Salzburg, Twice

Why twice? Because once wasn’t enough!

We first passed through Salzburg, Austria, several weeks ago when we were on our way to Berlin, because Salzburg is the closest airport to Passau. I didn’t know much about what to see in Salzburg besides The Sound of Music tours, but I was delighted to discover that there were a lot of things that were great for family travelers.

Here are my top 5:

  1. The Sound of Music Tour

Did we do the Sound of Music tour? Of course we did! There are a dizzying number of options to choose from, most of which involve large busses, large groups of people, and four to five hours of the day. Knowing Hugo wouldn’t have the patience for something like that, we opted for a shorter, private tour on a bicycle rickshaw through Rikscha Tours.

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A quick pic with our driver Leo

Hugo wore a similarly dour expression on his first becak ride in Indonesia last year.

Our driver Leo took us around the old city, giving us bits of local history as well as pointing out various filming locations for The Sound of Music.

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This fountain makes a brief appearance in “I Have Confidence”

 

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Do-Re-Mi! It’s Mirabell Garden!

 

If you’re in Salzburg with small children, I definitely recommend the bicycle rickshaw tour. It’s much shorter than the standard Sound of Music tour, but you still get to see a lot of great places around the old city. If you’re a real fan of the movie and want to see all you can, then opt for one of the extended tours that can also take you to the filming locations outside of the city, such as the gazebo from “Sixteen Going On Seventeen.”

2. Hohensalzburg Fortress

Hohensalzburg Fortress sits atop a hill overlooking Salzburg, serving as an easy landmark when orienting yourself in the old city.

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Hohensalzburg Fortress and the Alps visible from our apartment during one of our visits to Salzburg

The fortress is more than 900 years old, and is one of the best preserved castle complexes in central Europe. It is easily accessible either by a walking path, or by a short funicular train ride.

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The view of Salzburg from the lookout tower

We spent a fun morningwandering around the castle and museum.

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Would you like to try your hand at cooking in this kitchen?

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Of course the gift shop full of armor and weaponry was a big hit

3. Haus Dur Natur: The Salzburg Natural History Museum

This museum includes interactive science exhibits, an aquarium, and a reptile zoo.

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We spent a lot of time in the aquarium, as you can imagine. This fish is called a Lookdown, a name which fits its disapproving expression.

This museum is huge. You can spend hours here just wandering through all the exhibits.

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The space expoloration room

There were multilingual touchscreen guides throughout the museum, so everything was very accessible even for non-German speakers.

Find the website and visitor information here.

4. Toy Museum

Remember how it was raining all the time in Passau? Well, the rains followed us to Salzburg (despite the sunshine in some of those other photos), and the Toy Museum is a fun place to go when you need to stay indoors.

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Junior railroad conductor

We got there when it first opened and it was pretty much empty. There are complicated marble runs, model trains, giant slides…lots of hands-on fun for kids.

Find the website and visitor information here.

5. Mirabell Gardens Playground, Home Of The Most Spectacular Slide In The World

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Here it is, in all its glory

Where is this most amazing structure? It’s in Mirabell Gardens, just around the corner from the more popular area of the park where the Do-Re-Mi song was filmed.

To get to the top you have to navigate a series of ladders and platforms, then get ready for the white knuckle ride to the bottom! There are other things in thie playground, but this giant tunnel slide is what brought us back, day after day.

In fact, Mirabell is full of little hidden gems, so don’t be afraid to wander away from the tour group or go back later to see the parts you may have missed.

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Goofing off with the gnomes

 

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Veste Oberhaus

Veste Oberhaus, founded in 1219, is a fortress and castle which sits atop St Georgsberg mountain on the left bank of the Danube overlooking Passau. It is a popular tourist site, with free access to the grounds, panoramic views, and a large museum full of interesting displays about local history (5€ for adults, children under 6 are free).

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Photo credit: By Aconcagua – Own work, CC BY – SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2185858

Getting there is part of the fun: there are stairs that climb that tree-covered hill you see in the photo above.

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Just getting started on the climb, looking back at over the Danube

The stairs hug the side of the hill (don’t worry, there’s a railing), and take you inside the walls of the fortress.

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Stopping halfway to take in the view of Passau and the Danube

Once you’re inside the walls it becomes more of a trail than stairs, with lots of little places to stop and rest or admire the view.

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Hugo grows tired of the panoramic views…

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and would rather stop to smell the buttercups.

The climb is actually pretty short, only about 1.5 km from Dom St Stephen. It took us about half an hour with Hugo, who is a reluctant hiker on good days.

When we reached the top we were surprised to discover some historical reenactments going on:

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Pretty much exactly like Skyrim

We visited the museum:

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Lots of interesting displays, even without any English captions

It had been raining lightly but cleared briefly for us to get a good shot from the viewpoint.

Passau from Veste Oberhaus

In the sunshine you can see the different colors of the two rivers

And an obligatory selfie:

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A rare picture of the grown-ups

At last, time to head down.

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24 Hours In Taipei

We got up early and headed to the high speed rail station (HSR or 高鐵站 gāo tiě zhàn, which is different from the train station or 火車站 huǒ chē zhàn. Be sure you’re headed to the right one!) to hop on a train to Taipei.

High speed trains leave Taichung for Taipei about every 20 minutes, and the journey takes about an hour.

High speed trains leave Taichung for Taipei about every 20 minutes, and the journey takes about an hour.

We bought our tickets in advance at a 7-11, but it turns out that you can easily just arrive at the station, buy a ticket, and board the next incoming train.

Our train pulls into the station

Our train pulls into the station

Our first stop in Taipei was the National Palace Museum, which houses a dizzying array of Chinese art and artifacts.

Checking out the jade collection. It turns out you're not supposed to take photos in the  museum, so after being chastised by the security guard I sheepishly put away my camera.

Checking out the jade collection. It turns out you’re not supposed to take photos in the museum, so after being chastised by the security guard I sheepishly put away my camera.

National Palace Museum Visitor’s Notes:

  • In Chinese it is called 故宮 gù gōng
  • Admission is $250 NTD for adults. There is a student discount of $150 NTD, and children are free.
  • We were there on a Saturday and it was very, very crowded.
  • Website
  • Map

Since the weather was nice and it was still too early to check in to our hotel, we decided to take a walk through a couple of Taipei’s many parks.

There is a small park with a fish pond right next to the Palace Museum.  Admission to this park was $20 NTD. You can feed the fish and black swans, and explore the pavilions and walkways. It was a nice contrast to the noise and crowds of the museum.

There is a small park with a fish pond right next to the Palace Museum. Admission to this park was $20 NTD. You can feed the fish and black swans, and explore the pavilions and walkways. It was a nice contrast to the noise and crowds of the museum.

We found a fantastic playground in a large park just behind our hotel, too.

For a short time we had it all to ourselves.

For a short time we had it all to ourselves.

There is an extensive network of city parks in Taipei, and a lot of mountain hiking in the hills around town. We didn’t have a chance to go into the mountains on such a short trip, but I’ve heard they’re worth it if you have the time.

After checking in to our hotel and having a bit of a rest, we headed out to dinner. Everyone raves about the night markets in Taipei, but unfortunately a torrential rainstorm started just as we were leaving. So we headed toward Yongkang Street (永康街 yǒngkāng jiē) to meet with the group for dinner. Yongkang Street is a small lane full of popular restaurants, so if it’s a rainy night and you have to skip the night market it’s a great place to experience the different foods that Taipei has to offer.

We ate ourselves silly at James Kitchen (大隠 酒食  dàyǐn jiǔshí, then began the arduous task of finding a cab home in the rain.

We ate ourselves silly at James Kitchen (大隠 酒食 dàyǐn jiǔshí, then began the arduous task of finding a cab home in the rain.

The rain had cleared by morning, and after checking out of our hotel we headed downtown to Taipei 101.

Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until 2004 when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

The view from the bottom. Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until 2004 when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

We whizzed up the super fast elevator…

Up we go!

Up we go!

…to the 91st floor observation deck to check out the views.

The skies were a bit gray and hazy but the views were still spectacular. There's something thrilling about being so high and seeing a grand cityscape in miniature.

The skies were a bit gray and hazy but the views were still spectacular. There’s something thrilling about being so high and seeing a grand cityscape in miniature.

And to prove that I was there:

Look, Mom! I'm at the top of a tall building!

Look, Mom! I’m at the top of a tall building!

If you are interested in such technical architectural features, there is a 660 ton steel pendulum that helps prevent damage to the building in high winds.

This giant golden orb is the largest damper sphere in the world. Take that, Burj Khalifa!

This giant golden orb is the largest damper sphere in the world. Take that, Burj Khalifa!

You can even hop an elevator to the 91st floor to an outdoor observation deck. Due to high winds that day, most of this deck was closed while we were there. However, we could still go out onto one section.

Here I am, carrying my backpack since we had already checked out of our hotel. Because the bars obstructed the view it was actually much nicer to look out from the indoor observation deck.

Here I am, carrying my backpack since we had already checked out of our hotel. Because the bars obstructed the view it was actually much nicer to look out from the indoor observation deck.

If perchance you think Hugo is always a happy-go-lucky travel companion, this is the expression he wore most of the time in Taipei 101.

Sure, he looks pretty miserable here and refused to get out of his stroller and look around, but if you ask him what he did in Taipei he will excitedly tell you he went to the top of the world's tallest building.

Sure, he looks pretty miserable here and refused to get out of his stroller and look around, but if you ask him what he did in Taipei he will excitedly tell you he went to the top of the world’s tallest building.

After zipping back down the elevator, we grabbed some lunch at the Taipei 101 mall, then caught our train back to Taichung.

Taipei 101 Visitors Notes:

  • Tickets were $500 NTD for an adult, children are free
  • We got there first thing in the morning and there was no wait to go up. However, we had to wait in a long(ish) line to come back down, about 15-20 minutes. I’ve heard from other people that it can get very crowded, so I definitely recommend going on a weekday morning.
  • There is a subway stop for Taipei 101, so getting there is very easy
  • Map

Calligraphy Greenway and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts

Calligraphy Greenway is a long, narrow park and sculpture garden that stretches from the National Museum of Natural History to the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. It’s a wonderful greenbelt oasis in the middle of a bustling downtown, connecting museums, shopping and dining areas along meandering shaded walkways and open grassy fields.

We hopped on the BRT (the Bus Rapid Transit system, which is a free and efficient way to get around town!), got off by the Natural History Museum, then headed south into the park.

The northernmost point of Calligraphy Greenway. As you can see, this would also be a great place to go for a run!

The northernmost point of Calligraphy Greenway. As you can see, this would also be a great place to go for a run!

There are lots of little things to discover along the way, like this Reading Bar:

This is just like the Little Free Libraries we have in the US, where you can take and leave books, or just borrow one to read on one of the park benches.

This is just like the Little Free Libraries we have in the US, where you can take and leave books, or just borrow one to read on one of the park benches.

These rental bikes are very popular and available in lots of parks around the city.

You just make a deposit at the kiosk, then return the bike when you're finished. See those people in the background in the orange shirts? It was a ballroom dance class!

You just make a deposit at the kiosk, then return the bike when you’re finished. See those people in the background in the orange shirts? It was a ballroom dance class!

There is public art all along the walkway.

Pretending we're in Chicago and taking a photo of our reflection in a mirrored sculpture

Pretending we’re in Chicago and taking a photo of our reflection in a mirrored sculpture

After a couple of miles of walking, taking time to stop at the various fountains and playgrounds along the way, we finally reached our destination: the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.

There was a garden of giant pink ladybugs out in front

There was a garden of giant pink ladybugs out in front

The museum is free, and has a variety of temporary and permanent exhibits. My 3 year old is not very interested in fine arts museums generally, but this one has a special Family Room full of interactive art projects for children.

Building block patterns

Building block patterns

Almost every surface has something interactive for the children.

Painting with water! There were also white boards, crayons, paper, and sculpture materials available.

Painting with water! There were also white boards, crayons, paper, and sculpture materials available.

Did I mention there were blocks? So many kinds of blocks.

Hugo says he's building a train. Some of the older children were making very elaborate, multi-room structures that they could climb into.

Hugo says he’s building a train. Some of the older children were making very elaborate, multi-room structures that they could climb into.

I’d recommend the Family Room for kids under age 8, since most of the activities are geared toward younger children. We’ll definitely be back again before we leave Taichung!

The National Museum of Natural Science

Something happened today that I never expected would happen on this trip:

It got cold.

Not cold cold, but it’s 61 degrees F out right now. I had to dig into the recesses of my suitcase to find Hugo’s long sleeve shirt.

Actually, I’m pretty proud of myself for not complaining loudly in every blog entry about how hot it’s been. Blazing sunshine and swampy crotches make me long for the mild misty Pacific Northwest. I’m going to get weird google hits for saying “swampy crotches,” but I’m just telling it like it is.

ANYHOW, today I put on some jeans and we went to the National Museum of Natural Science.

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Please do not climb on the mammoth

After this morning’s first surprise (cool weather), we had another exciting surprise: this museum is free on Wednesdays before 10am! There you go, a money-saving tidbit as a reward for reading my blog! Kids under 6 are always free, but there is an elaborate pricing scheme for all the other activities available.

This place is really, really enormous. We were there for about two and a half hours and only visited the exhibition, the gallery and the science center. I’m sure we’ll head back to visit the conservatory another day. There are also two theaters there (including an IMAX), but Hugo’s not the type to sit through a movie, so we skipped those too.

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For the dinosaur lovers, there is a room of full-sized skeletons and animatronic dinosaurs. They move and roar loudly, so your small child may hide his face in fear and make you carry him swiftly through (my kid) or squeal with glee (other peoples’ kids). And, yes, there is a bright spotlight shining on the Tyrannosaurus’ butt, and, no, I don’t know why. 

The museum is really geared toward older children, although because it was free day a lot of people were there with toddlers early in the morning.

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An etched glass display at the beginning of the hall of evolution

The museum has detailed, interactive displays across three broad categories: Life Science, Human Cultures, and Global Environment. Unfortunately, almost all of the information plaques and all of the videos are in Chinese. However, don’t let that be a deterrent to visiting. It’s still a great place to walk around and talk with younger kids about what they’re seeing, and older children who have already studied some of these subjects in school will still get a lot out of seeing the displays.

There is a lot of space in the museum dedicated to Chinese culture and history with artifacts and elaborate models of ancient Chinese technology, as well as a hall dedicated to Austronesians in Taiwan.

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There are some beautiful models of ancient Chinese architectural achievements. This part was more like a traditional museum and not as interactive as the science areas.

There are a lot of temporary exhibitions happening at any given time.

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From the interior of The Magic of Plants, which had a lot of interactive features and giant models to explore

There was a “mini-zoo” which featured mostly fish and reptiles.

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Guess who loved the fish tanks?

My original plan was to visit the museum and Botanical Garden all in one trip, have lunch, then be home for nap time. I didn’t realize how big the museum was, so I decided to save the gardens for another day.

Now I’d better go put on a sweater or something, lest I get frostbite.

Taman Sari Water Palace

When I visited Yogyakarta in 2011, I didn’t have a chance to go to Taman Sari, a site that I first read about on Atlas Obscura.

Side note: Atlas Obscura is a fascinating website to read about weird and wonderful places to visit around the world. You’ll find yourself making long mental lists of where to visit in your next holiday.

ANYWAYS…

Taman Sari is the former garden and bathing house of the Sultan, built in the mid-18th century.

The (former)  main gate to the complex.  Now visitors enter through what used to be a side gate.

The (former) main gate to the complex. Now visitors enter through what used to be a side gate.

The complex used to be in the middle of an artificial lake, which contained several man-made islands reachable via underwater tunnels.

The lake has since been drained, and now there is a residential neighborhood surrounding what remains of Taman Sari.

Entering the gate leading to one of the bathing areas.

Entering the gate leading to one of the bathing areas.

While the lake is no longer there, the tunnels are still accessible and open to visitors. I was most excited to see the underground Mosque and the MC Escher-esque stairs described in the Atlas Obscura article. And judging by how much Hugo loved exploring the tunnels at Wat U Mong, I was pretty sure he’d love it, too.

Here’s where our visit got a little disappointing:

Inside one of the bathing areas. Notice the brown murky water?

Inside one of the bathing areas. Notice the brown murky water?

The whole site is undergoing some major restoration work, which means the pools have been drained and the tunnels are closed to visitors. According to my guide, they will be open again in March not long after we leave Yogyakarta. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to return to Yogyakarta again!

Leaving Taman Sari feeling a little let down, we hopped into a becak (a three-wheeled cycle taxi) for a short tour of the neighborhood.

Hugo cautiously accepts his first becak experience

Hugo cautiously accepts his first becak experience

The neighborhood surrounding Taman Sari is home to many workshops for traditional arts and crafts. We saw some batik artists at work:

Applying the first coat of wax

Applying the first coat of wax

Some wayang (Indonesian shadow puppets):

There was incredible detail on this particular panel

There was incredible detail on this particular panel

And some marionettes:

These are characters from the Ramayana story

These are characters from the Ramayana story

After a long day out, our becak returned us to the Taman Sari gate to go home.

Until next time, Taman Sari. Some day you will show me your underground secrets.

Until next time, Taman Sari. Some day you will show me your underground secrets.

Taman Pintar: The Children’s Science Park

This morning we ventured out to a place on the top of the list of things to do with small children in Yogyakarta: Taman Pintar, a children’s science park/museum.

Basically all I knew about this place was that it existed, so I didn’t really have very high expectations. I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised!

The outside play area is free and includes some playground equipment, some interactive science stations, and a splash pad fountain for kids to play in. If your child likes these sorts of things, be sure to bring a towel and a change of clothes.

The inside part requires a ticket and was way bigger than it looked from the outside.

The first hall is a big exhibit about Indonesian history (unfortunately none of the captions had English).

The next section started with Hugo’s favorite thing:

Surprise! There's a giant aquarium!

Surprise! There’s a giant aquarium!


Sorry for the poor photo quality, but it’s really hard to photograph a toddler jumping up and down and scampering around in the sheer joy of discovering a large room full of fish.

The biggest hall has displays about astronomy, interactive physics stations, and a chemistry magic show.

The big hall. Most of the people working there spoke some English, and a lot of these displays had at least a short English explanation.

The big hall. Most of the people working there spoke some English, and a lot of these displays had at least a short English explanation.

There was a lot of stuff about power plants.

Checking out the power plant. I took this picture for my dad, who made us visit power plants when I was a kid. Never underestimate how funny a child will think it is to say "We're going on another dam tour."

Checking out the power plant. I took this picture for my dad, who made us visit power plants when I was a kid. Never underestimate how funny a child will think it is to say “We’re going on another dam tour.”

The most fun parts were these interactive floor projections:

The fish one was, of course, the favorite.

The fish one was, of course, the favorite.


The water would “splash” and the fish would swim away as the kids would jump and run through the projection.

All in all a fun way to spend a morning.

I’d say it wasn’t ideal for toddlers since most of the activities were geared towards older kids, but there’s fun stuff here for all ages.

Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders

Since we have a lot of time in Chiang Mai, we have a chance to take in some of the more quirky sights in the area. The Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders definitely qualifies as such.

The museum is located in a private residence, so you must ring the bell at the gate and someone will come let you in.

There is a dizzying array of things to see right from the start. The first floor is full of unusual specimens from around the world: wood beautifully carved by termites, unusual rocks, and an interesting array of dangerous insects and butterflies artfully arranged in dioramas with colorful flowers.

How many museums welcome you with a hug?

How many museums welcome you with a hug?

The second floor is row after row of perfectly mounted specimens from around the world: beetles, butterflies, moths, stick insects, sea shells, fossils. There is even an assortment of Thai antiquities and unusual rocks.

I think they have one of everything

I think they have one of everything

But when you get to the side room on the first floor, you find the real meat of this museum:

Are you wearing your DEET?

Are you wearing your DEET?

The museum houses the private collection of a woman named Rampa Rattanarithikul who, at age 20 in 1959, got a job as a lab technician, collecting and mounting mosquito specimens for the United States Operations Mission malaria control program. She had no higher education at that time, but her work sparked a lifetime of interest in mosquitos and mosquito-borne illnesses. Her decades of painstaking research led to the identification of more than 400 species of mosquito, including dozens of previously undescribed varieties. She eventually went on to get a doctorate in medical entomology in 1996.

After retirement, she her husband put their private collection on display in this museum. Dr. Rattanarithikul made some major contributions to public health through her detailed research of mosquito taxonomy. You can read more about her work on the museum website (linked above), or check out this article from the New York Times.

If you’re interested in entomology or public health, or you just want to get a glimpse of the vastness of the insect world, you will not be disappointed.

I’ll also add that this is a great place to bring curious children. Everything that is out is okay to touch, and the things you’re not supposed to touch are safely behind glass. There are also lots of things displayed at a low level, so even the smallest future scientists can get a good look.