Tag Archives: tips

Pre-flight entertainment for the whole family

How family friendly facilities can make airport waits a hell of a lot easier

A guest post by Emily Taylor

I’ve probably been in transportation terminals rife with the cries of restless kids more times than I can count. Not that I don’t have a soft spot for children, because I do; but that doesn’t make the constant barrages of their whines and wails any less annoying.

Family in airport with bags and trolley

Which is why it’s great to learn that many major airports the world over are now integrating child-friendly facilities to their overall services. In the US, Chicago’s O’Hare International has a reputation for being one of the busiest airports in the country. With that many flyers coming in and out of its terminals, things could no doubt get too loud – or even downright frightening – for kids. Thankfully, the airport has a special play area designed to keep them preoccupied as they wait for their flights. O’Hare has a playground called Kids on the Fly that features interactive exhibits showcasing many facets of how airplanes work given in a fun and informative manner. I remember how I was easily marveled by these kinds of easy-to-digest information when I was younger; and I have no doubt kids nowadays get a kick out of them just as much as I used to.

Heading over to the UK, London’s flagship Heathrow Airport is undergoing a lot of major renovations, most notably an expansion of Terminal 2 – soon to be called the Queen’s Terminal upon completion – as detailed in a report by airport parking service site Parking4less. Along with the expected larger floor space to accommodate more people, Terminal 2 will also open a John Lewis outlet – allegedly the smallest yet of the department store chain brand. As per John Lewis’ usual wares, this outlet will include items for kids and toddlers. Just as well, the nearby Terminal 3 also houses the Jetterz Kids Club Lounge, which should keep the children preoccupied with books, toys, and video games.

Asia’s airports have also gotten in on the act, with Hong Kong International’s play area being one of the best in the world. The SkyPlaza at Terminal 2 has a section called the Aviation Discovery Center which has various fun activities for kids and adults alike, including motion rides, games that teach about the finer points of aviation, and even flight simulators. SkyPlaza also has the 4D Extreme Screen Cinema, a 300-seater movie theatre which features the largest 3D projection screen in the whole continent. Finally, the entertainment facility is also home to iSports, an area for sports enthusiasts whose simulators for basketball, football, skiing, and more should be more than enough to accommodate the young ones’ seemingly never-ending supply of energy.

For me, a complete flight experience is one that includes services designed to entertain people even as they wait in between flights. This is especially necessary for families who may have a hard time keeping their kids well-behaved for too long. Given that, to have these services cater not just to adults but to children as well is definitely something that every airport should consider.

Author bio:
Emily Taylor was inspired to be a backpacker by her dad’s amusing travel stories from India. At present, she’s having the time of her life experiencing Oriental cultures. She spends most of her time abroad checking out airports, having rural roadtrips and trying an unusual amount of street food, all while avoiding mosquito bites. Once her glory days as a travel nut is over or when her dollars run out (whichever comes first), she plans to build her own family. But she’d honestly love to keep right on traveling – even with little kids in tow.

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London in October

In October 2012, I spent eight days in a surprisingly sunny London. I was actually there to work with the Waggener Edstrom London team, but I made sure to have some extra time to explore the city and tick off an item from my (unpublished) bucket list. I arrived on a bright Saturday morning, ready to take on the city.

London has tonnes and tonnes of sites to see, museums to visit, and pubs to explore. I managed to see a lot taking into consideration that I only had the Saturday and Sunday of the weekend I arrived, and the evenings after work.

My first point of business was to buy a local UK sim card. After getting lost all over the show in Europe in April (with a husband to navigate), I thought I’d place my trust in the Google. The second point of business was an Oyster card. Clearly I had my priorities sorted out, and I strongly recommend that you do this as well if you’re unfamiliar with the city.

After checking into the hotel, I set out to “pursue that flighty temptress, adventure”, only to realise nothing has opened yet. After waiting around, a little tired from the long flight, things started looking up and I managed to visit the Jubilee market, Trafalgar square, the National Gallery (amazing!), the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. I joined a Swede who stayed in the hostel with me, and we had a fantastic Indian dinner in Brick lane.

On Sunday I checked into the Charing Cross hotel, and ticked Tower bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, the Tate modern (holy crap, when can I go back?), Millennium bridge, St. Paul’s cathedral and Camden town off my list.

My week nights were filled with random pubs, amazing restaurants, and revisiting some of the sites I’d already seen to take a few photos of them at night. My last visit before departing London the following Saturday, was the National Portrait gallery and the very bright M&M’s World in Leicester square.

There is one other element that I’m saving for a post of its own, one that deserved taking a Friday afternoon off and going all the way to Watford. “To be continued…

Reflecting on London

M & Ms World, Leicester square

All  images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012. Please contact me if you would like to use any images from this site.

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Budgeting for Europe

In April 2012, we spent 22 days in Italy, France and the Netherlands. One of the toughest things to budget for was the average amount of spending money we’ll need per day. Bookings flights, hotels and car rentals before-hand meant that these costs were already accounted for. We also managed to book a great number of attractions online. What we were left with, are general day-to-day, cost of living expenses.

We are currently in the preparation phase for our next trip, and it seems that we’re again down to the cost of living expenses. This time we are however armed with the knowledge learned from our previous trip, and I would like to share some of it here. As a traveler, I know how hard it is to find accurate information on this.

When we arrived in Italy last year, our biggest shocks were how much things cost when converted to South African Rand. We quickly learned that this is the wrong way to approach purchases. Instead we took the spending money  we had, and worked out a daily allowance for the duration of our trip. To check ourserlves, we took notes of every single item we bought each day, and made sure that the average spend throughout our trip did not exceed the initial daily budget we had set.

Here is a short breakdown of what our average daily costs were, with a brief description of typical items bought. I’ve broken these down into two sections: costs with and without a rental car. The cost for the rental car is not included here, but associated costs like tolls, petrol and parking have been factored in.

In total, our average came to €74.83 per day for two people.

A summary of our expenses in Italy, France and the Netherlands in April 2012. Click the image for a bigger version.

A summary of our expenses in Italy, France and the Netherlands in April 2012. Click the image for a bigger version.

WITHOUT A RENTAL CAR

Eight days in Venice, Assisi and Rome | €78.74 per day for two people
Water taxis in Venice, souvenirs, groceries (bread, cheese, salami or other cold meats, fresh fruit and veggies, pasta, canned goods, butter and other spreads, yoghurt and breakfast cereals, some beer and/or wine, snacks like chips and cookies), entrance to museums and basilicas, Pompeii entrance fee and maps for Pompeii and Assisi, guided tour of the Vatican with audio-guides, bus and metro guidebooks in Rome, five-day metro passes in Rome, eating out for dinner at reasonably priced restaurants, coffee at cafés.

Six days in Lyon, Paris and Amsterdam | 74.64 per day for two people
Metro passes for Paris and Amsterdam, groceries (bread, cheese, salami or other cold meats, fresh fruit and veggies, some beer and/or wine, snacks like chips and cookies), artwork and souvenirs, entrance to museums and the Eiffel tower, dinner out in Paris, coffee at cafés.

WITH A RENTAL CAR

Five days driving from Rome to Florence via Pisa, Florence to Genoa, and Genoa to Turin (Italy) | €94.30 per day for two people
Single use bus tickets, groceries (bread, cheese, salami or other cold meats, fresh fruit and veggies, some beer and/or wine, snacks like chips and cookies), toll for use of all highways, diesel to refuel the rental before returning it, guidebook to the Ufizzi gallery, entrance to Medici chapel, cold & flu medicine, lunch and occasional coffee at cafés.
Note: These costs also include a dinner out for my birthday, as well as two birthday presents for me: a leather jacket and a pair of leather gloves.

Three days driving from Chambery to Chamonix, Chamonix to Bourg-en-Bresse, Bourg-en-Bresse to Lyon | 36.66 per day for two people
A taxi between train stations in Turin, a small amount of groceries, entrance to monasteries and cathedrals, two bundles of washing at a laundromat 🙂

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A night tour at the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria

We spent Saturday night at the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria, better known as the Pretoria Zoo. They offer night tours with knowledgeable guides, focusing on nocturnal animals. The tour starts at 18:30 and ends at around 20:30, where after groups may proceed to designated picnic areas to braai and spend some time relaxing around a bonfire. If you’d like to make a bigger trip out of this, you may also book a camping tour.

The Pretoria Zoo stretches over 88 hectares (roughly 217 acres) and celebrates its 114th year in 2013. The night tour is well worth the effort, as there are only a few other guided tours in the zoo at night and there’s no jostling for a view. The tour is however very focused, so if you want to see a bigger variety of animals it might be better to visit in the day. Photo opportunities will also be better then 😉

I managed to get a few pictures, but with my ISO set to 3200 most of them are very noisy.

An exotic buck seen in a spotlight at the Pretoria Zoo A flock of flamingoes settling down for the night at the Pretoria Zoo

A juvenile eagle owl sitting on a log at the Pretoria Zoo

A male bengal tiger seen at night in the Pretoria Zoo

A view of the union buildings and the city of Pretoria in the background, with a sundial in the foreground at the Pretoria Zoo A pack of wild dogs sleeping under a tree at the Pretoria Zoo

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Eurotrip 2012: Day four in Paris, France

23 – 27 APRIL: PARIS, FRANCE

Continued from part 13: Day three in Paris

26 April: The creepy underground of Paris’ catacombs

As you’ll know from our visit to the Capuchin Crypts in Rome, I have a slightly morbid fascination with the way in which human remains are on display. Growing up in South Africa, this is completely unheard of and more than a little eerie.

I also realised (a little belatedly) that this scene in the Court of Miracles from The Hunchback of Notre Dame was actually far more creepy than I initially thought as a child back in 1996.

The catacombs in Paris was one of the only attractions we couldn’t book tickets for before-hand and my only advice here is the GET THERE EARLY. We stood in line for two hours, as only a select amount of people are allowed in at any given time. There are numerous warnings to the faint-hearted about the catacombs’ confined spaces and somewhat disturbing displays of remains. In addition the passages accessible to the public form an almost 2km long labyrinth some 20m underground. This tour is not accessible to young children. Though cameras are allowed, you are not allowed to use flash and the conditions are very dim.

In comparison with the very stylised displays of the Capuchin Crypts, the catacombs seemed impersonal and gave a distinct “function over form” feel.The catacombs used to be stone quarries in the 1700s. Abandoned because of the dangerous conditions, these empty tunnels became the perfect place to store the remains of approximately 6 million people when the Paris cemeteries were filled up in the early 1800s. Along the path are signs showing the cemetery that the remains originated from, as well as the date on which they were moved.

I loved the experience and highly recommend it!

Our trip concludes: Three (very lazy) days in Amsterdam

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Day three in Paris, France

23 – 27 APRIL: PARIS, FRANCE

Continued from part 12: Day two in Paris

25 April: An epic tour of the Louvre
We had all the best intentions in the world to get up early, but fail miserably and choose to sleep in instead. After some coffee and a croissant from the corner bakery, we take on the majestic Louvre.

We were amazed at how much we were actually able to fit in, though I suspect this is largely down to the fact that I had planned a route through the museum in order to see everything that we considered a “must see”. Generally, I’d be waxing on about the immensity, the overwhelming awe, and the incredible collection of artwork that is housed in the Louvre at this stage. However, in this case there truly are not enough words to describe the magnificence of this awesome collection. Instead, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

Continues with Paris’ creepy underground – a visit to the catacombs.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Day two in Paris, France

23 – 27 April: Paris, France

Continued from part 11: Day one in Paris

24 April – Of plans and schemes comes naught

Our plan for the day is to visit a rather vast area riddled with tourist attractions in the 7th and 17th arrondissements of Paris. These include the École Militaire, the Champs-Élysées, the Champ de Mars and a trip up the Eiffel Tower. I’ve found Tripomatic an invaluable asset in planning what to see in our unknown destinations, and would highly recommend it!

The first stop on our tour (no matter what that plan may say) is the House of the Invalids. We chose a Metro stop on the far end of the Ponte Alexander bridge and the view is stunning walking over it. The bridge is one of the oldest in Paris and is adorned with quite a few wonderful details.

It seems as soon as we arrive at Les Invalides it starts pouring down with rain again. We meander around the courtyard looking at the displays of canons and the like whilst keeping out of the rain as best we can, though after three weeks of constant rain I have to admit that I’m no longer feeling the love.

Together with a gaggle of other tourists, we spend the next 40 minutes or so hiding our in an alcove. At this stage it seems abundantly clear that the skies won’t be relenting their watery assault any time soon, so we make the tough decision to go back to the hotel and have lunch. The rain has been somewhat like a toddler with a light switch, and the constant on-off on-off of the torrential downpour has at least been constant in its unpredictability. It has now become clear that our already short-listed version of the sights we want to see in Paris, will have to be cut again and again in order to fit in with the weather’s schedule.

During another dry spell we grab the opportunity to visit the Eiffel Tower. Instead of leisurely strolling through the surrounds, we act like true tourists and take the Metro to the closest stop to the tower and get in line straight away. Through some fluke we end up buying 2/3 tickets, meaning we have to climb the first two levels of stairs before we can take the elevator to the third level. Though the views are amazing and it’s a rather nice experience, the wind is biting and horrible as one ascends.

The view from the top is amazing. The only hill in Paris proudly boasts the Sacré-Coeur and the Louvre is clearly visible. Having studied the lay-out religiously in preparation of our visit tomorrow, this offers an amazing bird’s eye view. In the distance the Arc de Triomphe is visible with its adornment of crazy traffic, but over it all lies a bank of cloud threatening everyone with its seemingly ever-present gloom.

Esplanade du Trocadero, with Paris CBD in the background

La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre

Les Invalides

After descending the steps and reaching ground level, Francois requests that we take a stroll down the Champs-Élysée, at least for a while before we get wet again. The gardens are beautifully kept and it’s a great experience walking down these well-worn stones, but in the light of wanting to save some time we find the next Metro stop and head to the Arc de Triomphe, as the rain is holding out on us for the moment.

Knowing that I may be judged severely for this, I have to admit that the arch itself is not all I expected it to be. The symbolism is great and the detail on the structure itself fascinating, but as a whole I felt rather underwhelmed. As far as unique experiences go, the arch itself doesn’t make it to my list of top 10s. However, while we were standing around looking at the traffic and being told to stay away from the arch, it seems that some military procession was taking place and we were caught up in the middle of it. This did make up for the lack of great weather a bit!

After our long day of (mis-)adventure, our final stop for the day is meant to be the restaurant we found in Montmartre last night. We get dressed in our finest, non-tourist garb and settle in for a wonderful meal of foie gras, duck and chocolate fondant. The service is impeccable and the wine lovely, perhaps all the more so because of the beautiful setting.

After dinner we realize that we may still catch the 23:00 light show on the Tour de Eiffel is we hurry, and as the weather is behaving we take the longer route across the Champ de Mars towards the tower. The lights start twinkling as we walk hand-in-hand towards the tower and I have to admit, that it is every bit as wonderful, romantic and clichéd as one could ever imagine. The perfect ending to a less-than-perfect day.

Next: a day at the Louvre.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Rather have it and not need it…

My husband and I spent April 2012 touring through Italy, France and the Netherlands as a belated honeymoon. Before we set off, it seemed everyone had indispensable advice to give. We were warned against anything from pick-pockets in Rome to the cost of coffee in Paris, and then some! Coming from South Africa, we knew to take most of these with a pinch of salt and instead remember to take a good deal of common sense with.

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