Summer 2018 Part 1 -Landings in Lucerne

IMG_1132

Dipping our toes in Lake Lucerne

We made so many memories last summer in Europe, we decided to do it again this year.  Well, really the airline’s revenue management team decided for us by releasing a bunch of bookable business class seats between Philadelphia and Zurich.  There were enough that we could get two award and one upgraded economy ticket round trip.

The seating for the flight was the ‘new’ cabin on American Air’s 767.  It’s not the biggest plane, or the layout with the most personal space, but it was ideal for flying with a toddler.  Even during takeoff and landing, you could easily reach over and give her toys, snacks, etc.

IMG_4098

We decided for the long flights to take and use our travel car seat.  If you’re going to do this on a premium cabin, make sure to check ahead.  Some of these seats don’t accommodate it well, and may have airbags in the seatbelts making it unsafe.  This configuration, however, was fine.

Baby Flyer had a great flight!  She loved getting special treats- like refills on her orange juice, and her own ice cream after dinner.  The flight crew was great, and got her a special pasta from economy that was more kid-friendly, but even dressed it up and put it  on a business class plate.  Admittedly, we didn’t sleep much, but she got in a few hours, and was in a good mood on arrival.

IMG_2253 - Copy

Good to Go! 

Since we landed there by default, we took a couple nights in Switzerland to shake off the jetlag.  We decided on Lucerne, and we booked an Airbnb in town, close to the train from the Zurich airport.  This stop was all about kicking some jetlag, seeing the city, and enjoying the lake views.

It’s generally a good idea when flying east to Europe to not make too many ambitious plans in your first city.  Honestly, this is a good idea on any trip with little kids.

To get there from Zurich, you can buy tickets on a nonstop train at the airport station (Zurich Flughafen) or buy them in advance online.  Pro tip- if you book in advance, you may be able to get ‘super-saver’ tickets online through the website.  You can only see if they’re available once you put in your desired day and destination, and then the option will be shown if it’s possible.  It’s a big savings- basically half off!  The only twist is that they’re not flex tickets, so you need to plan in some time in case your flight is late.

We made our train, and after about a 50 minute ride through fields and mountains, arrived at the central station in Lucerne.  Here’s where we’ll just say… it was hot.  Europe was in the middle of a historical heat wave nearly our entire trip.  We’re not totally unused to the heat, living in Los Angeles, but I don’t think it’s what we expected months earlier when booking the tickets.  Luckily, we’d gotten organized, paring down luggage, and finding ways to get everything more portable.

Our Airbnb was about 15 minutes’ walk from the train, and was a perfect set up.  It was probably one of the most professionally run properties we’ve stayed at.  Everything was clean (down to the swiss chocolates on the pillows) and modern, and the host met us promptly.  There was a book full of things to do, local restaurants, and detailed instructions about all the appliances in the apartment.

IMG_2237

IMG_2244

The Balcony of our Airbnb

They even had an oversized pack n’ play crib and a high chair for us!  Even better, there were fans in every room.  This was a minority amenity, which we would learn the hard way later in the trip.

IMG_2236

As advertised, Lucerne and the surrounding area are beautiful!  It’s also safe feeling and clean.  I don’t know that I’d test it out, but the locals claim you can drink the lake water.  In any case, it’s a beautiful clear blue, and surrounded by city and mountains.

IMG_1160

One of the best ways to see the area is to take one of the many cruises or ferries that travel the lake.  There are plenty of ticketing and tour options, but we went to the source and booked from the source.  Be sure to look at their sale/deals if you can book ahead.  We found there were significant savings for our “Panorama Yacht” tickets.

IMG_1161

After the boat, we walked through part of the old town, and made sure to cross the Chapel bridge, which is arguably the most photographed part of the city.  It did not disappoint.

IMG_1281

Afterward, we went to Rossini, which was a great recomendation from our hosts, and it was amazing!  Hand-made pasta, and generous portions of everything.  They were great and flexible with the menu as well.

IMG_2242

Rossini – handmade pasta!

One benefit of the heat wave, was that the lake was much warmer than average.  Our host let us know where the best public beach for families was, and we grabbed our bathing suits and headed over.  It was a perfect way to cool off after exploring the city!  Cool, but not cold, and remarkably clean and calm for a large lake boardered by a city.

IMG_1292 (2)

For our second night, we had dinner at Made in Sud, courtesy of great online reviews.  The thing about yelp, Trip Advisor, and the like, is that you have to keep in mind that people review based on the price point.  No place is this more pronounced than in Switzerland, where the savvy traveler is always looking for quality for a good deal.

Made In Sud is a perfect example.  I have to say right off that the food and service were great, especially for the entirely reasonable price point.  The owner and servers made us feel welcome, and were great with kids.  However, if you’re looking for super high-end ambiance, there are plenty of other places you could find in Lucerne.  However, I doubt you’d want to chase small children around them, and you’d probably pay at least double for the privilege.  As an added bonus, there’s a small playground right around the corner from the restaurant for any little folks who get restless waiting for the check.

Too soon, we were headed back to the Zurich airport to catch our flight onwards.  Even in a heat wave, we had a fun time checking Lucerne out, and I’d definitely keep it on the “to re-visit” list for the future.

Up next – An economy flight to be jealous of & three nights in Prague.

~CET

Summer in Scandinavia Part 6- Hygge With a Chance of Downpour, Part 1

IMG_8298

A lovely break from exploring Copenhagen

The trip so far:

Preview

Part 1- Gear Up and Go!

Part 2- Well Connected

Part 3- This Is The Way We Board The Plane

Part 4- Hello, Helsinki!

Part 5- Old Town, New Adventures

It’s always a thrilling experience to arrive and feel at home someplace 5,000 miles from home.  It’s one reason that returning to the same place years later, even with other destinations on offer, can be worth doing.  It’s even more pronounced when you return, with a baby for the first time.

Almost exactly 4 years earlier, we traveled to Europe for the first time together as a couple, and Copenhagen was one of the first stops.  Last time around we stayed a block from Tivoli Gardens in the Radisson Blu.  It’s located right in the business/tourist district.  We rented bikes from a shop around the corner, and toured the city (somewhat aimlessly, but with a plan).

IMG_0246

Nyhavn- Probably the most iconic shot of Denmark.  All roads lead here eventually…

The weather was unseasonably warm, and we enjoyed taking our (admittedly well worn, budget priced) bikes on the train to Dyrehaven, frequenting a quaint wine bar with friendly service, and staying out late (ish) to have ice cream sitting on the edge of the Nyhavn canal as the nightlife spilled out onto the streets around us from nearby bars and restaurants.

IMG_0274

Copenhagen is (price point aside) a thoroughly livable city, which is what we liked about it.  It has plenty of attractions, architecture, and culture all fit into a manageable footprint.  There’s no high-rise skyline- few buildings are over 15 or 20 stories at most, and these are the exception to the rule.  The old parts of the city are well preserved, while the new structures are clean-cut, and modern to the point of being a Scandi version of avant-garde.

IMG_0290

Rosenborg Slot

Everything is accessible by bike or train, and with the possible exception of unexpectedly wandering into Freetown Christiana, easy to navigate without ever really feeling lost.  This is also the reason, along with the family-friendly culture, that we decided to give it a repeat visit, now as parents.

IMG_0249

So, back to the current trip report!  We took the short flight direct from Helsinki on Finnair.  Through our Oneworld status, we had access to the Schengen area lounge.  It’s nice and ultra-modern, with plenty of food and drinks for free.  We grabbed a few seats, and Baby Flyer thoroughly enjoyed going up and down the few steps nearby.  In fact, she managed them by herself for the first time!  It’s the little memories….

IMG_8062

It doesn’t get more Finnish than this.

IMG_8065

Mmmm….. Buffet with a view!  I should also strongly point out the plugs in the background.  Yes, you need to bring power adapters!  Everywhere, especially in Airbnbs!  We have two of the Targus Universal Adapters, and they’ve served us well.  Keep in mind that one may not be enough, depending on how many things you need to plug in at any give time.

IMG_8059

There was a small kids’ area in a corner, but it was smaller than one might expect for a lounge of this size, but a nice thought anyway.  Baby Flyer was having too much fun hanging out with us to play in it anyway.

IMG_8066

Kids’ corner.

Our flight went by quickly, and the service was good.  As Oneworld elites, we could check bags for free, pre-select our seats, and were served free drinks even though we had purchased the lowest level fare.  One more reason to pay attention to who you fly, even for short hops abroad.  What looks like a cheaper fare with a competitor can come with some hefty fees you’re not used to having to think about.

All that fun in the lounge finally tired Baby Flyer out, and she spent the trip taking her nap.  Quite unlike her, the nap even continued through deplaning, and all the way to baggage.

IMG_8074

She knows how to wait patiently for checked baggage…

Our next destination was our Airbnb townhome on Oster Farimagsgade, in the city center, near the botanical gardens and lakes.  We bought tickets for the Metro, headed for the Norreport station, but ended up on the regular train by mistake.  As it turned out, all ended well, and this train was headed for that station also.  Thankfully, no one checked our tickets!  For the return trip, we had it sorted out.  Both the trains and the metro here are good options to get to town, depending on your final destination.  The main difference at the outset is that the metro doesn’t go through the central station, stopping at Christenhavn and Kongens Nytorv instead.

IMG_8163

Welcome home!

Our Airbnb was wonderful, quirky, and homey- everything you want in a stay in Denmark, right down to the little Danish flags everywhere.  This is standard, the Danes put their flag on everything!  Might have something to do with it being the oldest one still in use…. might be a viking thing, who knows.

CPGBNB1

Sorry, no you can’t have your place back. We live here now.

The place was two stories, with a terrace and loft on the top floor.  It was modern but cozy, and fully furnished.  As per usual, the thing that took the most adjusting to for us Americans was the bathroom, as the shower water just drained right from the tile floor, and would flood much of the space if it ran long enough.  But once again, this is par for the course in many of the old buildings in this area.  We (mostly) got used to it.  Plus, it would be far from the last water-related incident we learned to deal with on this trip.

More to come….grab your umbrella…

~CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

 

Summer In Scandinavia Part 5- Old Town, New Adventures

IMG_7898

The trip so far:

Preview- Summer in Scandinavia

Part 1- Gear Up and Go!

Part 2- Well Connected

Part 3- This is the Way We Board the Plane (Board the Plane)

Part 4- Hello, Helsinki

Happy 2018!  When last we ‘spoke’ about this trip, we were packing it up to leave Helsinki, and head to Tallinn.  To do this, we hopped the number 9 tram down to the ferry terminal.  It stops right where you need it to- across from the large and rather impressive ferry/cruise building.  The terminal itself is even an attraction, with great views, as well as food and drink.

IMG_7882

Go home, Helsinki, you’re backwards.

They tell you to get there a bit early, and they really do board and leave promptly, so it’s a good idea to give yourself some time so there’s no rush.  Plus, it gives you a chance to take in the sea, and maybe a treat.

Ferry Terminal Eckero Line Helsinki

Bon Voyage!

The ferry is the best way to cross over to Estonia, and takes cars as well as passengers.  We booked the Eckero Line with Direct Ferries, and it really is more of a small cruise ship than what we’d think of as a ‘ferry,’ complete with several bars, a cafeteria, concerts on board, and several decks of small private cabins.  This is more than enough for the just over 2 hour crossing.  There are several companies that make the crossing, so there’s some flexibility in the schedule.

IMG_7886

All aboard!

We elected to get a 4 person cabin each way for just a bit more than the basic ticket (around $40), and with a baby it was totally worth it.  The space was too small to really be comfortable for all the adults to be in at once, but Baby Flyer napped both ways and we took turns hanging out with her and relaxing with a snack and a ‘Long Drink‘ up on deck.

IMG_8051

Sleeping away the crossing.

On arrival in Tallinn, we checked into our next Airbnb, which was a 2 bedroom flat inside of the ‘Old Town.’  Old town, once the partially-walled medieval city, is now the hub of tourist activity and also of restaurants, shopping, and nightlife.  Our flat was on the edge of the Old Town, which was a good thing since this meant it was quiet at night.

IMG_7899

Our Airbnb host even left a crib for us, even though we brought our own.  If you travel with infants, be sure to see what baby/kid amenities are available if you decide to go with Airbnb/HomeAway/etc. properties.

Old Town is actually only a 15-20 minute walk from the ferry terminal.  If the weather’s good, and you don’t have a ton of bags, it’s entirely reasonable not to try and get a cab for the short drive.

IMG_7952

Estonia welcomes you!!

This part of Tallinn is all historic courtyards, narrow streets, and cobblestones.  It’s buzzing with pedestrians taking in the architecture in the day, and people out enjoying the cheap(er) food and drinks until late at night.  It’s common for the ferries to fill up with Finns on weekends headed out for some fun at a fraction of the prices of ‘true’ Scandinavia.

IMG_7906

View of Old Town from our top floor Airbnb.

IMG_7926

The old architecture has been beautifully preserved, yet the city is modern through and through.  The Old Town is divided into ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ areas, upper once upon a time having been home to the fortified castle and grounds, and the lower the sprawling town connecting it to the port.

IMG_7944

Heading up the hill from the lower part of town to the upper.

Though the streets are winding, it’s hard to get lost here for too long simply because it’s not a large area.  Eventually, you come back to where you started.

IMG_7951

Now….for the family travel review of this part of the trip-  First off, cobblestones are not pleasant with just about any stroller, and definitely not the smaller-wheeled travel models, our Citi Mini Zip included.  This was a place we were really wishing we’d brought her Ergo Baby carrier, especially because of the daytime crowds.

IMG_7977

A walk through the Torniade Valjak park, just outside the walls.

Still, we had some nice exploring time, and there’s plenty of green space within and just outside of the Old Town to let kids run around and play.

One thing we will say though, this was our favorite city of the trip for food!  It was easier to find and more relaxed than in Helsinki, and much much cheaper than in Copenhagen.  The service was family friendly, and everyone could find something they wanted.  Even picky Baby Flyer tried some new food and flavors.

IMG_7914

Quinoa and goat cheese with beets.  She hasn’t eaten this healthy before or since…

As simple as it is, I think some of our fondest memories of the city were of the restaurants close to our Airbnb that we stumbled upon by chance.  The first, Must Puudel, was our choice for dinner (twice).  It’s a fun (if a bit hipster) bar and restaurant tucked away off the beaten path, that included a hidden garden patio behind.  The menu had fresh, innovative dishes and very reasonably priced drinks.

IMG_7908

Yes, there are pea sprouts on everything.  This will not be the last garnish we knowingly ate on this trip.

As well as the good vibe inside, the cobblestone street out front was quiet- the perfect setting to let a restless and newly walking Baby Flyer stretch her legs while the rest of the crew finished up eating.  What’s better, it’s Estonia, and no one cares if you take your wine glass with you on baby duty.

 

IMG_7915

Taking an after (during) dinner walk in her new ‘See Kai Run’ shoes.

As luck would have it, just around the corner, we found a little cafe called Kohvik August, that we fell in love with as well.  They made great coffee and mate lattes, and had fun lunch specials, including the Estonian version of Aperol spritzers, just for a treat.

IMG_7985

IMG_7990

Happy vacation!

While Old Town is fun, it turns out there’s more to Tallinn than that.  The next day we hopped the local transit to Kadriorg, an expansive park that includes both playgrounds and gardens, and the site of the historic palace grounds.

IMG_8014

The palace and the gardens really are beautiful in the summer.  The playground areas were decent, but not overwhelmingly modern or creative (just wait for the post on Copenhagen!!), and we’d had some rain in the morning so things were wet enough that Baby Flyer preferred to run around the other parts of the park instead.

IMG_7996

IMG_8034

Through the secret passage!  Baby Flyer’s outfit by Ittikid

The park was our last attraction before gathering up our things again, and heading back to the boat.  All in all, Tallinn was a pleasant surprise in many ways.  I didn’t do too much research on it this time around, but it really wasn’t needed.  You can easily hit the highlights of Old Town in 48 hours, enjoy some good food and drinks, and return to your Scandi holiday satisfied at the diversion.

~CET

IMG_7935

Baby Flyer’s rating of Tallinn: Good times, much enjoyment. Would recommend – 10 out of 10!

Next up- “God Rejse og Velkommen,” or “Hygge With a Chance of Downpour.”  (Denmark…the next stop is Denmark.)

Trip Preview: Summer in Scandinavia

IMG_0245

Nyhavn, Copenhagen.  No, we’re not staying at this floating hotel….but It looks nice, right?

We’re packing again!!  This Summer has already been busy, with trips to Mexico and Seattle, among others, but this next trip is the one that’s been on our calendar for almost a year now.  We’re getting brave, and taking Baby Flyer to Europe!  It’ll be a week and a half of Oneworld award flights, Scandinavian Airbnb rentals, and a few side jaunts here and there.

Our itinerary starts off with a 787 Dreamliner flight to ORD and two nights in Chicago, which we added because our tickets start there.  Since we love that city, we added some time so we’ll have a day there to take Baby Flyer back to Millennium Park.  From there, we head to Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia), and Copenhagen (Denmark).  The international part of the trip lasts 10 nights (plus one on the flight out), and includes plenty of planes, trains, but not really many automobiles.

Canal

The canal in Ruoholahti where we’re staying in Helsinki

This trip was inspired by Finnair opening up some award seats to Oneworld partners in business class for the summer.  Since premium mileage tickets are notoriously hard to find without big taxes and fees, we jumped on them and booked a round trip ticket from JFK to Helsinki in business class for some miles and about $60.  It will be Baby Flyer’s first long haul international flight, but hopefully having the extra space and lie-flat beds will make it reasonably comfortable.

Finnair Seat

How Finnair claims we’ll sleep** on their international flights.  **Baby not pictured

Once we get to Helsinki, we’ll have three days and nights to explore the city.  Given that this is a family trip, we’re planning baby friendly activities, and luckily, Scandinavia in general is overall safe and welcoming for family travelers.  Highlights we’re hoping to hit include the ‘Children’s’ Town’ museum- an interactive exhibit where everything is play-with-able for the little ones, and importantly, is indoors, making it a good rainy day option since we’re likely to get at least one of these this time of year.  We’re also hoping to take the boat out to Suomenlinna island, for a little outdoors time, hiking, and sightseeing.

tallinn-old-town-toompea

Tallinn’s Old Town

The next part of the trip is taking the Eckero Line ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia for two nights.  We’re staying in the ‘Old Town,’ which is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.  Our plans here mainly involve exploring the medieval town, food and shopping.  We may venture out to Kadriorg Park, which includes palace grounds, as well as gardens, and several museums, and checking out the KGB museum at the Hotel Viru.

Eckero Line

Eckero Line- M/s Finlandia

As for the ferry, we booked the Eckero Line through Direct Ferries.  It’s a 2 hour crossing on a ‘ferry’ that looks more like a small cruise ship, and we went all out (all extra $40 of it) to book a 4 birth cabin with our reservation.  It’s not really necessary, but since the crossing times just about hit Baby Flyer’s naptime, we thought we might find a little privacy nice.  It also means we’ll have a private bathroom as well.

Once we get back to Helsinki, we’ll be off to the airport once again to catch a short flight on Finnair to Copenhagen.  We booked these tickets separately, and they were reasonably priced, so we didn’t use miles.  Technically, if we’d flown Norwegian, we could have saved a few dollars on the ticket price, but this was one of those lessons for people who don’t look hard enough at discount carriers.  Given that we’re Oneworld elites, we have free checked bags, and free advance seat assignments as long as we stay on partner airlines.  Had we flown on Norwegian, our ‘savings’ would quickly have been more than eaten up by the added charges.  Plus, because we’re flying Oneworld, we’ll have lounge access at Finnair’s comfortable and full service lounges before our flight.

We’ve been to Copenhagen before, and it’s stuck in our minds as one of the places we really wanted to get back to.  We’re spending four nights this time, and are looking forward to seeing the city as a family.  Copenhagen has plenty of kid-friendly places to visit and things to do.  It’s full of parks and playgrounds in the city center (Danish companies design the majority of new playground equipment around the world), and since everyone bikes, walks, and takes the train, it’s easy to get around.

IMG_0277

Central Copenhagen

This trip will be the test of our planning, and also of our Airbnb skills.  We’re staying in a suites hotel in Chicago, but once we cross the ocean, it’s all Airbnb all the time.  To start things off, our accommodation in Helsinki is a three bedroom flat in Ruoholahti.  It looks to be an easy walk to the city center, or a very short tram ride.  It will be nice to have the space to give Baby Flyer her own room, so she can go to bed before we do (hopefully!)

Renting an entire flat or house really makes traveling with babies more enjoyable over a traditional hotel.  Having the space, as well as a kitchen, and if you’re lucky, laundry goes a long way.  There are of course some draw backs as well.  If you haven’t seen the property before, there’s really no guarantees on what it will be like, aside from reviews.  Plus, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that’s really baby-proof, but the same goes for hotels in general.  If you’re lucky, you can generally find a reasonably priced rental as well, especially when compared to the pricey hotels in this part of the world.

IMG_0274

Deer Park (Dyrehaven).  One of my favorite pictures from our last trip there.

After our time in Copenhagen, we start the trek back home again.  We first have a flight back to Helsinki, then a couple of hours to enjoy the airport lounge and collect ourselves before flying Helsinki to JFK, and JFK back to Los Angeles.  That will make for a long day, but it gets us back home seamlessly, and I managed to find some award space in business class on American’s premium transcon plane, so we’ll have space for the three of us.

Wish us luck & happy summer travels to you all!!

-CET, CAR & Baby Flyer