Across from up near the Russian border to the border town of Słubice. A true border town, neither fish nor fowl. Then off again to Baden Baden. We stayed near the airpark, not an airport, what’s the difference? But the men stood and watched a few planes take off close up. Great stuff. Germans sometimes get a bad press. But let me tell you that they have excellent motorway driving etiquette. Precise, polite and fast. Standing at a petrol station outside Baden Baden I was met by the site of only black petrol pumps. Not wanting to make a silly mistake, I was checking them over thoroughly when a German offered to help and explain in very good English. Unbidden, helpful and polite in my mother tongue, and it is not my first experience of such German helpfulness and hospitable behaviour. Danke.
Whilst in Baden Baden we took the children to Europark, or rather they dragged us to Europark! A family ticket cost 170 Euros, which seems pretty steep, but then some of the rides are steep, and fast too. The children loved it, but to be honest the park is rather hyped and we have been to better.
By the way, I’m not a a screamer. More of a just hold on tight, head down and pray kind of approach. And anyway, my wife had a plan which for me, as the driver would be much more fun than the rides at a plastic park. Off we went to our next destination, Annecy which lies on the other side of the Alps. We glided past Lake Geneva and as we came the motorway I spied a precarious little road clinging to the side of a mountain. ”Look at that” I said, ”Some crazy fool drives up that.” Wife remained silent. Five minutes later I’m the fool driving up this steep narrow road, seemingly to the heavens. Cars flew up behind us, motorbikes performing kamikaze overtaking, and on we went, switchback, curve, climb and sweaty hands all round.
Finally we arrived at Chamonix for a well earned rest and a reassuringly expensive burger and fries, along with a long deep breath. Chamonix was full of people intent on climbing high, gliding off mountains and hanging from ropes off sheer cliffs. Good luck to them!! After that a leisurely drive took us into beautiful Annecy.
The accomodation, apart from the last week, is booked. The route is laid in and a GPS bought for in the towns and Here Maps as a free back up on the mobile, or as I am continually corrected, an iphone;-). Both the amusement parks and water parks are built into the itinerary to keep small people happy and pumped with adrenaline. The extra summer clothes purchased and car serviced. It’s even been cleaned onside and out. Must be time to rain again! The countdown has commenced with about a minimum of 2,500km one way mapped out.Bring it on:-)
In no particular order of priority.
Do -Do get off the motorways and take the quieter routes. They are toll free and give you the chance to pull over and stop in interesting place, off the beaten track.Independence is paramount.
Don’t – Don’t forget to take that spare key for the car, you know, the one you’re never going to need. So easy to lose when moving and constantly repacking from place to place. But so hard to replace when AWOL.
Do – Do take a fold up map. Useful for directions, even better as temporary sunshade on the beach.
Do – Do liberally sprinkle your tour with water parks and amusement parks for the children. Something for them to cling on to and continually ask about whilst sightseeing and travelling.
Don’t – Don’t leave earplugs or earphones in the boot, at the bottom under everything when on the move, especially when the children want to watch a particularly interesting kids film!
Do – Do down load all the maps and towns onto your mobile phone of the towns and countries on your itinerary, before leaving home. This way they can be used without connecting to the costly roaming services when abroad.
Don’t – Don’t eat heavy breakfasts when you’re going to sit in the car for hours, or later you may be sitting for hours! And make that a maximum 7-8 hour drive.
Don’t – Don’t rely on the GPS as if it is infallible. Crossing fields means the GPS may well be a little awry. Balance the GPS data with the best computer in the world, the brain between your ears!
Do – Do remember that many Southern European countries like a little snooze in the afternoon. So plan accordingly with fuel, shops and restaurants. There is nothing more desolate than a child’s face when you explain that the pizza restaurant, they are already sitting at the outside table, is closed until later that day. Pizza DENIED!
Don’t – Don’t allow anyone, repeat anyone to remove socks in the car.
Do- Do pack a sense of humour and a smile.
Don’t – Don’t drink scalding hot coffee over your crotch as you drive.
Do- Do remind the navigator to have the map correctly orientated.
Do – Do go to the dentist before travelling for that niggly pain. Trying to sort out a dentist, and any other minor medical needs, is a nightmare, expensive and stressful.
Don’t – Don’t forget to remind the ladies to buy, pack, all of the hair clips, hair bands, hair pins and their favourite shampoos and conditioners.
Do- Do pack extra toilet roll, you have been warned!
Do – Do pack a torch, change and renew the batteries and take spare batteries as well.
Don’t – Don’t plan to travel to a country experiencing fuel strikes, rioting for assorted reasons and, oops, too late!
Do – Do learn the rudiments of polite etiquette and hello, thank you and goodbye in the language of your intended host countries.
Do – Do pack a smile as it is an international and friendly language:-)
We arrived rather late at the airport just outside Lisbon. From there we took a relatively inexpensive super quick taxi. The kids loved the ride as the taxi took on the gravitational characteristics of a Star Wars air-speeder. Fun. Deposited centrally it was up to us to negotiate across a couple of squares to get to our hotel. Be careful, but for some reason the lovely looking stone pavements seemed inordinately, pardon the phrase, slippery when wet. And never did the phrase, ‘’don’t judge a book by its cover’’ seem so pertinent, when it came to the hotel.
Our exedra shaped hotel was located on Praca Dos Restauradores. The VIP Eden Aparthotel looks like an Art-Deco cinema, and the front of the façade sported a group of people who had drunk a lot and weren’t featured in the promotional material! The hotel looked closed and it was not until walking across the front of the building that we discovered the front door, tucked away almost on the side. We were welcomed by a receptionist who spoke excellent English, seeing as he hailed from the Midlands! The under-lit corridor ended with our apartment which was laid out like a number 3, bedrooms at the end, bath and toilet in the middle. It had seen better days, but the rooms were clean and gave straight out onto the square. Even more importantly it had free wi-fi for the kids.
Lisbon for the children was great. Of course our ambling around the centre, taking in the atmosphere was dull for them. For us the alleys, the ochre roofed aging buildings and thoroughfares were fascinating. But then we headed out to the Lisbon Expo Park. This included an Oceanarium, the Vasci de Gama Tower, a cable car ride, a great waterfall and the kids loved all of these attractions. There was also a great indoor attraction that mixed science and hitting bouncy rubber things. Great for kids of all ages J Another trip out was to Sintra Park. This didn’t have the fast rides and gleaming technology of other parks, but they loved the place. They could run into grottoes, climb stone steps and disappear into foliage, climb small towers and give full rein to their imaginations. All without wi-fi and sitting! We also went to check out Belem Tower, got caught in the rain waited and hour then decided to buy an umbrella for 5 Euros, and yes, then the rain stopped. The zoo was also included on the kids wish list. Always a sad place for me, full of listless creatures, but with reassuringly expensive ice-cream when feeling too hot. As always heights have to be included in our perambulations. The Castle of the Moors, built circa 8-9th century, is set on a rocky hill high above the plain, which it dominates. The combination of heights, strong winds and lack of hand holds added since it was first built made it a joy to visit.
View from the Hotel rooftop, which had a swimming pool, but sadly to nippy for a dip.
Back in Lisbon, we ventured out at night for some Fado. We had been warned not to pick at the seemingly free food that would be placed on our table in warm and cosy bars/cafes. This was because it would actually be included in our bill. The area was interesting and the people friendly. Strangely enough there were not too many shops to buy fresh fruit and odds and ends for kids to munch on in central Lisbon. All in all a great city to visit with plenty to keep the children happy, too.
Amusement is listed as meaning: mirth, merriment, hilarity, glee and delight, or from a slightly different angle: entertainment, pleasure and leisure. Whilst in Italy we traipsed into Garda Land, close by Bardolino on Lake Garda, and later Lego Land in Bavaria. Needless to say these were the highlights of the road trip for the children. The park redefined these definitions.
For Garda Land we bought our tickets, which were expensive for four people, online before our departure. It saved very little, apart from a bit of queuing. The rides in Garda were pretty fast and high, at least for me, but of course the kids loved them! Take deep pockets for change, or better still hand over your small change to your wife who is sensibly staying on the ground. When climbing into the super spinning cup and saucer, don’t, repeat don’t think about the large pastry you untypically had for breakfast. Close eyes and focus on the fact that it won’t last long. If you feel the urge to projectile vomit as you climb off at the end, at least direct it from your group! If staggering due to a still spinning head, play act as if you are just pretending.
Remember before you join the long snaking queues that you really don’t have a head for heights. Then ensure you sit behind the children so they cannot see how strongly you are holding onto everything you can. Just get me down, oh nooooooooooooooo!
If the day is scorching hot, it hit 41.5 degrees in Bavaria, then ensure you go on as many of the log water rides as possible for a free soaking. Beware the cost of bottle water in these amusement parks. After selling one kidney and buying one bottle of water for each of us, we noticed the water drinking fountains where people were filling up empty bottles for free. Head gear is also useful and any cinema style inside attraction is a boon on such a a hot day. Such cinema style attractions also have the advantage at not propelling me at muzzle velocity, perilously high in the sky! And finally, don’t forget to pack the headaches tablets, you know the super strength ones!