Our trip begins in roughly five weeks. I cannot wait. In the next few weeks I need to figure out our cell phone usage. I don’t want to get dinged with high day charges unexpectedly. I started reading a little online about useage and how much it costs…basically I am only planning to use my phone if I am connected to wifi. One thing I am considering is buying a one month membership to Boingo wifi. But I need to evaluate their connection locations and see if they make sense.
Another thing I need to do is make sure I am registered for free wifi on Thalys. I think I read on their website that the wifi is free but you need to register first.
I also need to figure out how we will charge the Nintendo Ds. It is not as simple as using a converter – you need a special one that converts the AMPs. It might just be easiest to buy a charger for it in Germany. It also depends on if my husband brings his laptop or leaves it at home. If he brings the laptop then I can use that to charge the DS.
I need to look into bank fees with our current bank and determine if they charge foreign transaction fees. I also need to see if they are affiliated with any European banks so we don’t have to pay ATM fees.
These are just the things I am thinking of right now…but I am sure there are many more things I need to do.
Our trip is six weeks away from today. I am hitting that panic stage even though we still have a while. The minute we land I predict all eyes will be on me and ask, “What are we doing now?” I am trying to keep a list of things to see in various places so we can narrow things down. I am not worrying about the Rhine river, the Netherlands, or Paris as those areas I am sure we will easily find things to do. So the areas I am spending time looking into are Berlin, Munich, and the Alps.
My thought for Berlin was that we will land and immediately take naps. Both of my kids have already declared they are not planning on sleeping on the plane. I know you all are jealous. Don’t you want to deal with over tired kids at 10 AM in the morning (which will be 4 AM our time)? So naps we will be taking. But I figured that first day in Berlin we will see things like the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg gate, the Tiergarten, etc. I want to do things that don’t require a lot of concentration and we can just enjoy our surroundings. Day two in Berlin I am considering a day trip to Potsdam. And day three I am thinking will be our museum day. I would really like to see the Pergamon museum. After that I really don’t care what we see.
We arrive in Munich early in the morning and we only have a day here. My thought is to wait on picking up our rental car since the subway at the train station takes you directly into the main area of town. Why pick up our rental and then have to deal with parking? So I am thinking we head to the old part of town, go to the Marienplatz, find a farmer’s market, go to the Deutches museum, check out a biergarten and/or Hoffbrahaus. After that I really have no plans. I think there is a bridge north of the city that my husband wants to see. And I know Dachau is close by Munich but I am not sure that we would like to explain that to the kids at their current ages. Or we could just head south to the Alps earlier than expected.
We then spend two nights in the Alps. My thoughts for this region include going into Austria. The town we are staying in is right on the border. It is fairly close to Innsbruck too so part of me is thinking maybe have lunch or dinner in Innsbruck. I have also seen some things on the Internet regarding Bobsled rides. I think everyone would enjoy this experience if there is one near us but it is not something I want to do if we need to drive out of our way to get to. So, we have one day for Austria…and then we leave the next morning to head to my cousin’s house. On this day we are planning on seeing Neuschwanstein castle. After that we are heading towards Lake Constance but we might take a scenic route there. Our castle tour is at 10:25…I am thinking maybe after the tour we can do a picnic lunch somewhere.
We leave the Alps and then head to my cousin’s house. My goal is to be at her house by 5 PM. Hopefully that will happen. She has kids that are close in age to mine. So I am not planning anything when we are there. It is halfway through our trip…I figure the kids will just enjoy playing with each other for a day and they will enjoy the break. Still – there is a town a half hour south of my cousin that I would like to see – so if we have to miss it to get to my cousin’s house on time we might go back to the town the next morning or afternoon – but we will let everyone sleep in at least 🙂
One nice thing is that when we are in Europe the sun set time is around 9 PM. So we will have plenty of sunlight on our trip (assuming it is not raining).
I posted a while back that I was dreading lugging a car seat and booster seat to Europe and that I was excited to find a much more portable option, the Bubblebum. (Side note: my daughter is old enough and big enough to ride in a booster, but I feel a five-point harness is still the safest option for her hence her car seat at home.) These things are so compact I can fit two in a suitcase. Anyway this past weekend I put one in my car and have had both kids try them out. Both kids say they are ok.
Below are pictures of Bubba on the Bubblebum. There is another part that can be used to secure the shoulder strap at a different height. I am not using in this picture but probably will on our trip. As an added bonus of these seats – I will be riding in the middle of the two kids for two days when our friend Angie joins us on the Rhine river. Using these seats will give me slightly more room.
After I noticed all the tickets for the Eiffel Tower reservations were sold out I panicked and contacted my Dutch friend Angie in regards to the Anne Frank house. I asked her to please purchase those as soon as possible. It is one thing to wait in line at the Eiffel Tower, it is another to wait in line at the Anne Frank house.
The Eiffel Tower is basically in a park environment, so if you are waiting in line someone else can take the kids and run around or get a snack or take pictures of the kids. The Anne Frank house is in the middle of Amsterdam. There are not parks nearby and you basically have to wait in a long queue. It is also much smaller than the Eiffel Tower so it’s capacity is much smaller. Hence why I wanted tickets in advance. I don’t want to be waiting hours for us to see it.
The Anne Frank house is pretty much my only MUST SEE attraction in Amsterdam to do with the kids (if I was there without them I would be doing many more things, trust me (visiting a coffee house would not be one of those things though)). I remember reading the Diary of Anne Frank when I was younger and always wanting to see her house and where she wrote most of her diary. My kids might not remember much of our visit but one day when they read her book I can remind them that they were there once – the exact place she was when she wrote her diary.
This morning I was reading the travel section in my local newspaper. A reader wrote in and asked the best way to avoid foreign transaction fees. The response was that “once you’re in Europe it will be hard to totally avoid fees because you’ll either be paying extra to withdraw money at the ATM or for the foreign transaction fee with your credit card (unless yours doesn’t have one).”
I thought this response was awful. I am not planning on paying ANY foreign transaction fees abroad. To start with there are a couple of credit card companies that don’t charge foreign transaction fees. Two of these are Capital One and Andrews Federal Credit Union. I have both of these and I used both to purchase train tickets in Europe. When my statements came in the mail neither statement had foreign transaction fees. The exchange rate listed was pretty close to the published exchange rate for the day as well. (Side note: I preferred how Andrews Credit Union displays the exchange rate on the statement). Also – the Andrews Federal Credit card is a chip-and-pin card which are more common in Europe anyways.
In regards to the ATM fees – I am pretty sure Capital One does not charge foreign exchange fees for their ATM cards…but I still need to double check that. My younger brother informed me last month that Charles Schwab is a great bank. They refund ATM fees and they also do not charge foreign transaction fees. Double win. They also appear to have great customer service. I am planning to try them out while we are abroad.
In conclusion – don’t let the big banks get free money by charging you foreign transaction fees or ATM fees. Take the time to research better options.
Well, they ain’t gonna happen.
I went to go make reservations yesterday (June 4th) for our visit to the Eiffel tower (August 10th) and all slots are already reserved. I’m mad that I wasn’t checking this out earlier. I just thought that I would be able to book them about a month in advance.
Oh well, now we will just have to wait in line. This way we also won’t be restricted by times. So we’ll probably head straight there on Saturday, August 10th. Luckily when we visit we’ll have either three or four adults with us and the two kids. So with that number of people hopefully only one person needs to wait in line.
There are only three tourist attractions I am planning on making reservations for in advance. These three attractions are the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, the Eiffel tower in Paris, and Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.
I went to the Neuschwanstein castle website on Tuesday of this week. That was five days ago. The site asked me to pick a tour time and pick a language. I selected a 10:15 AM tour in English. This means we need to arrive at the castle an hour before that to pick up our tickets. The site had me add a credit card number and an email address. I submitted my information and received no email response or call from my credit card company thinking some sort of fraud was occurring on my card. So I decided I would just wait and see if anything went through on my credit card.
Today, Sunday, I received a confirmation in my email regarding our tour. Our tour will be at 10:25 AM in English – I assume they alternate German and English tours. My credit card will not be charged until we pick up our tickets (or don’t pick them up). Anyway, due to the delay in the confirmation I thought I would blog about this in case others are wondering what happened.