Monday, August 28, 2017

7 Kid-Friendly Things to do in Stockholm

The truth of the matter is that I don't have children.  Some of the many hats I wear include: teacher, godparent, aunt, and older sister.  While I am not the absolute expert on such matters, I have actually taken my younger siblings on a vacation with me when they were children.  Since that time, as I travel, I find myself thinking about which of the things that I like to do, would be suitable for the children in my life?  On a recent trip to Stockholm, I was delighted to find that this is an incredibly family friendly destination.

When I have been traveling with kids, I have found that it works best when I plan highly active activities to alternate with ones that allow time to rest and recuperate.  This philosophy has worked for me personally, and influences my recommendations below.  Furthermore, all of the attractions and activities listed below are available on the Stockholm Pass (sponsor), which can save you a lot of money compared to paying for individual tickets and admissions.

So, without further ado, here are my Top 7 Kid-Friendly Things to do in Stockholm.

1.  Skansen- Open Air Museum

This is considered to be the world's first open air museum.  This museum was founded in 1891.  For any History buffs out there, this attraction allows you to stroll through five centuries of Swedish history, a great educational experience for your children.  Furthermore, Skansen boasts Stockholm's only zoo, and is the home to a great many wild, Nordic animals.  Skansen is easily accessed by public transportation (the tram), and the Hop On Hop Off bus and boat.  They are open every day, though hours of operation vary slightly by season, so you may want to check on times closer to your vacation dates.

2.  Hop On Hop Off:  Buses & Boats

It might seem a little funny to list this on my top five, but these are pretty fabulous.  Stockholm has been lovingly nicknamed the "Venice of the North" for a reason.  In Stockholm, you will find water and bridges for days, not to mention gorgeous historical buildings with stories to go with them.  While there are certain tours you can take to isolate certain aspects of the city, the Hop On Hop Off Buses and Boats are terrific.  They can be used as a means of transportation between attractions, or you can simply utilize them as a method of seeing the city.  Once you hop on, you can grab a seat on the double decker bus, or single level boat.  You will find a headset right in front of you.  If you choose to use the headset (or plug in your own earbuds), you will find that your route has been narrated.  You can learn about specific neighborhoods, and the tales that go with them.  This is a great opportunity to get off your feet without losing valuable time seeing attractions, a must for any parent with young children.  Note:  The Hop On Hop Off gets really busy first thing in the morning.  I might wait until some time in the afternoon to hop on and ride out the route.

3.  Junibaken
Junibaken is a children's cultural center, based entirely on children's books.  It is filled with music and
theater.  You can top on the Story Train to experience some of the tales of Astrid Lindgren, or experience my personal favorite:  Pippi Longstocking's house.  As a little girl, I was completely fascinated by the tales of Pippi Longstocking.  I loved the films, the books, and would walk around singing the theme song.  Even as an adult, the Pippi Longstocking house is an incredible life-like experience.  Junibaken has a cafe where you can easily stop for a bite to eat.  It's location is near a lot of attractions including the Vasa Museum, and could easily be paired with a number of other thing's you'd like to see.  It is easily accessible by the Hop On Hop Off bus and boat, as well as, by public transportation (the tram).

4.  Grona Lund Tivoli

Grona Lund Tivoli is the oldest amusement park in Sweden, and could easily absorb an entire day.  There are rides, snacks, and even concerts available all in one location.  Grona Lund Tivoli is super easy to access via public transit or the Hop On Hop Off Bus or Boat!  I do recommend checking out there website for hours of operation and concerts (which will impact admission fees).

5.  Under the Bridges of Stockholm (Boat Tour)

There are many boat tours in Stockholm, which comes as no surprise I am sure.  While, I am sure
you'd be happy with any of them, I would highly recommend this one in particular.  We went to the ticket counter early in the morning, and more or less had our choice of time slots.  We chose a tour at 1:00 in the afternoon, which is perfect for a two hour boat ride.  By 1:00, we had already been on our feet a good long while, and were ready for a bit of a break without losing valuable sight seeing time.  This particular tour is on a relatively small boat, single level, with booth-like tables that seat roughly six.  There is a snack bar available as well.   The snacks available aren't anything you couldn't just as easily have purchased at the grocery store (sandwiches, beverages, etc), but significantly more expensive, so I recommend popping into a store and buying some items for lunch to bring aboard.  I noticed many people doing this, and on this particular tour, the staff didn't seem to mind.  Plus, it will save you a lot of money.  This tour is pretty straight forward, just like the Hop On Hop Off buses and boats, there is a headset to narrate your tour.  Plus, you see some of the most beautiful parts of Stockholm, areas that might otherwise be difficult to access.  Again, this is really easy to access via public transit or the hop on hop off bus or boat.

6.  Toy Museum (Leksaksmuseet)

Leksaksmuseet (The Toy Museum) has such variety that your whole family will easily find an area of interest.  They have everything from porcelain dolls and barbies to cars, legos, and Star Wars.  There are sections devoted to mechanical toys, and toys made of tin.  Throw in a bit of cultural and historical context, and you've got the makings of a a fun-filled and educational afternoon! 

7.  Police Museum (Polismuseet)

This museum is highly interactive.  Ride on a police motorcycle, play with walkie-talkies, and take a tour of the jail cell in the special children's section of the museum, all while learning about the Swedish Police Force!

In lieu of my usual "budget savers and splurges" section, I want to bring a huge budget saver to your attention.  These are just a few of the many attractions available to you with the Stockholm Pass.  You can buy a Stockholm Pass for as little as 24 hours, or up to 5 days for a set price.  The price is for either an adult or child's pass, and can be a huge money saver.  I was given a 2-day pass to review at no charge, but I can tell you, had I not been given a press pass, I would have definitely purchased one because of the obvious savings.  I wanted to make sure to bring this to your attention, because while I love to travel, I also love to save money!

While there are many more children's exhibits and kid-friendly activities within Stockholm and in many of the museums and attractions, these items are at the top of my list. Have you been to Stockholm?  Do you have any kid-friendly favorites that aren't on this list?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Royal Mile (Edinburgh, Scotland)

 After you've had breakfast, make your way to Edinburgh castle to start your journey along The Royal Mile.  Edinburgh Castle is certainly majestic in nature, and boasts what might be the best panoramic view the city has to offer.  Edinburgh castle guards the Scottish Crown Jewels, as well as, the Stone of Destiny.  You can elect to purchase an audio tour for a fee that is additional to your entrance fee.  I didn't choose to do make this purchase.  There are 20 minute guided tours that you can join for free, therefore, that was the route I chose.  This brief guided tour provides a wealth of information on a variety of aspects of the castle being, special attributes of The Great Hall, how prisoners of war lived there in the 1700's and 1800's in the Prisons of War exhibit, and much more.  If you happen to be there still at 1.00, join the gathering to see the master gunner fire The One O'Clock Gun.

Edinburgh Castle

Note:  There is a special pass that you could purchase called the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass.  It comes in 3-day and 7-day varieties.  The prices range from approximately $40-$55 (USD).  This pass gains you access to over 70 attractions including Edinburgh & Stirling Castles.  If you simply do both castles, this pass more or less pays for itself.  That being said, I have to be honest with you that I did not use this pass.  Because I was visiting my cousin, we were able to use a pass that she had as a resident, which worked a bit differently, and gained us access to many of these attractions as well.

I bought my absolute favorite souvenir just outside Edinburgh Castle.  As you leave the castle there are a number of street vendors sitting, and sell a variety of things.  One of which was selling tiny, silver earrings in a variety of Celtic designs.  They only cost me around $7 (USD), but I have to admit, they are one of my all-time favorite souvenirs.

After the castle, you maybe ready to take a bit of a moment to just digest all that you've seen.  In that case, take a slight detour and stroll through The Princess Street Gardens.  The Princess Street Gardens have been in existence since the 1700's and contain a number of beautiful monuments.  It manages to be both serene and regal at the same time, making it the perfect place to stop and process some of what you've just taken in.  If you're wanting to save money on your mid-day meal, I might recommend packing a snack to eat in the gardens if the weather is nice.

Otherwise, upon returning to the Royal Mile, I recommend lunch at the Tollbooth Tavern.  The building itself is a part of the original Cannongate Tollbooth, built in 1591.  It has also been a courthouse, and a prison. In 1654, Cromwell detained Scottish enemies of the state in this location.  If you're looking for some traditional Scottish fare, I highly recommend trying to some local beers, and possibly some Bangers and Mash.  For a bite on the lighter side, there are vegetarian delights as well.

If you continue down the Royal Mile, near the end you will find the Scottish Parliament.  Parliament is open to the public every day except Sunday.  There are many public areas that are free of charge and do not require booking.  Advanced booking is required if you would like to attend a guided tour or a committee meeting of sorts.

Holyrood Palace
Next, stroll by Holyrood Palace, the Scottish home to Queen Elizabeth II.  This is also where Mary, Queen of Scots was married and lived.  Side note: If you purchased the Explorer Pass, this attraction should be included.  I didn't tour the palace; I was satisfied having seen it, and continued on, making my way to Arthur's Seat.  Arthur's Seat is a "mini-mountain" that  makes for a gorgeous hike.  Once you make it to the top, you are rewarded greatly with another breathtaking view.

Arthur's Seat
At the end of this day, I recommend making your way to The Meadows for dinner at the Golf Tavern.  This quaint, sporty tavern has an old-world, truly Scottish feel.  While, I opted for a vegetarian option, I would say that this would be the opportunity for a more adventurous foodie might consider an order of Haggis Nachos.  In fact, the Golf Tavern has a variety of creative Haggis dishes that you can try, if Haggis happens to be on your bucket list!

Budget Savers:
  • Explorer Pass:  While this will set you back 40-55 USD, it can quickly save you money on attractions.
  • Princess Street Gardens (free)
  • Optional: Tollbooth Tavern (moderately priced) or Pack a lunch/snack (cheap)
  • Scottish Parliament (free)
  • Arthur's Seat (free)
  • Golf Tavern (moderately priced)

Budget Splurges:
  • Edinburgh Castle & Holyrood Palace: While not entirely spendy on their own, if you don't get the pass, these attractions will add up quickly.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Adapting & Staying Connected

In general, I tend to be a person that doesn't really like a lot of extra stuff.  I don't care for clutter, and I like to keep organized.  That's why I am not likely to recommend "stuff" simply for the sake of "stuff."  When it comes to travel everyone and their brother wants to recommend that you buy their gizmo or gadget.  While some items are worthwhile, others are not.

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About a decade and a half ago, I traveled internationally for the first time.  My best friend was studying abroad for a year as a part of her English/French Teaching (Dual) Degree Program.  I remember at the time, the idea of going three weeks without my curling iron seemed like an absolute nightmare.  I nervously didn't even bother to pack it because I knew the outlets in Europe would be different, and I couldn't use it anyway.  I spent three weeks braiding my bangs back into the rest of my hair to keep it out of my face.  I had never gone bangless before, and recall being a little freaked out about the whole ordeal.  I can't help but laugh at my vanity now, because the truth of the matter is that as a direct result of that trip, I have never gone back to wearing bangs. So, I guess we can just chalk that experience up to personal growth.

Today, things are a little different.  While, I no longer use a curling iron, there are some things that I do use.  Over fifteen years ago, I didn't use a laptop, a cell phone, or a tablet, and while I like to unplug a lot on vacation, today, I do want to use some of those items while traveling.  One item that makes life on the road a lot easier is a Universal Adapter.

I picked up a Universal Adapter for about $12 on Amazon.  It is very small, and takes up virtually no space in a suitcase, which is where I store it after a trip. This adapter can be plugged into a US, UK, European, or Australian style wall socket.  Then you can plug your electronic item into the adapter via its own plug.  There are also two USB ports that you can plug into.  This adapter works in more than 150 countries, and has made things much simpler for my in my travels.  So, if you have plans for international travel, I highly recommend adding this to your travel accessory collection.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Edinburgh, Scotland

When my partner and I visited Edinburgh, we did not stay in a hotel.  We stayed with my cousin near the University.  This clearly provided us with the ability save money on hotel rooms.  We were also able to cook our breakfast before leaving for the day. If you plan to visit Edinburgh, I recommend that you use a hotel that offers a breakfast, or a mini-kitchen so that you can save some money there. Search Here for Best Hotel Deals! (Affiliate link, see disclosure page).  You can use's search fields to sort only hotels with breakfast included, which is also something I usually do. Additionally, Edinburgh is a very walkable city.  We took a couple of buses and a couple of cabs, but we were able to walk most places we wanted to go.

After breakfast, we took a stroll through The Meadows, a large beautiful park next to the University of Edinburgh, then through the University itself. This is known as the Lauriston part of town.  Here you will find the National Museum of Scotland.  Any real history buff could literally spend all day in this particular museum.  We, unfortunately, combined the National Museum of Scotland with the Royal Yacht, Britannia because their is a bus that easily transports you between these two places.  That being said, on a future visit, I would give each of these attractions their own day (see also: The Royal Yacht Britannia).  The regal building contains an array of exhibits organized into broad categories.  I adore the Scotland section of the museum, as it takes you on a journey through the story of Scotland over the course of history.  You will explore this mesmerizing story through a variety of art and artifacts either made or used in Scotland.  Next, I might break for lunch, and return to experience the World Culture section of the museum, where you will learn about how the human experience has been analyzed, archived and enhanced through the development of art, music, and performance.

As I mentioned before, in order to get the most out of the National Museum of Scotland, you might need to break briefly for lunch.  I suggest leaving the building and heading to nearby Elephant House.  Elephant House is cosy and quaint.  The atmosphere is relatively casual, yet contains a feeling of sophistication.  When I was there, I ordered tea and a vegetarian/traditional breakfast which was entirely satisfying.   It contained sauteed mushrooms and roasted tomatoes as a supplement to the egg dish.  This cafe is not only comfortable, but also the rumored location in which J.K. Rowling was said to have written a great deal of her earlier work.

Once you've satisfied both your hunger and need for museum time, make sure you stop by the famous Greyfriars Bobby statue nearby. Greyfriars Bobby is a monument of a terrier.  This dog is is the basis of a famous Scottish tale.  According to local legend,  this dog spent 14 years guarding it's owners grave, until he finally passed away himself.

Take a stroll by the cemetery that was rumored to have inspired many of the character names found in J.K. Rowling's books. Continue to travel on foot to Edinburgh's Grassmarket, where you can enjoy a marvelous view of the castle as you enjoy a sweet treat from Mary's Milk Bar.  Mary's Milk Bar is a gorgeously, cosy little ice cream parlor with flavor's changing daily.  Mary makes everything from ice creams, gelatos, and chocolates fresh daily using all natural ingredients and no preservatives.   Mary actually studied gelato-making at Carpigiani Gelato University in Italy.  Not a lot of people could say that.  This is the real deal, and you don't want to miss it.

If you need a time-out for dinner, there are plenty of choices in the Grassmarket area.  I recommend remaining their until the Literary Pub Tour starts.  Edinburgh's Literary Pub Tour is hands down the best way to spend an evening in Edinburgh.  Tickets are reasonably priced, and you get a slight discount if you purchase tickets ahead of time on their website.  You will also want to verify dates and times; during the summer months they tend to run every evening, though less frequently during winter months.  Tours start promptly at 7:30, so you want to be sure to be on time. This tour is lead by two actors.  They play off each other beautifully, in a display that is a perfect combination of theater and academic lecture in a casual atmosphere.  During this walking tour, you'll be experiencing a handful of pubs that were the frequent locations and inspiration of some of Scotland's most brilliant literary geniuses.  At each pub, you will learn about one or more writers that spend time in each location, and be given a chance to purchase a beverage, though you won't be at each location for long.  I highly recommend if you want to have one at each location, you share a pint with a travel buddy.  That's what I did in order to save time, money, and keep it classy.  If there's one attraction or activity I'd recommend in Edinburgh, the Literary Pub Tour is it.

Nothing on this particular day's itinerary is very expensive.  Everything is pretty moderately priced, so their are no real splurges, but my financial breakdown looks a little something like this:

Budget SAVERS:
  • Breakfast (Hotel = free/prepaid)
  • National Museum of Scotland (most exhibits are free, with some exceptions, donations accepted)
  • Elephant House for Lunch (relatively inexpensive)
  • Greyfriars Bobby (free)
  • Mary's Milk Bar (inexpensive)
  • Literary Pub Tour (inexpensive tour, save even more by booking online)

  • None (unless you opt of a spendy dinner)
Any favorites in Edinburgh?  Whether it be secret spots or tourist traps, if it's in Edinburgh, and you love it, we'd love to hear about it.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Train between London and Edinburgh

My recent U.K. trip was centered around visiting my cousin in Edinburgh, Scotland.  My partner and I were able to secure the best airfare by flying into London. So, we decided to make it a 2-in-1 vacation.  When we landed in London, we took a train to Edinburgh, where we stayed several days.  Then we returned to London for an extra couple of days before flying back to New York.

Sometimes it's the journey that provides the most memorable experience.  The train between London and Edinburgh is filled with a majestic countryside bursting with pride.  Make the most of the experience by stopping first at the nearest Sainsbury.  Now, I am pretty much in love with Sainsbury.  The U.K. grocery store chain is not sponsoring me in any way, although maybe they should, because I have nothing but praise for this travelers paradise.  In my day-to-day life, I don't purchase many grab 'n go foods, but this seems to be a Sainsbury specialty.  The store's selection is next to none.  In addition to offering standard coffees, teas, and sodas, Sainsbury has a fairly hefty section of single-serve wine, beer, and cocktails.  The wine and cocktail choices come conveniently packaged in single-serve, presealed glasses with pull-away wrappers that are perfect for a picnic or leisurely train ride.  The snack items range from your typical salads and sandwiches to considerably more exotic fare.  Even the seemingly "normal" food items offer some delightful variations.  As a vegetarian, I frequently find these grab 'n go places to be a bit trying.  Not this time.  There seemed to be a plethora of choices for those with restrictive diets.  I settled on an onion and cheese sandwich.  On the surface, I wasn't entirely sure that I would love it.  Well, there must be something extra special in that "special sauce," because even now I wish I could somehow get my hands on one in the U.S.!  In addition to having a fabulous selection, Sainsbury is extraordinarily economical.  I mean, it was truly inexpensive.  So, this is definitely my recommendation for grabbing your lunch just before hopping the train.

I recommend spending the money on booking a table seat if they're available.  First, this allows you to spread out with your lunch, games, or reading materials.  Secondly, table seats are in groups of four seats.  If you are a party of two, you might be seated across from other passengers.  When we made the trip, we were fortunate enough to be seated across from a lovely Scottish couple that live slightly north of Edinburgh.  The gentleman was retired from the Scottish military, and incredibly knowledgeable about the route we were traveling.  He generously acted as tour-guide for the entirety of our journey.  He was not only able to tell us of each city and landmark on our path, but of the legends and stories that related to each and every one of them.

This journey by train took the better part of an afternoon on our first day in the United Kingdom.  By the time we arrived, we had already experience a leisurely tour of the countryside, and some terrific company.

Where we saved money:
  • Flying into a cheaper airport
  • Lunch: Grab n' Go from Sainsbury
  • Take public transit to the train station

Where we splurged:
  • upgrade to the table seats
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The Royal Yacht Britannia (Edinburgh, Scotland)

We all have those days of travel where we just need to slow down a bit.  If I'm gone more than a week, I typically plan at least one day where my mission is to largely take it easy: sleep as long as I like, take my time getting out the door, maybe go to bed early.  If you happen to be in Edinburgh, Scotland when that day arrives, not all is lost.  Take it as an opportunity to visit an attraction that is located slightly off the beaten path.

Once you've risen for the day, enjoy a traditional Scottish breakfast while you familiarize yourself with the local bus schedule, allowing you transport to the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Be sure to have appropriate change as you board the double-decker bus.  If you are able to climb stairs, I highly recommend that you ride on the second level so as to maximize your view of town.
 The bus trip will take you all across the city, giving you the opportunity to view neighborhoods you might not otherwise have the chance to see.  When I went, I was admittedly a little nervous about missing my stop.  Not to worry, it is the very last stop on the bus route!  It is a peculiar little stop, because it is literally letting you off at a shopping center.  Don't let that throw you off!  Just go on in.  You will see signage clearly marked all through the shopping center directing you to the Yacht.  Once you get there and pay your admission, you will be given a handset, as this is a self-directed tour.

I am someone that gets really into history and culture, and this tour certainly delivers!  The Royal Yacht Britannia was placed into service in 1953, and served the Royal Family for 44 years before she was  taken out of commission and turned into a museum.  On board, you can see the rooms still set the way they were when the Royal Family used them for family holidays, entertaining, and even honeymooning (Prince Charles and Princess Diana come to mind).  The yacht was even equipped to serve as an infirmary if needed!  Since this tour is self-guided by nature, you can easily take all the time you want.

If you have time, I highly recommend stopping for refreshments in the Royal Deck Tea Room.  You can easily take this as your daily splurge and indulge in a glass of champagne with your lunch.  You can also satisfy a much more modest budget by ordering tea and a scone.  In either scenario, you are surly not to be disappointed.

As you make your way out, you will be deposited into the gift shop.  I personally take it as an opportunity to buy a few post cards (I send them to myself from each
location so that they are even stamped from the city/country I was in). The magically, back into the shopping center you arrive.  I like to experience at least a slice of life as a local might, so I popped into a few shops to just browse.  Among the shops in this center, there does happen to be a Sainsbury.  So, if you've fallen in love with a their cheese and onion sandwiches as I have (anyone else with this fascination?), you can easily grab one to go.

Just out the door of the shopping center, is the bus mall area, allowing you to go back precisely the way you came.