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Take my Heidelberg walking tour

Take my Heidelberg walking tour

When we first moved to London, my husband and I devoured every book we could about our neighbourhood. We lived in Spitalfields in East London, which has a long and fascinating history. Unswervingly keen about our knowledge, every family member that came to visit us were treated to mandatory walking tours.

Each successive neighbourhood was awarded the same treatment of intensive research… and the habit stuck when we returned to Vancouver. So much so that I’m working on a mystery novel set in the West End in 1911, amid the fresh stumps and real estate fever that overtook that new west coast centre.

The gate on the Alte Brücke in Heidelberg's Altstadt
The gate on the Alte Brücke in Heidelberg’s Altstadt

So when we moved to Heidelberg last year, the pattern was no different – though a bit more challenging as not as much pre-Second World War history is published in English.

Heidelberg’s recorded history stretches back even further than London’s, with the discovery of a man’s jawbone dated to between 60,000 and 200,000 years ago. It’s been a noted settlement from as far back as 5000 BCE, and the Romans also made it a stopping point and small town as well. When you stand on the banks of the river Neckar and look up at the entrance to the valley, you can see why people have always chosen to live here. The land approaching the area is all flat plains, then suddenly the river bends and winds into these densely wooded hills. It’s fertile, and protected.

The inside of the Student Prison in Heidelberg.
The inside of the Student Prison in Heidelberg.

By the 11th century, there are the first mentions of monasteries in the area, and the first castle structure halfway up the Königstuhl. Not long after, Heidelberg University was founded in 1386, making it one of the oldest universities in the world. It suffered badly in the Thirty Years War, being nearly razed to the ground by the French army in the 1690s.

The famous castle has been built, renovated, added to, and hit by lightning many times over its thousand year lifetime. Now it is a picturesque ruin that millions of people visit every day. As my son and I cycle to school every morning across one of Heidelberg’s bridges, I look up at the Schloss in all its red Neckar Valley sandstone glory and can’t help but smile at my good fortune to live below it. I’ve written a whole post about the history of this castle, if you’re looking for more.

View over the Altstadt from the Heidelberg Castle
View over the Altstadt from the Heidelberg Castle

And while I would love to take each and every one of you around my beloved home, that wouldn’t quite work out – I do need to go grocery shopping and clean the flat eventually. So how thrilled was I when VoiceMap approached me about writing and recording a GPS-enabled audio tour for Heidelberg. This was so much fun to work on, and I learned loads. Guys, I translated reams of local German history for this, and now I know some very interesting German verbs like ‘to inherit’ and ‘to bestow (position)’. I use them all the time at the bakery (kidding).

So please, download my 40-minute audio tour that takes you around the Altstadt in Heidelberg from VoiceMap, and listen while I tell you how many bridges were built before the stone Alte Brücke, what the sister-in-law of the Sun King had to say about growing up at the castle, how Mark Twain got into the student prison, and where my favourite photography spots are.

PS – Looking for more things to do in Heidelberg? Check out my list of kid-friendly spots where all the locals go, where to eat in Heidelberg, or our short film on top of the Holy Mountain.


Mainz: A Great Day Trip with Kids

The dramatic market square in Mainz.

Where the River Main and the Rhine meet is the city of Mainz on one side, and Wiesbaden on the other. Mainz (pronounced MINE-zz) a short train journey from Frankfurt, and a lovely destination for a day trip with kids. It’s a very walkable city with a stretch of pedestrianized or low-traffic roads in the centre, and a lovely path along the banks of the Rhine.

Outside the Gutenberg Museum
Outside the Gutenberg Museum – love these movable type block seats.

Birthplace of Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg, European inventor of the movable-type printing press, was born in Mainz, and he printed his first books in the city. There is an extensive museum, with a vault containing two of the first Gutenberg bibles, as well as many examples of older hand-written books, and replicas of his original press. The audio guides are worth getting, and although they don’t have one geared for kids, the 20-minute highlight tour was interesting enough to keep our 7 year old engaged. But after 45 minutes he was pretty finished with this museum dedicated to books and printing, so unless your children are older or significantly interested, don’t expect this one to take all day.

Mainz Marktplatz
Mainz Marktplatz
Flower bed near the Mainz Marktplatz
Flower bed near the Mainz Marktplatz
Mainz Marktbrunnen (fountain or well) in the foreground, cathedral in background
Mainz Marktbrunnen (fountain or well) in the foreground, cathedral in background
Mainz Marktplatz - beautiful building decoration
Mainz Marktplatz – beautiful building decoration
Mainz Cathedral
Mainz Cathedral has been heavily restored and renovated beginning in the 13th century. No one seems to be able to leave this place alone!

Marktplatz and Altstadt

Thankfully the museum is centrally located in the Altstadt, near the central market square. Many of the buildings here have been restored as Mainz was heavily bombed in the Second World War. Starting in the Marktplatz, you can wend your way through picturesque little streets, in and around the cathedral. There are lots of cafes, ice cream shops, and restaurants. If you come on a Saturday, there is a huge market that fills the square and the streets above and below it. It’s a lovely festive atmosphere, so it’s worth catching the city on a Saturday if you can.

Roman ruins

Mainz was the site of Roman habitation as well, being well situated at the confluence of two major rivers. There are remains of aqueducts and city gates dotted around the city, as well as the remains of a massive stone monument inside the Mainz Citadel, which we didn’t have a chance to visit this trip.

Pedestrianized streets of Mainz
Heading down towards the Rhine from the Marktplatz in Mainz.
Outdoor cafe serving wine and beer on the banks of the Rhine at the Fisch Tor (Fish Gate).
Outdoor cafe serving wine and beer on the banks of the Rhine at the Fisch Tor (Fish Gate).
My son playing on the banks of the Rhine.
My son playing on the banks of the Rhine.

Banks of the Rhine and Mittel Rhine cruises

Follow the lovely pedestrianized streets down from the Marktplatz, past the cathedral, and head down to the banks of the Rhine by the old Fischtor (Fish Gate, which is no longer standing). There’s a set of steps to sit on, as well as a nice outdoor cafe serving wine and beer. You can watch the Rhine cruises stop here, as there are several jetties right here, or walk along the promenade. There are many Rhine cruises that work like hop-on, hop-off tour boats, running from 8am to 8pm, and taking in the middle (and most interesting!) portion of the Rhine from Cologne to Mainz (affiliate link).

Getting there

Mainz is a super quick 15 minute train journey from Frankfurt, so it’s a perfect day trip location.

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PS – Looking for more great kid-friendly German destinations? Try my posts on Heidelberg and Trier


Oregon Girl Around the World

Souvenirs to buy in Germany

The cutest shop in Heidelberg – also where I get more unusual spices.

You’re having a lovely time on holiday, and then you remember: gifts! There’s your mates at work, the dog walker, the neighbour that watered your plants…

I’m here to tell you there’s much better things to be had outside of those souvenir shops. Though don’t classify the gift shops in museums and galleries with those places that sell name fridge magnets and mugs. Leave yourself some extra time at the end of museum and gallery visits to thoroughly check the shop – there’s often some beautiful and unique things to be had, and their sales support these organizations.

You probably would still like to pick up a few little things. The best, and cheapest, place to get German souvenirs that are actually good? The grocery store.

Look for a big grocery store, and inside you will find a section of local products, often labelled as ‘aus deiner Region’. REWE (pronounced RAY-va) is one of the big grocery store chains in Germany, and I’m using them as an example because I know they have a well-marked local products section. Some shelf-stable things to consider bringing home:

Germans are big on their mustard, and there are many kinds. They also package mustard in these beautiful metal tubes with interesting labels. ‘Mild’ is self-explanatory, but ‘scharf’ means spicy, so choose accordingly. The mustard is in its own aisle with mayonnaise, and mustard in German is ‘senf’, it is usually on the signs because it is that important!

Each region has their own liquor, and they are often in a small bottle so they shouldn’t trigger any duty charges. In the south, there’s lots of Kirsche (cherry) flavoured ones. This should be in the regional section.

Gummi bears
Germany claims the invention of the gummi bear, and the Haribo brand of gummified candies are from Bonn. There are special gummi bear shops where you can get flavours like pilsner and mulled wine, but even the average grocery store selection of Haribo will blow your mind.

Ah Germany, the land of Liebniz cookies. The Liebniz-Keks have been in production since 1891, and are available in the cookie aisle of any grocery store. They are quite plain, so you may want to go for the Kakaokeks, the ones with chocolate on one side. There are bags of mini ones as well.

Not generally found in the grocery store but worth keeping an eye out for in your travels…

Bicycle seat covers
The strangest places sell these things, often they are mounted on a piece of cardboard and look almost like shower caps, labelled ‘sattleschutz’. These keep your seat dry when you have to leave your bike out in the rain, and anything is better than a plastic bag. I brought a colourful polka dot one home from Germany once, and I must have been asked about it 300 times.

Cloth and reusable shopping bags
Germans have taken the minimization of plastic bags seriously, and there are reusable bags for sale everywhere. Some are bog standard and ugly, but there are plenty of nicer ones. The department store Galeria Kaufhof often have some nice city-themed ones by the cash desks.

Wooden Christmas decorations
This is a bit tougher, as there are lots of crap ones. However, if you happen to be visiting around or during Christmas, there will be markets everywhere and always at least three stalls selling them. These are really worth checking out, because the craftsmanship can be incredible, and the prices very reasonable. If you’re in Heidelberg or Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Käthe Wolfheart shops are your year-round Christmas wonderland.

Wooden toys
If you have kids to bring things back for, or your own kids want something, try and hold them off until you can get to a proper toy store. The amount of beautiful wood toys makes my heart hurt every time I go in these stores. Beautiful ball runs, smoothly running little cars, jaunty little horses and people. It’s so worth going into one of these places, even if you don’t have kids to buy for, to be honest.

Finally… don’t buy a cuckoo clock unless you have at least €300 earmarked for the purpose, have done some research, and plan to ship it back. Take a video of one in a shop instead.

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What to do with kids in Vancouver when it rains

What to do with kids in Vancouver when it rains

Ah Vancouver, you are a beautiful city to live in, but so. much. rain. If you’re heading to my old hometown for a visit, it’s quite likely it will rain for at least one of your days. That’s not a reason not to go, however. Most locals will tell you to bring your rain gear and wellies and head into the forest. Somehow the rain seems just right out there with the giant Douglas Fir trees. However, if you’re not feeling like communing with nature, here’s eight ways to hide out from the rain like a Vancouverite:

Vancouver Museum of Anthropology, photo courtesy of the MOA
Vancouver Museum of Anthropology, photo courtesy of the MOA

Museum of Anthropology

I really recommend making this museum part of your visit, even if it isn’t raining. The building itself is beautiful, and a lovely place to experience the forest from behind glass. The collections will give you an overview of the impressive art created by the First Nations peoples from this area and further afield.
6393 N.W. Marine Drive, Vancouver

Granville Island Kids Market

This is locals favourite, so if it is raining on a weekend, be prepared for lots of kids! There’s a great multi-level soft play centre inside, which is great for confident kids five and up. I say confident because it’s a multi-level structure that’s very hard to crawl around inside if you’re an adult, and the staff don’t let you go in with them unless your kids are upset. You can see them, but it requires some running up and down stairs if you need to have eyes on them all the time. There are lots of little shops, a very basic cafe, and a duck pond just outside if there’s a break in the rain. For food, I’d head to the Public Market by the water, the cafe in the Kids Market is not that great.
1496 Cartwright St, Vancouver

It’s not raining? Melissa from The Family Voyage shares her favourite family-friendly Vancouver activities
Watching the rain roll in from the beach in English Bay.
Watching the rain roll in from the beach in English Bay.

Vancouver Maritime Museum

Personally, I would suggest giving the planetarium in the same area a miss, and stick with just the Maritime Museum. The building was actually built around the boat inside, which you can clamber all around. This isn’t a model, but the actual ship the St Roch, which was the first to sail the Northwest Passage from west to east. Don’t skip the rest of the museum, it’s very kid friendly and often completely empty.
1905 Ogden Ave, Vancouver

Mini ferry tour

Going out on the water in the rain sounds like a bonkers idea, but the little ferries that run the routes around False Creek are covered. They are tiny, I used to call them the ‘bathtub ferries’ when I was a kid and I think their maximum load is 10 people. You can either hop on at the Maritime Museum or Science World and just ride to the other end (with stops in Yaletown, Granville Island and more), or ask about their tours. There are two companies, False Creek Ferries (blue boats) and the Aquabus (rainbow boats) – if you buy a return ticket make sure you catch the same one as the tickets are not transferrable, and double check the map because they don’t stop at the same places. You buy your tickets on board, cash only.

Science World

This science centre is on everyone’s rainy day list, so if you’re looking for something to do on a school holiday or weekend day, be warned it can be a zoo. There’s a good reason everyone goes of course, with several hands-on galleries and an IMAX theatre, as well as a picturesque spot on False Creek. There’s even a White Spot restaurant, a British Columbia burger institution. A new hands-on gallery has opened as of spring 2017 too.
1455 Quebec St, Vancouver

Inside the covered foyer of the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch
Inside the covered foyer of the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch

Vancouver Public Library central branch

Head downstairs to the huge children’s section and rest your feet. There are puzzles, toys, a little soft play area, and many story times (just check the event listings for times). There are also several little cafes, including Flying Wedge, a Vancouver pizza institution, in the rotunda area outside (but still under cover). It’s worth checking out the little library shop for some neat souvenirs that support the library system.

Blodel Conservatory

If you come from a place with a giant botanical gardens, this may not be very exciting. However, locals do love the 1960s special that is the Bloedel Conservatory. Filled with tropical plants and flowers, colourful birds and insects, you can wander around in the dry biodome for awhile. The stretch of Queen Elizabeth Gardens right outside is a favourite for wedding photographers, and the views over the city are beautiful.
33rd Ave, between Cambie St and Main St, Vancouver

Ride the Skytrain to the River Market

You might not have noticed but the Skytrain does not have drivers on the trains. They are all controlled centrally, so you can claim the front seat for yourself (and a small person of course), and pretend you’re driving! This is a favourite activity for local kids too, as you can imagine. The ride from downtown out to New Westminster is quite pleasant, with the benefit of ending in the River Market, a newly renovated public market on the river boardwalk. New Westminster was the capital city of British Columbia from 1858 to 1866, and it has gone through a bit of a renaissance of late. There are lots of great restaurants in the market and nearby, and the boardwalk itself is home to several new playgrounds and the Fraser River Discovery Centre.


Kids’ Travel Journal DIY

Kids’ Travel Journal DIY

{This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission, with no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!}

I was doing some research about how to get kids interested in their surroundings when they travel, when I came across the idea of travel journals.

What I like about this concept is you can tailor it to your particular child, and what they like to do. My son likes to draw, but he loves taking photographs. He likes those smash a coin flat machines and terrible souvenir shops. So when I made his travel journal, I included lots of envelopes for storing the little bits and pieces he collects, and blank pages for pasting in photos afterwards. I was totally unprepared for how much he loves adding to and showing off his travel journal – it’s been such a big hit.

Travel journals don’t need to be expensive or complicated. You can certainly buy a ready-made one, like this [amazon_link id=”1441318143″ target=”_blank” ]Kids’ Travel Journal from Peter Pauper Press[/amazon_link]. But making one is really easy.

Putting little envelopes in the journal means you can capture little souvenirs.
Putting little envelopes in the journal means you can capture little souvenirs.

Things to consider before you start:

  • What does your child like to do? Do they take lots of photos, or draw, or prefer colouring in?
  • Will you be traveling to several different locations, or just one big trip?
  • How transportable does this have to be?

Gather some supplies

I bought a [amazon_link id=”B01KB7VETC” target=”_blank” ]sketchbook with medium-weight paper and a coil binding[/amazon_link] to accommodate all the extra stuff to be pasted inside.

You will need some of each of the following:

  • Small collection of pencils or pens, and a pouch [I use an old Ipsy cosmetic case with airplanes on it, but this is [amazon_link id=”B01EINGM38″ target=”_blank” ]cute colourful pencil case[/amazon_link]]
  • Selection of neat envelopes to be pasted in – [amazon_link id=”B00TOVXDGO” target=”_blank” ]I love glassine envelopes as you can see inside[/amazon_link]]
  • [amazon_link id=”B001IVZMBM” target=”_blank” ]Mini glue stick[/amazon_link]
  • Coloured card stock
  • [amazon_link id=”B01BULDSMO” target=”_blank” ]Washi tape[/amazon_link]
  • Travel-themed stickers [amazon_link id=”B007OLJJRS” target=”_blank” ]these stickers look like passport stamps [/amazon_link]]

I used the coloured card stock to make some section headers, as we do many little trips. I pasted the envelopes into random pages, leaving some blank for photos later.

This is a drawing of the Eiffel Tower – it has 1,000 bolts in it, my son learned on the tour bus.
This is a drawing of the Eiffel Tower – it has 1,000 bolts in it, my son learned on the tour bus.

Drawing and writing prompts

I wrote in a few drawing prompts, like:

  • What did you eat for breakfast?
  • What was the tallest thing you saw today?
  • What was your favourite sweet thing you ate?
  • Draw all the types of transportation you took
  • Did you see any animals?
  • What does the flag look like for the country you’re in?

Though these could easily be adapted to writing prompts, if that’s what your small people like to do.

Things you can suggest they store in their travel journal:

  • Public transportation tickets
  • Souvenir tokens
  • Tourist maps and brochures
  • Receipts from cafes and restaurants
Finally, a use for those little tourist booklets!
Finally, a use for those little tourist booklets!

Taking photos

You may not want your child using your DSLR, so consider letting them have an old smartphone not connected to a network (you can download the photos later, by attaching it to a computer), or get them to art direct your photos. When you get home, make a time to go through your photos and let them pick a specific number to get printed for their journal. I was really surprised at the ones my son chose – including one he took of my husband and I.

Travel journal pride

This travel journal has been much more of a hit than I ever expected. What started out as a way to get my son engaged with our travels has become a project he takes very seriously. When his grandparents came to stay with us recently, he sat them down to go through his travel journal. I love that it keeps these journeys alive in his mind, and he gets so much more out of it, not only as we’re on the road, but afterwards.