Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Efteling: Holland's own Disneyland

        While Disneyland may be the happiest place in America, Efteling is the happiest place in Holland. Efteling is a magical, fairytale based amusement park that has rides, shows, and other attractions great for the entire family. Although it sounds a lot like Disneyland, Efteling definitely has its own personality. 

        In Efteling’s famous Fairytale Forest, you can walk down a path to find one fairytale after another. Walk through Sleeping Beauty’s castle, try not to eat up the evil witch’s candy house, laugh as the emperor parades in his new clothes, and read some tales that you’ve never even heard about!
        Efteling has some amazing rides including water rides, upside down roller coasters (one has two loops in a row!), and even one where two carts race to get to the finish line first!
        The shows are great! Even though they’re in Dutch, they are definitely worth watching. We watched a show called Raveleijn and the evening water show, and both were amazing.
        And if you can talk your parents into staying a night in the Efteling hotel, prepare to be amazed.

       The outside of the hotel looks like a fairytale castle with its enormous size, tall towers, and large doors. The rooms are amazing, and they even give you a book of fairytales to read! There is a fairytale themed board game inside the room to play with, and the furniture makes it seem like a royal palace. You will find a TV hidden behind a mirror, nightstands that float on the wall. There is a playground and some games in the lobby for the smaller kids. Right outside of the hotel is the park, of course! Hotel guests get to come into the park thirty minutes before its opening, so that they can get to the front of the line one the best rides.
        Efteling is definitely something that should be on your agenda on your next visit to the Netherlands! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014


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This list is compiled based on personal experience while traveling with own three kids and feedback from our multiple clients.

1. Orientation tour around St. Petersburg by Best Guides.

One word to describe this kids friendly tour is FANTASTIC! They act as a true concierge servce working with clients before and during the tour satsfying any crazy request clients might have. Kids are completely engaged for duration of the tour whether it lasts 4 or 8 hours. During the tour families visit 'standard' landmarks and many off beaten path places. Our kids still remember Treasure Hunt conducted on the premises of Small Academy of Arts.

You can read one of our older blog posts

2. Orientation tour around Barcelona Gothic Quarter by Runner Bean Tours

A fun walking tour for all the family filled with activities for the children, stories, games and songs that will keep your kids begging you to bring them back to Barcelona.
Giants that come alive. Trees that speak through their leaves. Medieval legends of kings and queens. All this and more while learning, playing and walking through the magical background of the Gothic Quarter surrounded by its hidden corners and beautiful squares. Travel back in time with us listening to the medieval stories of the past. Visit the workshops where giants are made, hear about the Romans who founded the city, enter the trendiest candy shop and sing your way into Catalan traditions.

3. Ancient Rome Discovery by Context Travel

Ancient Rome Discovery brings families into the archaeological heart of Rome where we encounter the stories of Romulus and Remus, the artistic and political achievements of the emperors, and the everyday lives of ancient Roman citizens. Centered around the Colosseum, the emphasis is on engaging with the young people in the group and helping them begin to frame and understand some key concepts about ancient Rome. We have so many parents who told us that after this tour kids told them that they want to be archeologists.

4. British Museum for families by Context Travel

The walk will focus on the idea of collecting and how it developed in England around the eighteenth century. We will also pick a theme or a particular civilization and follow its development throughout time while navigating the museum. We may, for instance, focus on the development of scripture from cuneiform to hieroglyphic to our modern alphabet, using tools like the Rosetta Stone and other ancient inscriptions.

5.  The Louvre Treasure Hunt by Unique Paris

This Louvre treasure hunt was designed for families with young children (between 6 and 12 years old) to visit the Louvre museum with a licensed guide in a more kid-friendly engaging way. Most of the time, with a classic guided tour, young kids lose attention within the first 15 minutes and only their parents are truly enjoying the visit. With this treasure hunt, a true prize competition will split the family in 2 teams. At the beginning of the tour, the guide will explain the rules and hand over 1 questionnaire with around 40 different questions/enigmas to solve and paintings/sculptures to recognize or photograph. The treasure hunt visit will go through a broad range of collections (Greek and Roman, Renaissance Italian, French), asking specific and detailed questions about many of the Louvre's masterpieces.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Teenager's survival guide for Amsterdam - Food

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We are introducing our new young blogger, Allie Yusim, who shares her experiences from the latest trip to Europe.

Although Amsterdam has a huge variety of unique sights to see, the food alone is enough of a reason to come. From cheese to pancakes, Amsterdam will not fail to excite your taste buds.      

Who says that there is no free lunch? On almost every street is a cheese shop where anyone can come in and sample dozens of different cheeses, from smoked cheese with ham to aged goat cheese. There is red cheese, green cheese, cumin cheese, herb cheese, and much, much more. In addition, different flavors of mustards are available as delicious dipping sauces.      

Pancakes. Amsterdam is a pancake heaven. The pancakes are as big as crepes, but a bit thicker, or you can get a sort of mini- pancake called poffertjes. You can get them covered in Nutella, berries, sugar, or all of the above! Or you can have them with eggs, ham, and cheese for a savory snack. Think this will make a great breakfast? Nope, sorry. In the Netherlands, pancakes are eaten for lunch or dinner. In fact, most cafés aren't even open before nine

Can't get enough of those pancakes? A pancake river cruise might be a perfect option! Imagine, cruising down the river with unlimited delicious pancakes and toppings! The ball pit in the boat makes this a perfect.

Want to get away from the touristy stuff? Why not go down to the Saturday morning farmer’s market on Noordermarkt  where you can grab all the fresh picnic food you can think of!

If you get tired of all of this exotic food and want a good-old burger, the Burger Bar,conveniently located across the street from Tuschinski Theater is a great place to eat. There, you can get amazing fresh burgers and, of course, fries with mayo instead of ketchup.

With all this incredible food, you’ll definitely never go hungry in Amsterdam!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Castles and Mazes, Medieval Sites around London

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This blog is shared with us by our partners, Context Travel.

Planning a day out of London can prove quite difficult, as there are so many destinations to choose from. But if you are looking for a fairy tale getaway, a bit of Medieval feel with a castle and plenty of things for the family to do, you are in luck. Southeast England offers some of the best castles in the country, all easily accessible from London. Here is a selection of our favorites.
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

Bodiam Castle:
Driving up to this small, but beautifully preserved castle, is like stepping back in time. The surrounding countryside, the gentle hills of East Sussex and the steam railway nearby make Bodiam a really picture perfect place. Managed by the National Trust, this 14th cent. castle is one of Britain’s most picturesque and romantic ancient monuments. The grand gatehouse is the castle’s original wooden portcullis, an extremely rare example of its kind. The grounds nearby are perfect for running around or for a picnic. Just make sure you have enough to share with the resident ducks!
Bodiam, near Robertsbridge, East Sussex, TN32 5UA
Scotney castle
Scotney Castle, Kent

Scotney Castle:
Another National Trust property with not one but two castles:the first, is the house built by Edward Hussey III from the sandstone quarried from the grounds of the Old Castle. The second, the Old Castle, is a moated ruin that evokes romantic walks by the water and lazy afternoons reading in the shade. If you are keen for a more active visit, in addition to the beautiful gardens, there is 770 acres of parkland and woodland to explore. Don’t miss the amazing Azaleas ranging in shades from pink to purple and make sure to pop by the cafe for a taste of the local Scotny Bitter and delicious honey. Scotney castle has a working walled garden where veggies and fruit are grown.
Scotney Castle. Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN3 8JN

Maze at Leeds Castle, Kent

Leeds Castle:
This stunning site is probably the best known castle in England. Located in Kent, not Leeds, it offers visitors a wide range of activities, from a maze to a 9-hole golf course and even a run club. For real Middle ages geeks, the Castle hosts a Medieval Festival from Saturday 23 to Sunday 31 August 2014.The castle was first built by a Norman baron during the reign of William the Conqueror’s son Henry I, since then it was property of Queens and a royal residence for several centuries, before becoming private property again. Today the castle belongs to a private charitable trust whose aim is to preserve the castle and its grounds for the benefit of the public.
Leeds Castle Maidstone Kent ME17 1PL

Maze at Hampton Court Palace
Maze at Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court:
Although not much remains of the medieval manor of Hampton Court, from 1494 and the renovations desired by Giles Daubeney, later Lord Chamberlain, Hampton Court becomes a major courtier house and a place to entertain members of the royal family. Along with the fantastic Tudor and Baroque buildings, Hampton Court is the home of a tennis court built in 1526 and the most famous maze in the country. The Hampton Court Maze covers a third of an acre, is trapezoid in shape and is the UK’s oldest surviving hedge maze. It’s known as a puzzle maze, with lots of twists, turns and dead ends.
These are just a few of the many wonderful castle that can be visited around London. Get in touch with us if you would like to organize a visit to one of them, or let us know what is your favorite castle to visit!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

3 reasons to skip gondola ride in Venice

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This blog post is prepared by our partners, Context Travel

For many, the image of a gondola gliding through the crystal waters of the Grand Canal is synonymous with Venice. Its sleek black design regularly features in the paintings of Canaletto and Bellotto. Unsurprisingly, many tourists feel like no trip to the city would be complete without indulging in this piece of Venetian history. With residents no longer using gondolas as a primary means of transit and a 30-minute ride setting you back €80 (€100 if riding after 7 pm), why not break the mould and explore Venice and the lagoon by other means?

Take the traghetto
Much like the gondola in design, traghetti ferry people across the Grand Canal from three “stazi” (wooden boarding platforms) when there are no bridges nearby: S. M. Giglio, San Tomà, Santa Sofia. This is a form of transport that Venetians actually use, running from around 7.30am to 7pm and though a standard ride is only a couple of minutes long, at just 2 euros (for visitors to the city) it’s a cheap and fun way to zip across the Grand Canal. Standing on board the traghetto with two skilled gondolieri powering the boat, you’ll get a real taste of what it’s like to live in a city constructed on waterways. Our docent Monica Vidoni sometimes takes clients across the Grand Canal on the Rialto – Santa Sofia traghetto, which connects the Rialto marketplace to the busy street of Strada Nova in Cannaregio. She told us that “clients are often struck by two things: the repartee between the two gondoliers as they ferry clients back and forth, and the variety of Venetians who clamber into and out of the boats: workers hauling their wares, mothers with baby buggies, locals with their dogs. Furthermore, the view as one crosses the Grand Canal, the sight of those magnificent palazzi seen from the water, is without peer”.
6921360792_364385d885_zExplore the maze-like calle (streets) by foot
Venice may be a city of canals but there are plenty of hidden passageways to explore. Passing under sottoporteghi (covered walkways) and weaving your through narrow streets that open up onto picturesque campi (squares) and delicate bridges, you’ll stumble across parts of this historic city that are well hidden from the Grand Canal and other wider waterways. Our docent Cynthia Johnson thoroughly encourages this kind of exploration. Get off the beaten-path by exploring the calle in the less-touristy neighborhoods ofCannaregio, San Polo and Santa Croce.  You never know what you might find around the next corner – a Venetian artisan still plying a hundreds-year old craft, or even the perfect cup of coffee!”
Getting comfortable with Venice’s labyrinth-like layout is often something that takes center stage during our Welcome to Venice walk. And while getting oriented is key, that’s not the only significant detail about Venice’s streets. Monica Vidoni let us know that “The very names of the streets and bridges are interesting, as virtually each one tells you something about the history of that particular space, like Calle dei Morti (Street of the Dead), which was a burial site, or Ponte dell’Anatomia (Anatomy Bridge), which is next to a formal anatomical theater used in the 17th century for dissections”.
© Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
You may be surprised to know that bikes are not completely alien to this city of water. Though you are not allowed to cycle in the center of the city, it’s a great way to experience the Lido and some of the nearby islands. If you decide that you’d like to go for a ride on the Lido, you can rent a bike from Venice Bike Rentalon Gran viale S.Maria Elisabetta,79a. If you’re staying in Venice for more than a couple of days, you could even rent a bike on the island of Sant’Erasmo from the B&B Lato Azzurro and explore the island known as the “vegetable garden of Venice”. It takes about 30 minutes to get there on the number 13 from Venezia-Fondamente Nuove but this is as much of a countryside experience as you’ll get in Venice. And as Monica told us, “a day on Sant’Erasmo will reveal life in the Venetian lagoon as it was some 600 years ago!”


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Please note: it includes only those hotels where Family Travel Concierge clients stayed recently.

1. Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos

This laid-back luxury resort gets a lot of press as a favored retreat of celebrities -- the place where Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner married and Bruce Willis maintains a home. It comes by its good press not from the movie stars it coddles but because its high service standards are impeccably and rigorously maintained.
Can’t say enough about the high level of service in this resort. Every minute of every detail is thought of. Our clients traveled quite a bit (many Caribbean islands, Cruises, Europe and more) and by far, this is top of the line. As an example, they ordered hard boiled eggs for breakfast for our two year old son, when they were brought out, he touched them and the waiter saw that they were a bit hot. He ran to the rescue, said he will take the eggs back, cool them and peel them. This is one of many examples of true service. Ran out of cash, no problem, and call front desk – they will advance it against your credit card. Checking into the flight, email the boarding passes to concierge they will print them for you. Don’t feel like walking to breakfast, call up the lobby, they’ll pick you up on a golf cart. If you call room service once, they know your preferences and what you ordered the day before.

2. Casa Dell’Arte, Bodrum Turkey

This hotel was started by a Turkish family from Bodrum, who were the original owners of the villa that is now rented out to the hotel guests. At the current moment Casa Dell’Arte is home to more than €40,000,000 of artwork. However art is not the only unique feature of this hotel.  Service is what counts and the team is extremely sincere and attentive. Clients feel very spoiled :)

3. Myconian Ambassador Hotel & Thalasso Spa Center, Mykonos, Greece

Overlooking famous Platis Yalos this five star boutique hotel is one of the best luxury hotels in Mykonos.It is dedicated to providing a celebration of the senses. Top class services and luxury options include a thalassotherapy center and a highly acclaimed gourmet restaurant with an amazing wine list.

4. Residenza Ca'Foscolo, Venice, Italy

Prestigious dwelling of the noble Foscolo family, one of the most ancient Venetian dynasties and founders of the Most Serene Republic, this newly restored residence opens its doors to guests in its new role of upscale apartment-hotel. The residence offers high quality service, and our staff, attentive and professional, will be at your disposal for useful information and suggestions for your stay in Venice.

5. Bucuti and Tara, Aruba

Bucuti and Tara is located on Eagle Beach, which is so opposite to commercialized Palm Beach with its high rises and bodies of people laying everywhere. The whole staff is working hard to satisfy every need of each client. Especially I would like to recognize concierge team. They go above and beyond to ensure that every client's request is satisfied. It does not really matter whether you need restaurant reservation, car rental, tour, wheelchair, or anything else your vacation will be truly worry free with help of this wonderful team.

Owner's Cottage at Matakauri, New Zealand

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This must be the ultimate New Zealand escape, in a spectacular location overlooking Lake Wakatipu, just minutes from South Island's adventure capital, Queenstown.

The Owner’s Cottage is superbly positioned to offer uninterrupted lake and mountain views and will boast a spacious main lounge, study, kitchen and dining room. Four generous bedrooms with all of the amenities one could wish for - fireplaces, large bathrooms with views from the bathtubs Matakauri is now famous for, walk-in closets, in-room bars and private balconies overlooking the magnificent Lake Wakatipu complete the stylish cottage.

It is the third in Julian Robertson's portfolio, which also includes The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs and The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, is ideal for families or groups of friends.

Acclaimed Auckland interior designer Virginia Fisher has lavished her unique style throughout. It's the little things that give her designs such a sense of place: a silver rabbit rug, reindeer skins, and blankets made by the artisans who created costumes for The Lord of the Rings.

You can absorb the cinematic views from the hot tub on the front balcony, while the adjacent lakeside terrace is the spot for sundowners; help yourself from the bar or cellar. Don't feel like dressing up for dinner at the lodge? No problem, there's a barbecue and kitchen, and the chef can come to you.

6 things to do with you kids in Israel

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Book your vacation through Family Travel Concierge or 860-830-40091. The Night Spectacular Show at the Tower of David

Recurring multiple times throughout the week, the Night Spectacular is a 45-minute light-and-sound display using the walls beneath the Tower of David as a backdrop, but a simple written description doesn't really do the concept justice. It's hard to fully conceive of what a titanic expanse of age-old monolithic city wall looks like when used as backdrop for the movies until you've seen it done. The moving images, sent from 20 projectors and two projection rooms, tell a wordless, politically neutral pictorial tale of the history of Jerusalem from the time of the Israelite kings down almost to the present day, treating viewers to dramatically larger-than-life reenactments of the deeds of David, the Romans, the monks, Muhammad, the Crusaders, Suleiman the Magnificent and the rest of the historical family.

2. Masada
At the beginning of the first century Romans destroyed Jerusalem and Jews fled the city. About 1,000 made their way to this fortress. Part of the fortress ruins are the enormous storage houses built by the Roman-appointed King Herod, so perhaps the people came in search of food. Almost all the 1,000 committed suicide rather than subject themselves to the thousands of Romans laying siege to the mountain.  You can still see 2,000 year old fresco art on the mountain, remnants of the splendor of King Herod’s castle, his Roman baths with its raised floor, and ruins of the synagogue the Jews erected here in this stronghold.                               
But this is a place of current importance, not just history: Israel's Armored Corps recruits come here to swear their oath of allegiance: "Masada Shall Not Fall Again."                             
The Way Up – To reach Masada, choose the cable car, the Roman ramp or, for the more athletic, "the Snake Path." At the top, while the Roman storage silos are empty, the snack bars and restaurant provide for quick snacks or a lingering lunch while you take in the grand views.    

3. Admire exotic birds

The Hula Nature Reserve is a swamp reserve ideal for bird watchers since it’s a stop for many migrating species. It is located near the village of Yesud Hama’ala, the valley that sits between Lebanon and Syria. Equip your kids with binoculars, bird calls, and cameras, or even sketch books and colored pencils to make them feel like true naturalists.  The waterslides at the Hurshat Tal National Park are among the highest in the country. Plus, the park is a wonderful place to fish, camp, and swim, too.   

4. Ein Yael

Ein Yael is situated the Emek Refaim valley in the heart of nature on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The site includes ancient terraces, a spring, gardens and agricultural areas, and a reconstructed Roman street with shops and workshops. Ein Yael is also home to various archaeological remains such as a Roman villa and bathhouses, as well as impressive mosaics. Each of these areas come to life through a variety of workshops and activities that focus on ancient crafts and agricultural practices.  Activities at Ein Yael include weaving, pottery, paper production, mosaic making, fresco painting, scented oil production, construction, paper and ink production , basket making , musical instruments, and more. During specific times of the year and depending on the agricultural season, Ein Yael operates an olive press to make oil, a wine press to make grape juice, and a granary to thresh wheat. Workshops enable participants to experience the process of creating tools, objects and food that have been used since ancient times.  The Ein Yael Active Museum is a remarkable location, offering a unique combination of nature and encounters with ancient lifestyles in Israel. The site seeks to give children an experience that is not available in today’s modern world; one that connects them to nature through hands-on sensory experiences.

5. Ein Gedi

Ein Gedi is an oasis in the desert and a green Garden of Eden in the wilderness. It is situated on the shore of the Dead Sea – the lowest place on Earth - at the feet of majestic mountains and cliffs.  One of the most exciting places in Israel, Ein Gedi combines a wild, natural setting with a primeval panorama, history and archaeology, tourist attractions, and spas. Its unique climate and atmosphere make it a place for a unique desert adventure.   Ein Gedi contains the historical and archaeological remains of its first inhabitants, who discovered the magic of the place more than 5,000 years ago it has also served as a landmark in the history of the Jewish people throughout history. David took refuge in Ein Gedi when he was pursued by King Saul, and rebels fled there from Jerusalem. Valuable persimmon oil and rare perfumes were produced there, and temples and synagogues were established here to strengthen the Jewish stronghold in the area.
recommended activities in the area include jeep excursions and safaris through the desert, tours of Massada, and the Qumran caves.

6. Jordan River rafting

Kayaking or rafting on the upper Jordan River? Okay, it’s not the Snake or the Colorado. Its rating is probably a one-double-minus as whitewater goes; but it’s still a raft-full of fun, as you coast in and out of shady spots on a hot summer day.
Jordan River Rafting is a tourist complex where anyone can take part in water sports and tourism. All events take place along the 12 miles of the Jordan River with turbulent water and falls. The rafting complex is located near the Golan Heights, right by Kibbutz Gadot. Jordan River Rafting offers an assortment of recreational events for families and tourists including kayaking, extreme rafting, jeep trips along the side of the river, omega, and there is even an area for paintball along the river. While on the river, visitors will notice fig and eucalyptus trees, as well as picturesque sites, such as a Crusader fortress, canyon cliffs, and beautiful flora and fauna. It is the perfect rafting experience for anyone visiting Israel.

Monday, July 14, 2014

9 things to do with your kids in Prague

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1. Vytopna Restaurant 

It is located at Wenceslas Square offers good food and drinks at good prices. But its unique attraction is a 400m miniature railway. This runs around the whole restaurant, and even onto the tables you sit at.
Vytopna Railway Restaurant Wenceslas Square 56, New Town, Prague 1 Czech Republic

2. River cruises

Many of the famous sights in Prague border the river, so our river cruises are always popular with families.  While the river cruises we list are the best river trips in Prague, they are none-the-less fairly informal. The food is buffet style, which makes both the lunch cruise and the dinner cruise ideal for families with children - everyone should find something to their taste.  The boats have both inside and outside seating too, so there is space to move around. And make sure you go up on deck when we sail under Charles Bridge

3. Funicular Railway and Petrin Observation Tower

The Funicular Railway runs from the Lesser Town up to the top of Petrin Hill. On the side of the hill is a park and wooded area. At its summit, set in landscaped gardens, is the Petrin Observation Tower which you can climb, and a hall of mirrors, an observatory, a church and a rose garden to explore.  The ride on the funicular is an excursion in itself, but add in the nature, the views and the attractions of Petrin and it makes for a good trip as much in the summer sunshine as in the winter snow.

4.  Prague Towers

What is a city without towers! In addition to the Petrin Observation Tower, Prague has many towers to climb. These are no ordinary towers though. The architecture will inspire any young adventurer - the Gothic towers in particular belong in a Disney movie!  The best towers are the Great South Tower at St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle, which presents climbers with views over all of Prague, and the Old Town Hall Tower which looks over the Old Town - Prague Towers.

5.  Changing of the Guard at Prague Castle

After climbing the tower at St. Vitus Cathedral, head for the front gates of the Prague Castle complex to watch the Changing of the Guard.  The ceremony takes place every hour from 07:00-20:00 in the summer, 07:00-18:00 in the winter.  The ceremony at noon includes a fanfare and banner exchange, so this is the one to go for if you can.

6. Franciscan Garden and Children's Playground

Franciscan Garden (Františkánská zahrada) is a peaceful garden and playground near Wenceslas Square.  It was once the private garden of the Church of Our Lady of the Snows, and dates from before the New Town was laid out in the 14th century.  Pathways lead through the gardens, which are landscaped with hedges, rose bushes and flowers. And park benches offer a place to relax and enjoy the serenity, or to eat a sandwich or ice-cream.  A children's playground is situated at one end of Franciscan Garden. Designed for children up to 12 years, the modern equipment includes a climbing frame, swing, see-saw, roundabout, slide and a large sandpit.  Open: 07:00-22:00 in summer, 08:00-19:00 in winter. Directions: from Wenceslas Square walk through the shopping passage 'Palac U Styblu', between Julis Hotel and Vodičkova street. Another entrance is at Jungmannovo Square (Jungmannovo náměstí).

7. Other playgrounds

At one end of Charles Bridge, in the Lesser Town, there is a playground next to Kampa Park Restaurant. Open: 08:00-19:00 in summer, 08:00-17:00 in winter.
Directions: if you cross Charles Bridge from the Old Town over to the Lesser Town, the playground is visible on your right. As soon as you cross the water take the first steps down on your left. Turn right, go under Charles Bridge, then immediately right again. 

Back in the New Town, another playground is in the park opposite the Main Train Station (Hlavni Nadrazi). It has a slides, swings, climbing towers, sandpits and a zip line. Open: 08:00-20:00. Address: corner of Opletalova and Bolzanova streets.        

Two other playgrounds are worth mentioning: one near the base of the Funicular Railway at the bottom of Petrin Hill; the other is on Slavonic Island next to Zofin Palace & Garden Restaurant, near the National Theatre.  All five playgrounds have modern equipment with thick rubber mats around the play areas, and they are well maintained, are open to the public, and are free to enter.

8. Botanicus Village

A short drive out of Prague transports you back in time to a recreated Medieval village. Here you can partake in making traditional crafts and goods and picnic in the large commercial gardens filled with organic plants and herbs. The village runs regular events for families throughout the warmer months.
You can see the actual raw products being grown and most interestingly visit a recreated Medieval Village complete with craftspeople in traditional dress selling goods and demonstrating medieval trades such as candle, soap, paper, basket, pottery and rope making.

9. Toys museum

Situated in the Old Count’s Chambers of Prague Castle, in the vicinity of the Golden Lane, the Prague Toy Museum is said to be the second largest museum of this kind in the world.  The Toy Museum In the seven exhibition rooms, that takes up not less than two floors are collected toys from all over the world, starting from Greek ancient times and ending with most modern Barbie exemplars.
Jirská 4, Prague 1 (in the Prague Castle premises)     Phone: +420 243 722 94 / +420 243 711 11

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Italian adventure

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Today we received this great review from our client who just returned from the trip to Italy that we helped to arrange. Their family of 2 adults and 3 girls (8, 11, 15) spent almost two weeks visiting Milan, Bologna, Florence, Venice, Rome and some other great places.

We really had great time and we were very busy. And here is our review of all tours, services, etc.

Milan apartment was perfect (See here It is in 5 min walking distance from metro station P-ta Venezia, which is just 3 train stops away from Duomo and 4 stops from Central train station. The apartment was 5 min away from a mid-size supremarket where we could buy everything we needed. 
Also, there are many restaurants in close proximity. Easily the best sea food restaurant I've ever been to just literally 2 buildings away from the apartment; called La Risacca 2 ( A very nice small cafe is just downstairs - we liked it very much. 
The apartment itself was perfect for us - enough room and very clean. Also, lots of small balconies (I think 5). One problem was that it had no AC but with all balcony doors opened it was not as bad as you might think based on our Connecticut summer experience. They also have fans in every room. Barbara was very helpful. And we had stuff for breakfast in the refrigerator when we checked in!

Natalia (tour guide we arranged for our clients in Milan) was very knowledgeable and had flexible schedule. She was our guide for Bergamo - Verona tour and Milan Fashion tour. She speaks Russian, of course, and English but we had our tours in Russian. She knows the subject very well. 
Bergamo is highly recommended and is very good for one day trip. Natalia had lots of interesting information about its history.
Verona was crowded with tourists but is very interesting and had unexpectedly large area of old historical city. Highly recommended. Their ancient amphitheater is big and in much better condition than Colosseum.
Milan Fashion tour was mostly about high fashion designers and all gossips and rumors about all these celebrities. I didn't go but my girls were not very happy. I think they expected more information about fashion design but looks like Natalia kept close to the subject of the tour.

Bologna hotel UNA was unexpectedly one of the best I've ever been to. Extremely clean, with good condition and room design, very good breakfast, and very very helpful staff. I am glad we listened to you and booked this hotel. It is also right across the street from Bologna Central station. The only downside is that it is 15 - 20 min walk from the most important sites of Bologna and kids were getting tired quickly from walking on hot days. On the other hand, there are many restaurants that are close to the hotel but not in tourist locations. Many very good restaurants are for locals - no one speaks English :) I can't even recommend any one specific because they all were very good. If you are interested in them I can dig the names out. Some famous restaurants in the center of Bologna require reservation few days ahead. We could never plan that far for dinner time so we didn't go there.
Bologna itself was also surprisingly more interesting than I expected. 

Florence day overall for us was the only "failure" - crazy tourist crowds unlike any other place we've been to, very hot day, long lines for anything at all. We couldn't even make it to Uffizi even though we paid for ticket reservation online. We understood that Florence time has to be meticulously scheduled long ahead to be successful - something for the next time.

Ravenna. We didn't plan for any tours in Ravenna and we were right. It is small enough to handle on your own. Ravenna day was probably one of the best. This is "untouristy" town (which in Italy means less tourists than usual) and very charming and friendly. It has many places connected to early Italian history and Byzantium. It is close to Adriatic shore and beaches (we didn't go because we were not prepared for it). I think it could have been a very good "base" town for us.

We also didn't book any tours in Venice. Based on what happened in Florence we prepared much better and day was not as hot. As the result everyone loved it. We used Rick Steves book to navigate and make decisions and it was enough for 8 hour day trip. We also made it to Murano glass store that Rick Steves recommended and it was a huge success too.

Thank you for the last minute Rome tour with Context Travel! It was very expensive (!) but it was worth it. Our docent was unbelievably knowledgeable and my daughters were almost "mesmerized" by her. I have never seen them so much involved in any "lecturing" :) One of them now decided to become an archaeologist :) Unfortunately, it was just 3 hrs long... And, by the way, no one paid attention to the extreme heat that day!

Swiss Alps train tour was great. I ran out of adjectives to use here so I will just say that the rail road is the only one in UNESCO World Heritage list. 

Just in case you are interested in how train rides in Italy worked for us. We used Italian train system extensively and spent a lot of money on that :)). Our main lessons learned: for 5 people including kids it is necessary to buy tickets online at It can be done any time. The receipt must be printed out, for which we were helped by the hotel staff. The main reason for us to use online system was that it was impossible to choose assigned seats at the station ticket machines. And their computer program is not good at finding seats next to each other. Our kids were extremely against sitting separately next to strangers. Online program allows you to choose your seats. But if you don't care about seating arrangements you can buy tickets any time at the station.
Trains are rarely sold out but it happens sometimes. Also, fast trains Standard class cars get sold out first and they are much cheaper. First class cars advantages are very insignificant (like you can order coffee at your seat).

I believe I covered everything. 

I want to take an opportunity and thank you for all your hard work to find us all these places and tours and for checking out all of them. I am sure that much of the enjoyment we had in Italy were based on your attention to everything.