Confession: I have a "Monica Closet"

I have a confession,

 

 I have a “Monica Closet”.

Are you of the “Friends” generation? It is one of my favourite TV series, it did after all get me through 20 weeks of terrible all day sickness when I was pregnant with my first child.  Do you remember the episode where Chandler breaks into the Monica closet and discovers a large cupboard filled with clutter? Boy can I identify with OCD Monica. This episode finally showed the world that she was human too! 

My “Monica Closet” or perhaps more fitting my “Monica Room” , is filled with things I have to deal with. There is clutter that needs to be sold or disposed of in the proper way, clothes that need to be handed down, and toys that are no longer being played with. 

No matter how much I declutter, I seem to always have a big pile of things to deal with in my Monica Room. This is real life. But it frustrates me to no end. On the outside, it may look like I have life all organised and under control - and I probably am organized compared to a lot of people. But I am still human, and I find some of these decisions difficult.  I tend to put off difficult things and I don’t have it together all the time. 

Yes, this is a real room in my home. All the stuff I need to "deal" with and get out of my home, but it is all too overwhelming sometimes. 

Yes, this is a real room in my home. All the stuff I need to "deal" with and get out of my home, but it is all too overwhelming sometimes. 

When we identify ourselves as something, we end up putting ourselves in a box. The “minimalist” box dictates that no one should have more than 100 things or doesn't have kids or only has a home that is all white. But I think boxes are stupid. While I identify myself as a minimalist, and someone who lives a slower and more intentional life, it’s just part of who I am. I am a mother and I am a wife, I am a photographer and a writer,  I am a volunteer and I am a singer, I am a daughter and daughter in law, I am a cook and a cleaner, I am a home manager and I am a yogi.  I am a student and a traveler.  And I am evolving. Putting oneself in a box is a judgmental thing to do, and it will do nothing to further self awareness and growth. 

I have learned to accept that being a minimalist doesn’t mean I am perfect or honorable or better than anyone else. It won’t mean that I no longer have to deal with very human first world issues.  What it does do is help me to prioritise what is important to me.  But being a minimalist doesn’t mean you won’t have a Monica Closet.  

So instead of cringing with guilt every time I pass my “Monica” room,  I will remember that to be a minimalist is also to be human and I will take a breath and smile, and celebrate my areas of beautiful human imperfection.

 

Day trips around Zug with Kids

 

Continuing on our from our original post about family-friendly Zug, I thought I’d continue with that theme and share our favourite day trips reached easily from Zug.  If you don’t already know it, Zug is a great place to base yourself for exploring further afield. Conveniently located on an efficient train line - you can easily get to and from Zürich, Luzern, Lugano and smaller towns in between, all in a day. 

Zugerberg

Whether you’re craving a bit of adventure on a sled, or want to breathe in fresh mountain air with a view, head to the top of our “little hill,” the Zugerberg.

Take the Zugerberg Bahn up the mountain and enjoy beautiful views. 

Take the Zugerberg Bahn up the mountain and enjoy beautiful views. 

Take the number 11 bus to meet the Zugerberg Bahn that will take you up the 925m. Don’t forget your camera because you will have a postcard view over the city with the Alps in the background. 

In the summer take a 15 minute walk to the Adventure playground Schattwäldli if you’re looking for a place where your kids can be entertained for hours. Don’t forget to bring your BBQ supplies and sausages to cook on the fireplaces provided. In the Winter you can sled down the 2.5km run down the mountain.  Sled didn’t fit in your suitcase?  Or maybe you just forgot it?  No problem.  You can rent one from the Bahn station.  If you’re not into sledding, you can still take a picturesque walk through the winter wonderland that we call home. 

Tierpark Goldau

The Tierpark (Animal Park) in Goldau is a wonderful day outing for all ages where you can see indigenous animals and plants in a natural setting.  

Get up close and personal with the deer at the Tierpark Goldau

Get up close and personal with the deer at the Tierpark Goldau

Take the train from Zug (either the S2 or the quicker IR) along the beautiful lake of Zug to the train station Arth-Goldau.  Follow the signs (and painted animal footprints) and in a short walk you will reach the Tierpark. 

 The Tierpark is a family favourite of many Zug families. The nature park and zoo has various species of deer and Mouflon sheep in a large free range area, who are more than happy for you to feed them (pellets available for purchase). You can also see otheranimals such as the rare Syrian brown bear, wolves, and lynxes in large, realistic enclosures . Take a picnic lunch to eat at one of the many picnic tables scattered throughout the park, bring some sausages to cook on one of the many barbecues, or enjoy a meal at one of the two self-service restaurants.  Crepes and ice cream are also available near the wading fountains.  On a warm day be sure to take your towel and possibly a change of clothes for the kids.  Nothing beats stomping around in the water when the sun is hot!

The Tierpark ist only a great place to get close to the animals. Photo: Natur- und Tierpark Goldau

The Tierpark ist only a great place to get close to the animals. Photo: Natur- und Tierpark Goldau

Hoch Stuckli

Hoch Stuckli is a beautiful mountain with wonderful outdoor activities, no matter what the season.

Hoch Stuckli is the place to visit for great hiking, skiing and kid fun. 

Hoch Stuckli is the place to visit for great hiking, skiing and kid fun. 

Take the train via Arth Goldau to the village of Sattel (or with your car it’s a short 30 minute drive from Zug) and discover their mountain, Hoch Stuckli. Hope on the gondola and get ready to explore!

 Hoch Stuckli is a great place year round. In Winter it’s a ski paradise for families with a super ski school and newly constructed magic carpet that takes your little ones up and down to the ski area. For the non-skiers try the well-posted winter hiking paths, or bring some snow shoes along. For those brave enough, the very steep sled run down to the valley (which can be icy) can be a real thrill.

 Summer is when the fun real starts. From 14.April-5.November,  Hoch Stuckli turns into a kids paradise, with a giant jumping castle and  trampolines area, toboggan run and tubing.  There are 5 great hiking paths to choose from. The RUNDweg Engelstock hike is our personal favourite. This hike takes approximately 1.5 - 2 hours and is great for families. You will be treated with a great view of the the Alps. If you need to bring a stroller along, make sure it has suitable wheels as the path is gravel.  Better yet, carry your little hiker in a backpack carrier when they get tired.  At the end of the hike don’t miss the 374m long Raiffeisen Skywalk supension bridge that you can walk across, if you’re brave! 

Höllgrotten

An underground cavern system, Höllgrotten (Hell Grotto) is aptly named!

Höllgrotten Caves in Baar.   Fotos: Flavio Heggli / Daniel Christen

Höllgrotten Caves in Baar.   Fotos: Flavio Heggli / Daniel Christen

Take the 2 Bus from Zug Bahnhofplatz and get off at Tobbelbrücke/Höllgrotten and walk 24 minutes to find the Höllgrotten Caves. Alternatively, there is plenty of parking, and this is one place where it may be more convenient to drive than take public transportation due to it’s somewhat remote location. 

Here you can visit the 6,000 year old Höllgrotten caves in Baar that are open daily from 1. April till end of October. The drip drop of water will welcome you into in the cool and moist caves. Like something out of a fairy tale, your kids imagination can run wild as they explore these caves that are light up with colorful LED lights. There is an app you can download with a guide for those who understand Swiss German. Afterwards take a walk through the forest and bring a picnic along. 

 

Rigi

She watches majestically over the lake of Zug with her easily recognizable flat side and peak that looks like a perfect corner.

Lots of great kid friendly hikes on the Rigi, and just look at this view. 

Lots of great kid friendly hikes on the Rigi, and just look at this view. 

I’ve saved my favourite sight for last, Rigi:  the “Queen of the Mountains”. Perched majestically at the end of the lake of Zug, this mountain is a feast for the eyes in all seasons. In Summer, in addition to great family-friendly hikes, the Rigi offers fantastic playgrounds. Take along some barbecue fare to cook on the fireplaces that are scattered across the mountain. In Winter, bring a sled (or rent one there) and enjoy a lovely winter hike, or take advantage of local skiing. 

There are many routes from the area which lead you to the peak of Mount Rigi.  You can take the train from Zug to Arth Goldau and then take the train up to the top. Alternatively you can take the train to Luzern, connect with the boat to Vitznau, and then take the the cable car up to Rigi.  If you go the Luzern route you can take the bus back to Luzern and then back on the train to Zug which makes for a scenic day trip. 

The time of year you visit doesn’t matter because the views are always spectacular. Rigi is particularly attractive when when it is foggy in the valley below. 

 

Do you have favourite activities in and around Zug? Where do you take guests when they visit?  Please share with us in the comments section below!

I haven't always been a minimalist

We all like stuff.  New stuff, shiny stuff, the latest stuff, designer stuff.  We’ve been programmed into craving more and more stuff— heck there’s a multi-billion marketing industry currently thriving on this very idea.

I can’t say I was always a “minimalist.” 

There was a time in my life where buying things could almost be called my hobby. When I felt sad I shopped, when I didn't belong I shopped, when my kids were bored I shopped for them. The promise of shiny new things could solve all my problems, or so I thought.  I shopped in an attempt to make myself happy and my kids happy.  I shopped in an attempt to create a perfect story book life.

Behind some Tuk Tuks at the traffic lights on our trip to  Sri Lanka 

Behind some Tuk Tuks at the traffic lights on our trip to  Sri Lanka 

A trip to Sri Lanka changed all that. 

My trip to Sri Lanka, which came quickly on the heels of my eye opening Disney trip, was the first time I had traveled outside of the bubble of the western world. My Father who was born in Sri Lanka, immigrated to Australia with his parents when he just a baby. With my Grandparents, Father, Step Mother and Sister we traveled back to Sri Lanka to trace the footsteps of my Grandparents. 

Generations spending quality time together in Sri Lanka. 

Generations spending quality time together in Sri Lanka. 

We visited Columbo—a bustling city—and traveled up to the mountains to Kandy, my Grandmother’s home. Along the way we drove through many normal everyday villages and through slums as well. But what caught my attention time and time again was just how happy people looked, especially the kids. Often with no more than a cricket bat and battered ball, kids were playing happily together. Or happily standing around with their parents, no glowing screens to be seen. It made me really start to think, do I look this happy? Do my kids look this satisfied? I didn’t feel it, but I was seemingly blessed with so much more. But more what? More stuff. I started to really think, what we really require in order to be happy? 

Less stuff more life. 

Soon after my Sri Lankan trip, I stumbled upon minimalism. Coincidence? I think not. I was ready for a change, and minimalism fit the bill. I am not sure if it was Joshua Becker, Leo Babauta or Brooke McCallery whom I discovered first, but these three minimalist “experts” all had a big impact on my life’s new direction. 

These authors are normal people with families of their own, helping to define a new direction in minimalism, moving away from the stereotype that minimalism is owning only 100 things or living in a tiny house, or being a young hipster and not having kids at all. Along with my Sri Lankan experiences, they inspired me to start on my own minimalist journey.

Outside the Temple of the  Sacred Tooth Relic, my sister Mel snapped these Monks in training.  

Outside the Temple of the  Sacred Tooth Relic, my sister Mel snapped these Monks in training.  

Since 2012, so much has changed in our home. The first reaction people have when they come is that our living space feels lot bigger, and they can’t really pin point why. Our home still looks lived in, and perhaps not what you would call minimalist, but in comparison to before our living room is extremely minimalistic. With only what we use and love in it, our living room has become a peaceful room where we can sit back and truly relax. 

It is not just our home that has transformed. I personally have transformed from a person who constantly wanted more, to a person who has slowly become quite satisfied with what I have. Minimalism is also slowly creeping into other areas of our life too. With less things to look after and tidy up, we are slowly increasing the amount of free time we have - more time for us as a family. I have noticed that packing our schedule full of activities isn't a good idea, and now try to only prioritise one thing a day. Of course this doesn't always happen, but I try my best to keep to this rule - it helps me be more present, instead of looking at my watch wondering when I have to leave. 

I am learning to sit back and enjoy the little things. Like beautiful sunsets. 

I am learning to sit back and enjoy the little things. Like beautiful sunsets. 

The idea of minimalism has made me think about what is most important for me. My answer is unequivocally more quality time with family and friends. I am prioritising that now, and especially with my own family. Instilling the motto “collect memories not things” is a big part of how we parent, and when we do bring new things into our house, we ask ourselves - does this fit our motto?

Our family still has a long way to go, it is a journey after all, and really there is no destination to get to. I am enjoying the journey and all the little benefits it brings along the way. Life already seems a lot less complicated, lighter, and more free.

 I can truly say that I am finally starting to live my life, instead of chasing the next thing. 

 

 

 

Cities with kids: Amsterdam

As part of a new series here on Simple Family Travel, we are featuring a different mum writing about her favourite city each month. You'll find tips on where to eat, what to see, best places to play and even what to do on a rainy day. 

Our first mum is Karlien from Holland.  Karlien is the author of the Dutch Blog Reistips met Kids. A mum of two small children, Karlien lives in a town near Amsterdam and she loves to explore the city with her kids. 

Why choose Amsterdam to travel with your kids?

Amsterdam with kids Photo: Karlien

Amsterdam with kids Photo: Karlien

Amsterdam is the capital of Holland. It’s a beautiful city with great architecture. It also is a good city to explore with your kids. It’s busy but not too busy. There are a lot of playgrounds, just walking through the city and you’ll stumble upon them. Amsterdam also has a lot of family-friendly restaurants, fun museums and indoor playgrounds. I'll share with you my favourite things to do, but before we get to that, the most important tip is transportation.  If you want to explore Amsterdam like Dutch people do, why not rent a bike.  It’s cheap, quick and a fun way to discover the city. Check out Black Bike Rental, with its 13 locations to rent all over Amsterdam, you will for sure find a location that suits you. 

What are your favourite Restaurants with kids? 

It’s hard to pick just a couple of restaurants, since Amsterdam is filled with so many good ones. But I'll share my favourite ones.

Amsterdam Central: Check out Blue Amsterdam, which is a rooftop restaurant with a  360° panoramic views. If you go, be sure to get there early before it gets too busy. While you are there, why not try the delicious pie, “De drie Graefjes”.

Amsterdam Noord: I really like Fashion & Tea (Van der Pekstraat 40HS). They have good coffee and they sell clothes as well. Added bonus is they also have toys for the kids to play with. 

Amsterdam Oost: La Fucina, (Javastraat 99, 1094 HC) is a little Italian restaurant that is surprisingly good. The food is good, it’s cheap and they have a lot of toys to keep the kids entertained.

Amsterdam West: At Wijs West, you can drink coffee, shop and your kids can play! Blender Kids Concept Store is also a good place to visit in this area. 

What are your favourite things to see and do?

I really love the junior Veretsmeusem (The Dutch Resistance Museum Junior) which covers different aspects of the occupation of the Netherlands during World War II.  Kids should be at least 9 years old in order to understand and appreciate the information provided. Free audio guides are provided. 

Another great Museum that will be a hit with the kids is the NEMO Science Museum, where kids are encouraged to discover science through hands on activities. They can learn how to make clean water, find out interesting teen facts, and learn about energy.

Museum “Op Solder” is tucked away in the heart of the city and is not to be missed. In the attic of this 17th century house you will find a hidden church. Dating back to 1663 when it was not allowed to practise religion, the authorities turned a blind eye to this church and it enabled Catholics to attend mass. Apart from the church, explore the narrow corridors and stairwells of this historically furnished house. The kids will like the treasure hunt that is available for 1 euro and helps them to learn as they search for the ladybirds. There is also an audio guide aimed at older children.

What are your favourite playgrounds? 

Throughout Amsterdam, you will find a lot of outdoor playgrounds and for the rainy days, some indoor playgrounds as well. 

Check out the many playgrounds in Amsterdam Photo: by Karlien

Check out the many playgrounds in Amsterdam Photo: by Karlien

Amsterdamse Bos is huge park with lots of things to do including a couple of great playgrounds. Check out the Fun Forest Climbing park, Goat Farm, or the electric boats. For the warmer months take your swimmers along and dip in the two paddling pools.

Close to the city centre you will find the famous Vondelpark. Loved by tourist and Amsterdammers a like, it will be filled on sunny days with people relaxing in the grass. Rent skates near the Amstelveenseweg entrance or visiting one for the six play areas. 

I also really like Amstelpark with is mini train and mini golf. 

For indoor fun try Tun Fun in the centre of Amsterdam near the Waterlooplein. Or try Race Planet near Westpoort or Ballorig near the Ajax Stadium. 

What are your tips for a rainy day?

The public library of Amsterdam, close to Central Station, is where we go on rainy days. It’s a lovely place to relax and play. Upstairs there is a restaurant with a nice view over Amsterdam.

If you are a soccer loving family, don’t miss a visit to the Ajax Stadium tour and museum. Right next door is a big shopping area as well as the indoor playground Ballorig.

Amsterdam in the rain.  Photo: Karlien

Amsterdam in the rain.  Photo: Karlien

 

Thanks Karlien for sharing your ideas for visiting Amsterdam with kids. I love the idea of exploring a city on bike. Renting a Cargo bike from Black Bike looks like a lot of fun. 

Want to hear more about Karlien? Check out her blog and instagram account

If you would like to be a guest blogger and share your best family tips about your home city in our series Cities with Kids we'd love to hear from you! Email us at hello (at) simplefamilytravel.net. 

100 Days: My New Years Resolutions Revisted

Even before the clock strikes midnight, the list of things that I want to change in the coming year rolls through my mind with a wave of anticipation:  eat healthier, lose weight, get fit, spend more time with my family, travel more, take more photos with my big camera, and learn how to de-stress!

2017 seems to be different. 

2017 seems to be different. 

I’m very familiar with this list because it’s the same one every. single. year.

Normally (like, for the past 11 years) by the time April rolls around,  I have allowed my reality to crash my little self-improvement party.  Life steals my momentum and the pain of change begins to outweigh the pain of remaining on the same comfortable (unhealthy) path. Having three kids can thwart even the best intentions and it’s usually not long before I put my mental and physical health at the back of a long, long queue of everything else that needs to be taken care of.

When all I want to do is just get some decent sleep, willpower does not come easily.  I burn out - partly from pure exhaustion and partly from being so irritated with myself -  and within a blink of an eye things are back to the way they were and I begin counting down to the next new year (when I’ll really make those changes once and for all).  That was my story, beginning with the birth of my daughter nearly 12 years ago and repeating year after year after year.

 

BUT-- hang on folks--2017 feels different

I've wanted to introduce Yoga into my daily life for a long time, 2017 is the year I finally have done it.

I've wanted to introduce Yoga into my daily life for a long time, 2017 is the year I finally have done it.

 

In the beginning of 2016 I enlisted a Life Coach who has been guiding me in a direction of inner growth.  But more than growing, per se, I have been learning to understand myself and my own motivations.  And not only have I come to understand myself better but I have been able to accept the core of who I am and understand myself in a totally different and accepting way. Knowing myself, and accepting every part of myself, and managing those parts within context has been key to feeling a confidence I haven’t felt for a very long time.  And I am really beginning to like what I am seeing in myself.  As my Life Coach says—if you would talk to your friends the way you talk to yourself, pretty soon you’re not going to have any friends left.  So. True.

 

In 2017 I am determined to have a different story. 

 

It’s amazing when you have confidence in yourself and in the direction of your life, how much easier it is to make healthy and positive changes.  For example:  for the past 100 days, I have practised yoga. Every single morning, I rise, (don’t get me wrong—I am at this point still actively fighting with my *sometimes* contrary mind who is telling me to stay in the warm bed), and roll out my yoga mat (observing how new it still looks), switch on my Computer and stream the yoga class for that day. Sitting here, 100 days in, I am delightfully shocked that I have actually made it this far. Even after late or restless nights, I have gathered enough motivation to get up and do it.   Let’s try and understand why it's working for me this time.

 

1.  I like myself better than I’ve ever liked myself in my whole life

How does having confidence in yourself and accepting yourself for who you are help you to make positive changes for yourself?  Quite simply—us human types will make changes that we feel are “worth it.”  If I don’t value myself, and if I put my needs behind everyone else’s, why on earth would I spend time trying to help myself?  It might be counter-intuitive, but who would you rather help?  Someone who you view with competence and value or someone who you don’t like?  The answer is obvious, and is at the root of a nasty pattern of “you first, me last.”  Let’s be clear—I haven’t changed as a person, I have just changed my own view of myself.  And finally, 2016 was the year where I started to finally get to know me after 35 years.   I have decided that I am fundamentally worth improving.  On to the next step which is…..

 

2. I have made small measurable and attainable goals. 

Instead of saying, I will get healthy and fit in 2017. I have started off with "I will practise yoga every morning in January."  By committing only to January it didn't seem unattainable. I have been able to keep my goals small and manageable. Thanks to Elise Blaha Cripes's Goal Tracker, I can also see the bigger picture of the year. And since starting, I’ve actually found it hard not to keep going. I like to track my daily progress by colouring in those little circles after each yoga session, making each day a small little victory and increasing my motivation to keep going. Towards the end of each month I will reassess what worked, and decide what I want to commit to going into the following month. 

Another goal accountability platform that might work for you include the 100 day Goal by Julia Bickerstaff. I heard about this group from the Low Tox Life podcast by Alexx Stuart. I have not used the specific tools from her program as they are more business related, but I have enjoyed her daily emails which have helped with my motivation.

Both have been very motivating for me.

 

3. I established a daily routine

I am finding completing my goal of  practising yoga easier because I have committed to it every day. There are no “off days” which can feel comfortable and there is no way to put off my yoga session to the next day (which I could do if I committed to every other day). I don’t have to make a decision about whether to do yoga, I simply get up and just do it (to use a worn out phrase that really does work). I liken this to brushing my teeth.  It’s the same routine, with no excuse for not doing it.

In her book, Better Than Before, one of Gretchen Rubin’s habit manifestos is   “What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.”  

This is so true. 

My daily appointment with Adriene - I love her Yoga programme. 

My daily appointment with Adriene - I love her Yoga programme. 

 

 

4. I am making myself accountable to others

Another one of my 2017 goals is to get my blog up and running. So much behind the scenes work goes into creating a blog and together with my life coach (who also serves as my editor), we have been focusing on creating as much content as possible.  I find it easy to come up with ideas, and my bullet journal is brimming with them.  However I find the task of actually sitting down and developing those thoughts into a coherent story very challenging.  Sometimes I start out with a paragraph and simply cannot go on.  The blank page is so demotivating!  It’s at that point where I can easily get into a pretty unhealthy spiral of self-loathing which can lead to negative thoughts about my actual ability to even write and be a successful blogger.  There’s nothing like telling yourself how stupid you are to make you close your computer and stop trying altogether.

This is where leveraging my innate tendencies comes in handy.  According to Gretchen Rubin and her work with the 4 tendencies, I fit the pattern of an “obliger.”  I really hate letting people down (I’ll let myself down before I’ll let others down).  Instead of hating myself for that I am now using it to my advantage.  I made a pact with my Life Coach that I would send her a blog posts every Wednesday in 2017.  We have a weekly deadline. She will then edit and send back her feedback for me so I can continue with the editing until it’s just where I want it.  Because I am accountable to her each Wednesday (and do not want to disappoint her!) I am sticking to the schedule and actually getting words down on paper.  As she said, just write anything.  Don’t worry about the format or the cohesiveness or whether or not I am sounding clever or funny.  Just put the thoughts down.  And guess what?  I’m on track! 

 

5. I am perfectly imperfect

Embracing imperfection has enabled this recovering perfectionist to keep on going.  I missed the two first days of 2017 of my yoga practise because I was just exhausted. I needed those two days to recalibrate and focus. I also missed 2 days when I was sick in bed in March. In my previous life those gaps in my chart would have me spend the next week beating myself up for that unforgivable lapse, which would have inevitably led to eventually giving up altogether.  Not this year.  This year I am focusing on progress. If I fall off the horse, that is ok. Importantly, I will review where I have succeeded and get back up and start again.  I will anticipate fits and starts.  I will consider that normal.  I will look at the big picture.  And I will still love myself.

I am using Elise Blaha Cripe's goal tracker to keep on track in 2017. It's stuck in my bullet journal so I will never loose it. 

I am using Elise Blaha Cripe's goal tracker to keep on track in 2017. It's stuck in my bullet journal so I will never loose it. 

 

6. I use my limited time wisely

At my current stage of life with two school aged kids and a toddler still at home, I have only two *free* mornings per week (which equates to just under 6 precious hours).  With limited time to myself and so much that I would like to focus on I  really must pick and choose the activities that I’ll get the most out of.  If I were to attend a yoga class outside my home I have calculated that I’d burn 2 hours of my free 6 hours between traveling there and attending the class once per week.  Therefore being able to practise at home in front of the computer before the kids get up is a huge motivating factor.  I am then able to use my weekly six hours to write, meet with my life coach, do extra exercises at the gym, or simply just take a break to read or relax. Or perhaps I can spoil myself by doing the grocery shopping all on my own! (Bliss!)  What I’m trying to say is this:  there’s more than one way to achieve your goals.  Don’t set up schedules which are destined to fail before they’ve even begun.  Work something small into your schedule and make a commitment to do it every day for a short period of time (for example a week, or if you’re brave, a month).  If you’re looking to improve your fitness, walk!  A 30 minute walk can go a long way in getting your metabolism jump started—and you don’t have to travel all the way to a fitness center to do it.  Find hacks and use them!  You don’t get extra credit for making heroic efforts.  All that counts in the end is what you actually DO.

 

As I see myself as an evolution in progress (and I heartlessly steal and use good ideas!) I’m interested in hearing from you.  What, helps you to keep on track? Have you ever successfully kept new years goals or any kinds of goals? I would love to hear from you. 

Dispelling the myths of Youth Hostels: WellnessHostel 4000 Saas Fee

What comes to mind when you think about a youth hostel? Do you think back to your life as a young adult, and picture large rooms filled with rows of snoring and drunk backpackers in bunkbeds? 

For many adults with a family, a youth hostel would not even be on your list of possibilities when selecting overnight accommodation, no matter how desperate you might be for a good deal.  I get that.  But there I was—searching the internet and chatting to my sister-in-law about budget-friendly accommodations.  “Youth hostel” was not part of the criteria.  And then, my sister-in-law uttered the magic word.  “Spa.”

“What?  A youth hostel with a spa???”  My sister-in-law’s mother tongue is not English, and although I can certainly hold up my my own when speaking Swiss German with her, there are certainly little misunderstandings that naturally occur.  I had to ask her twice whether she really meant that there was a “SPA,” a real spa, in this place.

She continued to explain (re-explain) that the Saas Fee Youth Hostel , WellnessHostel 4000 in Saas Fee had recently been refurbished and even had a spa - and that was it for me.  I knew we would have to go and at least check it out. I wanted to see if the new rebrand could expel those grungy memories of my late teens. 

I’m pleased to report that my preconceived notions were totally and completely wrong. 

Saas Fee, a great Family friendly hiking region.

Saas Fee, a great Family friendly hiking region.

 

Our Traveling Party

This time we were a large group, with 6 adults and 7 kids ranging in ages from 2 to 14.  As you would expect, youth hostels are tailored to large group accommodations.  Unlike hotels, there are no worries about rooms having maximum capacity of 2 or 3 people.  Nope—we’re in the big league now.

The Location

The Wellness Hostel 4000 is located in the car free village of Saas Fee, conveniently located a short stroll from the car park and directly in front of the bus station.  The village of Saas Fee is located in southern Wallis at an altitude of 1798 meters above sea level. 

The Arrival

 I’m pleased to announce that immediately upon arrival those memories from my late teens quickly evaporated into the fresh mountain air.  The Hostel is at once new, modern and welcoming and it is clear that families were a major consideration in the hostel redesign.  Considerate touches such as a little play area which is set up in the dining area quickly grabbed the attention of our two year old and allowed us to have a peaceful meal.  And after our 5 hour-long drive, we were not only able to check in, but we could store our valuables in lockers and the rest of our luggage in a room until our sleeping rooms were ready for us to use.  

The Rooms

Our 4 bed Room at the WellnessHostel 4000 in Saas Fee

Our 4 bed Room at the WellnessHostel 4000 in Saas Fee

  Our rooms were available at 3pm and we were greeted with a clean, well organised space with plenty of built-in shelving that could accommodate all of our hiking gear. Our family got a room with four beds, comprised of a double bed and a bunk bed. A portable cot was added to the room for our 2 year old (free of charge!). We didn’t need to bring sleeping bags as linen was provided - but we had to make the beds (and undress them at the end) ourselves. The room was quite comfortable and we all slept very well. Check out this view from our bedroom window—it was breathtaking.  

The view from our room at WellnessHostel 4000.

The view from our room at WellnessHostel 4000.

 

The Food

The lunch service was still running when we arrived so we stopped by the dining area and enjoyed Swiss-style chicken curry and rice (Riz Casimir).  The hostel’s restaurant focuses on fresh and regional food and is completely self-service, which also includes cleaning the tables up after yourself once you have finished.  They serve one lunch and dinner menu per day, and dinner requires a reservation. The prices for a meal were very reasonable by Swiss standards at 17.50chf for adults and children 14.50chf (6-12 years) and 8.50 (2-5 years). Included in our overnight stay was a continental breakfast buffet.  Bichermüseli, fresh bread, cheese, fruit, yogurts and cereals filled our tummies ready for a hiking adventure. On Sunday we all enjoyed Zopf, the traditional Swiss Sunday bread.

The view from the Restaurant at WellnessHostel 4000 in Saas Fee

The view from the Restaurant at WellnessHostel 4000 in Saas Fee

 

To the side of reception was a little cafe/bar where we enjoyed an after dinner drink. The area was full of families with kids doing exactly the same thing as us! Isn’t it refreshing to be in a place where you don’t have to tell your kids to quiet down every 30 seconds?

The Activities

During our short visit of 2 nights, the dads and kids enjoyed the indoor (open to the public) swimming pool that is attached through a walkway from the hostel and included in the overnight price. Unfortunately our days were filled to the brim and we didn’t even get to visit the spa (for an extra cost), but it definitely looked inviting.  Next time, for sure!

Included in the price of our stay (during the Summer season) is the Saas Fee Bürgerpass which enabled us to use the buses and most gondolas in the Saas area free of charge.  

Taking in the view over the Saas Valley. 

Taking in the view over the Saas Valley. 

 

The Price

Our 2 night stay at the WellnessHostel 4000 cost CHF 577 for 2 adults and 3 children (aged 11, 8 and 2) which included the mandatory purchase of a Swiss Youth Hostel Family annual membership card at CHF 44.  This membership enables us to stay at any of the 52 hostels in Switzerland (or over 4000 around the world.)  As mentioned, breakfast was included in the overnight accommodation fee, as was the Saas Fee Bürgerpass and entry into the swimming pool.  Wellness entry is an extra charge.

I am so glad I put aside my preconceived notions of what a youth hostel was and ventured out of my comfort zone to give the Wellness Hostel 4000 a chance. Not surprisingly I am now eyeing off other hostels around Switzerland. Three that have caught my eye are hostels in Scoul, Davos and the new Crans Montana Hostel opening in June.  Watch this space!

Have you stayed in a youth hostel with your family?  Share your favourites with us!  We may just check it out and blog about it!

Visiting Zug: Our favourite family friendly things to do

On the lake of the same name with the Alps as it’s backdrop, you will find the small but charming city of Zug. Probably more famous as an international corporate headquarters haven, because of famously low taxes, than as a family friendly place to visit, Zug and the surrounding area has a lot to offer families and anyone who loves the great outdoors.

SimpleFamilyTravel:Zug

Located between Zurich and Luzern, Zug is well positioned on the famous Swiss train network, and is great not only for exploring things locally but as a base to explore further afield.  It's a wonderful place for those who want to base themselves in a quieter city with the benefit of being able to easily escape to the mountains or further south to the beautiful Swiss-Italian region, known as Ticino. 

Here are our favourite things to do in Zug

Summertime is Badi time!

Pack your swimmers and towel and head to lake

If you come in the summertime, a swim in the lake at the Badi is a must. What on earth is a Badi?  Badis are local swimming areas at the lake and are the place to cool off in the heat of the summer.  Entrance to the Badis in the city of Zug are free of charge, while Badis in other villages may charge a nominal fee. Our favourite Badi is the Strand Bad in Zug,  just a short walk along the lake from the centre of town.  At that Badi you’ll feel like you have been transported away on holidays as you enjoy lunch or a glass of wine at tables set under big shady trees.  In addition there is a small beach where the kids can play for hours in the sand, and even 1,3 and 5m diving towers towering over the lake (for the more adventurous souls). 

Simple Family Travel:Badi

The self service restaurant is great and I highly recommend the Fischknusperli Fitness Teller (Fried fish with salad). Feel free to pinch a couple of chips from your kids, they are delicious! 

Zug, the cherry capital of Europe!

Enjoy sweet delicious local cherries in early summer. 

Simple Family Travel Cherries

Zug is most famous for its plentiful, juicy, and sweet black cherries—and if you are lucky enough to travel through Zug in the middle of June, sampling cherries needs to be on your list.  Saturday the 8th July 2017 is “Cherry Day”; and its here you’ll find a festival dedicated to cherries on the Landsgemeindeplatz. If you are here in early spring, not to worry, the cherry trees are still a sight to behold with the bountiful and beautiful blossoms covering the trees. 

Simple Family Travel - Zuger Chriesi Märkt

If you’re lucky enough to be here in season, I encourage you to grab some cherries and farm fresh deliciousness from the local farmers market on a Saturday morning (also on the Landsgemeindeplatz), take a stroll along the lake, and find a shady picnic spot to sit down and enjoy them. 

Pedalos on the lake of Zug

Check out Zug from different perspective

From April till October (check website for exact opening times) you can rent a pedalo (pedal boat) at the Landsgemeindeplatz.  From there you can set off to explore the lake of Zug as far as your legs will take you.  It’s a fun way to see the town of Zug from a completely different perspective.  You’ll notice that Zug has some of the best sunsets,  so why not rent one around sunset, sit back and enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the shores of Lake Zug. 

SimpleFamilyTravel:Zug

If all of that pedaling gets you thirsty, you can hop off your boat and enjoy a drink at one of the many outdoor terraces of the restaurants which line the lake.  You’ll be able to sip and watch your kids run in the square, and if they enjoy birds, they can have a look at the bird enclosures at the edge of the lake. 

Zytturm

Grab the key to the Zytturm landmark and explore the clock tower yourself. 

Located in the old town of Zug, this iconic tower is the entrance to the old town and was originally provided fortified access to the town when it was built in the 13th century. It’s present shape was constructed in 1557 to include the watch chamber and a astronomcical clock to include the weekdays and months. You can visit the clock tower by collecting the key from the shop Wunderbox located behind the tower.  When Wunderbox is closed, the Restaurant Intermezzo can help you out, and on a Monday you’ll find the key at the local Bibliothek (library), just a few blocks away. 

Simple Family Travel: Zytturm

Afterwards why not enjoy a crepe at Intermezzo?  Intermezzo not only serves the most delicious crepes, but also does a fantastic job by providing jobs to less abled people.  I love to create my own crepe filling with parma ham, Mozzarella and rocket—and on days that I’ve worked hard to climb the clock tower I’ll treat myself to a sugar and cinnamon crepe for a sweet finish.

Simple Family Travel: Intermezzo Zug

 

Märlisunntig

In December get lost in a magical fairy tail land right in the middle of Zug. 

On the 10th December 2017Zug will turn into a Fairytale land with more than 30 locations around the old town hosting story tellers who entertain the young and young at heart.  For that day, Zug old town goes “car free” and you'll be able to walk all around and through the streets with their beautiful holiday decor.  You will find many colorful characters and perhaps also a Sami Chlaus (Santa Claus) or two. The festival finishes with a parade through the town and fireworks at 5.30pm.  If you have your heart set on a particular event get there early as there is almost always a line. 

Simple Family Travel Märlilsunntig

 Get your Christmas spirit on by grabbing a Glühwein, homemade ginger bread and some hot chestnuts and wander through the streets like a local. 

 

Ice Skating at Bossard Arena

When was the last time you put on ice skates?

From October until March the outside (but still under cover) ice skating field is open at the Bossard Arena.  Open daily, you can enjoy the fresh air while ice skating.  There are high quality skates and skating aids to rent on site.  Home also to the local EVZ Ice Hockey team, you could  combine some afternoon ice skating along with an evening visit to watch a game (check here for schedule). 

Simple Family Travel: Ice Skating Bossard Arena

If all of that gets your appetite going there are a few options.  Next to the rink is a friendly little pop up stall with the usual suspects:  bratwurst, rolls, drinks, and beers.  Or, head upstairs to the 67 Sports Bar for a great burger.  If you’re there on a Wednesday you’ll find all-you-can-eat spareribs night. 

 

One last tip

Switzerland implores you to slow down and marvel in it’s natural beauty.  There is a good reason Switzerland is at the top of the list for its quality of life—The Swiss know how to stop and enjoyLocals sit for hours in the cafes chatting away over a cup of coffee or glass of prosecco.  Evenings are for enjoying the sunsets over the lake of Zug and taking long walks.  Enjoy not being in a hurry to get somewhere and take a stroll at sunset along the lake and find a bench to sit back and take in the show. 

Simple Family Travel-Zugsunset

 

These are our favourite things to do in Zug. Have you visited before? What would you add to the list? 

 

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Getting your kids to help and lighten your load

Raise your hand if you feel like your family’s entire existence rests on your shoulders.  Is there ANYONE out there who doesn’t feel this way at least ONCE in awhile?  I want to meet you!!!

In the “old days” of our grandmothers and even in some cases our mothers, women pretty much held up the family, and it was expected that she would take care of the house and everyone in it.  Alone.

Fast forward 50 years and what have I been doing?  Taking care of the house and everyone in it.  Alone.

I recently realised that I had two choices:   keep doing this and lose my mind, or vote for my sanity and make some serious changes.

I readily admit that I am not a great delegator. I’m sure someone could psychoanalyse me and get to the root of that little problem (and actually I have spent years psychoanalysing myself!!!!) but who cares how I got here.  I’m here, and it really just doesn’t work.

Those little people in our house who make all the mess. HELP!

Those little people in our house who make all the mess. HELP!

My husband is Awesome.  (Not a typo—he is Awesome with a capital “A”).  I’m certain this man will be canonized upon his departure from this earth.  He never complains about anything I ask him to do.  But he works outside the home ALL DAY long!  So if I ask him to do something to help, despite his lack of complaining, I immediately inflict a massive guilt trip on myself (which in and of itself takes a lot of work from my side).  And then where am I? I still have the same amount of work along with a healthy dose of guilt!  Then there is the guilt that it would all fall apart without me (partially true, partially fantasy.  Just let me have that fantasy, OK??).  Then there is the record that plays over and over in my head:  “Kristin—this is your role.  This is your reality, you choose this life.  Just ZIP IT and get to work and stop arguing with me!”  Arguing with oneself is exhausting too. Whole lotta work and guilt.  Not recommended.  

So a few months ago, when I was playing the “Kristin this is your role” record again, and simultaneously feeling totally unappreciated, overworked, overtired, and just totally fed up, I realized that I was coming dangerously close to hitting the proverbial end of the road.  And as I had that thought of a car careening off a cliff with me inside it, I looked down and saw three little people just standing there looking at me with big eyes waiting for their next instruction.  And I at that moment I thought:  Hey!  You are the little people who cause most of my work.  And now, it’s your turn to HELP!

I admit, this was not an earth shattering moment for me.  I had thought about it many times before, but quite frankly it can sometimes be more work to have your kids help than just blitzing it and doing it yourself.  Not to mention having to endure the complaining. Who wants help from someone who complains how life is so unfair, who can’t finish a job without getting distracted by a lego figure on the floor and who always conveniently has to run to the bathroom the moment I ask if anyone is free to help? Don’t get me wrong, I have attempted previously to involve the kids in chores around the home, but I lose my patience quickly.  And did I mention the complaining? 

But you know what?  That was the issue.  It was MY issue.  I finally realized that if I just IGNORED the complaining and tried my very best not to let it get to me—we might be able to get somewhere.

Lunchtime is where my kids help out the most, the vegetable box keeps the hunger away while they help out. 

Lunchtime is where my kids help out the most, the vegetable box keeps the hunger away while they help out. 

We started with lunch.  In Switzerland the kids come home for lunch every day.  Sometimes I even inherit a friend’s kid or two.  Whoever walks through that door—they are all hungry and therefore very motivated.  I make a hot meal every lunchtime and in the past it has taken me a good hour to prepare it with all of the interruptions which come from my toddler and various other sources.  But the fact is that these kids need to have lunch on the table no later than noon so they can get back to school on time.  Which means that I really need to get down to the fixing-lunch-business by 11:00.  And then there is the post-eating clean-up activity that I oh so love—and in the end I figured I was spending about 2 good hours between all of the stuff that had to happen to feed those little mouths.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m happy enough to cook, and blessed to have the children to do it for, but there’s the matter of setting the table and cleaning up that they are more than capable of doing by now.  So the other day I shook up the house and broke it to them that they would all be a part of lunch time (if they wanted to eat).  Each little mouth agreed that eating over lunchtime was a good thing so I marched forward and assigned them each tasks.  Here’s how I broke the jobs down for them:  

    •    Set the table with plates, forks, knives, spoons, and water glasses

    •    fill the glasses with water

    •    clear the table of plates, silverware, cups, and food and scrape plates into the compost

    •    load the dishwasher

    •    put leftovers in glass containers and then into the fridge

    •    vacuum the floor

    •    wipe the table

    •    recycle appropriate items

    •    wash dishes

    •    dry dishes

 

We keep a schedule on the fridge, so there are no excuses for not knowing who has to do what each day. Even little Z is getting in on the act helping out where she can. As it worked so well, we transferred the list over to dinner times as well. Everyone is now pitching in to help make all of our day go a little smoother.  And Mama is a whole lot happier for it. 

The Schedule! Without this our lunchtime would be a lot more chaotic 

The Schedule! Without this our lunchtime would be a lot more chaotic 

What if they don’t help, you ask? Or what if I have to remind them too many times? It’s simple—I go on strike. They can do all the jobs i’ve been allocated to do as well as their own. I promise you, this has only happened once! 

Just from this little list, I have now shaved a good 30 minutes off my lunchtime routine.  And the kids are feeling more involved and helpful and quite frankly proud of themselves.  But IMPORTANTLY, it wasn’t just the kids who had to learn how to do something.  I had to accept a couple of things as well.  First of all, the complaining continues.  That’s just life, I guess, and but I have chosen not to focus on that part.  If they want to complain and be miserable, then that’s their choice. This is a massive departure from my previous mindset where complaining felt like an utter failure on my part because my little people weren’t “happy.”  

Secondly, the tasks are rarely done as perfectly as I could do them.  This was also a big one for me to get past, particularly with my need for control.  I am trying.  But the question for me was:  am I striving for perfect or do I just want a few moments back to my self?  I have finally accepted that these jobs don't NEED to be done perfectly.  (Whew.  I feel better even for having said that!)  Imperfect is my friend!  Can you just hear the minutes actually being added ON to my day?  Tick tock.  Tick tock.  And those little things really add up.  I now start lunch 20 minutes later than I used to—and am so much less stressed!  Win win win!

                     2 years old and already setting the table, who needs a perfectly set table after all. 

                     2 years old and already setting the table, who needs a perfectly set table after all. 

Because of the success of this little experiment, I’ve since expanded the scope of the kids' responsibility to include doing the recycling.  We live rather close to the facility that accepts our empty cans, bottles, and paper, so this was actually a no-brainer.  Not only do they have to walk it all over there, but they also have to make sure the recycling station in our home is tidy, and that that the kitchen is free of recycling after each meal and put away.  (Tick tock!  Tick tock!)

This success has motivated me to look elsewhere at our day to see if there are any other places where the kids can take some of the burden off of me and gain even more time.  I have been brainstorming how I can easily incorporate new jobs into their every day life and have come up with a couple of ideas that I’m going to be trying out very soon.

    •    The I’m Bored list:  Have a running list of things that need to be done called the “I’m Bored” list.  Bingo!  When they claim that they’re bored, I'll have an instant re-direct ready for them!

    •    The “keep your own space tidy” principle:  While we are lucky to have a lovely woman cleaning our home we’ve decided to cut back to one day every two weeks instead of every week. I’ll still have her help with the deep scrubbing that I can’t do but as a FAMILY (read:  kids, too) we will maintain her work in between her visits.  To begin with, each child can

    •    vacuum their own room 

    •    dust their own room

    •    take turns cleaning the kids' bathroom. Our 9 year old has recently learnt how to clean the toilets. 

So talk to me, all those Mums and Dads out there who are fighting the good fight!  Tell me how you do it?  Which jobs do your kids do?  And how do you make it work in your family?

 

Simple Family Travel

Family Vacations in Switzerland: Our top 4 tips.

I was asked by Karlien from the Dutch blog “Reise tips met kids” to share some kid-tested, mum-approved fun that you can have in Switzerland.  I was so excited that she asked me because Switzerland is such a perfect place to visit with your family.  Let me share some of our family’s favorite places with you!

Why should you bring your kids to Switzerland?

 

Family Friendly Switzerland, Hiking is the national summer past time.

Family Friendly Switzerland, Hiking is the national summer past time.

It’s a good question.  With the world so much more accessible to us through the miracle of air travel leaving us with so many choices for our holidays, what makes Switzerland special?  While we’re famous for cows, chocolate and cheese (and most kids won’t say no to at least one of those!) there is so much more that is special, and sometimes hidden, to love.  Have you vowed to get your kids off electronics and out into the fresh air?  Maybe you’re tired of being behind the computer too!  If so, Switzerland is the place for you. With stunning scenery and adventure around every corner. Switzerland is a nature lover’s paradise.  The air, water, and mountains are clean and beautiful and even on a cloudy day you can probably find sunshine up on the berg (mountain).  So grab your rucksacks, put on your hat (or ski jackets), and let’s go! 

 

Tip 1: Family friendly hiking trails

Switzerland is a hikers paradise.  Do you have kids?  Some folks may think that hiking isn’t a child friendly activity, but think again!  Everyone can enjoy hiking on trails that span from extremely easy to devilishly difficult.  In Switzerland, hiking (like skiing) is a national family pastime.  Swiss kids love to hike:  they not only hike on the weekends but hiking trips with school is a regular event from the very early classes. Some regions have been clever and introduced fun (and motivating!) activities along hiking routes which most kids really love.

Why not visit Liselotte the cow on the Männlichen Mountain, or explore dwarf houses along the hike in Muggestutz. For the more adventurous hikers, be sure to read the book Heidi by Johanna Spyri before you arrive and then follow in Heidi’s footsteps and explore the beautiful area of Maienfeld. You can easily find a hike that suits your families fitness level. 

Härzlisee on bruni in engelberg is a treat fo your feet.

Härzlisee on bruni in engelberg is a treat fo your feet.

 A big favourite around our home is the Härzlisee above the village of Engelberg. You can take the Brunni gondola up to the trail and then hike (or take the chair lift) up to Härzlisee - a heart shaped lake. Around the lake is a Kitzelpfad or “tickel trail” —an experience unique to Switzerland where you walk barefoot around the lake on trails specifically designed for you to be able to experience different textures on your soles of your feet.   Have I tempted you yet?

 For more family friendly hiking destinations, I recommend the Swiss tourism website where you’ll find a list full of suggested hikes for you to try.

 

Tip 2: Train Travel

Traveling by train in Switzerland is easy, clean, efficient, and designed with both the single traveler as well as the family in mind.  For example, on cross country trains you can find family carriages with playgrounds on the upper decks, activity stations, and plenty of room to park your pram or leave your suitcases. The Swiss Train network is vast and the scenery stunning. Imagine being able to travel all over the country, through mountains, over glaciers, and past lakes in a comfortable seat with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine!) all the meanwhile leaving the navigation to the experts. 

sit back and let the trains of swiitzerland take you to your destination

sit back and let the trains of swiitzerland take you to your destination

Every major attraction is reachable by train, and where the trains don’t go the busses, trams, and gondolas do!  Does train travel appeal to you?  You might want to inquire about The Swiss Travel Pass.  This transportation pass is a cost effective option for those exploring Switzerland by train and the even better news is that with this ticket, your kids (under 16) will travel for free thanks to the Swiss Family card. The Swiss Travel pass also includes entry into museums (for the kids, too, with the Family Card)  If you are not using the Swiss Travel Pass, you can still take advantage o f many other options.  For example, check out the Junior card that normally costs CHF 30 (currently on sale for 15chf till 31. January 2018) which enables children to travel with a paying parent for free.  Another option can be a half-fare card which you can purchase for CHF 120.  It’s good for a month and enables you to travel for half-fare on trains, busses, boats, and mountain railways. 

Check out the international visitors page of the SBB (Swiss Travel System) for the various options. 

 

Tip 3: Outdoor Activities

In addition to hiking there are so many other outdoor activities to enjoy in Switzerland.  Are you interested in natural history?  Try the open air museum Ballenberg and see how the Swiss lived 200 years ago.  A wonderful animal sanctuary can be found at the Tierpark in Goldau.

the verkehrshaus or transport museum in luzern is fun for young and old

the verkehrshaus or transport museum in luzern is fun for young and old

Not to be missed is the Transport Museum in Luzern (also home to the IMAX theatre and the Lindt Chocolate experience) which is always a huge hit with kids and adults alike.  Get to see the evolution of the trains with actual carriages and engines you can explore, or climb aboard on of the first Swiss International Airlines airplane.   Not only are there wonderful hands on exhibits inside, but there is a huge area outside where kids can ride scooters and drive cars.  (Good luck getting the kids away from the construction areas!)  And if you’re really warm after running around at the Transportation Museum, a hop skip and a jump across the road is the Strandbad -Lido

good luck getting the kids away from the construction site at the transport museum

good luck getting the kids away from the construction site at the transport museum

 

Tip 4: It’s Badi (lake swimming) Time!

If you are traveling though Switzerland in the summer, don’t miss a swim in one of our many lakes. Nearly every town or village that is based on a lake will have a Badi - a place to slow down and relax and swim in the lake and lap up the gorgeous Swiss summer scenery. Most will also have a self serve restaurant and bar, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the lake. The badi is the place for locals to be in the summer.

 

Check out the view from the Strandbad Zug. 

Check out the view from the Strandbad Zug. 

Our favorite badi is the Strandbad in the town of Zug. It’s a little beach on the lake with a great restaurant.  No matter which badi you try, you’re certain to come across “Fish Knsuperli” (fried fish from the local lake).  Don’t miss this classic badi dish which can be served with salad or if you’re feeling especially hungry after all that swimming, with some pommes (French fries).  Ice cream, prosecco, and Aperol Spritzes are all staples during that time of year, so pull up a lawn chair and stay awhile!

 

Why do you think Switzerland is a great family friendly holiday destination? More tips to share? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

The Best Disney World Souvenir

Simple Family Travel: the best disneyworld souvenir

Have you ever been to Disney World?  What was the best souvenir you took home?  Was it the hat with Mickey ears?  Or perhaps an autograph book with all the characters' signatures?

My family and I went to Disney World in 2012.

That is, my family and I went, but they were the only ones “present.”  I was caught up in the world of planning and ensuring maximum fun during every single moment at the happiest place on earth.  And during that time, I was living in my own head which could well be described as the most miserable place on earth.

For those of you who know me, you know how I love to plan.  Planning for me is nearly as good as actually going on the trip itself.  Writing lists, making spreadsheets and researching are all very exciting to me.  While planning is an integral part of my every day life, the most enjoyable thing to plan for is a trip. Exploring hotel options, airfare deals, entertainment and activities—it gives me such a thrill to know I’m getting the most out of a trip and getting the best value. I want to know that every penny is well spent.  And so I plan.  And in the past I have done so endlessly.

Do any of you spend months planning a trip?  My husband has referred to my version of planning as the“plan every second” of our trip type of plan.   

A guide book JUST about Disney World.

A guide book JUST about Disney World.

Our 2012  Disney World trip is where I reached the height (or perhaps rock-bottom?) of my planning craziness.  If there was ever an Olympics dedicated to planning, I am sure it would be hosted at Disney World.  You could spend an entire month there, day after day, and still not meet every character, see every show, go to every attraction, or ride every ride.  And that’s a very dangerous thing for a planner.  Because actually, there is no way you can come and go in one week and feel like you’ve somehow managed to conquer this place.  And depending on your mindset going in, you could leave as a very disappointed little mouse.

 

            In my mind I built up this trip like no other.

 

If you have been to—or even contemplated going to—Disney, you know how overwhelming the visit can be. Let’s just start with the cost.  The Disney folks are very clever marketers—if you go to the park for a couple of days it’s crazy money, but just add a little bit more to that sum and you can stay another day.  And another day.  In the end, visiting the park for a whole week comes out to just a bit more than staying for 2 days.  Then comes the decision of whether or not to do the “hopper” option where you can visit more than one park per day (of course you want that—who wants to miss the fireworks at night in the park which you didn’t visit that day??).  Following those critical decisions are more decisions you need to make (which shows to see, which rides to prioritize) that could keep you busy planning for months. After all, when you’re spending that much money, you don’t want to enter into this lightly.  At least not if you have a budget and are trying to be responsible with that money.

Our Disney countdown

Our Disney countdown

To surprise or not to surprise the kids…

And then comes the actual “trip reveal.”  Should you tell the kids ahead of time or should you surprise them with the trip of their (so far, short) lives?  If you choose to surprise them, how should you break the news to them?   Did you know that Pinterest actually has ideas for how to reveal the Disney World trip?  There are countdowns you can make and videos on Instagram showing how you could surprise your kids—making the trip reveal an actual critical event in and of itself.   THE PRESSURE!!!!  It’s like planning a wedding or getting ready for a new baby!  And for many who may only be able to travel there once in a lifetime, there might be even more pressure.  It was certainly true for us—knowing that we may not be able to go there again as a family placed a whole new type of pressure on me to make it the most perfect trip—one the kids would NEVER EVER forget.

And so I set off, to plan our most perfect trip.  Ever.

With books piled high around me (yes, travel guides exist which are solely dedicated to Disney World) and my blog reader filled with post after post of “How to Make your Disney trip Magical,"  I allowed Disney thoughts to take over my mind. I joined online forums to gain valuable knowledge from those Disney experts.  I downloaded the obligatory planning strategies and apps. And once I had booked our flights and finally settled on a hotel I proceed to spend the remainder of our beautiful sunny summer of 2012 in front of my computer.  I still had work to do, for goodness sake!  I needed to  research the best restaurants where we could have breakfast with the characters, and still needed to figure out the best way to use a fast pass!  Once those tasks were finished I moved on to create checklists of rides and shows we just couldn’t miss.  It was exhausting, anxiety provoking, and exciting—all at the same time.

Where was my spreadsheet?

 

The beautiful Disney World Polynesian Resort - we wish we had spent more time here

The beautiful Disney World Polynesian Resort - we wish we had spent more time here

We finally arrived. 

Maybe I should have said we finally survived.  What we (I) had spent all those months planning for was finally here.  Instead of the joy and excitement that I thought would magically transpire, I had even more anxiety.   Instead of being present in the moment and watching my children’s eyes fill with wonder and delight as we reached the park gates, I was preoccupied with checking my list to ensure that I carefully stuck with the plan.  I briefed the team on what was next, where we should be for the optimal experience and the quickest way to get to it. I dragged my kids from character to character and ride to ride. The awesome pool at our resort would just have to wait.  We could go swimming anytime, right?

When we stumbled across an unexpected (and <shudder> unplanned!) event at Epcot I experienced even more anxiety.  In this case it was a rock concert starring Starship (This was not part of the plan!).  And instead of stopping and enjoying the moment with my husband and son ("We Built This City” is still one of the boys’ all-time favourite songs) I went off to stand in yet another line with our daughter to meet yet another character whose name I cannot recall.  To this day I still cannot believe that I gave up seeing my son enjoy his first rock concert in order to stick with my “plan.”

Surprised to find a Starship Concert at Epcot and meeting Mary Poppins.

Surprised to find a Starship Concert at Epcot and meeting Mary Poppins.

What is the measure of planning success?

From a technical perspective, this was probably the best planning I had ever done for any trip we have ever taken.  I really should have earned some kind of medal or award or at least recognition for efficiency!  But was I really successful?  I guess that depends on how you measure success.  Sure I had the checklists and schedules set, but that checklist ended up being one of my single worst sources of stress, and I know I stressed out my kids, too.  It’s true that all of this craziness came from a place of good intentions, and at the time I truly thought that I was doing it for my children.

Where to next?

Where to next?

 

The checklist was about me, and not my kids.

But what I realize now was that the act of checking stuff off a list was actually for me.  I had read(and even watched YouTube videos) so much about the park that there was no element of delightful surprise for me. Iknew exactly what was going to be around the next corner, what meals to order and not to order, when to line up for the show. I didn't let me kids take the lead for our days out of fear of missing out on something.  My sole function (and activity) was “official list-checker,” instead of Mommy. 

My kids would have been just as happy (perhaps happier) taking each day as it came.  But instead of making memories together I was running around ticking off my long list of activities that each lasted only for a brief moment.  That hit home the hardest when years later when I asked my kids to name their favorite part of our Disneyworld experience, and they named the Buzz Lightyear ride.  That was actually all they really remembered.  Yes, you read that correctly.  All of those hours and days and weeks planning and they remembered and loved one ride. 

The Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin: The kids favourite ride. 

The Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin: The kids favourite ride. 

 

When I look back on that trip myself, apart from the huge bill we were presented with upon checkout,  all I can remember is the stress and the feeling we needed to keep moving to make sure we made the most of our time.  If I didn't have the photos I wouldn't be able to remember my kids' laughter or the wonder in their eyes.  Oh boy, what a huge and expensive lesson that was.  

FOMO.  It’s a thing.

What I realise now is, while part of my planning obsession is about spending our money and time wisely,  an even bigger part of it has to do with my fear of missing out.  

FOMO.  Fear of missing out. 

Did you know that FOMO actually has its own Wikipedia entry?  Often FOMO refers to teenagers and their obsessive use of social media, but it also most definitely applies to how I have felt when planning family trips. I worry I will miss the important must-see sights, worry that if I don't research properly we'll miss an opportunity because we could have spent our money more wisely,  FOMO has caused me much anxiety in the past. I often push my family (and whoever we may be traveling with) to the extreme.  I push limits of how far we can drive, how long we can stay out and how much we can cram into one day. And in the past, if things didn’t go exactly to my plan, I would lose it.  And that would wreck everyone's day, including my own.  In fact, it would also wreck the next day for me as well—because that’s when I would feel guilty for losing it.

Getting back to basics.

Things are slowly getting better, and I am consciously making an effort to go with the flow. Sometimes it’s just not easy to let go of those old habits.  But I persevere.  Importantly, I have done some soul-searching and have been able to remind myself of the original purpose of family trips—time together.  To that end, I employed a 5-step plan to help launch me out of this self-inflicted obsession.  (You knew that plan was coming, didn’t you?!)

 

1. I've stopped researching so extensively:

I still research and I still plan.  That part will always be in my blood.  But I have learned not only when to stop, but to be good with the fact that despite my careful research there will always be a better place to stay and a better deal to be found. I am learning to be satisfied with good enough. I have found that sometimes the more I know, the more I will expect.  That inevitably leads to a higher likelihood of disappointment. 

As my husband says, going "old school” occasionally can lead to the thrill of a new discovery.  Just the sheer volume of information available on the web can be anxiety provoking.  Instead, we try to balance the internet with actual interactions with … shock …. live humans beings!  We make it a point to talk to people when we get to our destination.  That combined with the internet can be a great combination.

2. One thing a day

This can be a really tough rule for me, but it is so important.  While a theme park may not be the best example to use here I can still apply the sentiment.   Had we chosen just one “must-see"character, or one “must-do”ride per day, the rest of the day could have evolved organically.  I can stop and laugh with my kids and interact with them, and watch the day unfold from their eyes.

3. Plan in “unplanned” time

By planning for “not planning” you can flex and adjust based on the day, and more easily go with the flow.  I find this one the most difficult, but especially critical when you have a young family.  See how the day progresses.  Maybe the day needs more time by the pool or an extra nap in the afternoon.  Or a snack.  Or a glass of wine.  Yes, often the day benefits from a happy glass of wine.  For heaven’s sake, you can even do an entire unplanned day if you got super brave.  I am not quite there yet.  But I’m closer.

4. Take on the pace of a child

Kids are on to something. Wander and stroll, taking notice of the little things.  Try to remember a time when you were really delighted.  Often you’ll find that it was a time when you didn’t plan, and didn’t know what was going to happen. Your expectations were low, and therefore you could find great delight in small things.  Get back to that pace, at least once in awhile.  

5.  Talk to your kids

During your family trip, take time to ask them what they’d like to do.  Let them have a bit of control and voice for what the family does.  This not only fosters responsibility but makes the children feel like the important little members of the family.  Their choice may not be what you would have chosen, and sometimes it may not be that exciting, but to them it is a wonderful opportunity to participate and not just be dragged along.

 

So back to the souvenir.  You may have already figured out that the best souvenir we have from this trip is the insight I gained about myself and how I’ve used it to make our family trips more peaceful and joyful.  I’m a work in progress, so I’m not 100% there yet, but I feel great about what I’ve learned through the process.  I am also reminded of what a wonderful, loving, and forgiving family I have—that when I start to obsess, they are all still there to love me.  

Where are you on your trip planning evolution?  Are you a planner or do you like to take every day as it comes?  Share your stories with us about your best trip ever and what made it so good!

Why I want to live in a hotel room for the rest of my life

                                                   The Hotel Room Pre-Reveal Excitement

Grasping the plastic card in my hand,  the kids and I tumble into the elevator amid a scuffle to be the first to press the button and we travel up the 4 floors to our room. As the elevator doors burst open, the kids trip over themselves as we all try to get out of the lift at once.  They win, and they run down the long hallway, leaving me to wrangle with the suitcases and the stroller. We finally reach Room 418, and with great anticipation we insert the key, open the door, and … wait for it …. Ahhh, we made it.   The fun of unpacking begins—I always have such great enthusiasm for this part.  I open the cases and quickly load our belongings into the beautifully empty and clean drawers.  The suitcases are able to be neatly hidden in the closet.  I lay down on the bed and for the first time since we’ve stepped out of our house to begin our journey, I relax.

and Ahhh relax, enjoying our chilled out time at the Sheraton Hotel Brisbane. 

and Ahhh relax, enjoying our chilled out time at the Sheraton Hotel Brisbane. 

What is it about settling into a hotel room that feels so nice?  So comforting?  So relaxing?

I’ve love the feeling of a fresh hotel room:  the perfectly made beds, just enough furniture and a clutter free bathroom.  Even with the kids and their endless chatter, excitedly opening and closing the cupboards and jumping on the beds next to me, I still feel worry free.   And then all of sudden I realise that this is it, this is what I want - I’m going to move into a hotel room!   I want to feel this relaxed, have this “hotel room” feeling, every single day!  

Our room at Parco San Marco Resort in Italy, perfectly clutter free. 

Our room at Parco San Marco Resort in Italy, perfectly clutter free. 

OK, let’s get serious for a moment.  Of COURSE I cannot live in a hotel room.  But I do have an “aha” moment to share, and you may find it true for yourself too.  Let’s dive in deep and discover why I want to live in a hotel room!

Why do we love going on holidays? 

I LOVE going away on holidays.  From the planning to the actual travel, right down to the precious days we spend together away as a family, I love every minute.  I haven’t given it a lot of thought before, I’ve just taken it for granted that I’ve just always loved holidays.  But lately I’m asking myself why—maybe I can duplicate part of that experience and feeling in our everyday life.

Have you ever stopped and taken the time to think why you like to go on holiday? Is it the need to escape the hustle and bustle of your every day life? Is it a quest to learn?  Or to see new things?  Or is it to escape those mundane tasks we must do everyday? Recently, when pondering this very idea (ironically on holiday!), I came to the conclusion that while its partly about the adventure of learning new cultures, people and food, its more than that. 

Travel is more than exploring, it is escaping from the day to day stresses. 

Travel is more than exploring, it is escaping from the day to day stresses. 

It’s more about stepping out of the daily routine and being able to forget about all the things I need to remember on the “normal” days.   It’s the freeing up of my brain, allowing it to be used to think about me, about ideas, about life, about truly living.   It’s about escaping the commitments and stresses that pile up day after day. It’s knowing that during those precious few days, I won’t be reminded about that bill sitting on the counter, or lunches I have to pack, or toilets I have to clean, or doctors appointments I shouldn’t be late for.  It’s the break from reminding my kids about their keyboard lesson, or to tidy their rooms, or to be sure to hand that signed Maths exam back to their teacher by noon.  It’s the break from meal planning, preparation, and clean up.  We all need to forget about our every day life once in awhile in order to have the space to be able to rejuvenate and nurture our own bodies with whatever it is that feeds us.  For me it’s thinking about ideas and possibilities.  It’s about planning for the future.  And it’s thinking about how I can be a better mum and wife and friend, and how I can do things better and be more satisfied in my life.

Often I find it downright difficult, if not impossible, to be able to do that in my own home, to be able to truly relax.  And that’s just not right.  Even when I do yoga every morning, I sit on my mat and stare at the DVDs that I have been meaning to get rid of, or the books I haven’t touched for 5 years. I suffer intense waves of self-loathing every time I open my garage and look at the growing pile of stuff that I need to find homes for, or repair, or clean.  I power up my desktop and I’m reminded that I have to organise my digital files. While it’s true that over the last 3 years I have reduced the amount of stuff in my home by more than 50%, there is still so much clutter I allow to stress me out. 

My home has become a storage unit for thousand of things we have collected along our life journey. 

It took me a long time to realise that the clutter in my home was causing so much stress but I now accept the fact that clutter will always stress me out.  It’s not about me just “relaxing” about the clutter,  it’s about me clearing the clutter in order to even be able to relax.   I owe that revelation to the reading I’ve done about Minimalism and its effect on our everyday lives. Minimalist advocate, and father, Joshua Becker nails it with his quote “Own less stuff. Enjoy more freedom. It really is that simple.” 

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project has said that “Outer order contributes to inner calm” and I can tell you from my own experiences that this is very true. I’ve tried many different techniques and theories in order to organise my home over the years - but Minimalism has gotten to the bottom of why I keep my things, and the way I am living my life. Minimalism has been my bridge to outer order and it has taught me that I should not want to escape my own home--my home should be my sanctuary.  My home should be a place where I can escape the crazy world outside. My home should be a place where when I walk through my front door, my pulse slows down and my shoulders drop in relief.  

Today, part of my home resembles a peaceful hotel room much more than it did three years ago.  The difference in our home, and quite frankly in our life, has been dramatic. I often stand and stare at our living room and just smile - realising how far we have come.  But life is a journey, and I still have a long way to go toward connecting my surroundings at home to moments when I can have that “hotel room” feeling.  But I’m always striving for it. 

The one corner of our home that we keep as clutter free as possible. 

The one corner of our home that we keep as clutter free as possible. 

I will always travel, it is often when I learn great life lessons - but now I realize that getting that “hotel room” feeling is as much about learning to relax in my own home as it is about getting away.  And with conscious choices I’m making today, I am getting there.  And if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go and plan my next holiday.

 

"

Simple Family Travel

My first new blogger mistake

It has been very quiet here at Simple Family Travel blog. 

I started the Simple Family Travel Instagram account all guns blazing and continue to post there daily. I quickly launched the blog, which I believed was the natural progression I needed to take. I launched it far before I was ready. First time blogger mistake number 1: don’t launch without a plan.

Learning patience isn't easy. 

Learning patience isn't easy. 

I was a little impatient and wanted to make my mark on the travel bloggers scene quickly, without taking into account all the work that needed to be done. I tend to do this in all aspects of my life, get very excited for new projects, jump in feet first. But I quickly loose steam once things get difficult. Totally against the slow intentional life I am creating for myself. 

Over the past months, I have been organizing and reorganising my thoughts. Working with a life coach and figuring out the direction I want to take. I am currently enjoying weekly writing assignments which is proving challenging as well as inspirational. I am in experimental mode. Working hard with the hope of launching something exciting in the future. 

I am not going to rush this, when I am ready this space will be ready and waiting for me. 

Until then, pop over to Instagram where I share my love of all things Switzerland and simple family travel at @simplefamilytravel and all things slow intentional living @asimplefamily.

Christmas in Switzerland

Christmas in Switzerland - Simple Family Travel

For this Australian, Switzerland at Christmas time is what childhood dreams are made of, full of traditions, twinkly christmas lights and snow (well hopefully)! Christmas in Australia couldn’t be more different, with most of the celebrations taking place outside with fresh seafood in the middle of a hot and humid summer. I think deep down, most Australians wish to experience at least one white christmas, and I for sure was one of them. I remember the first time I saw it snow here, and excitedly calling my mother in Australia, waking her at 2am. I still get excited when the first snow falls (we are still waiting down in the Valley!) but I also enjoy the christmas season here as well. I love that the whole month of December is filled with little traditions that make the season more than just two days at the end of the month, it makes it even more special. Here are a couple of our very favorite highlights. 

The Christmas season in our family starts with an Advent Wreath (Adventkranz) on the first Sunday in Advent. Advent Wreaths can be easily found for purchase in Supermarkets, Florists or Markets - or many families make their own. This year our 11 year old made our Advent Wreath for the first time and we are very impressed with her work.

Christmas in Switzerland - Advent Wreath

As a family we take always take the time to visit a Christmas Market at some point in December. In the past we have always visited the Einsiedeln Christmas Market at the beginning of December. The beautiful church is the backdrop to this week long market.  However this year we are mixing it up a bit and hope to visit the markets in Zurich and visit the Swarovski Christmas Tree at Zurich Main Station. Most areas of Switzerland have a Christmas market of some kind at some point during the season - the Swiss Tourism has a great list.

Christmas in Switzerland - Einsiedeln Christmas Market
Christmas in Switzerland - Einsiedeln Christmas Market

The traditions continue with a visit from Samichlaus around 6th December (the feast day of St. Niklaus) Samichlaus and his two helpers called Schmutzli, visit children and bring them treats such as peanuts, gingerbread, chocolates and mandarins. Samichlaus has a special book with what each child has done well, and perhaps not so well during the year and encourages the children to do better by his next visit. Around this time we also bake Grittibanz, made out of a sweet milk dough. 

 

Christmas in Switzerland - Samichlaus

On the eve of the 6th December is Chlausjagen. Literally translated as Chasing the Chlaus, it is said to have its roots in pre-christian pagen traditions in chasing away the wild sprits. Men and boys dress in white Hirtenhemd and carry Trycheln or Cow Bells around the village. Each village has its own tradition with how it organizes this event, with the most famous being the Küssnachter Klausjagen. This year will be the first time our Son takes part in this tradition, a tradition that his father took part in for many years. Locally, each group has someone with a Iffelen (latern worn on the head made out of cardboad and tissue paper), someone with a whip (that is cracked) and the rest with cow bells. Older groups may have a Samichlaus and Schmutzlis with them. This is a rather noisy night in our village, with many of the older groups out until all hours of the morning.

Christmas Cookies didn’t have a big place in my home growing up. We may of been lucky to receive some butter cookies in a hamper, but traditional cookies did not really have a place in an Australian Christmas. However since living in Switzerland, I have embraced not only the Swiss cookies, but also recipes from our expat friends. Each Christmas I take part in a Christmas Cookie Exchange. Each participant bakes one sort of cookie and brings enough so that each person at the swap can take half a dozen of each sort home. The idea is that at the end of the swap you will have a lot of different cookies to try over the holiday season with only having to bake one sort of cookie. Over the past couple of years I have always made these soft Gingerbread cookies, and they are always a hit. We also make these cookies for the kids school and instrument teachers. 

Christmas in Switzerland - cookie exchange

The weekend before Christmas we go and buy our Christmas Tree. In Australia I always grew up with a plastic tree that we put up around December 1st. The Swiss like to put their tree up only on Christmas Eve. So we had to find a nice compromise and decided to put up the tree a week before Christmas. We go all together to search for the perfect tree - not too big, not too bare - and bring it home to decorate. 

Christmas in Switzerland - Simple Family Travel

When it comes to Christmas itself, our Swiss Family celebrate Christmas on the 24th evening. We go to Church for Christmas Carols before having dinner with family. After dinner we light lots of candles, sit around the (real!) christmas tree and sing christmas carols as a family before exchanging gifts. The kids also usually prepare a song or two on their instruments. Santa Claus doesn’t visit Swiss children at Christmas as he does in Australia, but rather the gifts are from Baby Jesus (Christkindli). 

This is very different to how we celebrate in Australia, with Santa visiting while children are sleeping on Christmas Eve, waking up to a Christmas Tree full of presents under the often fake Christmas Tree. In Australia the 25th is the main event, with families gathering in the back yard to have a bbq, or enjoy prawns and salads. It is usually very hot, and a swim would never be a bad idea. 

We had adapted a little bit of my Aussie Christmas Traditions, with Santa bringing our children one gift while they are sleeping on Christmas Eve. We spend quality time just the five of us on Christmas Morning, opening presents, having breakfast and then spending time on Facetime with family back in Australia. The rest of our Swiss Family arrive either for lunch or dinner and we celebrate again at my inlaws with more yummy food, christmas carols around the tree and don't forget the cookies! 

What are your favorite parts of the Christmas Season? 

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Rega: Heros in the sky.

Simple Family Travel: Rega - Heros in the sky

When we are planning our holidays, worst case scenarios don't often cross our minds. We are of course focused on the fun and adventure that is ahead of us and not on the slim chance that something could go wrong. But just in case we have health insurance to cover illness, travel insurance in case something doesn’t go to plan, but we are also patron’s of Rega - the Swiss Air Rescue Service

Rega: Heros in the Sky - Simple Family Travel

I had no plans to write a blog post about Rega today. But as I opened my mailbox this afternoon, the Rega magazine stood out amongst the bills and newspapers, with the headline “Familienflug nach Frontalkollision”  (translated: Family Flight after frontal collision)  grabbing my attention.

Instead of putting the magazine on the side to read later like I usually do, I took the time to sit down and read the article about the young Swiss family holidaying in the U.K. who were involved in frontal car collision while driving in Cornwell on holidays. The accident landed both parents in hospital with extensive injuries, the children were lucky to escape with just minor injuries. As the family are patron’s of Rega they were, once the parents were stable enough to fly, flown back to Switzerland on board a Rega Ambulance Jet so that they could continue there treatment in the familiar environment of their home country, closer to family. 

I just can’t imagine what it would be like to be involved in such an accident, let alone in a foreign country. In all that transpired, what comfort it must of given them knowing that Rega would sort out all the logistics of bringing them back home. All this made possible thanks to be a patron of Rega, for a family only 70chf per year.

Yes you read correctly …. 70chf a year for your entire family

Source In this Rega video: find out what we can do in Switzerland thanks to your support.

Rega also play a big part in the mountains of Switzerland, risking their own lives to rescue injured adventures.  Often the helicopter is unable to land and so the trained medical teams are lowered by harness to stabilize a patient before hoisting them into the helicopter and flying them to a local hospital. Recently Rega has released an Emergency App, where an alarm can be raised and exact coordinates are sent to the control center in Zürich, helping Rega reach the injured quicker and with better accuracy.

Rega isn't the only rescue helicopter in Switzerland. Based in the region in and around Zermatt, Air Zermatt is also a household name when it comes to  mountain rescues. On a summer hike in the Saas Fee region, we were able to witness first hand how Air Zermatt rescued two mountain climbers who had become stuck at around 3500m. After watching this rescue, we have now much more respect for these heroes in the sky, who risk their lives to save ours. 

Simple Family Travel - Air Zermatt Rescue

We as a family have always been Patron’s of Rega. Not only do we have the peace of mind in case we rescuing by Rega one day, but with our small yearly payment - we are supporting a great organization that helps many people each year. Let's hope I never have to call them. 

If you are in Switzerland, becoming a Rega Patron is money well spent, especially with the ski season ahead of us. It is not a rare sight to see helicopters rescuing people off the side of the mountains due to an injury any time of year. However winter sports do have a higher risk associated with them, so becoming a patron at this time of year could be a timely investment.

Are you a patron of Rega? If you are not in Switzerland, does your country have a similar service available?

 

Rega-Gönner werden

 

 

Ask the kids: Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace with Kids - Simple Family Travel

Venturing out of the city center has never been on my agenda when visiting London in the past. There is so much to see and do in the city itself, I never really looked else where. However on our past trip to the U.K., we stayed with friends outside the city - close by to Windsor, and so a whole range of places opened up to us. After a bit of research, Hampton Court Palace ended up at the top my list - and I was extremely excited to visit!

Hampton Court Palace with Kids - Simple Family Travel

Hampton Court Palace, located in Richmond upon Thames, is associated with some of England’s famous monarchs, in particularly Henry VIII. There is so much history within the walls of the palace that it was impossible to take it all in in one visit. It definitely has spurred me on to learn more about English history. 

For our visit to Hampton Court Palace we arrived by car (yes, I rented a car and drove on the “wrong” side of the road!) The drive was an easy enough drive and we were able to find ample parking at the castle (it may of helped we arrived at opening time). The Castle is also easily accessible from the center of London with trains running half hourly from Waterloo Train Station. (Check the Hampton Court Palace website for more details on how to get there).

We visited Hampton Court Palace on the Tuesday before British half term, and it often felt we had the palace almost to ourselves. There were a few group of tourists walking around and 2-3 larger school groups but they didn't disturb us at all. The palace and its grounds are vast and we were able to venture around out our own pace and really enjoyed a peaceful visit.

We pre-paid our tickets online so were able to pick them up easily and walk straight to the entrance. Our friends decided to become a Member of the Historic Royal Palaces - which is an awesome deal if you are going to visit the Palace more than once, or visit other places such as the Tower of London or Kensington Palace. Check out our top money saving tip for visiting London for more info. 

I thought it would be fun to make our reviews a little more kid-centric so here is what our kids, 11, 9 and 2 thought about Hampton Court Palace:

Hampton Court Palace - Ask the kids ...

Hampton Court Palace with Kids - Simple Family Travel
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Asking my 11 year old, her highlight was chatting with a member of staff - she felt like she was on a private tour. He really took the time to chat to us and tried hard to really connect with the kids (we had 6 kids with us ranging from 2 years to 11 years of ages). He explained what the kids would of been wearing if they were going to be presented to the King, or if they had been invited to watch the King eat (a sign of a prosperous kingdom). She found that fascinating. Of course she was in ore of the the replica crown from Henry VIII, with it’s 344 rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamond and pearls. The original was melted down. 

 

Hampton Court Palace with Kids - Simple Family Travel

My 9 year old was a big fan of the Time Travelers App, and he reckons he could of stayed at the Palace all day completing all of the missions. The Historic Royal Palaces have developed this great App to keep kids entertained and informed during their visit to Hampton Court Palace, as well as the Tower of London. Our kids were extremely excited to get going but did find some of the things difficult to find. In the end we turned them off as the kids had their heads down in the App the whole time and were too worried about collecting and loosing the gems - it was just making things too complicated. If we return, we will skip the App and use the Audio Guides that were made available for free.

He also really enjoyed the Maze! The Puzzle Maze has many twists and turns as well as some deadens. It is said to be the oldest hedged Maze in the UK. 

Hampton Court Maze - Simple Family Travel
Hampton Court Maze - Simple Family Travel

Our little 2 year old loved running after the big kids in the Maze and following their laughter. She was also was a big fan of the new Magic Garden Playground - with it’s big dragon and ample space to just run! She also loved practicing her stair climbing up the towers. The playground was also a big hit with the older kids who wanted to stay there all afternoon. Little Z also loved playing in the carriages in the Hampton Court Gardens and her new word of the day was Princess. 

Hampton Court Palace with Kids - Simple Family Travel
Hampton Court Palace with Kids - Simple Family Travel

 

I also can’t forget to mention visiting the Tudor’s Kitchens. These huge rooms housed giant fireplaces where rows of meat were cooked. 

The kids were able to help turn the spit just like they would of done back in the days of Henry VIII. Staff were dressed in Tudor style costumes and informed us that these kitchens were built to feed the 600 members of the court who they fed twice a day. The kitchens cooked something like 2kg of meat per person per day. We enjoyed standing by the fire and warming up a bit, but can imagine cooking all that meat over a fire, especially in the warmer summer months must of been extremely difficult work. 

 

 

          Feeding the Kids

 We had both lunch and afternoon tea at Tiltyard Café, a nice self serve restaurant located in between the Maze and playground. I enjoyed a deciduous vegetable curry, the kids, sausage and chips and fish and chips. When we saw the cake displays we knew we had to come back for afternoon tea. The cakes did not disappoint, and I enjoyed a delicious scone with clotted cream and jam. 

Hampton Court Palace with Kids - Simple Family Travel0

We all had a fantastic time at Hampton Court Palace, there really is something for everyone. It is somewhere where we would love to return, with a bit more English history under our belt to really appreciate and understand the history of this beautiful place. 

Have you been to Hampton Court Palace? What was your highlight? 

Our top money saving tip for visiting London

Top Money Saving tip for visiting Lodon

Before I inundate you with photos from our trip to London earlier this month, I wanted to share with you our number one tip for saving money in London. 

Check online before you visit

This might sound like a bit of a hassle, or even quite obvious for others, but for almost everything we did in London, we were able to save money by booking and paying online ahead of time.

Here are a couple of places where we used this tip: 

Legoland I looked at tickets for Legoland Windsor about 3 weeks out from our visit and they were around 5 pounds cheaper per person. A couple of days before there was no discount. So it pays to buy your tickets in advance. However, as luck would have it, we were able to save around 13 pounds per person as we were a group of 10 people and were able to purchase a group ticket.

Train tickets We stayed near Windsor with friends so to visit the city itself we took the train. Buying the tickets online before saved us a couple of pounds as we were able to figure out which trains were off-peak. We the took our booking code and printed out our tickets at the machine located at the train station.

Since visiting, I have found this information for saving money on train travel in the UK.

 

Hop on hop off bus. You save 17 pounds off a family ticket by buying online with The Original Tour . This helps justify the cost of these buses, which aren't exactly budget friendly. However as we were traveling with six children - it saved our sanity so worth the money in my opinion. There is also options of purchasing entry into London attractions at a discounted rate. 

Check with all three main tour companies to see which suits you and your family best. 

    - The Original Tour Company

    -The Big Bus Tour

    - Golden Tours

Hampton Court Palace Buying online for Hampton Court Palace saved us a couple of pounds.  However while researching the Palace, I stumbled upon a great deal of you plan to visit the palace as well as say the Tower of London and Kensington palace - become a member.

A membership for a family costs £93 which includes entry into Hampton Court Palace, Tower of London, Kensington Palace and a couple of other locations. Just entry into Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London makes membership worthwhile.  

Renting a car We needed a car this trip, as we were staying with friends near Windsor. so booked online a car through Avis. We saved around 15 pounds by pre paying online. We also found a discount code through our local touring club in Switzerland. 

 

We only just scratched the surface of what there is to see and do in and around London, and I am sure there are a lot more online discounts to be found. Do you have anything to add to our list?

Top 5 things to do with the kids in Autumn in Switzerland

top 5 things to do with kids in autumn in switzerland

Whether you call it Autumn, Fall or Herbst, the season between September and November is stunning in Switzerland. One of my favorite things about living in Switzerland is the seasons. And although I do miss the warmer and relaxed days of summer, Autumn brings such a magical vibe. The changing leaf colors from green to vibrant reds, oranges and gold, the chilly crisp mornings and yes of course the fog, enveloping everything around us. Autumn is a great time of year to get outside and enjoy everything that Switzerland has to offer. Here is our top 5 things to do with the kids in Autumn. 

 

1. Get above the fog

Above the fog - Switzerland in Autumn, Simple Family Travel

Autumn days be very foggy here in Switzerland which can make the days feel dark and dreary. But if it is foggy down below, you can almost guarantee there are blue, sunny skies above. The trip up through the fog is magical and I often wonder if we will ever get through it, but once you do, the sight is magical – the skies open up, you can feel the warmth on your face and you can watch the fog and clouds pass by underneath you- it’s like something out of a fairy tale. In German, the sea of fog you often see is called Nebelmeer - and it definitely looks like it stretches on forever. 

Check out SwissWebcams to see if above the fog is clear. Usually you will have to go above 1000m to find the sun, but sometimes even 800m up is enough. Our favorite places to escape the fog are:

  • Sattel Hoch Stuckli - reached by Gondola, a kid‘s paradise of jumping castles and toboggan runs is always fun. We love to walk around the Engelstock first and back and enjoy the tobbogen run. 
  • The Zugerberg – this is our local mountain and is accessible from many directions. Taking the cable car from Zug is the best option, and a great adventure playground is only a short stroll away. 

Do you have a favorite place to escape the fog? Share with us in the comments!

2. Hiking

autumn in switzerland with kids

Hiking is always a good idea, however the cooler weather in Autumn makes it all the more enjoyable. So grab those hiking boots and get outside!  The autumn leaves on the floor of the forest are just waiting to be thrown in the air, the chestnuts are ready to be collected for toasting at home and if you look a little closer, you may find mushrooms - even some the you can eat. But a word of warning, if you are not experienced in mushroom picking, take your collection along to be checked. You can visit this website to find a location close to you.

Family friendly hikes are found all over Switzerland and most mountain areas have at least one that isn't too steep. Our favorite is the hike around Engelstock in Sattel Hoch Stuckli, with beautiful views on a clear day over Schwyz and the Mythen. 

 

3. Visit a pumpkin farm

autumn in switzerland with kids - simple family travel

Autumn means it‘s pumpkin season again! To celebrate this, why not visit a pumpkin farm. Some farms are larger and have amazing displays and activities, such as Jucker Farm, that will be sure to amaze the kids. Others are smaller farms where you can stock up on your carving pumpkins for Halloween or sweet, scrumptious pumpkins for soups or pies.

Here is a list of nearby pumpkin farms to get you started:

We always like to grab a couple of pumpkins to store in our cellar so that we can make pumpkin soup later on when they are no longer in season. Pumpkins when stored correctly can be kept for a couple of months. Check out the Little Eco Footprints for tips on how to pick and store your pumpkins. 

What is your favorite recipe to cook with pumpkin?

Visit a Castle

With the days getting cooler and the weather a little more unpredictable, visiting a Castle is definitely a great idea to keep warm. Switzerland has many castles scattered throughout the country.  Did you know that Swiss Castle Day just happens to fall in autumn (this year it was 2nd October 2016)? A lot of the Castles have many special activities organized during this time of year.  Here is a good list to inspire you. 

Our favorite castle would have to be Schloss Lenzburg, perched high above the town of Lenzburg in Kanton Aargau. The castle offers a great look into how everyday life was back in the middle ages and kids love the range of activities on offer. My kids especially loved the kids room, with dress ups and a play corner as well as arts and crafts - they could easily spend the whole day here. It’s also a great place to visit on a rainy day.  The setting around the castle is especially special in Autumn, with many beautiful trees creating a stunning backdrop. Check their website for special events throughout the year.

 

5. Chestnuts

Simple Family Travel - Chestnuts in the Autumn

Chestnuts are definitely a big part of the Swiss Autumn season. As soon as the cooler weather appears, roasted chestnut stands pop up around the towns and cities of Switzerland. For around 7chf, you can pick up a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts and warm even the coldest hands. Chestnuts also make great desserts like vemicelles - a pureed chestnut mousse often served with meringues and cream. Chestnuts also feature heavily in the autumn dishes accompanying game meat. My favorite is the vegetarian dish - “Wild ohne wild” (so the meat without the meat!) which includes all the yummy side dishes such as spatzli, red cabbage, brussel sprouts, poached pear and of course chestnuts! 

 

I hope this post has given you some inspiration so you can head out and experience what Autumn has to offer in Switzerland. What are your favorite things to do during the golden season? 

 

The Ship of Tolerance on the shores of Lake Zug

The Ship of Tolerance in Zug

What does Miami, Cuba, Venice, Brooklyn have in common with the swiss lakeside town of Zug? They have all hosted the Ilya and Emilia Kabakov Foundation’s, The Ship of Tolerance, an art installation aimed at connecting with children of different cultures and educating them and the community on tolerance and respect. The sail is made up of 106 pictures that have been made by various school and local groups from diverse backgrounds.

The region of Zug home to over 140 nationalities. is an ideal location to celebrate the message of tolerance and respect.  The town has embraced the project and along with the ship which can be found on the lakeside promenade, you will find around 800 additional artworks decorating the town. The Kunsthaus Zug has a summary of the program that accompanies the ship. 

The Details: The Ship of Tolerance can be viewed on the lake promenade in Zug till 13th October 2016.  The boat looks stunning at sunset and is illuminated in the evening. 

It will also be on display at the Zug Trade Fair from 22nd -30th October 2016 where people can see the ship up close and personal. 

Feeding the kids: Bring a picnic and enjoy the view of the boat and Lake Zug. There are many restaurants nearby or a self serve Coop Restaurant is only a few blocks away. 

What to watch out for: During bad weather the sail may be lowered.  The closest parking is the Parkhaus Seehof (but i find the parking quite narrow) so try City Park or at Bundesplatz. The Train Station Postplatzt is only a short stroll away as is the bus stop. 

 

Ship of Tolerance Zug

To read more detailed information about the project you can visit the Ship of Tolerance website and the local host - Kunsthaus Zug

 

Jucker Farm - Pumpkin Farm in Switzerland

pumpkin farm in switzerland

Everything began with the pumpkin ….

In the sleepy village of Seegräben, nestled in the hills of Zurich Oberland, you will find Jucker Farm. In 1997, brothers Jucker decided to create a pumpkin sculpture display on their farm, which became so popular that 19 years later Jucker farm has grown into a very successful agrotourism company. Not only do they still prepare a pumpkin sculpture display every Autumn (1. September till beginning of November), they have expanded to include a restaurant, seminar rooms and also continue to run their farms, producing a vast array of produce which you can purchase on site. 

The theme for this years pumpkin sculptures is the Romans. You will find Julius Cesar among other figures spotted around the farm, entry is free. However if you would like to experience the Apple orchard Maze (made from 1000s of apple trees) as well as a barefoot path, this will cost 5chf per person. You can relax in the hammocks or let the kids meet the goats or jump around on the hay bails. There is a self serve restaurant, as well as the farm shop to stock up on, well of course pumpkins, but also   other produce from the farm and nearby farms.

 

The details: Come and admire the pumpkin sculptures as well as the many different sorts of pumpkins. Pick up your pumpkins for soups or even to carve. There is a carving table available as well if you want to avoid the mess at home. Don’t forget to sit back in the autumn sun and enjoy the views of Pfäffikersee

Pumpkin farm Switzerland - Jucker Farm

Stock up on pumpkins! Pumpkins have a long shelf life, especially if stored in a dry place at around 10-20 degrees C. We purchased some Butternut, Kabocha, Ringer and Orange Knirps pumpkinsthat we will store in our cellar and use over the next months. Seegräben too far away? Then you can purchase Jucker Farm Products through the website farmy.ch

Jucker Farm

Feeding the kids: Enjoy a coffee and cake or perhaps even a meal at the self service restaurant (reserve a table to avoid disappointment). They serve a great breakfast buffet, we tried the pancakes, rösti with bacon and eggs - and we loved that we could pay per 100g and only buy what we needed.  No picnic is allowed. When we were ready to leave we picked up a few things at the farm shop and enjoyed a picnic by the lake on our drive home. The bread was delicious. 

What to watch out for:  Jucker Farm can get very busy, so arriving early (we arrived at 9am) will ensure you can enjoy the farm. There is no parking at the farm itself, however there is a small amount of parking in the village of Seegräben, a short walk away from the farm. If the parking is already full (which it often is) the next parking is at Aaartal Train Station. the farm is then a 25 min stroll away or wait for the shuttle bus.