured buses, but if kitsch is your thing, go for it!  It’s top of the kitsch-o-meter.

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Alternatively, and for free at your own pace, do your own tour.  A great way to see this beautiful town.

PRE TOUR

1. Watch the DVD or download the film. Neil and I are from the generation who watched The Sound of Music on telly every Christmas. Katie’s never seen it. The boys deny ever having seen it. Funnily enough, no Austrian has ever heard of it despite it being (loosely) about an Austrian family and filmed here.

2. Additionally and optionally, learn all the words to all the songs to create a real Sound of Music atmosphere. Neil and I already know them, Katie has just learnt them, and the boys deny knowing them. But were sometimes heard humming them.

3. Tell any teenage sons that you’ll buy them a big Austrian chocolate cake at the end if they go along with the tour.

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4. Give up on the teenage son front, and go on the tour without them.

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Katie….

The film (THE SOUND OF MUSIC ) was made in 1965; it’s even older than my dad ! The film is about a women called Maria she works in a church as a Nun ( she loves singing).  She gets  sent to look after 7 children at a big house.  She is the 12th  nanny that has looked after the children .  But the children are very naughty and don’t want her to stay .

She is nice to the children and stayed there, and the father of the children really likes her and he marries her because his wife has been  dead for a few years.   But the Nazis want to take the father away but they manage to escape.

THE  TOUR

Mirabel Gardens [dating back to 1730]

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1.  Here are the steps where the children and Maria sing Doh a Deer and jump up down them in time to the music.  You can jump up and down them too.  There is a unicorn at either side of the steps.  My bothers gave me a lucky unicorn when I was born.  It took it on my travels.  The dog bit its horn off but we have fixed it.

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2.  This is the knome which the children skip past and hit on the head one by one.  There are lots of knomes in the Knome Garden and they all have different faces and different clothes.  The one you are looking for has curly hair, is sticking his tongue out, has glasses and he’s holding a hat.

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3.  In this flower tunnel, the children and Maria are running one behind each other like a snake singing Doh a Deer.

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4.  [Pegasus Statue Fountain] The fountain is beautiful.  On an island in the middle there is a unicorn on top of a stone, with wings and a horn.   Round the wall of the fountain, 4 children go one way and 3 the other way with Maria and they meet up at the other side.  The steps are in the background.

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The next fountain is this one.

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Then, cross the bridge to the old side of town.

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You are looking for a horse bath next!  In German it’s Pferdeschwemme.  There are two in town.  When travellers arrived in the town long ago, they washed their horses here to get rid of the dirt from the road before they went into the city.  Very fancy horse car wash. In the film they sing ‘My Favourite Things’ here.  It’s getting work done just now.

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Now walk along the path above the town.  Salzburg looks lovely from up high.  I had a lolly.  The white building is the biggest cathedral – the Dom.

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Head back to the old town down the cliff (there’s an elevator too) and you come to the beautiful cemetery where the family hid for real.  It was filmed in Hollywood though.  It’s called St Peter’s cemetery and is old [700AD with the oldest grave from 1288].

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There’s another horse bath called Kapitelschwemme not far away. It’s not in the film but it’s really lovely and was built 282 years ago.

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In the middle of Residenz Square is a huge horse fountain. Where I’m standing is where Maria runs through the arch to the fountain when she leaves the abbey to go to the family at the beginning of the film. She splashes in the fountain too. Now, you can get a shot in a horse and carriage from here.

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There are other places to visit but that was enough for me for the day.

Mondsee

We finished off our Sound of Music tour a few days later with a trip to Mondsee, 20 minutes from Salzburg. Here there’s the church where Maria and the Captain got married. And LOTS of people swimming in the lake.

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AUSTRIA – SACHERTORTE

By Neil

Invented by an Austrian named Franc Sacher this world famous chocolate cake is a must eat when visiting Austria.

It all started in 1832 when Franc Sacher was a cook’s apprentice at Prince Metternich’s court. One day out of the blue the Prince decided to have guests round but his chef was absent. Franc Sacher was asked to create a special desert and luckily for him it was a huge success.

Jen, Katie and I treated ourselves whilst in Vienna and visited the Sacher Cafe. There was a queue of about 50 or so people to get in. This was a good indication there was something special inside worth waiting for.

Once seated we ordered our sachertorte and coffees and sat patiently on them to arrive. Service was quick and the choc cake did look and taste lovely. It is traditionally served with unsweetened  Austrian cream called  schlag which is short for Schlagobers.

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Vienna claims to be the coffee house capital of the world with over  approx 800 to choose from.

More than 360 000 cakes are made in Vienna each year and the original recipe is a closely guarded secret.

Sachertorte is a rich, yet light chocolate cake, traditionally covered in apricot jam then coated in choc icing. There are various recipes online and I’ ll be sure  to give this one a go when we return to France.

This seems to be a good link for the recipe. Why not give it a try.

http://www.austria.info/uk/austrian-cuisine/sacher-torte-1561460.html

And did you know an anagram of Sachertorte is ORCHESTRATE. HAPPY EATING

 

5 big pairs of feet, one little campervan.

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