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.

IMG_20160523_104230058_HDR (1)

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.


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



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.


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.


The view of Salzburg from the lookout tower

We spent a fun morningwandering around the castle and museum.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


Goofing off with the gnomes


Mariahilf, the pilgrimage church of Passau

With only a short time left in Passau, we decided to ignore the rain and do a little sightseeing.


The Inn River this morning, around 10am, taken from the bridge. The little staircase from yesterday’s photos is next to that bright white section of wall on the left.

The water level is down a little from yesteday, but the river is still high and swift, and the steady rain continues.

Our first stop was Bäckerei Ratzinger to pick up some Brötchen (small breads) for our picnic lunch, then rounded the corner to the begin our climb to Mariahilf, a church which sits on top of the hill overlooking Passau from the south.


A photo from a sunnier day. You can see Mariahilf at the top, with the roof of the pilgrimage stairs reaching down to town.

Mariahilf was completed in 1627 and for centuries has served as a popular place of pilgrimage.

To get to the sanctuary, you must climb the “heavenly ladder” of 321 steps.



At the bottom, the staircase is plain and unadorned.


As you get higher, you start to see elaborate shrines and mementos left by previous pilgrims. There are statues, photographs, candles, and personal notes left behind in every available nook and cranny.

As we climbed the stairs we saw only one other person. Other than the rain tapping on the roof, the climb was quiet. Many tourists who come to Passau only visit the much larger Dom St. Stephen, leaving Mariahilf feeling serene in comparison.


When you open the door at the top of the stairs you are right outside of the sanctuary.


The sanctuary itself is fairly small.

Above the altar you can see the painting Miraculous Image Maria Hilf for which the church gets its name. It was painted in 1537 by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and became one of the most copied depictions of Mary throughout the region.


We took a minute to light a candle.

The rain had let up, so we went to walk around the grounds.


There’s a walkway around some meadows behind the church.

It turned out to just be a brief break in the rain because then it really started pouring. There is a great overlook spot next to the church where you can see all of Passau and Veste Oberhaus, but we skipped that in favor of the shelter of the stairs.


Candles light our way back down


Fire and Water

Passau is an old city, with local history dating back to the second century BC. A monastery was founded here in the late 5th century, and, for many years, the diocese of Passau was the largest diocese in the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1662, a fire swept through Passau, destroying the city. It was rebuilt in the Baroque style, full of narrow, meandering cobblestone lanes.


Some people call it the “northernomst Italian city.”


Sometimes the most direct route takes you through an unexpected tunnel or flight of stairs.

The benefits of this are that there is almost no vehicle traffic, so it is very safe for walking wherever you want to go. It’s easy to get lost, though, in the labyrinth of streets. If you don’t know where you are, just head to a river to get your bearings.


You’ll always know you’re on the Artists’ Walk by the rainbow painted cobblestones

Besides the fire in the 17th century, Passau has known it’s fair share of natural disasters.


In Rathausplatz, beside the Danube, you can find this flood gauge. It shows the high water marks of many of the floods in Passau’s history. This highest was in 1501, shortly followed by 2013. (Hugo for scale)

It’s been raining on and off for our entire stay in Passau, with the rivers running high. They’re not threatening to overflow their banks, but the water moves swiftly, and it is visibly higher each day.


If you have a sharp eye, you’ll start to notice flood marks on exterior walls. From bottom to top: 1862, 1786, 1899, 1787, and, high above, 2013.

I’ve started snapping a photo each time I see one.


Bottom to top: 1786, 1899, 1787, 1954, 2013


1862, 1954





I’ll keep looking for high water marks and hoping for sunshine as we enter our last week in Passau.

A Few Days in Berlin

My brother-in-law lives in Berlin with his family, so we headed north for a long weekend. It was Hugo’s first time to meet his cousins in person and to say he was thrilled to have another child to play with would be an understatement. He would disappear into his cousin’s room for hours at a time, the two of them playing with Lego or dinosaurs or Star Wars ships or whatever it is little boys do, while we adults happily sipped our coffee in peace. This is why people have more than one child, right? They play happily together all the time, right??

We did a little sightseeing, too.


We wandered through the Brandenburg Gate

And in and out of the concrete monoliths of the Holocaust Memorial.


There were a lot of other visitors on such a bright, sunny weekend


It doesn’t take long before you are alone in the narrow canyons


Known formally as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, it consists of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern. They are designed “to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.”

Not everything in Berlin was a somber reminder of turbulent history. We had a chance to visit the farmer’s market at Kolwitzplatz and eat food from food trucks.


I think Hugo will eat pretty much any kind of food from a truck

But mostly the weekend was a chance to reconnect with family we don’t get to see in person very often.


Plus lots of shoulder rides, Lego space ships, and trips to the playground.


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).


Photo credit: By Aconcagua – Own work, CC BY – SA 3.0,

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


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.


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.


Hugo grows tired of the panoramic views…


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:


Pretty much exactly like Skyrim

We visited the museum:


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:


A rare picture of the grown-ups

At last, time to head down.


A Morning at the Market

One of our favorite things to do at home on Saturdays is to go to the farmer’s market. Here, we can do the same thing, except the setting is a little more dramatic.


Dom St. Stephen

Although there are other outdoor markets throughout the week, the one in the plaza in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the closest to our apartment. It’s the usual fruits and vegetables you’d expect from a farmer’s market, plus some bread, meats, and cheeses, and several vendors selling potted plants.


Produce stands in the plaza

What’s for sale these days? Well, it’s strawberry and asparagus season!


These strawberries were so good that I may never eat an American strawberry again.

A local regional specialty is the white asparagus you can see in the top part of the above photo. It has a thicker stalk than the green asparagus, has a milder flavor, and a softer texture. It is grown the same as green asparagus, but as the shoots come up they are covered with soil. Without being exposed to sunlight, no photosynthesis occurs, and they remain white. I had some the other night for dinner, slathered in a butter sauce. Delicious!

There was also a stand selling wooden toys and kitchen utensils.


Hugo keeps insisting that there is a zoo in Passau, but I’m pretty sure these little wooden creatures are as close as he’s going to get

After a lunch of bread, cheese, and strawberries, the cathedral bells started ringing and the crowds of tourists from the Danube cruise boats started pouring in to the square.


Time to head home.

Hunger ist der beste Koch

It’s 5am and everyone is starving. I gave Hugo a piece of chocolate, the only food we had in the apartment, about an hour ago.The bakery on the corner opens at 7. Jet lag can be hard.

There’s a little mural on the wall of our kitchen, drawn in a squishy, doughy font, telling us that Hunger ist der beste Koch. Well, if hunger is the best cook, then this morning’s breakfast, when we finally get it, is going to be amazing.


Flying space ships in the living room, waiting for breakfast

We arrived at our final destination, Passau, Germany, late yesterday afternoon. Our train was delayed, and by the time we checked in to our new apartment and went out to take a look around, most of the shops were closed. It’s a small town, and, except for restaurants, almost everything closes by 6pm. Leaving us with nothing in the house for breakfast when our jet lagged brains woke us up at 4:30am. Except for that chocolate.

Passau is situated on the Austrian border at the confluence of three rivers: the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz, which has earned it the nickname Dreiflüssestadt, or the “City of Three Rivers.”

Passau Overhead

Photo credit:

I’m looking forward to getting to know Passau and the surrounding area! But first, breakfast.

Sunshine and Apfelwein

Our first day of travel brought us to an overnight layover in Frankfurt where we were greeted by dazzling sunshine. They say sunshine helps with jet lag, so we met up with an old friend of Gareth’s and set off for a walk along the Main, a wide river bisecting the city.


Taking a closer look at the river after playing in the playground and sandbox

There are wide pedestrian paths and greenbelts along both sides of the river. Apparently this was the first sunny day after a long, dreary winter, and just like in the Pacific Northwest, the sunshine brought everyone outside. There were picnickers, bikers, runners, and ice cream trucks in every direction.

After checking out the playground, we took a break on a shady bench to enjoy the local specialty, apfelwein.


Apfelwein, a kind of cider, is made from apples, then mixed with juice from the fruit of the speierling tree

I also learned that it is traditionally served in these textured glasses to improve grip, a holdover from a time before people regularly ate with utensils.


Hugo had a lemonade

Lest you think we were all bright eyed and happily frolicking along the river after eleven hours on an airplane, here is Gareth carrying a sleeping Hugo back to the hotel:


He weighs about 40 pounds now, so this is much harder than it used to be

Tomorrow is another travel day before reach our final destination.

24 Hours in Tainan

Tainan (台南) is a medium-sized city located in the southwest corner of the island, and it is considered the oldest city in Taiwan. Tainan is located just south of the Tropic of Cancer, and somehow you can feel the sun searing down in a way that doesn’t happen just a short drive north in Taichung.

Full of charm, Tainan is dotted with temples and small parks, and full of winding, narrow lanes.

We started the morning at the Confucius Temple (台南孔廟 Táinán Kǒngmiào) which was right across the street from our hotel. It has a nice grassy courtyard and (Hugo’s favorite) a fish pond.

There are turtles, too!

There are turtles, too!

Of course, with a toddler, quiet exploring is probably not on the agenda. Racing around and around the narrow passageways is more Hugo’s cup of tea.

Sorry for the blurry shot, I don't think he ever stopped for a second

Sorry for the blurry shot, I don’t think he ever stopped for a second

Tainan is also a place to visit some former Dutch colonial sites, the oldest of these being Fort Zeelandia (熱蘭遮城 rèlánzhē chéng), built in 1624 by the Dutch East India Company.

Cannons in the plaza at Fort Zeelandia

Cannons in the plaza at Fort Zeelandia

After most of the day sightseeing in the hot sun, we grabbed an ice cream and headed to the small street carnival set up just outside of the fort.

Hugo caught on pretty quickly:

Press the button to shoot the ball...

Press the button to shoot the ball…

Lights and bells! You win a prize!

Lights and bells! You win a prize!

Our last stop was Chihkan Tower (赤崁樓 Chì kǎn lóu), built during the 19th century on the grounds of a former Dutch fort which was destroyed in an earthquake.

Full of charm, Tainan is dotted with temples and small parks, and full of winding, narrow lanes.

Chihkan Tower and grounds

Although the tower is not very big, the grounds are beautifully maintained with colorful flowers, a small waterfall, and plenty of koi to feed.

Exploring the gardens at Chihkan Tower

Exploring the gardens at Chihkan Tower

It was a long, hot day, and Hugo collapsed into an exhausted sleep before eating dinner.

Don't worry, there was still time for mango shaved ice

Don’t worry, there was still time for mango shaved ice

Running in Taichung: Zhongzheng Park to Calligraphy Greenway

I made a great 7 mile running route through some of the best places to visit in Taichung, starting at Zhongzheng Park and taking you through the Botanical Gardens, the National Museum of Natural Science, and the whole length of Calligraphy Greenway to the Taiwan National Museum of Fine Arts and back.

If you don’t want to run the whole 7 miles, it’s easy to turn around at any point, or just do it as a 4 mile, point-to-point route.

You can find all the details through this link over at!