Sunday, August 30, 2015

Putting kids in charge of travel plans & budget – Munich, Germany – Family Travel

It was the second last day of our three week adventure across Central Europe.  Joel and I were sitting in our hostel in Munich, Germany wondering how we were going to make the most of our short time here.  This marked the last stop before returning home and even though we were all tired, the journey thus far had been fulfilling in so many ways. Ben and Liv traveled well and embraced the culture, people, and adventures along the way. I had taken care of booking most of the hostels, researching possible things to do at each destination, packing each day according to what we were doing and had ran out of steam by the time we reached Munich.  Joel, as always, was our rock and navigated us through countless trains, countries, and language barriers.  Both of us were equally tired of spending money, being responsible for planning a day that everyone will enjoy, and being in charge.  So we turned the reigns over to Ben and Liv.

Liv and Ben, our trusted guides for the day! (photo taken in Vienna)

The idea was Joel’s.  He is brilliant. That, or tired of constantly having to deal with Ben and Liv asking to buy ice cream, some knick knack and having to repeat “money does not grow on trees” over and over again.  This was going to be a way to help them understand what it takes to plan a day of travel and realize the true value of money.

Before we left the comforts of our hostel there were three key things Ben and Liv needed to be prepared for: Research – What were we going to do for the day? Is there something for everyone? Navigation – How are we getting from point A to point B? Do we need maps? Do Ben and Liv know how to use Google Maps on the iPhone? Budget – How much money will we spend? What are the expected costs? What are Ben and Liv willing to sacrifice? Can Mom and Dad ask for ice cream every time we see ice cream?  Here is how our day in Munich unfolded with the kids in charge.


The day started with a debrief on where we were on the map and what options we had as far as things to see and do.  Joel and I pointed out several possibilities of places to go but in the end it was their decision, together, of what we would be doing.  Another decision they were faced with was how we would be traveling throughout Munich.  Would we be taking the metro or walking? Then, the last discussion was about money. Each was given 15 Euros for the day (plus the change we had in our pockets) and that was to take care of all our needs throughout the day, including lunch and paying to use washrooms.  We had eaten breakfast at the hostel, included with our stay, and mom and dad would take care of supper.

The plan Ben and Liv came up with was walk to St. Peter’s Church and then find somewhere to swim in one of the man-made channels along the Isar River.  They even went so far as to packing our towels, swim suits, hats, water, and a few snacks we had left.  Seems like these kids do pay attention!


The chosen method of travel was walking. Ben did great navigating our way from the hostel to St. Peter’s Church.  Joel helped him learn how to use Google Maps along the way and Ben caught on fast.  Soon he was navigating on his own. When it came time for Liv to navigate, she too caught on fast but had to be quickly reminded that navigating through a city meant following sidewalks! Walking in a straight line across four lanes of traffic and two train tracks would not do!

Kids pick of activities in Munich

St. Peters Church, a Roman Catholic church, was built in the 11th century and has seen rebuilds several times due to war and fire. Visiting the church was a great way to learn about some German history, admire the various styles of art inside and marvel at the large ceilings and gilded high altar. Visiting St. Peter’s Church was a perfect fit for our budget.  Admission into the church itself is free. Ben thought it would be worth 6 Euros for all of us to walk up 306 steps to the viewing platform on top the church tower. The reward is a 360 view of Munich. Navigating the tiny spiral staircase that you have to take both up AND down was every bit as entertaining as the view.

Englisher Garten.  If you love outdoor spaces and variety of things to see and do, this is the place for you.  It is a large park, larger than New York’s Central Park, located in the center of Munich offering grassy areas to sunbathe (clothed or not), swim, cycle, walk and re-hydrate at a beer garden of course. Best go early as things get busier later in the day but even experiencing the crowds is entertaining.

On the Eisbach River, a man made channel off the Isar River, there is a wave at the Haus der Kunst that is a popular place for surfing. Surfing in Munich? Who knew? Fun to watch.


As we walked through Englisher Garten we waded in the channels to stay cool, had ice cream (kids caved) and had lunch at Chinesischer Turm beer garden, seating for a mere 7000! Oktoberfest would be an experience here for sure! Ben and Liv carefully selected a meal each to share with us and Joel saved them some money by packing in his own beer.

Where the Eisbach meets the Isar River is a small rocky beach area that is so far off the tourist trail only locals and their dogs can be found. We swam, we sun bathed, Dad jumped off a bridge, and we all got trampled on by over active dogs.  It was a great way to spend the sunny afternoon in Munich. We even witnessed a new type of river activity. Hang on to a bungee cord while on a skim board (or small surf board) and as you float downstream (facing upstream), hang on as long as possible and then let go. The result is being ejected upstream fast!  Pretty cool to watch. Those Germans sure know how to make fun happen anywhere.



I was impressed with both Ben and Liv who did a great job sticking to the budget.  The asking for ice cream was kept to a minimum and there was no mention of buying knick knacks. When it came time to eat, reasonable decisions were made rather than rash choices that usually cost more.  Joel and I know that sacrifices to the daily budget need to be made in order to travel the world as a family. After this experience I believe Ben and Liv too have a better understanding of it as well.

Liv’s budget was spent on the following:
  • 1 slice of pizza
  • 2 apples and 2 bananas to share as snacks
  • Lunch at beer garden– European sausage and sauerkraut salad for Liv and I
  • One scoop ice cream and sprinkles (shared with mom)
  • Lighting a candle in St. Peter’s Church and 2 postcards
  • Celebratory ice cream at the end of the night
  • Coins for some street musicians
  • paid for all washroom uses
Ben's budget was spent on the following:
  • One scoop ice cream and sprinkles (shared with Dad)
  • Admission for all of us to go up to the top of the bell tower in St. Peters Church 
  • Lunch for Ben and Dad – Schnitzel and fried potatoes in beer gardens
  • Lighting a candle in St. Peters Church and 2 postcards
  • Celebratory ice cream at the end of the night (never too much ice cream)
  • Bought Dad a beer at the end of the night
Our day in Munich under the kids control turned out to be one of the most memorable days of the trip and was proud of what Ben and Liv accomplished.  The wonderful green spaces in the heart of Munich stole our hearts and I will always have fond memories of our time in Munich. As promised, Mom and Dad were buying supper and as we strolled through Hofgarten, an Italian style renaissance garden built in 1617 we came upon an outdoor courtyard beer garden. I believe it was called Luigi Tambosi but the name is not important. What was important was our time here. We sat and enjoyed a few beverages together and shared in laughter. We had great discussions on what we were going to choose from the menu, mostly trying to figure out what the menu was, and reminisced about the previous three weeks of travel we had enjoyed. As the evening crept on, we slowly made our way back to our hostel. Our final few stops were at Odeonsplatz, a 19th century city square, to sit and relax on some outdoor cushions, listened to some street buskers play music, and purchased one last ice cream, with what was left of Ben and Liv’s money, as a way to celebrate the day and our last evening in Europe.  Ben even managed to scrap together his last few Euros and bought his dad a beer.  What a guy!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A simple adventure break - Falls Lake near the Coquihalla Summit

Many times I have travelled the Coquihalla Highway and sigh as we speed past exits that taunt me with the possiblities of hitting trails and escaping into the beauty of BC's backcountry. Understanding that travel thru here is a means to an end - get from point A to point B. But does it have to be?

Determined to work in some outdoor adventure our next time thru, I did a little research and stumbled upon a trail that would fit in perfectly with our travel plans on Hwy 5.

Falls Lake Exit 221, near the summit of the Coquihalla Highway, will easily lead you to a parking area for Falls Lake. From there it is an easy 1.5km trail to a scenic lake. (3km round trip) The trail is a well groomed dirt trail with some stairs, a couple of boardwalks and only 40m of elevation gain so I would consider this an easy hike for anyone.

Because this stop was our rest break while travelling from point A to point B, we opted to trail run to the lake in order to maximize our time there. It took us about 8 mins to run to the lake and 6.12 mins to run get back to our vehicle. Ben and Liv were highly motivated to beat their time!

Total time for our rest break was an hour. We ate lunch at the lake. Went for a swim and had the whole lake to ourselves. The experience turned out to be more spectacular than I had imagined. Falls Lake can be more than just a pit stop. There were a couple tent pads, outhouses, and a food cache so wilderness camping is also an option. The area would be accesible all year round and is ideal for snowshoeing. May have to stop here next time we travel in the winter.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Soaking wet hikes are rewarding too - 5040 Peak, Vancouver Island

MISSING - 5040 Peak

Last seen 7 km east of Highway 4, 5 km west of Sutton Pass on Vancouver Island, resting peacefully with Cobalt Lake close by.  5040 Peak is described as a limestone outcrop with karst features.  She stands approximately 5040 feet (1536m) and is a resident of the Alberni / Clayquot area.  Reported missing by its Mackenzie Range cousins Cat’s Ear Peak, Triple Peak, and Mackenzie Peak.  Object of interest in case of missing mountain described as a dark gray cloud layer diffused by falling rain. If anyone has any information on the whereabouts of 5040 Peak, please report directly to your local alpine club or avid Vancouver Island hiker. (5040 Peak usually stands above pictured lake)

Can you guess what kind of view we had on our recent west coast hiking adventure? Even before the adventure began, Joel and I knew it was going to be another one of our summit attempts without a view. Yes, another one.  For some reason I think the weather gods figure if anyone can handle no view hiking adventures, it is us.  Weather forecast called for 90% chance of rain. Sunny the day before. Sunny the day after.  One of the driest summers ever on Vancouver Island. We get 90% chance of rain? Ok. Challenge accepted. The goal was to summit a peak on Vancouver Island that has been on my radar for over a year now.  Originally we had planned on doing this over a two day backpacking trip but that had to be adjusted for a variety of reasons. Not a big deal. It was still doable as a day hike.

The fact that we did not reach the summit is a tiny unimportant detail of our adventure. Of course, like many hikers, hiking in sunny, clear weather is what we want.  Weather gods take note. Especially in an area that has stunning views to feed your soul.  But does that mean you cancel a planned trip because of rain? For us it was never an option. It has been months since we have been able to escape into the wild.  Sure, we have been mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking and swimming in rivers all summer long but I mean getting as far away from civilization as possible and stepping into the wild spaces of Vancouver Island.

There is something special about using your own energy to move through whatever terrain is put before you and the wilder the better.  For me, it is empowering, calming, rewarding, and I feel completely at peace with everything.  The rain just shows another side of the wild and is equally as beautiful and rewarding.

The rain most certainly added discomfort to our hike. It began to fall from the time we started hiking to the time we got back to our vehicle. The first part of the trail is through a forest, straight up, but for the most part we kept dry. Once we got out of the forest canopy and started hiking thru the heather alpine, things got a whole lot more wet.  Legs brushing against the shrubs at knee height felt like a glass of water being dumped down my legs and into my shoes.  Can the leaves really hold that much water on them? Even when not the first to hike up the trail, it still felt the same. Poor Ben and Liv, the bushes were waist high for them.  Roots and rocks become slippery. Phone and camera lenses begin to fog up. Hands are never dry and after a while pretty much the whole body is feeling wet.  By the end of the hike I can honestly say I know how a drowned rat feels and we most certainly looked the part as well.

Some may say it would be a waste of time to hike to such a beautiful location for no view or pleasure but I beg to differ. Watching the white wispy fog roll thru the trees and across the mountains I know are there is a beautiful sight. Mysterious and powerful.  I noticed the creeks and waterfalls along the trail pick up in flow as did the sound. When the lenses were not all fogged up, I found colors in the photos to pop in contrast to the grey backdrop.  Extra bonus was not another living soul to be found. The human kind anyway, we did spot a grouse. Being an active family who frequents hiking trails often, it was a great test to see just how far we can hike in the rain and what we can do to limit our discomforts.

Spotted a possible Sooty Grouse in the heather alpine

Misty Mountains and waterfalls
Adventure Girl has turned into a space alien! Testing out the emergency blanket.

It was kind fun being in the rain and when we arrive home the kids both told me they had fun hiking, even if they were soaking wet. I told them how proud I was of their efforts and what a great learning experience it was to know they can be outside in the rain for a few hours and manage. Then it was a mad dash to the bathroom for first dibs on a hot shower! Those little buggers are getting too quick!  
{ and funny apparently :) }

Trail details: 5040 Peak is located in the Alberni/Clayquot area of Vancouver Island and is part of the Mackenzie Mountain Range. Trail access - Heading west towards Tofino on Hwy 4, turn left on Marion Creek Mainline, 5km west of Sutton Pass. Then it is a 10km drive along a logging road with several water bars to negotiate. 4x4 recommended. Trail distance to summit – one trip report says 4km. Another says 6.7km. Both say 950m elevation gain. Reported hiking time to Cobalt Lake (half way) 1.5 – 2 hours.  Cobalt Lake to Summit – 1-2 hours. Return hiking time – 2-3 hours. Total 6 – 8 hours hiking depending on your speed. Not including stops. Our trip report – To Cobalt Lake 1.7 km in 1:20 mins and back down in 1:40. 3.4km round trip, 3 hours hiking and 583m elevation gain/loss.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Family Travel Adventure - via ferrata in Zillertal Alps, Austria, Tyrol

Clipped into a steel cable that runs the length of the cliff, I take a deep breath and step onto the iron rung that is cemented into the rock face.  I have committed to traversing the cliff side of a mountain with my family who, at the moment, are yelling words of encouragement to me.  I look out across the cliff and see my kids, Ben and Liv, climbing with ease, big smiles on their faces.  I can do this I think to myself and ignore the butterflies and thundering heartbeat.  I am fully aware and understand that klettersteige (via ferrata) is the safest way to climb straight up or across a mountain.  Donning a harness, helmet, a y-shaped lanyard and two carabineers gives me some sense of security but knowing my safety depends on two energy absorbing cords is hardly giving me piece of mind.  I calmly unclip one carabineer, move it across the fixed anchor and clip in. Repeat with the second carbineer and slowly get myself across the cliff only to find the next section is straight up. Outdoor adventure pushes my limits in more ways than any other part of my life.  Even with my slight fear of heights there is nowhere else I would rather be.

Klettersteige (word used in Austria) or as we North Americans refer to as via ferrata is a mix of rock climbing and mountaineering.  A steel cable, secured to the mountain, runs along a route and every 4 – 8 metres is fixed to the rock. Clipping into the steel cable using carabineers attached to the y –shaped lanyard, climbers are secured to the cable, limiting any fall. Climbing aids along the route include iron rungs, pegs, carved steps, ladders, bridges and the steel cable itself.  It offers adults and kids who love outdoor adventure a chance to climb those step rock faces without having the experience and training needed in rock climbing. Austria, having over 550 Klettersteige routes, is a country that has enthusiastically embraced the via ferrata. Often it is promoted as a way to experience nature that is suitable for the entire family.

Via Ferrata in Austria has a long history, with routes being established at the start of the 20th century in the Northern Limestone Alps.  What was started as a way to move troops and supplies through the Alps during the war has turned into a popular sport. The ├ľAV (Austrian Alpine Club) takes great pride in maintaining the cables, routes, and iron rungs while promoting the sport.

Our Central Europe travels lead us to a small municipality in Austria called Zell am Ziller, located in the Zillertal Valley.  The Zillertal Alps, a mountain range of the Central Eastern Alps, borders Austria and Italy where pick of via ferrata is plentiful.  It was pretty straight forward renting our via ferrata kit in fact, finding the mountain sports store proved to be more difficult but that too is part of the travel adventure.  I mentioned before that Austria has embraced the via ferrata so renting a full kit for the four of us, for two days, cost approximately 40 Euros total ($60 Canadian).  And we could access any via ferrata in the area without guides or paying any entrance fees.  It makes for an affordable outdoor family activity when travelling to Austria.

Our first crack at via ferrata was Huterlaner in Mayrhofen - a beginner/advanced route (difficulty B/C ). Routes are graded from A – being easy to E – being expert.  We had a choice of three routes (one was a C/D) that would have us end at Zimmereben Hut and if you are familiar with Austrian huts you know this means enjoying wonderful local meals, having a few drinks (namely beer), and taking in spectacular scenery.  Climbing up the via ferrata to the hut was definitely a motivator for me.

After our glorious meal that was finished off with homemade apple strudel and a shot of schnapps, we hiked back down.  At the bottom we briefly tried the advanced route and found Liv’s reach was just a tad too short for some sections so we all had to retreat back down.  Thankfully we had not gone far but it was helpful knowing what was within her range as far as the route grading was concerned.

Ben and Liv were huge fans of klettersteige and were excited to give it a try again but we had discussed with them that the next day’s route may be too difficult for them.  Our travel path to Zillertal was not entirely random.  We had come here to meet up with a German lad we had met 6 months earlier back in Canada.  For a few short days, Nick was a part of our family as he toured Vancouver Island with my father in law, whom he met randomly in Lake Louise, AB. There were a few visits with us for meals, mountain bike rides and Nick said to let him know when we would be in his neck of the woods.  So we did and he directed us to his friends family home in Zell am Ziller, Austria, where we then met Johannes.  Now we were faced with two young lads, Nick and Johannes, itching to take us on an adventure.

Part of our family adventuring is to support each other and at times that may involve stepping back and letting another set out on their own adventure.  It is important for Ben and Liv to support our adventures just as much as us supporting theirs.  They were completely on board when it came down to selecting a via ferrata route for the big boys to try.  Go big or go home.  For this adventure the kids and I were cheerleaders and watched Joel, who had a big grin on his face, head up a route, graded D/E, called Nasenwand in nearby Ginzling.

Nick and Johannes were equally as excited and from the stories and photos, it was indeed an adventure. The kids and I played for a bit at the route trailhead, letting them each climb up and down for practice.  Then it was off to see cows and roll down the Zillertal hills.  At one point, we did see the three of them high up the route and watched them traverse a steep section.  Those Austrians sure do love their heights!

Keeping with Austrian tradition, we celebrated the day’s adventure with a stop at a hut (never a shortage of huts) for ice cream and beer.  Nick, Johannes and Joel (who now had an even bigger grin which filled my adventure heart) recanted their via ferrata stories to Ben, Liv and me as we all sat together laughing like we were old friends.  It was a coming together of two travel experiences we had hoped for: local adventure and local friendship. The real benefit is the power of local knowledge because for Johannes (a local), showing off the beauty of Austria with a quick swim in the river on the way back home was not only a sign of Austrian hospitality, it was the perfect end to a perfect klettersteige experience.