Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Amsterdam

 

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Amsterdam

Filled with culture and beauty, Amsterdam is a city that engages the senses. It is easily navigated and is therefore a popular spot for tourists. There are many family friendly  and autism friendly activities to be found while strolling through its streets. Below are a list of attractions that are sure to please all family members!

[Read more…]

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

Initially constructed as a luxury complex for the capitol’s military elite, the five star JW Bucharest Marriott  Grand Hotel contains 379 stunning rooms and 22 suites. It can be found at Calea 13 Septembrie 90 in its namesake city. A short walk from the hotel building will bring travelers to the Romanian parliamentary building known as the People’s Palace, which was finally completed over a decade after the 1989 revolution.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

Neighborhood
The hotel is in a great location  facing the famous People’s Palace and less than a 10 minute cab ride from the city’s main  shopping thoroughfare, Calea Victoriei. It is also close to the old town area of Bucharest with its famous Lipscani dining area.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

 Why We Choose It:
As parents to a son with autism opting for a quiet  and less busy location tops our list of requirements when choosing a hotel. We have additionally come to know and appreciate the high quality service provided by the JW Marriott chain on our journeys throughout the world so selecting the JW Marriott Bucharest looked like a perfect combination.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

What Makes It Family Worthy:
Many stores and local restaurants can be found near the hotel and there is a lovely public park across the street from the building. Families traveling with children will be pleased to learn that there is laser tag and ice skating available at the local Cotroceni mall, which is only a  five minute  cab ride away.The JW Marriott hotels are also well-known for their beautiful and sizable rooms and comfortable bedding. Thus, they are an ideal accommodation choice for a family of four.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

Booking
We  booked our room on line with Marriott points and contacted the hotel a week or so before arrival to ask for a quiet room with feather-free bedding and pillows.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

 Décor
The opulent grand stairway in the lobby serves a reminder of a bygone era and the hotel is elegantly decorated with light colored marble. However, darker wooden furniture pieces are scattered throughout the facility in order to give it a modern overall appearance.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

Fellow Travelers
The hotel’s patrons are mostly businessmen and large groups from cruise ships but solo guests and families are welcomed too.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

 Our Welcome
Upon entering the building, we were greeted by a helpful bellman. The check-in procedure was very efficient, but it seems that our request for a feather-free room was “lost in the shuffle”. This minor problem was speedily remedied by the front desk attendants who immediately sent the housekeeping staff to change the bedding.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

 Room
We were assigned a spacious 8th floor  carpeted room that was decorated in shades of brown, green, and burgundy. The spectacular city’s skyline and the nearby People’s Palace were visible from the windows. Our suite had ample seating and more than adequate storage space. The room also contained multiple power sockets that we immediately put to use by recharging all of our electronic devices.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

The suite’s mini-bar area featured a fridge filled with specialty drinks as well as snacks and souvenirs for purchase. The customary bottled waters and coffee supplies were also provided, but we ended up not using them because we were upgraded to the Marriott’s wonderful executive lounge that was only a few doors away from our room. The two queen beds were comfortable and the room had an additional opening sofa  that we liked to lounge about in front of the TV after a long day of sightseeing in the city.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

Bathroom
The well-lit  mtan marble bathroom boasted ample counter space and two mirrors in order to make getting ready in the morning a breeze. Guests are also provided with an excellent array of luxury toiletry products as well as nice, fluffy towels. We also liked the fact that both the shower and tub areas came with handheld shower heads. This makes it easier to wash small children and/or disabled persons. The robes and bathroom slippers that were included among the many room amenities were likewise a lovely touch.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

 Safety Features
The JW Marriott even provided an anti-slip mat for the enclosed shower. While this detail is often overlooked by a number of hotels, we applaud them for having included it.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

Facilities
The hotel boasts several high-end stores, a beautifully appointed gym, a swimming pool, and a luxurious spa.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

 Dining
There are  two restaurants, a coffee shop with  noteworthy pastries, and a bar located onsite.
Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

The breakfast buffet offered at the hotel  restaurant is outstanding and if you happen to stay over the weekend the Sunday Brunch is one of the best in the city though a bit pricey at almost 70 dollars per person.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

The Executive Lounge

As Marriott Gold members were  upgraded to the executive lounge and were pleased to discover that the service and food quality were outstanding.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for FamiliesThis is an upgrade worth paying extra for especially for families as it is replenished continuously and has food out throughout the day.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

 Service
The service at this property was excellent. From the waiters to the desk attendants, everyone on staff was eager to help us enjoy our stay. Our requests for housekeeping service took less than 10 minutes on average. For a hotel of this size and caliber, that is quite impressive.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for FamiliesThe ladies that work in the executive lounge deserve a special mention for helping with a number of different reservations. They even remembered to return our hand wipes box when we returned to the property a few days later from our Transylvanian trip! Another noteworthy employee, Ovidiu, personally brought tasty breakfast buffet items to our table when he noticed that we weren’t helping ourselves.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

Areas That Could Be Improved
At the time we stayed, there were some difficulties with the Wi-Fi but the staff did all they could to assist us in fixing the problem. We were told that the hotel is working on changing their internet service provider so the problem will hopefully be resolved in the very near future.
Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families

 Autism Tips
As I previously mentioned, the hotel staff did everything they possibly could to make sure our son was comfortable and we had an enjoyable stay.

Why the JW Marriott Bucharest is Perfect for Families
Our room faced away from the street and was located on the highest possible floor, which helped eliminate any outdoor noises. It was also far away from any noisy interior areas of the hotel such as elevators, restaurants, and the executive lounge. The helpful hotel staff was incredibly patient and understanding of our son’s needs and requests at all times.

 

 

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna, Austria

 


Vienna is a very family friendly city, experientially diverse with great places to explore. Unlike Paris, London and Rome that tend to be the more popular European cities to visit, the Austrian capital has typically less crowds of tourists during the busy summer months; providing touring families with autism a unique opportunity to introduce music history and fine art to their children in a less stressful environment. Whether you are planning to visit the city with your special needs child for the first time, or contemplating a return trip, here are our top ten autism-friendly spots to visit.

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna ,Austria

Schoenbrunn Palace
This lavishly decorated summer palace and its grounds are among the most stunning in Europe and certainly worth a visit. Depending on your child, you can choose to take a short or long tour of the imperial home but allocate time for the magnificent grounds that include a well designed labyrinth and a zoo – one of the oldest in Europe. If walking outdoors for prolonged periods of time bothers your child as it does ours’, take a carriage ride or the budget friendly hop on hop off mini train. For that perfect ‘selfie’ background, climb to the top of the Gloriette and photograph yourself in front of it with the Neptune fountain below.
Special tip: pack a mini fan, sunscreen and, insect repellent

Imperial Palace (Hofburg)
The winter royal palace in the center of the city is filled with priceless collections and exhibits; mostly those of the last two occupants – the emperor Franz Joseph and his still revered wife Elisabeth who lived during the 19th century.If you happen to like horses and think your child can sit for an hour or to two, the palace also houses the famed Spanish Riding school where you can witness rigorous morning practice sessions with horses and trainers.
Special tip: Watch the movie Sissi starring Romy Schneider to understand the historical background better.

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna ,Austria

Haus der Musik
The House of Music is one of these places that should have been around when we parents were young. It would have changed our museum experiences completely. The interactive and hands-on tools in the exhibits teach scientific concepts of sound creation and propagation. It sure makes learning fun! Our son made his own CD and couldn’t get enough of conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Special tip: Since the museum is extensive, visit their website and plan what sections you wish to visit as it is unlikely you will get to see everything.

Technisches Museum
What’s truly great about the Technisches Museum apart from the fact there are so many interactive exhibits, is the fact that most descriptions are in German and English, meaning that foreigners can enjoy the experience. The displays include technology and science related machines and gadgets, along with some traveling exhibits that are rotated throughout the year. We loved the music /piano room that explained the development and evolution of the instrument, as well as the section on the European space station.
Special tip: If your child is temperature intolerant, plan to visit in the early summer months as most of the museums don’t have air condition and the rooms get warm.

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna ,Austria

Natural History Museum
The museum located in Josefstadt is part of a complex of museums that were established in 1750 by Emperor Franz I Stephan of Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa and completed in 1889.The building is beautifully decorated with paintings on the ceilings and on the walls of each room.The large and spacious museum houses over thirty rooms with artifacts like rocks, crystals and dinosaur skeletons. A must see is the animatronic T-Rex that is quite impressive and startles unsuspecting visitors as it moves. If you sit next to it for a couple of minutes you’ll understand.
Special tip: Get the audio guide so you can understand what you are seeing. All the written explanations are in German.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)
You haven’t seen Vienna until you’ve visited a Gothic church and Stephan’s cathedral is the best one. Go early as it gets crowded by 9.30am.The dark interior with relics and religious statues are remarkable but if you want breathtaking views of the city either climb the 345 steps to the top of the tower or take an elevator for a couple of Euros.
Special Tip: Check listings for free Church concerts on Sundays. The sound is amazing.
Worth mentioning- The Church of the Minorites (Minoritenkirche)located at Minoritenplatz 2A with its life-sized mosaic copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper on the church’s northern wall.

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna ,Austria

 Praterstern
Vienna’s landmark amusement park boasts two Ferris wheels, one being the Riesenrad that towers over the park’s 200 booths, ghost train, go-karts, merry-go-rounds and historical Prater Museum. It was featured in the unforgettable spy movie The Third Man. Don’t leave without visiting the older rides section with antique rides that will amaze you! You can pay by the ride or buy a thirteen-ride ticket.
Special tip: bring headphones or earplugs if your kid is noise sensitive.

Hoher Markt Clock (Ankeruhr)
Designed in 1913 by Franz von Matsch, the Hoher Markt Clock is truly a unique clock. On each hour, a different historical figure comes out of the clock accompanied by music. It really pleases the crowd of onlookers. The best time to see it is at noon when all 12 golden figurines line up together.
Special tip: It’s a perfect way to end a visit to the old part of the city. It takes 20 minutes to see the entire show so try to arrive a few minutes earlier to catch a good viewing point.

 

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna ,Austria

Cafe Central
Make this lovely cafe a must stop when you are in Vienna to savor some much needed old time charm. The Baroque architecture within the cafe is noteworthy and the artistically arranged scrumptious pastries will make your mouth water and crave for more.
Special tip: If you want to enjoy your visit, go between meals 2-5pm and enjoy the delectable desserts in a relaxed atmosphere, with the undivided attention of the staff.

Figlmuller Restaurant
No visit to the city is complete without dinner at this famed venue. Make sure you order the Wienerschnitzel that literally hangs off the gigantic plate and comes piping hot. After the meal, walk around Stephansplatz for some souvenir shopping or stop for an apfelstrudel at Konditorei L. Heiner.
Special tip: The restaurant is a Viennese institution so be sure to go off hours otherwise bring electronic devices to occupy your child while you wait.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Scotland

In the last couple of years, Scotland has become a popular country to visit following Disney’s Brave and now Outlander, the new Starz series based on Diana Gabaldon’s books, set in that country’s Highlands. Scotland has amazing scenery, outdoor activities, old castles, historic battlefields and more so a successful, introductory family visit means balancing activities and an itinerary that includes a taste of everything.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Scotland

Loch Ness
A visit to Scotland’s popular tourist attraction should a boat cruise  on a vessel equipped with sonar to search for Nessie, the legendary lake monster. It is somewhat  kitschy but kids get such a kick out of listening to the stories and believing that the monster is about to show up any minute. To make it a tad more educational, you can always stop by the exhibit center and peruse the scientific research disproving the legend. We bribed our kids into tasting some of the local ‘Clootie’ dumpling ( boiled pudding with dried currants and raisins) after promising to buy them a Nessie souvenir .

Loch Lomond and Luss
Immortalized in the song that ends in “and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye”, Loch Lomond is the largest inland stretch of water in the UK and incorporates multiple tiny islands. It is a popular outdoor destination  for many families during summers as you can steamboat across the lake, feed ducks or paddle a canoe .One of the places our kids still talk about is the  quaint village of Luss with the colorful flowers in the front yards.

Edinburgh castle
The most visited site in Scotland, this historic fortress, towers over the city’s skyline from its position on Castle Rock. In the castle you can tour  St Margaret’s Chapel from the early 12th century, the Great Hall, and the Royal Palace. The Honours of Scotland  (aka crown jewels) and the National War Memorial are housed here. The dark dungeons and tunnels had our sons mesmerized and  listening for the ghostly lone piper who the story says vanished without a trace while playing here. They learned about the Stone of Scone (traditional coronation gem of the Scottish monarchy that was fought over for centuries) and according to legend,currently  still hidden in the castle. They even waited patiently in the rain (it always rains in Scotland)  until precisely 1 o’clock for Mons Meg, the enormous medieval cannon to fire!
Taking your Kids with Autism to Scotland

Stirling Castle
This was probably our favorite castle since it boasted  larger rooms, was well ventilated and turned out to be very kid- friendly offering multiple hands-on activities. Prominent during Middle-Ages battles, it was redecorated by James V and Mary of Guise, the parents of Mary Queen of Scots and served as the Stuart kings’ residence. Kids can look for unicorn pictures and statues, walk along the moat (if it doesn’t rain) and climb up the stairs to the tower ramparts. We enjoyed reading the feast recipes, (peacock and swan anyone?) in the kitchen and the kids’ zone where they can dress up in renaissance costumes and play different instruments.

Urquhart Castle
On the peninsular, surrounded by the breathtaking Loch Ness about 15 miles south of Inverness,  this is a true treasure. Deeply entrenched in Scottish history and having  played a major role in many battles, the ruins of the once spectacular Urquhart castle that was destroyed in 1692 are worth the visit. Start at the visitor center and check out the diorama depicting the  castle’s glory days.Our kids like the kiln and dungeon that was used to hold war prisoners next to the main ruin.

 

Cawdor Castle
Approximately 10 miles east of Inverness, originally built around a tower house and expanded over the span of several centuries, this castle went down in infamy as the one belonging to Shakespeare’s  Macbeth the Thane of Cawdor.In reality  the castle was built long after he died. At the entrance, there is a panel of the family motto  that spells ‘be mindful’ with the initials of Sir Hugh Campbell and his wife Lady Henrietta Stewart who renovated the castle in the late 1600s. Our kids got a kick out of  learning that a real person still resides in the Castle-the Dowager Countess Cawdor, stepmother to the Earl of Cawdor.Allergy  suffers might want to take an abridged tour of the Castle and visit the beautiful gardens instead since  like many other older castles there is quite a bit of dust in the air.
Taking your Kids with Autism to Scotland

The Royal Yacht Britannia
For four decades, this majestic ship served as the yacht to their Majesties Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It saw many foreign celebrities and dignitaries like Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan on board as well as members of the British royal family. Apart from the royal bedrooms that are surprisingly modest, the official dining hall and the sailors’ quarters provide a unique and fascinating insight into what it was like to live aboard the yacht. Britannia even helped in the humanitarian evacuation of refugees in Yemen in 1986. Be sure to check out the fudge sold in the small store that is rumored to have been the late Princess Diana’s favorite.

Cairns of Clava
Not as impressive as Stonehenge the stone monolith cairns, made famous by the Outlander series are still worth the visit, especially for those who have read the books. There are three different circular areas that according to legend hold the souls of the dead. Experts speculate that they were once used as calendars or sundials for the tribes living there over a thousand years ago. Walk among the cairns or imagine going back into the past like the successful book series describes and don’t forget to snap a “split stone” selfie as soon as you arrive to beat the crowd.

Scottish Wool Centre  at Aberfoyle
Here, children can pet farm animals, feed the lambs and learn old fashioned techniques of spinning and weaving. The day we visited they had “try your hand spinning and weaving the wool” and “sheepherding” demonstrations with audience participation which was hilarious. Volunteers were competing against trained sheep dogs in different tasks and guess who won?! Our son was delighted to be selected by the organizer to act as referee and it became a highlight of our trip.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Scotland

Hamish
On vacation we always try to include at least one unique animal experience and meeting Hamish fit the bill. To those who don’t know,Hamish is one of Scotland’s oldest Highland bullocks  who narrowly escaped slaughter during the BSE mad cow scare of 1996. Since then he has become somewhat of a celebrity in the Highlands and for the first time in his life  finally got a ‘girlfriend.’ Heather and Hamish, the happy couple, reside in a field next to the Trossachs Woollen Mill at Kilmahog, Perthshire.The day we visited Hamish was not in a particularly friendly mood but Heather greeted us and was only to happy to be fed some treats.

 

Autism Travel tips

Scotland like other parts of the UK is quite autism friends be sure to ask for discounts to attractions as well as front of the line accommodations since you will get them in some spots.
It rains quite a bit during the summer and many outdoor venues get muddy so bring a pair of crocs with you and several extra pairs of socks

Have you visited Scotland? What were your favorite sights?

 

 

 

 

Top Autism Travel Spots in Bucharest

Neatly tucked away in the eastern part of Europe is a worthy, slow-paced but fun, family vacation destination. In Bucharest, one can enjoy and admire unique architecture, outdoor interactive museums, as well as embark on delightful culinary adventures of traditional Romanian cuisine.

 

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots

Herăstrău Park

On the northern side of the city is an iconic park surrounding a lake. Estimated to be the largest urban park in Europe, it is a Mecca for outdoor lovers; offering diverse family activities like skating, free biking, boating including paddle boats, and rollerblading.

Tip: Go on a weekday since it tends to be crowded with locals on weekends and don’t forget your bug spray!

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots
The Village Museum

Muzeul Satului is a unique open-air museum housed in Herăstrău Park. It showcases farming houses from the different parts of the country.  Its 272 peasant farms and houses created in 1936 by Dimitrie Gusti allow visitors to observe local craftsmen at their work, as well as sample traditional foods like sherbet and homemade jams that are hard to find else where.

Tip – since most of the display areas are not paved, it is best to avoid visiting on rainy days. Make sure to wear non-slip shoes.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots
The Parliament Palace

The World Record Academy lists this architectural masterpiece as the largest civilian administration building in the world, making it the number one tourist attraction in the Romanian capital. The mammoth complex stands tall on a hill; a reminder of the country’s deceased dictator and communist past. Visitors will be surprised at the enormity of the rooms, the extravagant lighting fixtures along with the sparse, almost nonexistent décor.

Tip: Be advised that you can only visit the building if you partake in an official tour. It involves extensive walking and strict safety regulations disallowing separation from the group. Don’t book if you think your child won’t be able to cope.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots
Admire the architecture

Since 1878, following the Romanian War of Independence, Calea Victoriei has been a most exclusive shopping boulevard. It started off as part of the trade route between Bucharest and the city of Brașov, but in today’s capital it projects a mélange of old grandeur with palaces like Cantacuzino and Stirbei, elegant hotels like the Athenee Hilton and the former Hotel Buchuresi now called Radisson Blu, and exclusive designer shops. There are iconic buildings and memorials  too; the  column commerating those fallen in the 1989 revolution ,theNational Museum of Art, the Telephone Palace, Pasajul Macca and the CEC building as you stroll down towards Piata Unirii.

Tip: On your walk, stop and introduce your child to Covirigi – a Romanian pretzel snack filled with different jams or cheese.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots
Arcul de Triumf
Built in 1936 to commemorate the creation of the greater Romanian state and bravery of the Romanian soldiers in WWI, the Romanian Arch is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe, its more famous French counterpart. Located along Kiseleff road, the 85 foot tall arch designed by architect Peter Antonescu stands in the place of two preceding arches that celebrated Romania’s independence and establishment of the monarchy.

Tip: For adventurous tourists and energetic children, I highly recommend the interior staircase leading to the top.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots
Strada Lipscani

Lipscani is both a street and a district that has been a Bucharest feature for the past six hundred years. Once a flourishing commercial center it was named for the lipscan (traders) who brought goods from Western Europe. During the communist era the suburb became a giant slum and narrowly escaped demolition plans. After the revolution of 1989, Lipscani made a surprising comeback and is now a renovated pedestrian zone with food, retail and entertainment venues.

Tip:Stop by Stavropoleos Church to see a representation of the Romanian Brancovenesc style which blends Ottoman and Western elements. Built in 1724 with striking woodcarvings and frescoes, it is a good opportunity to introduce your child with autism to typical Romanian religious art.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots  
Cismigiu Gardens

Located in the center of Bucharest and considered the city’s oasis by the locals, you will find a park called Cismigiu; the name derived from the Turkish word for fountains. The garden offers multiple outdoor activities like rowboat rentals, a winter skating ring, a children’s playground and cafes and restaurants. During the summer months you can feed swans, geese, ducks and peacocks in large cages, as well as listen to live music in the gazebo area.

Tip: The gardens are a wonderful spot to de-stress in an otherwise noisy, bustling city. During the holidays, one can look for fairs with craftsmen displaying their traditional products and souvenirs.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots

[50] Untitled]

 

 

Have you visited Bucharest with your family-what are your favorite spots?

Taking the Kids to Dracula’s Castle

On the spur of the moment we decided to take our kids to visit what is known as  Dracula’s  Castle ,located in the sleepy village of Bran a few miles outside the town of Brasov on our latest trip to Romania.

14475870087_cd0b0b3b12_z

 

Despite clever marketing associating this castle with Dracula we did not encounter any ghouls or blood-sucking vampires during our tour.

14682196493_d9029d889d_z

 

But that shouldn’t deter you from visiting.

Far from it!

14662295655_02e622fd6d_z

 

The castle rich in stories and myths provides a unique perspective of Romanian history of Transylvania worth exploring.

14660053794_e6597a95f6_z

 

We learnt the site was originally a fortress built in 1212 by Teutonic knights was later converted into a castle. During the next few centuries it was repeatedly fought over and exchanged numerous owners because of its economic (tax collection station) and military importance .

In 1920 it was bequeathed to the English born Romanian Queen Marie by the city of Brasov.

 

 

14660051674_944c8f7e74_z

 

Turns out she found the place enchanting (maybe she was a Bram Stoker’s fan ) ,spent time renovating it, lived there for the last years of her life  and even asked to be buried there (rumor has it the queen ‘s heart is actually buried in a crypt chapel nearby.)

14682199513_99ff6ca976_z
Nowadays the Castle that was nationalized by the communists and returned to royal family ownership after the 1990 revolution displays remnants of fine art and furniture collected by the late Queen Marie.

 

14662297345_4a814b1e4f_z

 

For eight US dollars for adults and six for students (free for anyone with a disability) visitors can tour can the castle’s maze like interior on their own or with a guided tour.

Probably the most striking is the fact the castle though impressive from the outside looks and feels very much like a family home inside. True, a rather large family home with magnificent views but with no fancy or elaborate decorations of any sort you’d expect of a ‘real’ castle.

14475633410_d43d8cf2af_z

 

 

Like I mentioned before we didn’t meet any spirits or undead characters but then again we did ignore the screams we heard while climbing the secret narrow staircases in the dark and never once looked back…

 

14662302005_dfb7191bae_z

If your kids  still have energy to burn after climbing the hill to the Castle and wondering about the Castle head on to the open-air museum park exhibiting traditional Romanian peasant dwellings.

Top your visit off with an obligatory shopping spree at the multiple stores that sell souvenirs like we did to find the perfect Vlad the impaler snow globe to take home.

Taking the Kids to Dracula's Bran Castle

 

 

Autism travel tips:

  • The ground around the Castle is quite uneven so sturdy shoes are a must.
  • The rooms can get crowded and stuffy so you should bring water and a small fan.
  • Try to arrive first thing in the morning to beat the crowds.

 

14475860617_fdc2582494_z

 

5 Reasons to Take Your Family to Romania

 

In the month since returning from our summer vacation abroad, I’ve been approached by several friends requesting information about our Romanian vacation. In fact it seems that people are finally starting to take notice of a beautiful Baltic country that has been off the holiday destination radar for years. I’m convinced that in the not too distant future, there will be a mad rush to the freshly discovered Romania, so here are my five recommendations as to why you should take your family, and soon!

Visiting Romania – 5 reasons to take your family The food

Romanian cuisine is a wonderful blend of borrowed techniques and flavors from its neighbors: Turkey, Germany, Austria and Hungary have a strong and varied influence. Imagine Russian meals with a French twist for example. From the tempting street grub, the savory fish salad (Icre) and unique Zacusca (egg plant mixed with peppers), sour Ciorba soups, meat stews and kebabs to the scrumptious desserts like the Gioffre and Savarina, your family will have plenty to sample and discover. Our kids still dream of the Papanasi (fried dumplings) topped with berry jam and crème fraiche they enjoyed.

The myth

We all know Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula may have been pure fiction, but that didn’t stop us fantasizing about meeting the bloodsucking vampire in secret passages or at the top of the wooden staircases of Bran Castle. In fact most visitors to Romania enjoy tracing the footsteps of the fictional character through the medieval town of Sighisoara to the castle where he allegedly lived, to his secret tomb in Snagov. In the process they learn about the person who supposedly inspired the stories – the ruthless Romanian ruler, Vlad III the Impaler.

The scenery
Many travelers don’t realize just how large and geographically diverse Romania is. As you drive outside the capital, in places like Maramures and Suceava, there are vast areas of unspoiled wilderness waiting to be experienced. With beaches, mountains, valleys, forests, hot springs and even a river delta, there is beauty as far as the eye can see. Even more fascinating is that the country has kept its authentic, centuries old farming traditions and slow-paced village living. Our fondest memory is listening to the cow bells crossing the meadows in Zarnesti on our way to the Libearty Brown Bear Sanctuary.

Visiting Romania – 5 reasons to take your family The people

The people are open, warm and very friendly especially with tourists; as they feel a sense of obligation to portray their country in the best light possible. Surprisingly, many people we met, especially the younger generation, spoke English quite well so communication was no problem. Furthermore, throughout our trip, our son with autism was treated kindly and made to feel welcome and comfortable by everyone we met even in the most remote locations.

The prices

Compared to other countries in Europe, and globally for that matter, Romania continues to be a good choice for budget-oriented travelers. A family of four can stay in a large, three star hotel room in the capital for less than 100 dollars a night. and enjoy a three coarse meal in a sit down restaurant for under fifty dollars. Prices for public transportation, including cabs, are low and entrance fees to museums, churches or other attractions are priced much more reasonably than in other international destinations. The bonus for souvenir lovers is that one can haggle with different street vendors and come away with a bagful of trinkets for less than ten bucks, just like our son did!

Tips For Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches With Kids

Today June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of what has come to be known as D-Day.
On this day in 1944, the Allied forces composed of US, Canadian UK and French soldiers landed simultaneously on five adjacent beaches in Normandy and launched a massive attack on the German army strategically barricaded behind a series of land mines, barbed wire and pill boxed was nicknamed ‘the Atlantic wall’. By the end of the day the British, Canadian and American divisions had established strong holds on land and succeeded not only in breaching the German Nazi fortifications’ but changing the course of the war that eventually lead to the end of WWII.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids

Nowadays the bunkers,cemeteries and beaches of the fallen soldiers are open not only to the families of the fallen but to visitors between 9-5 on daily basis except on holidays.

Should you take your kids?

The short answer is yes; especially if your kids are over ten years old and have already learnt about WWII in history class. It is important to talk to kids about the circumstances that lead to WWII, and about how wars in general have impacted modern civilization and humanity.

What is there to see and how long does it take?

You can tailor the visit Depending on your child’s interest and level of attention. A typical visit can last anywhere between a couple of hours to several days exploring the different sites. The most frequented site with over 1 million of visitors a year is Omaha Beach with its adjacent American Cemetery and Point Du Hoc view of the Cliffs. You don’t need to make special reservations but be aware that it can get more crowded around Memorial day and the D-day anniversary time.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids

Introducing your kid to WWII

Most European and American kids hear or study about WWII by  their 6th grade in school. Nonetheless as a parent, you should re-introduce the topic and discuss the significance of the day before visiting. An easy way to start is to rent and  watch the acclaimed ‘Saving Private Ryan’ movie that depicts the chaos and horror that ensued the landing .

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids

Preparing for your visit

Pack a day bag with  the usual essentials like snacks, water, sunscreen, band-aids (in case of falls) and ponchos (in case of rain). Be aware that most sites are outdoors; the terrain is uneven rugged and can become muddy when it rains so closed walking shoes with anti slip bottoms are strongly recommended.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids

The Highlights

Pointe du Hoc
After exploring a small exhibit at the new visitor center your family can roam the Nazi bunkers, gun emplacements and deep craters  on their own while wondering how it must have felt for the troops to scale the cliffs under intense fire.
Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids

The American Cemetery

After you pass security you head on to the memorial that depicts maps and descriptions of the different military operations as well as the Walls of the Missing where 1,557 names are inscribed.Definitely stop by the beautifully landscaped reflecting pool and the inspirational ‘spirit of American Youth rising from the waves’ statue.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids

 

Next you can wander around the 170-acre cemetery that is located on the original burial ground established by the U.S.Army on June 8, 1944 .As you walk among with over 9,387 thousand crosses and Stars of David perfectly aligned,you can solemnly salute the brave young men who died in the massive military operation.
Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids

Exceptionally moving is the section where siblings and family members are buried next to each other like the two Roosevelt brothers in Plot D,Row 28 and Niland brothers Plot F.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids
End on an optimistic note

After visiting the cemetery you can walk a path on the cemetery grounds that leads to the rather peaceful beach below. It is interesting to point out to your kids who that after seventy years, life in Normandy has moved on and the beaches are used by locals to swim and relax in.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids

Extend your visit
Stop by the small resort town of Arromanches for a picnic on the beach or quick bite in one of the cafes along the beach front. Complete your tour at the Arromanches 360 degree theater and watch a 20- minute presentation of the invasion (http://www.arromanches360.com/en/#NaN) or check out Mulberry harbor  designed and constructed by the British to facilitate the unloading of military supplies following D-Day invasion.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids
Autism Travel Tips

  • Consider hiring a local guide for your tour to engage your child with detailed stories  of the invasion
  •  bring a pair of headphones for the movie  along since it can become quite loud during shelling or Natzi rally clips.
  • For travelers with mobility restrictions wheelchairs are available free of charge, but expect the paths to make for a bumpy ride.
  • Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids

Planning Your Next Holiday Vacation

 

There’s no time like the present to start planning your next holiday.But where to go and what to do? Some holidaymakers love nothing more than bundling the kids and the dog into a car and setting off on a ‘staycation’ to a beautiful corner of the UK, like Cornwall or the South Coast. Others prefer to hop over the Channel and spend a sunny week or two in the glorious French countryside, enjoying long walks with picnics or exploring some of the region’s historical forts and Roman ruins.

Planning your Next Holiday Vacation

 

For those who don’t like flying, there are many wonderful destinations within reach by road or rail thanks to the Channel Tunnel, ferry crossings and the superfast Eurostar. For others, a holiday isn’t a holiday without getting on a plane – and if that’s the case, the world really is your oyster.

 

There are stacks of different holiday destinations within reach by air. Take a look at some of the main tour operators’ websites – like http://www.thomascook.com/, for instance – and you’ll find a long list of places to visit covering many different tastes and preferences. How about a holiday to Greece? To Spain? A trip to lovely Malta, or a fun-filled family break in the Algarve?

 

Europe is certainly home to a cracking range of holiday destinations, and thanks to their proximity to the UK, they’re often within just a few hours’ flight time – making them relatively affordable too.

 

Planning your Next Holiday Vacation

 

Of course if you fancy ramping up the exotic factor, you could head off to the sparkling shores of Egypt’s Red Sea coast. Enjoy a stay in Sharm el Sheikh and experience the buzz and bustle of this vibrant resort, as well as the chance to laze on its glittering golden sands and enjoy a splash in the glorious waters of the Red Sea.

 

Whatever type of holiday you fancy, whether it’s a family camping trip close to home or an escape to paradise shores, there’s a whole host of different holiday experiences out there. It’s just a matter of finding your favourite.

Guest Post

Taking Autistic Kids to Paris

Guest post by Zoe Sandell

After our visit to London, we decided to visit Paris for a few days. We took the underground that took us to the Eurostar Paris Station. The station looks a bit like an airport-we still had to check in and go through security and wait to board. Our autistic son, Brodie was getting well. With a simple stamp on our passports, we got to hop on the train. Well, not literally, as Brodie would follow my exact direction and hop if I told him to.

The Eurostar like all trains has half the seats facing forwards and the other half backwards. Of course, we ended up getting rear facing seats that Brodie dislikes. He was fine…until the train started to move. I have to say he didn’t get upset, but I could see the panic in his face. Luckily, we found two seats facing the right way and moved. Once settled all was well.

The actual tunnel through the channel only goes for about 20 minutes but was still exciting. Brodie watched “Madagascar” on his DVD player, and we took a walk to the café carriage for the experience.

For a reason only Brodie knows when we did arrive in Paris, he threw himself to the ground and started banging his head (I received a few hits too). However, he made a quick recovery. A fellow passenger who sat in front of us on the train felt the need to come up and reassure us; we were doing a fantastic job Brodie and added that her own grandson had autism. I thanked her and replied that at times like these. We wondered whether we are crazy for traveling with him around the world. She reassured me we were giving Brodie wonderful experiences. Her answer brought tears to my eyes.

Taking Autistic Kids To Paris

photo credit-zoe sandell

So we finally arrived to Paris-city of lights. My first impression was I needed to hold onto my handbags and watch my pockets! There were posted signs all over the station warning travelers of pickpockets. We were approached by several girls pretending to be collecting donations for disabled kids.

Finding our next train (the regional RER) was quite an ordeal  too.We needed  to get  change for the ticket machine My  dad (who was traveling with us) had me worried when he headed off with some young boys trying to sell used train tickets as a scam!Our older son,Harley as I have mentioned before was a super star – fantastic at helping work out which lifts we needed to take and where the train platforms were .

The train (when we found it) took us directly to the Eiffel Tower. If you want to go to the top of the Tower. I would advise you to book tickets in advance to skip the long lines at the register. The caveat was that we arrived too early for our time slot, so we were stuck sitting around waiting. So we passed the time getting lunch and some souvenirs. A few trips to the restroom and we were ready to hit the line up (yes, there was a separate one for the pre-booked tickets)

Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower isn’t as easy as it may sound! Many times the weather can be windy or cold, so they close the top off to visitors. Some days the top may be open, but there is no view if it is cloudy.

On the day we visited, it was a perfect! At one point during our lining up the sign said the top of the tower was closed due to congestion, so we really weren’t sure if we would make it! Congestion also meant elevator rides with hoards of strangers, but Brodie managed to behave wonderfully on both elevators (first and second levels).Certainly worth a ride on the carousel as a reward afterwards! The view was incredible and just the fact that we had a child with severe Autism ON THE TOP of the Eiffel Tower was enough to blow our minds!

The train back from the Eiffel tower to the main train station where we had left our bags was incredibly crowded too. We squeezed onto the train and there was a woman in front of me with a pusher with a small child in it and another young child holding onto it. She kept saying to me “no space, no space” while people behind me were still pushing me forward into her, so they could get onboard.

At this point I was expecting Brodie to lose it! But no he dealt with being a human sardine so well!  You just cannot imagine the amount of people  on that metro train.As we got off more and more people just piled onto the train and all I could think was that woman and her small children were still in there somewhere!

paris

photo credit-zoe sandell

We picked up our bags  from the lockers and  boarded the train  to Disneyland  Paris ( quite far from the actual city ).It  was at that point Brodie said “you know what, I’ve had enough”  and proceeded to lie down on the floor in the station and cry!

By this point, we had all pretty tired and were relieved when we arrived at our apartment one train stop away from Euro Disneyland. It was almost magical to put Brodie to bed that night and show him in his social story where he would be going to the next morning.

EuroDisneyland was incredible! We had a wonderful time  riding the  rides for two days straight .We decided NOT to hire a wheelchair for Brodie  but did buy him a well deserved “Mickey Mouse” balloon for walking that long.

What we did get was Disney’s disability access pass. This is incredible and if you ever take autistic kids to Disneyland, do get one of these (we also did it in Los Angeles). The staff in EuroDisney was helpful but this time we did have to show a doctor’s note stating Brodie had Autism. The last time we visited he was in his wheelchair, so we didn’t have to do that. The pass was easy to get and cast members were only too happy to explain how it worked.

The pass works a little different in Paris than in Los Angeles. In L.A you walk up to the exit and wait until they have a spot to put you on the ride thus avoiding the line. In fact, we could all go with Brodie on the ride which was great, so we could all stay together. In EuroDisney, each ride had a number next to it and this was the number of people plus Brodie, who could use the exit to access the ride. There are some rides where you could go to the exit and book a time to come back and do that ride. No matter, matter the systems it meant lines were shorter, which helped us get through the parks quicker! Honestly, we didn’t even have to use the pass so much since most weren’t that long, but we still liked having it as an option.

What a wonderful  initiative from Disneyland -we can’t thank them enough for making our lives easier!

paris

photo credit-Zoe Sandell

Our Mentionable  EuroDisney Highlights are:

Dad noticed that one of the rollercoasters was going to close the following  day for maintenance, so we went across to Disneyworld and had three turns on that one before it closed the next day.
The Tower of Terror was Harley’s and my favorite in LA and I think this time it turned into Brodies favorite too.It features a sharp drop .Here  I’m sitting telling Tim to hold onto to Brodie since he doesn’t know it is about to drop.I the  meanwhile Brodie is pushing Tim’s hands away and as soon as the ride drops-Brodie lets out the most hilarious giggle and signs he wants more as soon as it was done.Totally priceless! Of course I had to buy them both a Tower of Terror T-shirt!
 I don’t remember the official name but we called it the turtle rollercoaster ride. It featured a character from “Finding Nemo” based on the turtles riding the East Australian Current.  This ride was a “kids” rollercoaster, but it was quite extreme (a part we forgot to mention to mum before she had a turn on it.)
We enjoyed lunch in “pizza planet” , watched some shows  and a Parade.After all you can’t go to Disneyland and not see a Parade!

The third day after visiting  “the largest shopping mall you have ever seen” and an adjacent “sea life” park ,we enjoyed a short cruise on the Seine.Mum and I decided to take the boys for a walk to the famous church in Monmartre, Sacre-Coeur.The walk was a little scary at times, but very interesting.We liked the cable car ride up the hill .As we entered  the Church we saw  the signs asking vistors to keep quiet. We were half way through our tour and remember thinking to myself  that  Brodie must have known he has to be quiet since he was being so good. The very next minute he made one of the loudest noises he possibly could!  Harley and I both told him to stop which further set him off .Guess he enjoyed our reaction so much he decided to do an encore.Needless to say  we all made a very quick exit .Later that evening we re-joined the men and caught the EuroStar back to London.

paris

photo credit-Zoe Sandell

I can safely say we officially rocked Paris!

Do you have questions about autism and travel?

I'm Margalit Francus, and I'd love to talk with you.

Why don't we talk on the phone and I'll do my best to answer your questions. Book a no-obligation 20 minute call with me to discuss anything to do with autism and travel.
Book a time