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Travel: Luxembourg With Kids

Our quest while living in Ireland is to visit as many places in Europe as possible. If only those pesky things like budgets, school and work didn’t always get in the way. Am I right?

Over the holidays, while the kids were off from school, we had the opportunity to visit Barcelona, Luxembourg and Paris. I wrote about our experience in Barcelona here. I’ll write about Paris soon.

Luxembourg came about because we had a gap in our itinerary and we could easily reach it via train from Paris. Luxembourg is a country, but also a city. To distinguish between the two, Luxembourg City seems to be referenced when speaking of the municipality and not the country.

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We ended up staying two nights in Luxembourg City, but only had one real day for exploring with our kids, ages 7 and 10.

If you ask them, they will say Luxembourg was their FAVORITE place on our trip. Part of their reasoning is due to happenstance and good timing – two things we all wish for when traveling!


WHERE WE STAYED
Hotel Novotel Luxembourg Centre
Pros:
– Amazing breakfast. Waffles, eggs, potatoes, all the breads, cereals, meat, etc.
– Gift for kids at check-in. This time it was a stuffed animal! Huge hit. They also gave the adults socks! (And, no, this is not an ad for Novotel.)
– Foosball table in the lobby. Area with books and video games for kids to play.

Cons: No real deal breakers for us, but because I did a pro list…
– No swimming pool.
– View from our room wasn’t that great –  mainly of surrounding buildings.


GETTING TO LUXEMBOURG
While Luxembourg does have an airport, we took the train from Paris. It’s only a 2 hour trip on the high speed TGV France – Luxembourg train, which is run by SNCF.

This train regularly travels at 186mph (300 km/h). It’s fast. We prebooked our tickets, so we had actual seat numbers assigned to us. There are bathrooms on board. There’s a train car with a cafe. We did not have wifi on our train. Maybe it was a fluke or maybe in the future they will have it.

Here’s the beautiful ceiling at the Luxembourg train station…

Once we were in Luxembourg, we did not feel the need to use public transportation.

Relatively speaking, the city core is pretty small and quite walkable.


WHERE WE ATE
I know you’re probably going to ask me what local delicacy we enjoyed eating while in Luxembourg.

Well. About that.

We ate at a Mexican restaurant called Chi-Chi’s and it was packed! I wouldn’t quite call the food authentic, but it was good. Best meal yet, the kids said. They got ice cream with their kid’s meal. Of course it was the best!

A random thing happened in this restaurant. I went upstairs to use the restroom. When I opened the restroom door, the first thing I saw was a man changing a baby’s diaper. I had that instinctive “oh no I’ve walked into the wrong restroom” impulse and took a step backward. He said, “Oh sorry! I had to change the baby and this was the only changing table.” I just said, “no worries” and went about finding a stall to use. That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me!


WHAT WE DID
We didn’t have any set plans when we arrived in Luxembourg. This was a bonus stop on our trip and after a quick consultation with our travel guide, Google, we decided to set out on foot to explore the old part of Luxembourg.

Fortifications of the Old City of Luxembourg
Luxembourg was very clearly built – back in the day – to be a fortress. They used the natural landscape with the river and steep hills to their advantage.

The fortifications that still remain including 17 km of tunnels became an UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site in 1994. The tunnels are often referred to as the Bock Casemates.

The tunnel access was closed when we were there in late December, but we explored what we could above ground.


Impromptu Soccer (Football) Game
We walked down a steep hill from the casemates and along a paved path next to the Alzette River. As we were walking along, we found a soccer field/football pitch. (I couldn’t find a name for the field, but its coordinates are 49°36’49.7″N 6°08’04.3″E.)

Lo and behold, luck was on our side because someone had left a ball on the field. I’m not sure if that’s normal. It wouldn’t be in Ireland. We took advantage though and probably spent a good 45 minutes playing soccer as a family.

While I’d love for my kids to remember the cultural and historical experiences of our travels, what they will probably remember or enjoy the most are these spontaneous moments of family fun.

And how many 7-year-old Americans can say they’ve played soccer in Luxembourg? It’s a cool memory to have.


National Monument of the Solidarity
I wish the pictures of our day in Luxembourg were bright and cheery, but there was a snowstorm on the way. It was cold, grey and this eternal flame definitely caught our eye. The kids were hoping it would warm them up! Wishful thinking. 

National Monument of the Solidarity features an eternal flame. This flame and the surrounding memorial are a tribute to the lives lost in WWII. The memorial is also designed to remember the resistance of Luxembourg as it faced Nazi occupation.

Not a light-hearted topic, that’s for sure, but if your kids are learning about world history this is a great place for a conversation starter.


Tunnels, Stairs, Bridges, Elevators
Luxembourg definitely has that ‘fortress on the hill with the valley below’ vibe going on.

And the valley below is really far below.

Despite that, the city is completely walkable. There are pedestrian paths everywhere and it made exploring a lot of fun. Truly!

A tunnel through a tower-like structure? Of course we want to run walk through that!

My mention of the valley below is important because off in the distance we saw an elevator. Just an elevator. Outside. It was the most random thing and we HAD to check it out.

It turns out this elevator is not random. It is a completely intentional use of space. The award-winning Pfaffenthal Lift opened in 2016 and connects the “Pescatore” park located in the city center to the Pfaffenthal area at the bottom of the Alzette Valley. It can transport 300 pedestrians an hour.

Best of all, It’s free.

A tremendous amount of thought went into the design of this elevator. To learn more about it, here’s a great article from World Architecture.

It was wild to look down at the valley where we had just been walking and playing soccer. You can even see the train in the distance.


Villa Vauban – Art Museum
We were on the hunt for lunch and walking through a park when I spotted a sign for an art museum with FREE admission. Score!

Here’s a travel tip: The sign for a “free museum” is code for “clean bathroom.”

I didn’t know what our lunch situation was going to entail and everyone needed a restroom break. So, we popped into the Villa Vauban museum. I figured we’d get some culture, warm up from the cold, use the restroom.

Here’s where good timing and happenstance came into play. The very first thing we saw off the museum entrance was a room full of beanbags. Giant beanbags. And a disco ball throwing colorful lights all over the walls.

Best. Thing. Ever!

I did confirm the space was intended for the children to use – if they removed their shoes. We were the only ones there. The only ones! I sat on a bench while the kids played and read books. Handy Husband toured the museum. Everybody won in this scenario!

FYI – If you do visit the museum, you will need to check your backpack or other large bags in a locker. You’ll need a one euro coin to release the lock on the locker and you get your euro back when you’re finished.


Souvenir Shopping
To escape the cold on the way to lunch we also did a little souvenir shopping.

Kidding!

Just wanted to see if you were still with me.

There did look to be some very nice, very high-end shopping in Luxembourg if that’s the thing you enjoy doing with children in tow.

There is a shop at the Luxembourg Train Station that has some souvenir-type items, books, magazines, snacks, etc. Most of the reading materials were in French though.


SNOW!
The best thing happened in the afternoon. It started snowing! Legit snow!

My kids hadn’t seen snow in quite awhile and they were BEYOND ELATED.

If you’re 7 and 10 years old and have been wishing for snow and then it starts snowing while you’re on vacation, it’s pretty magical!


Did we enjoy our time in Luxembourg City? Yes!

Admittedly, a bit of luck and good timing was on our side during this quick visit.

While there are other museums and things to do in and out of the city, I don’t know that I’d plan a long trip with your family to this city. Start by seeing if there are things to fill up a day or two first and then go from there.

Happy Travels!


If you liked this Travel With Kids post, here are some others:

Travel: Barcelona With Kids

Travel: Belfast With Kids

Travel: Copenhagen, Denmark With Kids

Visiting Ireland: The Cliffs of Moher and Aran Island With Kids

A Day in Malmo, Sweden With Kids

Visiting Ireland: Galway With Kids

Visiting Ireland: Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle

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Travel: Barcelona With Kids

When you’re living though a cold, damp winter in Dublin, a quick getaway to Barcelona, Spain, in December is a real treat!

Actually, in my mind, a trip to Barcelona no matter the time is AMAZING.

This was our first time visiting Barcelona and we only had two days to explore the city. Before we left I did a little online research so I had an idea of what was available to do in the city and of interest to our family (our kids are 7 and 10).

When we landed in Barcelona on December 26, it felt like an Irish summer. I kid you not. The locals were bundled up in parkas, but my kids were like, “WE FOUND THE PROMISED LAND AND IT’S WARM!” In case you’re wondering what my kids call warm these days – high 50s Fahrenheit.

All the loose plans involving indoor attractions were scrapped. Instead, if there was a theme to this trip, it was let’s stay outside as long as possible! Even if the wind kicks up! And it did.


WHERE WE STAYED:
Novotel Barcelona City
Pros:
– Their breakfasts are super hearty and delicious (eggs, potatoes, meats, breads, cereals, fresh juice, fruit, etc.).
– Kids get a present at check-in. This time it was a lollipop and a Minions bracelet.
– Play area for the kids with toys and video games.
– This Novotel is located next to Glories Shopping Center with shops and restaurants and around the corner from a metro and tram station.

Cons:
– For all the stuff we ended up doing, we had to either walk or take the subway. Granted, the things we wanted to do were spread all over the city. It would have been nice to have been on the beach, but that’s just personal preference.

The View From Our Hotel:
We didn’t have a beach view, but we did have a view of Torre Glòries lit up at night!


WHERE WE ATE:
I honestly cannot tell you the names of any of the restaurants where we ate. They all ended up being hole-in-the-wall establishments that looked sketchy, but had amazing and inexpensive food.

We also stopped at a couple of grocery stores to buy apples, oranges, water and cookies. We always buy the cookies! You have to see what sweets everyone else is eating, right? Just nod and say, “yes.”

One night we ate sushi from a huge supermarket store – CarreFour. Honest to goodness, the food selection in that grocery store was amazing. If you buy loose fruit though (ones you bag yourself) make sure you weigh it before you take it to the checkout counter. Live and learn.

Oh, and because one of my children would rather starve than eat sushi, he got a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Don’t judge. Sometimes travel is all about survival. Plus, it’s sort of interesting to see what’s in a Happy Meal in various countries. In Spain you can get tomatoes instead of fries. That’s totally what my kids did!

HAHAHAHAHA! Not! Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.


TRAVEL CARD (BARCELONA CARD):
You can purchase a Barcelona Card that includes free admission to many attractions AND all your public transportation – even the train from the airport. Generally speaking, these type of tourist cards can save you a few bucks if you’re hitting a lot of attractions. It’s best to price things out before you purchase one though.

We ended up purchasing a Barcelona Exrpess Card (2 day), which gave us the transportation option and discounted (not free) admission to some attractions. While we did use a lot of trains and buses in two days, we didn’t end up using any of the discounts the card offers. I’m not sure if we came out ahead or not on that deal, but it was nice not to have to worry about train and bus tickets all the time.

If you do buy a Barcelona Card there is a small discount for purchasing it online in advance of your trip. You will receive a voucher that can be redeemed at various tourism offices for the card. It was slightly confusing/frustrating to find the tourism office at the airport. That’s because we didn’t deplane into Terminal 1 or 2, so we had to go on the search for the tourism office. Also, you are supposed to print out your voucher prior to redeeming it. However, enough people don’t do this in advance that the customer service agent handed us an email address where we forwarded our online voucher and he printed it out for us.


WHAT WE DID:
Beach

One of the first things we did was find the beach! Barcelona is located along the Balearic Sea, which is part of the Mediterranean Sea. The sand had a coarse texture and was a medium-brown, almost clay color. I’m not sure why, but I found that tidbit interesting.

No one was in the water when we were there, but plenty of people were hanging out on the beach or walking the boardwalk. There are restaurants, playgrounds, bathrooms and feet washing stations all along this area.


Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia is one of the most famous landmarks in Barcelona. The temple is famous for different reasons. First, its architect is the famed Antoni Gaudí. As a result, its design is definitely unique. Second, the temple has been under construction since 1882. That’s 135 years of construction – give or take some work stoppages here and there. According to the temple’s website, construction may be complete by the first third of the 21st century. So by 2033. Maybe?

If you’ve read Dan Brown’s latest book, Origin, then you’ll know Sagrada Familia was featured pretty prominently in the storyline. I really enjoyed that book, by the way.

Partly because of the book, but mainly based on what we already knew about Sagrada Familia, this was the one “adult” thing we were going to do while in Barcelona. We got to the temple just after its opening time and ALL the tours for that day were sold out.

Whomp, whomp.

Learn from our mistake! We should have either gotten there earlier or bought tickets online prior to our trip. It looks like they sell tickets up to two months in advance. Kids 10 and under are free. I think we could have waited in line for general admission tickets, but the line was crazy and the process confusing. For ticket tips, this website was helpful after the fact.

My kids did not feel sorry about our misfortune one bit because do you know what’s right outside of the Sagrada Familia? A playground.

It is a pretty epic setting in which to play.


Park Güell
Park Güell is considered to be another of Antoní Gaudi’s masterpieces. It was originally intended to be a residential development and work started in 1900, but the project was scrapped by the owner, Eusebi Güell, in 1914. The land was sold to the City of Barcelona and became a park in 1926. Park Güell was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Tickets to the ‘Monumental Core’ of Park Güell are available online up to 3 months prior to your visit. We were able to walk up and buy tickets, which are sold in time bands. As an example, we arrived at 11:15 and were able to purchase tickets for entrance to the core between 12 and 12:30. I don’t know if this would be the case during peak tourist season. You can stay as long as you want once inside, but you have to enter within the time on your time band. 

What did we do while we waited for our entrance time? Well, most of Park Güell is a large public park with trails, picnic areas, restroom and a playground. You don’t need a ticket to visit a public park! 

So, we played on a playground.

We walked the paths and explored Gaudi’s handiwork. It really does boggle your mind to see the intricate paths, arches, benches, etc. that his vision created. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Park Güell is located on the top of a hill, so when you walk the paths you will be rewarded with impressive views of Barcelona and the Balearic Sea. 

Just keep climbing…you’ll get there!

Once inside the Monumental Core – the ticketed area – we saw more of what is in the public park. There’s also a Dragon Stairway, the HypoStyle Room, Nature Square (under rehab when we were there), gardens and the Laundry Room Portico.

Plus, you have access to the Porter’s House, which is now a history museum. The wait to get inside the museum (below) was 45 minutes. There was no way my kids were going to cheerfully handle a 45-minute wait for something that doesn’t involve a rollercoaster. That’s my reality and the museum wasn’t a high priority for me anyway.

If I would have realized the wait was going to be 45 minutes for the museum and knowing that you can sort of see some of the things in the Monumental Core from the free areas of the park, I wouldn’t have bought the entrance ticket. I don’t want to discourage you from buying a ticket though because maybe you’ll get more out of it than we did.


Playgrounds
In between our walks to various attractions or walks to the subway stations, we kept stumbling upon public playgrounds. It almost became a running joke there were so many of them! The park situation was definitely a way to motivate our kids to keep moving.

“Let’s go find another park, kids!”

From what we saw, Barcelona has done an amazing job of creating outdoor spaces for its residents (and visitors!) to enjoy.


Teleférico de Barcelona – Cable Car
The one thing we REALLY wanted to do as a family in Barcelona was ride Teleférico de Barcelona – the cable car. I don’t think my kids have ever been on one and certainly not in Spain! We set out to find one of the cable car stations only to arrive and realize that it was closed due to high winds. 

Whomp, whomp.

These things happen. You can’t control the weather while on vacation. You also can’t always rely on an attraction to update their website with these type of closures. We were just one of many tourists caught off guard that day.

It would have been awesome though!


Castell de Montjuïc
We didn’t let a little cable car closure ruin our day! After all, we got to ride the funicular railway to get there (that was new for us) AND there’s always another park to find!

The closest “park” in this instance was the one surrounding Montjuïc Castle (Castell de Montjuïc).

Montjuïc Castle is located on a high point above Barcelona with panoramic views of the sea. The castle site was used as a place to defend Barcelona for centuries. It became a military museum in the 1960s.

On our hike up the hill to the museum, we found the coolest set of slides. They were as steep as this picture indicates and a clever use of space.

We decided not to go into the museum, but the grounds around the castle were gorgeous.

We were SUPER glad for our Barcelona Card and the public bus that came every 15 minutes from the castle to take us back down the hill. I don’t think mama the kids would have made it. Later that day our activity trackers showed we had walked 98 flights of stairs – most of those were on our hike UP to the castle.

Side note: Also located on the Montjuïc Hill are the stadiums from the 1992 Olympics. You can tour them for free. We didn’t do this, but did go by them and they looked very neat. The stadiums are now used for concerts and sporting events. 


Parc de la Ciutadella
Parc de la Ciutadella is a 70-acre park in Barcelona that is home to the Parliament of Catalonia, Museum of Natural Science, the city zoo and a large fountain.

I was told December in Barcelona is orange season and the season did not disappoint. One of my favorite things about Parc de la Ciutadella was all the orange trees. And, no, I didn’t try to pick one. I thought hard about it though!

Instead, I bought a big bag of local oranges for Handy Husband to carry around in his red backpack. He was so appreciative of the extra weight the healthy snack.

That’s the parliament building in the background, by the way. I will briefly mention that while we saw support for Catalan independence everywhere, we did not see any protests during out quick visit.

The other showstopper in Parc de la Ciutadella is the fountain called Cascada. It’s more of a structure than simply a fountain. It was created back in 1881 and then a few years later added onto and embellished to be more impressive.

I was impressed.


Did we enjoy our time in Barcelona? YES. Definitely.

I know there were some hiccups to our visit, but that’s just part of travel. Our attitude determines if it’s an adventure or an ordeal. Some of the things that didn’t happen led to some other cool things that did, so I’ll call that a win!

It was fun to experience a place that is so different from most anywhere else we’ve visited. It was also a good opportunity (and a humbling one) to practice our Spanish language skills, which are, at present, very poor. Although, in most cases, people speak English quite well.

There were plenty of museums and other indoor attractions that we did not make time to visit with our kids during this trip and that’s okay. Being outside was an enjoyable December treat!

Happy Travels!


P.S. Handy Husband is a fan of this 20L Deuter backpack to carry around our snacks and gear while being tourists. My daughter now wears these Skecher boots in a woman’s size. They have a tennis shoe sole, but the look and warmth of an UGG boot and have been awesome this winter while traveling.

*affiliate links used in this post*


If you liked this Travel With Kids post, here are some others:

Travel: Belfast With Kids

Travel: Copenhagen, Denmark With Kids

Visiting Ireland: The Cliffs of Moher and Aran Island With Kids

A Day in Malmo, Sweden With Kids

Visiting Ireland: Galway With Kids

Visiting Ireland: Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle

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Always Take The Trip

I read an article recently where the author shares the best parenting advice she ever received was to “always take the trip.”

Here’s an excerpt from Annie Reneau’s article:

“My friend Kelly has three stellar kids who are a bit older than my own three. I consider her and her husband to be model parents, so one day I asked her for her best piece of parenting advice. I thought she’d say something about love or discipline or consistency, so her answer took me by surprise.

Always take the trip,” she said. “When you question whether or not you should go on the vacation, just do it. Spend the money. Take the time. You only have a limited number of years together as a family before your kids get busy with lives of their own, and building memories and having new experiences together are things you’ll never regret.”

I took that advice to heart. And now, when I think back on my 16 years of parenting so far, the times we’ve traveled as a family stand out the most. It’s not just about “being on vacation,” but about the various positive ways travel affects us, both individually and as a family unit.”

Yess-ity, yes, yes, YES!

I never received this advice, but I have to agree with the thought process.

In large part, it’s why we decided to move to Ireland when given the opportunity.

For our family, travel means time for bonding and shared experiences. Travel means exposing all of us to cultures, experiences and ways of life that we might not otherwise see in our day-to-day routines. Travel means broadening our world view and gaining understanding of how interconnected our world is. With travel comes empathy, resilience, flexibility, confidence and fun.

I don’t always equate travel with vacation – especially with young kids in tow. But, I think we’re reaching that point. I hope. HA!

Let’s talk reality though.

Travel might seem impossible for some given life stage, finances, circumstances, etc. We’re all adults here with real responsibilities and sometimes that sucks.

I remember just starting out in life and not having two nickels to our name. Or not having paid vacation time.

I remember being a kid and hardly ever taking a trip because someone had to milk the cow(s) and feed ALL the livestock and how do you find a house sitter to do that? I’m sure finances played a role too, but let me assure you, farm life is not for those with wanderlust in their souls.

It seems to me the SPIRIT of ‘always take the trip’ does not mean you have to spend your life savings and a year traveling the world. A big chunk of people don’t have money saved for even a small emergency, let alone a trip.

Here are some alternatives to spending thousands of dollars that I think help achieve or start you down the path of achieving what the spirit of “always take the trip” means. Mainly these alternatives are through the lens of cultural experiences, as that’s what we are currently most interested in with our two kids.

  • Day trips to a place new to you – city, park, tourist attraction, etc.
  • Hike and picnic in a park or national forest.
  • Go to a festival or fair.
  • Visit a museum. Many museums off free or reduced rates on special days during the summer. Reciprocity membership agreements between museums can be a fantastic way to save money too.
  • Watch a travel show together to learn about different parts of the world.
  • Go to the library and check out books on different countries.
  • Practice charting routes on a map. Google Maps is great, but there’s something special about unfolding a paper map. How many different ways can you get to a dream destination? How long will it take? What can you see along the way?
  • Spend a night or weekend camping. Or sleep under the stars in your backyard.
  • If camping isn’t your thing, try house swapping for the weekend. Here are some tips on this practice by Rick Steves.
  • Start learning a new language. Listening to music in a foreign language can be a fun way to learn too.
  • Try cooking food from different regions of the world  – maybe corresponding with those books you checked out from the library.
  • Visit a church different from your own religion.
  • Host a foreign exchange student.
  • If you don’t normally take public transportation – try it! Try taking a bus or train and let your kids help figure out schedules and tickets.
  • Spend an afternoon volunteering as a family. Volunteer Match is a site that helps you find volunteer opportunities tailored for particular age groups: kids, teens, etc.
  • Start a family saving jar where you can put money aside for a trip.


Bottom line? Whether you are in staycation mode or vacation mode, you won’t regret the times you unplugged and spent time with your kids.

If you have more ideas to add to my list, please let me know! I’d be so happy to hear how you spend time with your kids in the spirit of “always take the trip.”

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