Family Travel Hub, Travel Dreaming

Travel to the library? Oh, yes!!!

Admit it, you haven’t thought about it in a long time. It’s been hectic and there was just no way to fit it into your all too busy schedule. Then, the whole Corona Virus thing brought everything to a standstill. Between dance class and self-quarantine, there is just no room in your schedule for yet another activity anyway. I know, I know! Me too! But the reality is that your local library offers so much more than just a good book selection. There are so many more activities and opportunities at community libraries than we even realize! So, in order to support all those hard working, book loving librarians out there during National Love Your Librarian Month, here is my best pitch to get you in those doors! Let’s travel to the library!

I recently looked at the August schedule for our local library and I was so impressed with the amazing array of events and activities that they are offering. There was everything from science to tax prep. I even saw YOGA! I don’t know about you but yoga may have been my favorite thing on the schedule! Yoga at the library! Seriously?! Absolutely. Libraries are so much more than the books that they keep. Monthly book clubs for adults and weekly story times for kids of all types and ages are just the start of how innovative this underused resource is.

There’s more….

Lots of libraries are involved with programs that incorporate and support STEM initiatives. They provide spaces for people to gather for all kinds of community interests and there is ALWAYS a reading incentive program. (That’s right, they are not just in the summer!) Looking for a class on sign language for babies? Check. How about a veteran’s book group? Yup. Like gardening? Yep, they meet once a month too! The library even offers a class called Pizza and Picasso! I’m in!

Two great resources for getting your kids ready to go to the library are “Between The Lions” (younger) and “Reading Rainbow” (older)- both products of PBS and both available in some way through YouTube. Together, they do a wonderful job of making the library exciting and interesting.

Library Lowdown

As for the global citizen, let me direct you right to the non-fiction stacks. The section you are looking for is all the way at the end. According to Mr. Dewey, you can travel the world in the 900’s. Specifically, section 910 is full of travel and geography. (Did you see my last post on maps?) and just next door in section 914, you will find a bit more about genealogy. That’s right! There is no better place to get started then at the library! Now, hop right on over to fiction and pick up a great European mystery or a Tokyo love story. So, c’mon! What are you waiting for?! Make the time and visit your local library now. Better yet! Make one of these fascinating libraries a bucket list stop on your next travel adventure:

New York Public Library

Located on iconic 5th Avenue, there is no better library in the world, hands down. Check out events and storytimes here.

The London Library

Located in historic St. James’ Square, check out the amazing collection and seriously good events on their calendar here.

The Chicago Library: The Harold Washington Library Center

Located on State Street, check out all of the cool STEM activities that are offered here.

The Central Branch Library of Kansas City

Located in downtown on 10th Street, the library is worth the visit just to see the outside. Check out their events here.

So, let’s travel to the library and discover a new place to find adventures right in your own neighborhood. The library can take you anywhere! Like this and want to see more? Join us at TGC!

brown wooden house and mountain reflecting on lake
Travel Dreaming

Yes! You Can! Swiss Travel Edition

Have you ever wondered about those fabulous activities that you see on youtube, tik tok, and tv? I always ponder whether or not those moments are VIP or available to the average traveler a.k.a. us! So, I’ve scoured a few of the coolest experiences I’ve come across in Switzerland and tracked down whether or not we can. Here are my top 5. Ready?

Swimming in a Swiss glacier river

Finding your way to Bern, Switzerland is a luxury in itself but as Samantha Brown found out there are a few quirky moments in this amazing capitol that might have you wondering what in the world is going on! Local do truly take their work clothes and toss them into a waterproof duffle bag and take the express current down the river home! It’s true! Yes you can! One word of warning, the currents in the Aare River can bit a bit swift, find a guide to help if you do not have a ton of swimming experience. Get a tiny glimpse with this hand held video showing the float from the water. It moves along at quite a clip!

Play With St. Bernard Puppies

Oh yes you can!!! According to the Barryland website, over 20 puppies are born in their breeding program each year. Much like sled dogs, the foundation encourages puppies to play with strangers so that they are even tempered in their subsequent training. The only catch? You need to be there when the puppies are and that’s completely up to mother nature!

Sliding down a mountain in the Alps

The Alps have been know for their swishing snowy slopes for centuries. Have skis? It’s for you! But what happens on some of these mountains in the Summer months when the snow is apres ski? You slide down that mountain toboggan style!!! Many little mountain resorts offer this super cool roller coaster during the warm months so that they can keep revenues up. Here’s an example of one in

Hiking in the Alps one way

One of the best traditions of old school tourism was the super cool trek through the Alps. Hiking from France to Austria was a right of passage for so many. But does that capability even still exist? It turns out, the answer is yes!!! The mountain hospitality of the past is alive and well with tons of modern day extras. For example, as you make your reservations, you can also opt for take ahead service which gets your bag to your next overnight spot for you. This means that if packing or carrying your bag was your barrier, you are all set. Check out how our old buddy feels about it then check in on some great guides that help you make the most of your journey.

Catch a Cruise from A Swiss City

No you say? I say “oh yes you can!” While Switzerland may be land locked, the great city of Basal is a prominent cruise port in the European river cruising industry. So, I’m not talking about a little swing around Lake Lucerne, I’m talking about a serious launching pad for travel well beyond the Swiss borders. Great companies such as Viking, Ama, and Uniworld all call Basal a homeport where they launch their iconic Mosel and Rhine cruising. Check out Samantha Brown’s take on this incredible take on this amazing experience. P.S. be sure to book into Basal a few days before your launch. It’s great town with an artsy feel.

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Travel Dreaming

Krakow 101

Oh, Krakow! You are one of the most under rated European destinations! How I love thee! My love story with Poland began when I was given Polish food as a child from my Polish family. It was very good and I happily ate all the pierogi while Happy Louie and his Polish Band played the Pennsylvania Polka to a frenzied mass of polka crazed people. Don’t believe me? Check out Jack Black’s amazing role the The Polka King!

Listen in to our conversation about Krakow on our podcast! Babcia and Yia Yia Travel The World is a great way to get all kinds of travel tips. Click here to listen to this episode and more!

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Over the years, my Americanized, immigrant version of Poland expanded to understand the pride and heartbreak of a people who had been torn limb from limb time and time again. From the Vasas to the Nazis, it seemed everyone wanted a piece of the breadbasket of Europe and really didn’t care about the people who were already there.

But just as the popular analogy tells us, like a phoenix, Poland rises from the ashes, dusts herself off, and bounces back better than ever. So, what makes Poland a traveler’s paradise? It has a little of everything, beaches and mountains, cities and rural countryside, museums and jazz clubs, castles and cooking classes. It is Europe’s best kept secret and I am about to tell you all about it!

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Now Arriving

Getting to your feet on the ground is pretty straight forward. Most touch down in Warsaw or Krakow and branch out from there. Poland is super welcoming.

  • Public Trains: While Polish trains work with the Eurail pass, they stand on their own. As with most train systems in Europe, they work very well and can get you to any city center efficiently. Trains are a definite plus when getting from city to city. Start here to explore all of your rail options.
  • Polish Uber: Uber is recently available in Poland mush to the dismay of traditional polish taxi drivers (who are very honest and sweet). One tap will get you from the airport to the main square for about $15.00.
  • Walking: All in all, the majority of destinations you plan on enjoying are well worth the walk. Consider your two feet or a couple of bicycles to be your best bet.
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The Three Sisters

Just a bit smaller than Texas, Poland is one of the largest countries on the continent and, as with most things, balances it’s size well. It’s dotted with three large cities from north to south along the great Vistula River. Gdansk is on the northern coast and is ground zero for the solidarity movement and Poland’s immigration story. Warsaw, the capital, is right in the middle, is home to the uprising story of WWII, Marie Curie, and Poland’s great palace. Further south is Krakow. In some ways, Krakow is the cradle of Poland’s history with its stunning Wawel Castle. Krakow is filled with Polish culture and history.

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Understanding The Basics…

  • Eye contact: You know how you grab a waiter’s eye in a restaurant? A quick flick of the hand or a knowing look between the two of you. While this is a completely acceptable method of getting the service you are looking for, in some parts of Poland, this will get you the cold shoulder. Why? It looks pushy and makes the waitstaff feel like you don’t think they are doing a good job. In short, it comes across as rude. If you are in a bit of a rush, simply let your server know that you’ll need to leave with an hour or so. They will happily accommodate you. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the five star service!
  • Lively Churches: Poland is full of amazing churches, The history and architecture are a meld of national pride and overwhelming invaders making for an array of different styles and focuses. While all of these institutions are well worth the visit, be prepared that Mass will be held often as every one of these treasures is still an active parish. If it is, you have two choices: quietly skirt the sides and stay in the shadows as others worship or grab a pew and say a little prayer with everyone else. Either is just fine.
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  • Street Performers: Krakow is full of amazing street performers. The main square has strolling folk music, kids that are breakdancing their heart out, student musicians and more. Summer concerts and performances are plentiful and well worth your time. Enjoy!

What To Do

  • Food Tours and Cooking Classes: Krakow is a food mecca! Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the next section for a sampler. It is totally worth checking in with a great local guide to get a true feel for all of the yummy choices that are yours for the taking. There’s great street food, communist Milk Bars, fabulous fusion and classic polish cuisine all within the old town. Add to that the fabulous Jewish district of Kazimierez and Krakow become hard to pass up for any true foodie.
  • Royal Mile: Krakow’s stunning main square sits in the middle of the old town’s Royal Way. Along this route are plenty of churches, museums, shops, art galleries, and restaurants all winding their way up to the crawn jewel, Wawel Hill.
  • Can’t Miss: Check our the DaVinci masterpiece Lady With Ermine at the newly refurbished Czartoryski Museum. The painting, which is a contemporary of Mona Lisa, is an incredible example of Davinci’s talent. The further story of theft and reclamation prove to be quite fascinating as well.
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  • Royal Beginnings: At the end of the Royal Mile sits gorgeous Wawel Castle. The complex can take a full day to explore with numerous museums and the main cathedral. The cathedral holds the tomb of Poland’s most famous king: Kazimierez, a tribute to Chopin, and the bell tower is fun to climb and get a serious view of the city and it’s lifeline, the Vistula River. Be sure to seek out one of the seven chakras on Earth. The staff may not love it but it’s fun! Also, get down to the river bank and find Smok the fire breathing dragon.
  • Klezmer and Kazimierez: About a ten minute ride away from the old town (which is surrounded by the Planty park) is the old Jewish neighborhood of Kazimierez. Here on the square, you’ll find synagogues, mini museums, and restaurants that often have live traditional music called Klezmer music. You often hear this style with a heavy clarinet sound. From here, walk over the Bernatek footbridge and toward the old Jewish ghetto where you will find Schindler’s factory and the Eagle Over The Door Pharmacy.
  • The Main Square: Dominated by St. Mary’s Basilica (check out that blue ceiling and unbelievable alter piece), Krakow’s main square has quite few treasures to explore. Start at the cloth hall in the center. Go up for a lovely art museum, go down for an underground museum on the archeology of the city. Shop at ground level for all of those polish faves, and go out on the balcony for a lovely drink looking over the hustle and bustle of the square. Use the square as a jumping off point to explore the old town streets full of churches, shops, small museums and plenty of landmarks that relate to St. Pope John Paul II.
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Taking on Polish cuisine…

  • Pierogi: Every culture has a filled dumpling and the Poles are no different! Pierogi (yes, that’s the plural) can be filled with sweet or savory choices. Order them all. Eat them all. You won’t regret it.
  • Zurek: A “sour” soup served in a bread bowl may sound like a great Winter treat (and it is) but don’t discount this wholesome soup in the Summer. It’s all good!
  • Zapiekanki: This is basically Polish french-bread pizza. and it’s great! Perfect for a grab and go lunch to eat in the Planty or at the riverside park under the castle.
  • Lody: Poles love their Summer ice cream! And it is good! Plan on enjoying ice cream as the city wakes up for its evening stroll.
  • Steak tartare: Slavic sushi. Tartare is high quality minced beef served with several seasonings and usually topped with a raw egg. Don’t be so fast to pass on this regional delicacy, consider it the escargot of Poland!
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Exploring Second Cities…

Part of the charm of Poland are all of the individual towns that polka dot the landscape. Each little community has a little city center usually with a train station and plenty to keep you interested. Some of the top contenders are…

  • Poznan: Close to the German border, this tidy town has an interesting history and continues to enchant with its old town and educate with its Jewish quarter tour. It is also a great jumping off point for those who want to visit the Boleslawiec Polish Pottery factory or the Church of Peace: both are great stops if you have the time.
  • Wroclaw: This work-a-day college town might not seem like much to begin with but dig a little deeper and you’ll find an enchanting town ready to welcome visitors. Check out the over 300 little statues all over town that give personality to the wheres and whens you will encounter. Try out the food tours and enjoy all of the yummy treats followed by a shot of cherry vodka.
  • Torun: Smell the gingerbread in Copernicus’ hometown and wander the streets of this charming little college town. Torun is a great half way mark between Warsaw and Gdansk. Whther you are taking the train and spend the afternoon or you choose to spend the night, count Torun in and you won’t regret it!
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Day Tripping From Krakow…

As you expand your horizons from greater Krakow, there are a couple of amazing spots to consider. Every popular guidebook will give you the 411 on the details for these particular places. These were among the family favorites.

  • Wadowice The birthplace of St. Pope John Paul II is the perfect day trip. Explore his home, parish church and charming square then visit Kalwaria Zebrzydowska monastery where he dedicated his life to the church.
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine Descend deep into this UNESCO heritage site for an experience like no other. Part art installation, part medieval history, this unexpected marvel of engineering tells the story of how miners of salt became prolific artists that celebrated the triumphs of their lives where they spent the majority of their time. A perfect morning trip from the city center.
  • Auschwitz Birkenau What can I say? The infamous moment in Polish existence is the Nazi invasion of September 1939. It is, by far, the saddest chapter of the Poles. The role that Auschwitz played in this atrocity can not be over stated and visiting will be quite emotional. But visit you must. I truly think that it is our duty as travelers to understand these moments in history so that we can better understand the times we live in now. You are already here. How could you not go?
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The Great Outdoors

Poland offers plenty of other amazing opportunities away from the city center. Some of our favorites are:

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  • Zakopane Just south of the Krakow region lie the Tatras mountains. Bordering both Poland and the Czech republic, it provides an amazing mountain escape from the “big city”. Central to that escape is the hamlet of Zakopane. This little resort town is a joy to visit with its apres-ski vibe.
  • Masuria Well overlooked, the lakes region to the north and east has long been a vacation stronghold for the polish people. With plenty of water fun, there’s tons to keep you interested in this lovely part of the country.
  • Sopot From the mountains and lakes to the beach! Sopot sits just beside beautiful Gdansk and is a Summer playground for locals and visitors alike. Check out the long pier and the fabulous restaurants as well as the local amber vendors that sell their beachcombing treasures.

The Ultimate Two Week Starter Kit:

Alrighty, you are ready to plan! Check out our handy dandy checklist to start customizing your own itinerary for the trip of a lifetime! Don’t forget to listen to our podcast with all of this information and more to make your trip to Krakow unforgettable.

  • Fly in to Warsaw
  • Explore Warsaw
  • Gdansk
  • Sopot
  • Malbork Castle
  • Take the train to Krakow
  • Explore Krakow
  • Day trip to Auschwitz
  • Take a day trip to Wieliczka Salt Mine
  • Day trip to Wadowice or Czechehowa
  • Overnight in Zakopane
  • Zakopane
  • Finish in Krakow
  • Fly out of Krakow