On Cesar Manrique’s footsteps in Lanzarote – original play with the landscape

If you like modern architecture and constructions that blend perfectly in their environment, you should consider visiting some of Cesar Manrique’s creations in Lanzarote. His influence on Lanzarote’s landscapes is still present today. In particular, by limiting the hight of buildings to that of the tallest palmtree and the bilboard free roads.

This full day itinerary focuses on the North of Lanzarote. The first part of the day will keep the little ones on their toes. First with an open air exhibition of cactus of all shapes and sizes. Then, a visit of Haria village to walk on palm fringed old streets and run around in the pedestrian area. In the afternoon, the grown ups will take a peek in the life of the great architect Cesar Manrique in his house frozen in time and enjoy the beatiful pools and views in Jameos del Agua. Finally, the mirador will offer a unique view on Isla Graciosa, the island North of Lanzarote.

We did the itinerary from South to North.

1. Star at the Cactus Garden -Jardin de Cactus. This was actually one of the last works of Manrique.  Jardín de Cactus has around 4,500 specimens of 450 different species, of 13 different families of cactus from the five continents. The green shade of the plants stands out against the blue sky and the dark volcano rock creating a striking explosion of colour that impresses most visitors. A small stream flows in the middle of the garden. Children can admire the huge red fish swimming in the small stream and will have fun looking at all the different cactus shapes. Access by stroller is quite ok for the ground level but you will not be able to climb on the terraces or visit the small windmil. Better have a carrier if the children are not yet walking. Entrance: 6 Euro per adult and children under 7 years are free.

2. Haria city walk and the house of Cesar Manrique. With the children still impressed by the original cactus garden but not yet hungry, hop off the car for a quick visit of Manrique’s house in Haria. This is the house where he spent the last part of his life and is a rather compact structure, accessible by stroller, except myaybe the outside studio area. If you plan to visit also the Manrique foundation in Tachiche, ask for a combo ticket (about 15 Euro). Once the kids start to signal they might soon get feed- up with this museum-house, step out on the strets of green Haria. There is a nice pedestrian area in front of the Haria cathedral where they can run around. You can also stop here for lunch or continue to Arrieta.

3. Stop for lunch in Arrieta. This small village is one of the best places to eat fish on the island. We parked the car and went in El Amanecer to put our name on the list at the bar for lunch. If travelling in high season, it is likely that some waiting time will be involved before a table becomes available. We were told of about 30 min so we used the time to check out the small, sandy and family friendly beach in Arrieta. If your wait is longer, you can take the opportunity for some beach games with the kids or a quick dip in the ocean.  If you are not willing to wait too long, another good recommendation in Arietta where we ate on our last day is a no frills place, just after the village beach, called Casa de la Playa. Great catch of the day grilled fish and sea food. There were many locals when we went whcoh is always a good sign. Both restaurants recommended have high chairs.

4. Continue north to Jameos del Agua, another of Manrique’s original designs. He used the debris of a volcanic tube with lava flowing from Volcán de la Corona, on the north of the island and transformed it to a series of passage ways and pools. The entire place inspires peacefulness and harmony in the way nature and human creation came together. Birds echoe their songs in the lava caves. Small crabs shine like coins at the bottom of the internal lagoon, connected to the ocean. The place even has  an original Auditorium, unique in the world due to its geological and acoustic features. On the practical side, do bring a carrier if the kids are not yet walking as there are several flights of stairs going up and down the cave. Entrance: 10 Euro for adults and children under 7 can go free.

5. Follow the road to Mirador del Rio, on the tip of the island. Carved into the summit of a 474-metre-high cliff on Lanzarote’s northern tip, the Mirador is almost invisible from the outside. Once you step inside, you find a maze-like sequence of tunnels, with huge windows overlooking the strait between Lanzarote and La Graciosa Island. Entrance fee: 5 Euro per adult.

If you like Cesar Manrique’s works, set aside another half day for the Fondacion Cesar Manrique in Tachiche and Museo Lagomar in Nazaret. They are both great sites although accessibility wise not too easy if you have reduced mobility. There are quite a number of steps and narrow passages. A carrier is recommended.

We combined the Fondacion and the lavish Lagomar house with half a day at the beach as the LO was getting a bit annoyed at the grown ups taking him from house to house and up and down an innumerable number of steps. I will include a short list of our favourite Lanzarote beaches in a separate post.

Happy travels!

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Timanfaya National Park in Lanzarote – all you need to know for a visit with the kids

After a failed attempt to visit the National Park on our very first day on the island, we came back prepared. And we are glad we did! The views were great, showcasing the power of nature and changing through a variety of colours from yellows to deep black. The photos barely do it justice. This national park is truly unique in the world.

Most important is to come early and preferably in the beginning of the week. Avoid Sundays, particularly during peak season (Catholic Easter Week and July to August). The entrance to the park opens around 9 AM. You buy your ticket (children under 6 enter free) and continue driving for another 5 min till you reach a marked parking. We arrived shortly before 10 AM and everything worked smoothly. No queuing.

You will leave your car and board a special bus that takes you on a panoramic drive through the park. Buses leave when filled, there is no set timetable. Depending on the arrivals, you might have to wait 10 min or so before the bus is ready to leave.  Do get a seat at the window to enjoy the views and keep the little ones entertained. It is not possible to leave the bus during the drive that will last about 40-50 min. You can use the toilets at the restaurant before boarding the bus.

Take a warm pullover or jacket, especially if visiting first thing in the morning. The difference in temperature can be huge between the first hours of the morning and mid-day. Also, a small bottle of water might come in handy if you do not want to buy one at the restaurant.

After the bus tour ends, do not leave immediately. Just in front of the bus parking there is a semi-circular viewing area where you can take wonderful pictures of the lava fields and crater. Walk till the end of the viewing platform and you will see a grill that works with the underground heat.

In the middle of the viewing platform, park staff demonstrate every 15-20 min the power of the heat coming from underground. They put water in one of the heat evacuation pipes. The water comes back to the surface as steam, in an a motion that looks a bit like a geyser. Small kinds were greatly entertained by this phenomenon!

Finally, have a coffee (and get warmed up) in the circular lobby of the Restaurant designed by Cesar Manrique. You do not need a reservation to visit this part of the restaurant. It is opened in the morning, as early as the first scheduled bus departure. It is recommended to book if you would like to have lunch on the premises.

As a side trip from in the National Park you can take a camel ride. The Echadero de los Camellos in Parque Nacional de Timanfaya is easy to find by car, it’s on the main road from Yaiza LZ-67 as you approach the visitor attraction. Simply turn into the large car park when you arrive where you can see the camels lined up and waiting patiently for their next passengers. There’s no need to book, you can simply turn up at any time between 09:00 and 16:00 for a camel ride. It costs €12 per camel. The camel ride takes around 20 minutes. We skipped it but many (older) kids seemed thrilled after the experience.

The last bus departure in Spring is at 17h. The park closes at 17h45. We left the park at 11.30h and car queues were forming both before the park entrance and to get into the parking.

Enjoy your visit and let me know if you have more tips.

Happy travels!

Live from Lanzarote – an island packed with outdoor adventures for the whole family

We landed in Lanzarote a few days ago and it has been a bit of a mixed experience in the beginning. We were looking for an ‘ outdoor ‘ destination where we can spend time in nature and shake off the European Winter blues. Instead, we were greeted by a flurry of tourist buses to all-inclusive resorts and a purpose-built ‘village ‘ where every other restaurant offers an all-day English breakfast.

When we reached our accomodation in Puerto del Carmen, we were determined to find something a bit more authentic than a street dotted with Irish pubs.  We designed the itinerary of the next days as we went and asked recommendations from the locals. The main objective was to spend time outdoors and enjoy the glorious weather. With an island as compact as Lanzarote, nothing is really too far away.

Our LO was thrilled with all he saw and experienced that day. For the adults, the walk around Montagna Colorada with its lunar landscapes plus the fresh fish restaurant were probably the highlights.

Here is the full day South island discovery itinerary:

Head towards the Timanfaya national park visitor’s center at Mancha Blanca. It is completely free and you can walk around to check out explanations about volcanic activity and the geologic formation of the Canary Islands. Preschool kids seem to find the explanations about the local flora and fauna more interesting.

Once per hour there is a projection of two short movies, one about volcanoes and volcanic activity and a second about the flora and fauna. They are in Spanish but you can use your headphones to listen to an English/french/German interpretation. Bring a pair of headphones if the children would like to watch this short documentary in English. Otherwise, they do sell them at the receptio of the visitor center. Eash movie is about 20 min long.

There are some good photo opportunities when you leave the building and follow the wooden path outside, above the lava fields. The landscape is like nothing you have seen before: rugged lava towers till the horizon.

Before leaving the Visitor center, stop at the info point just before the entrance and ask how is the traffic on the local road leading to the Bus volcano route. If the road is not too congested, head to the bus stop and continue with this tour around the crater. When we visited, the cars were waiting in line for 2 h to reach the departure point so we decided to leave this journey for another day and head for a walk on the lava fields in the Parque Los Volcanos.

If you are accompanied by kids or plan to be pushing a stroller, there are two walks that are recommended for their good accesibility. They are not well signposted but you will find the departure points on local road LZ-56. One is a circular walk around a red colored hill that in recognised locally as Montana Colorada. The other is a walk to a crater rim and back that should last about one hour.

We did the Montana Colorada with the baby mosly in the stroller and it was a bumpy but fun experience. The car park is a few meters after the Km 3 mark on road LZ-56, on the left side of the road in direction Geria. The road is mosly little volcanic rock and sand so make sure your stroller has large wheels. Our McLaren Quest struggled uphill and we took our LO on the shoulders for a few rough patches. It took us about one hour to do the tour, with frequent photo and ‘picking up stones and throwing them back’ opportunities. Bring water, a hat and a long-sleeve. In open spaces, the wind can be quite cold.

The walk completed, we were ready for some fresh fish. A small village on the Southern outskirts of the Timanfaya national park, El Golfo, was recommended by our accomodation. We headed there, at La Rafa del Mar. All waiters were very nice, even if a bit rushed as there were ever more customers waiting for tables. They had high chairs and even a changing mat in the bathroom. The grilled octopus was excellent!

El Golfo has some great views of the ocean waves crushing on the shores. If you continue walking the main street, bordered by all the restaurants, you will reach a modern and colourful playground. On the left of the playground, begins a coastal walk of a few kilometers. The terrain is rough and serious shoes and trekking gear are necessary.

Just before entering El Golfo, a large parking on the left side of the road leads to a high view point of the whole coast. From the same point, one can walk 3 minutes to the Green Lake (Lagoa Verde). The view of the striated rock formations on the background is impressive. El Golfo is actually a half-submerged cone of a volcano, which over time has been eroded by the sea, leaving behind only the striated wall of the crater displaying a myriad of red and russet colours.

Finally, the last stop before returning to our accomodation, was the Salinas del Janubio. Here, water is pumped from the ocean and, once evaporated, salt is extracted the old fashioned way for the local economy.

Next, we planed a full-day itinerary following the footsteps of Cesar Manrique, the architect behind many of the island’s attractions and lanscaped villages. Stay tuned.

Happy travels!

Driving the Transfagarasan, an epic Romanian roadrip

Transfagarasan, the name of the road that links the South part of Romania with Transilvania was made famous in Western Europe by the British TV show Top Gear where it received the title of “best road in the world”. But even before gaining this notoriety, it was considered one of the most spectacular roadrips in Eastern Europe for its hight and beautiful views. Tourists from all over the world are now going to Romania to drive this 90 km stretch of road that goes up to an altitude of 2000 km and crossing the Southern section of the Carpathians.

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A week in Sydney with kids – 6 entertaining family activities and places to visit

Sydney was our first stop in our six week Australia itinerary (check it out here) . We spent a couple of days recovering from jet lag and celebrated the New Year 2017 ahead of all our family and friends, overlooking the Opera House and worldwide famous fireworks.

As a sidenote, if you are planing to participate in the New Year festivities in Sydney, go to your chosen area early. The local administration organises several public viewing areas but the best ones will get filled up at about lunchtime. We even saw peple setting up tent in the morning. The good thing is that once they are filled, they will be marked as complete in interractive maps around the city so you do not need to head in that direction. We prepared for a long wait, packed some food, water and diapers in the stroller and arrived at about 8PM in the area located in front of the Museum for Modern Art. The area closed soon after we entered. At about 10 PM there was already a short firework program for ‘families’ but most people stayed for the big event at midnight.

After the fireworks are over, if you are with a stroller, you will need to wait until most of the area clears before you can head to the exit. It did get very crowded once everybody headed for the exits and hurried home. The amount of people on the streets can be overwhellming, as tens of thousands are trying to reach the metros and busses. Luckly our aparthotel was within a decent walking distance (about 40 min) from the Opera House. The LO happilly fell asleep in the stroller immediatelly after the fireworks ended. Side note ended.

Back to our favourite child friendly attractions in Sidney here is the top 6 (one for evey day of the week):

1. Taraonga Zoo – entertainment for whole family on this purposely built zoo island. We bought the tickets online to avoid the queues. You also get a small saving from the price ( aprox 20%). The quickest and easiest way to get to Taronga Zoo is by public transport. The Zoo is located 12 minutes from Circular Quay by ferry or a short bus/train trip from the city or North Sydney. With over 4000 animals to see and 20 Keeper Talks and Shows a day, you’ll need some prior organisation to get the most out of your day at Taronga. They do provide an app that will make navigation easier and show all the updated info on the events taking place. Elevators and ramps are located around the site, allowing those with limited mobility and strollers to traverse the Zoo. The Sky Safari cable car can accommodate stroller and you should definetely do the ride as it offers a different perspective. We loved the picnic tables scattered around and brought our own snacks and water.

2. Sea Life Aquarium in Darling Harbour – is one of the world’s largest aquariums – with over 700 different species and 13,000 animals in an impressive six million litres of water. It is also home to the world’s largest variety of sharks and rays, as well as Australia’s most famed marine animals, including dugongs and tropical reef fish. Only recently they have included a penguin microclimate where you have access via a  raft. Temperatures are sub-zero as they try to re- create Arctic atmosphere.  They also have a handy stroller parking before you board the train. Penguin colony aside, the underwater world of Shark Valley, an ocean tunnel walk-through is impressive for both kids and adults.

3. Stroller-friendly walk through the royal botanical gardens
It’s a botanical and cultural oasis that’s perfect for a picnic and an afternoon of imaginative play amongst the plants, flowers and bushes. A great way to get around is to take a ride on the Choo Choo Express mini train service. You also get a different perspective of the Opera House.

4. The Beach – Sydney has access to a number of great beaches. With a toddler, head for calm waters and shade. Little Manly Cove (Stuart Street, Manly 2095) has a shark net and changing facilities. Another nice beach in Manly is Shelly Beach (Bower Street Manly 2095). This is an excellent beach for families, being quite sheltered, small and at a safe distance from the road. There is even some shade on the beach itself. With older children, you can head to Bondi where they can also take surf lessons. No shade on Bondi Beach and can get pretty crowded at week- ends.  We hauled a shade tent from Europe that came in handy to protect the baby under the hot Summer Sun. Appropriate sun screen is a must. We also bought a full UV protection swimsuit for the baby. See our pre-trip preparation tips here.

5. The Chinese Garden – A visit to the Chinese Gardens in Darling Harbour is a wonderful option for young kids. Parents will love it too as it provides an escape from the busy city and traffic noise. It’s a magical oasis of waterfalls, lakes and exotic plants. Don’t miss the chance to feed the beautiful Koi fish at 11.30am daily! Then enjoy some treats and tea at the tea house.  Some of the pathways are rocky and steep and therefore not pram-friendly so take a carrier instead if possible.

6. Powerhouse Museum ( suitable for 5 years + and grownups that want to play)-Located in the old Ultimo Power Station building adjacent to Darling Harbour, the Powerhouse Museum is the flagship venue of Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). Its unique and diverse collection spans science, technology, design and decorative arts, engineering, architecture, health and medicine, fashion and contemporary culture. It is a dream come true for every little explorer. They have regular educational events and workshops for kids and it is worth checking the program if you plan a visit.

These were our favourite places in Sydney to visit with a toddler but they were definitely enjoyed by the adults as well.

Anything we missed? Make a mention in the comments.

Happy travels!

A Sunday with wild animals and cava in Antwerp, Belgium

As we are based in Brussels, Antwerp is often our ‘go to’ short getaway. I like how compact and cosy the city center is. You can reach the Central Market in about 20 min walk from the train station. There are  nice restaurants and a great coffee culture. Even if the weather is less great (what we call the Belgian microclimate ) there are great places to spend a few hours indoors as well.

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Fun activities for kids and parents alike: a busy day in Berlin Charlottenburg

Charlottenburg neighbourhood houses several famous Berlin landmarks: the KuDamm shopping street, KaDeWe -Berlin’s fanciest department store, the Memorial Church and another cool store housing many local design brands: Bikini Berlin. That enough will put it on many people’s list when visiting Germany’s capital. But what about the kids you may ask…what is in it for the kids? As we all know, kids and hours long shopping sprees have very little in common. Unless it’s a toy shop.

Well, for one, the Berlin Zoo.

 

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New Year family skiing holiday that doesn’t break the bank – Rila Mountains, Bulgaria

Skiing over Christmas and or New Year can be an expensive endeavour. These are peak periods for taking to the slopes, as Europe and many other parts of the World are on holidays. If you add one/two children to the mix, a short week on the slopes can take you back a few thousand Euros if you count accomodation, meals, ski schools, equipment  and passes. Especially if you think at popular destinations like Switzerland or Austria.

Together with Mr, we have been skiing in Austria (Kitzbuhel) in our pre-kid days. I have also been with friends in France (La Plaine). Clearly they are both perfect winter sport destinations, with great infrastructure and plenty of slopes to keep you busy for days. Of course, on both instrances we stayed well clear of Christmas/NYE as well as the February week when European schools take their intersemester break and half of Europe travels to France or Austria. This year however, as we are planning longer holidays in March and May, we decided to book our ski break sooner, already after Cristmas and over New Year. By the time we decided, in late Summer, many popular places in Austria were already booked (especially families travelling from Germany book about one year in advance)  and the remaing spots as well as flights to Vienna were crazy expensive. Asking around in our friends’ circle, we got good feed-back on a destination that was not high on every skiier’s radar but had all the facilites for a snow filled family getaway: the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria.

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Five days in Chianti, Italy – medieval cities hopping with the baby in tow

Italy is always a sure bet with me. If you read my earlier posts, you already know that I have a love-love relationship with this country that started back in 2004, when I did my Erasmus studies there. Now, fast forward to July 2016, when our LO was 8 months and I was in search of a trip to celebrate my husband’s birthday. I looked in particular for a place outside the city, that has its own vineyard in the midst of green scenery. We had a great experience in Apulia with the masseria stays. (you can read about it here) so I was looking for a similar feel in the North of the country. After a few searches on Tripadvisor and local blogs, I found Salvadonica in San Casciano in Val di Pesa. I then booked our flights to Florence.

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Solo travel in Western Balkans – 24h in and around Tirana, Albania

I travelled to Tirana in December 2017 to participate in a work-related conference. The presentations finished already Friday mid -day and I was left with about 24 h to explore a bit of the city and surroundings before my flight back on Saturday PM.

Tirana itself is nothing too spectacular and similar in look with other former communist capitals from the European Eastern block. The architecture is mainly greyish appartment buildings with falling facades. The only notable exception are a few streets surrounding  Skanderbeg Square, now turned a pedestrian zone. In December, a small Christmas market and several carrousels were occupying the square.

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