Visiting the Biltmore with Kids (Pt. 4): What We Saw

Visiting the Biltmore with Kids (Pt. 4): What We Saw

This is the last post in our series of touring the Biltmore estate with children. Previously we covered buying tickets, avoiding crowds, and fueling the visit.

Finally we have arrived to the actual sight-seeing portion of this series! I have to warn you, this is a verrry broad overview; there is so much more to actually see in each category than I can possibly cover! This is just a bare outline, and you’ll need to go see it yourself to fully appreciate it all.

The House itself is grand and ginormous, and impressive.  Massive rooms, priceless art and architectural features imported from Europe, and stunning vistas. It seemed like a very American take on European grand buildings. I have few pictures of the inside because, well, I had the 19 month old. Ha! (See here for my house touring tips.)

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“What did you do in that diaper??” asks the Lion.

Immediately surrounding the house are acres of gardens, which are immaculately maintained and landscaped. There are numerous sections, including a greenhouse, a formal garden, fishing ponds, Italian Koi Ponds (a massive hit with the kids), and various more natural-looking areas with paths. You could easily spend a couple of hours exploring it all. It is mind-boggling that the entire estate (including the forest!) was essentially created from bare land. (There was a Chihuly exhibit going on when we visited, hence the blown-glass balls.)

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Italian Garden Koi Pond

 

If you have extra time and energy on your hands, the estate is full of opportunities to enjoy its massive grounds: kayaking, numerous trails, and even fly-fishing classes. We hiked from the house down to a lake that the house overlooked. (You could also drive to the same view if you didn’t feel like walking.)

After you finish touring the gardens and house and are thoroughly worn out, hop into your car and head over to Antler Hill, where the estate has a winery. We did a (free!) wine tasting with everyone in tow; the staff was gracious and accommodating, even in the face of a crew as large as ours. That said, expect it to be a quick stop with littles in tow: juice is provided for kids, but it is a standing tasting, so you won’t want to linger. (If there’s a line, it will move fairly quickly, but leave an adult to hold your place and let the kids walk outside until it’s your turn. It is stroller-accessible.) You can get a free tasting any day you’re on the estate, so if you have a two-day ticket, well, you can go twice. Certain people in our party may or may not have tested that out…

Also in the Antler Hill area near the winery is a playground and mini animal zoo which was a perfect way for our kiddoes to blow off some steam at the end of the day. Even as much as we had walked around already, our munchkins went to town and played hard; we practically had to tear them away from looking at the animals.

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We spent essentially two full days at the estate, and thoroughly enjoyed it all! Our two-day passes allowed us the flexibility to take our time, as well as go on a hike. If you only have one day, my recommended itinerary would be to arrive early, tour the house, take a break/eat lunch, explore the gardens, drive around the estate on whatever roads catch your fancy, and wind up the day at the wine tasting/playground/petting zoo. Then go home and sleep well!

If you’re planning a visit let me know! Is there anything else you’d like to hear about?

 

 

Visiting the Biltmore with Kids (Pt. 3): Eating and Food

Visiting the Biltmore with Kids (Pt. 3): Eating and Food

As you can imagine, when we’re traveling with children we are interested in saving money where we can. We are equally interested in keeping kids’ blood sugar levels up at happy level. (Keenly interested in both those things…) We’ve already talked about how to save money on Biltmore tickets  and when to arrive; here is how we fed everyone during our visit.

In the main house complex there is an outdoor courtyard with tables and chairs; it is surrounded by multiple small cafés from which to order food and coffee, as well as a sit-down restaurant. As you might expect, the menus are not exactly bargain priced, but if you’re in need of some caffeine (as we were) or a little pick-me-up, the courtyard is a great spot to rest your legs and recharge. Given that we suspected food options would be pricey and we were feeding a crowd, we packed our lunch. If you do pack a picnic, you can’t eat your food in the café courtyard (picky, picky), but you are allowed to picnic in most areas around the house (though there are no picnic areas provided). Also don’t plan on carting your lunch with you on the house tour — food and drink are not allowed in the house, and they do check your bags!

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This was our view as we ate lunch!

(Apparently they make food exceptions for small children; we didn’t test this out.) However, there are small lockers available next to the bathrooms down the ramp, as well as a water fountain.The lockers are 50 cents to rent (quarters only), single-entry/one-time use — you can’t pull things in and out.  Be advised, the lockers are small, approximately 12” x 12”. We stashed a bunch of water bottles (this is our favorite kids’ water bottle) and enough snacks for everyone to eat while touring the gardens in ours; you could easily put sandwiches in too. If you have cold food only a personal soft-sided cooler would fit; think small! Even if you park in the closest parking lot and don’t have to take a shuttle it would still be a bit of a hike to get back to your car to eat, so I do recommend bringing what food you want while at the house itself with you and utilizing the lockers. Just plan on leaving any larger cold coolers in your car. There is much to see on the estate, so do pack one solid meal and plenty of snacks and drinks!

There are multiple restaurants around the estate, several with kids’ menus, but we didn’t visit any of them. (We are firm believers in this brilliant analysis of eating with children while traveling.) There are picnic tables next to the petting zoo/playground (more on that later), which makes for a nice stop for the adults to chill and the kids to wiggle.

So now that we’ve covered tickets , logistics, and food, next time we’ll actually get down to talking about what to see at the Biltmore!

If you’re reading this post, chances are pretty good you’re prepping for a visit to the Biltmore yourself. So if you’d like further food for thought (ahem, pun intended), here are two books we enjoyed reading about the history of the Vanderbilt family as a whole and the building of the Biltmore.

       

Fortune’s Children, The Last Castle

Visiting the Biltmore with Kids (Pt. 2): Logistics of Arriving and Touring

Visiting the Biltmore with Kids (Pt. 2): Logistics of Arriving and Touring

Last time we discussed the cheapest way to buy tickets to the Biltmore; we picked up some logistical arrival tips from our visit. Here’s the low-down:

Driving in: Your first glimpse of the estate is a stately gatehouse leading to a meandering, lush drive. (All of it landscaped!! Amazing). After a couple of miles you’ll arrive at a checkpoint, where you’ll need to present tickets to access the rest of the estate. If you already have your tickets in hand, you drive on through, otherwise you’ll need to stop at the ticket house on the left to buy them. Follow signs and traffic guards to the parking lots. You’ll be well-directed.

When to arrive: The estate gatehouse opens at 8:30, and the house itself opens at 9:00. Get there when the gatehouse opens to avoid lines and massive crowds! Our first day we timed it badly and sat in traffic to get to the ticket checkpoint. Then only the far parking lots were open, which meant we needed to catch a shuttle to and from the house. The shuttles did run in timely manner, they just added a layer of logistics. Our second day we arrived before 9:00, and drove to the closest parking lot without any delay, where we walked down a short path to get to the house. It was delightful!                                                                 IMG_6716

Since there was a long house security line our first day, we hiked and toured the grounds; our early arrival the second day meant there was no house security line and entering was a breeze. Two-day passes were our saving grace here, but if you only have one day to visit arrive early. The house, being a period building, is also not air-conditioned — yet another reason for an early visit during the summer!

Strollers: The information kiosk near the entrance to the house said that strollers are allowed in the house; technically, that is true. However, large strollers are only allowed on the first floor, as the rest of the house is not really stroller accessible due to numerous stairs and narrow hallways. (This also means it is not fully handicap-accessible, though they do their best.) If you want to use a stroller on the easily-navigable first floor, attendants will park it securely in the vestibule while you tour the rest of house. There are also numerous stairs in the garden; some of them can be avoided. It did not deter us from using our stroller, but if I didn’t have to have a stroller I would skip bringing it.

Touring time of the house: An efficient inside visit takes about 1.5 hours. If you rent an audio guide or otherwise linger longer, 2+ hrs is entirely possible. Parents may want to swap off listening to an audio guide and holding/following a little one, in which case only rent one audio guide and save yourself some money!

Bathrooms: Of important note, bathrooms are not available in the house or throughout the gardens, so be sure to take kids to the restroom beforehand! We did, and sweet grandpa still wound up doing a speed-tour through the last section of the house to take a little boy to the bathroom.

Clothing: Comfortable walking shoes are a given — if you want to explore the trails consider closed toe-shoes. I also suggest dressing in layers, especially in the fall and spring; morning and evenings can be cool, but when the sun comes out and you’ve been walking around it warms up!

So those are the practical tidbits I would have liked to know before arriving at the Bilmore with children. Stay tuned; next time we’ll talk picnics and food on the Biltmore estate!

Visiting the Biltmore With Kids (Pt. 1): Saving Money on Tickets

Visiting the Biltmore With Kids (Pt. 1): Saving Money on Tickets

A family wedding in October gave the Louisiana Krewe and the Detroit Crew a happy excuse to meet up and spend some vacation time in Asheville, NC. On our list of things to see was the impressive Biltmore house with its spectacular grounds. All 15 of us (yes, 15: 7 adults and 8 children ages 8 and under) toured the estate. While our entire visit worked out well, we picked up some tips and tricks to make a first-time visit even smoother.

The first thing we had to figure out (and probably the one thing we spent the most time on!!) was how to buy tickets as cheaply as possible. Thankfully, having a bunch of little kids with us did not mean we spent more money:

The website says you’re supposed to present a free ticket for the kids 9 and under, but we didn’t stop at the ticketing house to get any. However, no one asked us for one (or eight…maybe the sheer scale of our group scared them off).

There’s no real way around it; tickets are always expensive, though the price varies depending on time of year. When we went, prices ranged from $55 (non-holiday season) to $85 (holiday season, tickets at the door). There are, however, a few ways to cut down the cost:

  • Advance Purchase: If you are able to plan on visiting on a specific day, there is a $10 discount on adult tickets if you buy them online at least a week in advance. The youth ticket is also discounted accordingly. Advance purchase has the added advantage of not having to stop to buy tickets on the way in.
  • Military Discount: Both active duty military spouse and sponsor can each buy 4 tickets with a $10 discount, for a possible discount on up to 8 tickets. I don’t think you can purchase military discount tickets in advance, so it would require a stop at the ticket house, but it is a flexible option. (A military ID also gets you 10% off at restaurants and shops on the estate.)
  • Costco Tickets: My personal vote is for what we did: buy your tickets at Costco! The price for the two-day Biltmore pass at Costco is cheaper than the discounted single-day ticket. I did not see any youth tickets for sale at Costco, but if one of your kids is in the 10-16 age group, you would be better off buying the two-day adult ticket for them for a two-day visit. The Costco pass will be still be cheaper and a lot easier than two youth tickets. (Unless, of course, it’s summer and they’re free!) If you also wanted to see a nighttime exhibit (at an extra $25 charge), that can easily be purchased at the estate. You will need to visit a Costco warehouse in person; the passes cannot be purchased online, and there isn’t a Costco in Asheville, but warehouses as far away as Atlanta, GA., and Louisville, KY., carried them. If you call ahead a warehouse can tell you if they have them in stock. Not only did the Costco pass save us some money, we loved having the flexibility to space our visit out and leisurely tour things.
  • If you are visiting on a high-volume visit day, you will need to call ahead to make a house entry time reservation for your visit regardless of where you buy your tickets.

Additional Tour Costs: Audio guides for both adults and children are available at the door for $13; I did not see a way to save on these. (This was steep for my tastes, so I skipped it, but my mother-in-love rented one and thought that it was worth it.)

Now that you have your tickets in hand, next time we’ll discuss the logistics of arriving, getting around, and beating the crowds!

All of this information was current as of November 2018, but please check the Biltmore’s website before you make concrete plans.

Armchair Travel: Kids’ The Netherlands Books

Armchair Travel: Kids’ The Netherlands Books

I’ve talked before about how much and why I love reading to travel; below is a list of books we’ve enjoyed reading through to explore a country the Louisiana Krewe hasn’t been to yet — The Netherlands! (The Detroit Crew would like it known that they have, indeed, been there — the picture proves it. Fine, rub it in. 😉 So here’s how we adventured through children’s books about Holland:

Sophie the Stork’s Amsterdam Adventure Book is a completely charming tour of Amsterdam’s child-friendly sights. It is colorful, fun to read, and not too sparse on text (as too many baby books are, in my opinion…)

Third in the beloved Knuffle Bunny series (“Knuffle” is Dutch for “snuggle”), Knuffle Bunny Free sees Trixie and her stuffed rabbit go on a journey to Holland to visit her Oma and Opa…and unexpectedly grow up a little along the way. It tugged at this mama’s heartstrings, but also is a great book that walks children through an international flight, as well as some everyday Dutch life.

 

The Cow Who Fell in the Canal is the entertaining tale of a bored Dutch cow who gets herself in trouble. You can read and listen to the entire book over here!

Based on the true story of a cat and a baby who survived a massive flood, Katje the Windmill Cat is a heroic cat who saves her miller’s daughter from drowning (somehow I think just the windmill and flood part are true…). It is sweetly infused with historic Dutch atmosphere.

Another Katje, but this time a human one, Boxes for Katje really is a true story (read the amazing note at the end!) of a little girl in Holland after WWII who receives boxes from the US with food and clothing inside (possibly saving their lives, though it’s not discussed), and sends back a quintessentially Dutch gift in return. Sweet and heartwarming (and not melancholy, despite the subject), it is well worth reading.

Illustrated in the style of the Dutch masters, The Boy Who Held Back the Sea is the telling of the classic Dutch folktale of a little boy whose quick thinking and bravery saved his town from flooding. The Hole in the Dyke is the same story geared toward younger children. (Given the topography of The Netherlands, I really shouldn’t be surprised at how many books about The Netherlands feature water…water flowing, water frozen, water flooding! But it is definitely a theme that emerged as we read through these books, ha. Even parents learn through armchair travel!)

         

Anna and Johanna is inspired by two of Vermeer’s paintings, and the illustrations are fittingly beautiful. Canals and lace-making feature heavily, making it a lovely introduction to The Netherlands. (Here’s a helpful review of the book.)

Windmill de Kat is a wonderful introduction for little to not-so-little children to how an actual, historical windmill works and its place in the Dutch economy (don’t worry, the text is not the least bit dry!). Clear explanations and whimsical illustrations make this a winner. Read excerpts of the book to get an excellent sense of it.

Beautifully illustrated, and retold by Bruce Coville simply and straightforwardly enough to hold younger children’s attention, Hans Brinker is the classic tale of a heroic young man and his family. His heroism isn’t grand feats, but the everyday hard, right decisions he makes time and again (that result in a happy ending).

I saved my favorite for last — The Greatest Skating Race is filled with so much to unpack that is Dutch; maps, names, places, traditions, values, but most of all a brave boy who safely sneaks two children across the border during WWII. Not the most lighthearted of books, given the setting, but I highly recommend it as wonderful introduction to elementary/early elementary aged children to both a bit of that time in history and Dutch culture.

And lastly, a few more books that I have yet to get my hands on, but which look to be worthwhile! Do you have any other favorite books for children about The Netherlands?

           

       

Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs,Windmills Activity Book, The Little Riders  Hannah in the Time of the Tulips

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I found this webpage to be a helpful resource in the compiling of this list.

The links above are provided through the Amazon Affiliates program and we may receive a commission if you purchase books through a link. It does not affect the price you pay.

Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets

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With the weather turning colder here in Detroit and Christmas preparations underway, we can’t help but reminisce over our favorite European Christmas markets. Starting the last week of November and continuing through to New Year’s, Christmas markets pop up in squares all over Europe, from big cities to tiny villages. The real magic begins after dark when you can peruse stalls filled with sugar-roasted almonds, wooden toys, and smoked meats, all with a steaming mug of Glühwein (a hot spiced wine) in your hand. There is always some form of entertainment for the kids – usually a carousel, though we’ve seen a ride-on train, an ice skating rink, and camels! We found the perfect way to experience a city during this time of year was to tour the main attractions during the day and soak up the Christmas market atmosphere and delicious treats that evening before heading home.

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Since moving back to the States, we have tried to recreate some of our favorite Christmas market foods at home, namely crêpes, Glühwein, and chimney cakes.

We’ve found making crêpes so much easier since we started using a crêpe spreader. Our method involves making them two at a time on a pancake griddle, but if you were making these with enough frequency, it would be worth acquiring a crêpe griddle like the professionals. Our current favorite crêpe recipe can be found here.

 

 

IMG_4574Here’s how we make our Glühwein: 

1 bottle dry red wine (we use 1/2 merlot, 1/2 cabernet sauvignon, both Charles Shaw from Trader Joe’s)
200 ml (about 7 oz.) water
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, quartered
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
3-4 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 anise star
3 oz. rum

Combine all ingredients in a crockpot (or on the stove) at low heat for at least 2 hours. After 2 hours, start sampling and once the flavors are to your liking, scoop out the spices and fruit and serve.

 

We’re still in the experimental phase on our Chimney cakes. Not having the traditional cooking implements has made baking them more of a process. They look a train wreck, but taste delicious. The best recipe we’ve tried is from Hefe und Mehr.

Fantastic as enjoying the food and memories at home can be, there simply isn’t a substitute for the magic of a Christmas market. We were thrilled to discover that there are several Christmas markets in the Detroit area! Here are two we’re particularly excited to check out.

Ann Arbor KindleFest (UPDATE: Here’s what we thought!)

  • Location: Ann Arbor Farmers Market
  • Friday, November 30th, 2018 from 4-10 pm

Birmingham Winter Markt (UPDATE: Here’s what we thought!)

  • Location: Shain Park
  • Friday, November 30th, 2018 4-9 pm (Tree Lighting at 6 pm)
  • Saturday, December 1st, 2018 10 am-9 pm
  • Sunday, December 2nd, 2018 10 am-4 pm

We’ll report back after a thorough sampling of the food and ambiance. 😉 It’s not too late to do some research and make plans! Look in your area to see if something like this is available near you.

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Armchair Travel: Kids’ France Books

Armchair Travel: Kids’ France Books

I’m not really sure which came first; my hunger for books or my wanderlust, but I relish their interplay — the reading that fuels a curiosity to see the world and opens its riches to us without ever leaving home, the traveling that in turn makes the books I’ve read come to life, the history from their pages swirling before my eyes and connecting in a multitude of sparks. I love curling up with my little ones and introducing them to another country and its culture through the armchair travel of reading; my dream is that one day they experience the delight of interplay between travel and reading for themselves. Last year we had the opportunity to take our oldest little one to France, and we read many books together beforehand. Below is a selection of our favorites for young children.

Hello World: Paris is a charming little board book for the babies that meanders through Parisian landmarks introducing shapes, while Jane Foster’s Paris will grow a baby’s simple vocabulary of the French capitol (croissant! metro! car! Ok, so “car” isn’t the most inherently French, but “croissant” sure is.)

      

Ah, Anatole! This French mouse hero stars in a entire series of books, and we’ve loved all of them so far! The first book finds him making his way in the world by becoming an anonymous cheese taster and critic, a whimsical introduction to the importance of cheese to the cuisine of France. Our library has a large selection of these books (it seems most of the Anatole books are not readily available to buy).

     

Madeline is another not-to-be-missed book series.  The illustrations depicting Parisian landmarks are what make it iconically French, rather than the story lines, but the landmarks aren’t labeled, so parents may need to be deliberate about researching and pointing them out to get the full effect. They are fun to read regardless.

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In Adèle & Simon a (mostly) patient older sister visits museums and sites of Paris with her little brother who scatters his belongings everywhere. The drawings are lush and detailed; my children love looking at them again and again! The landmarks are labeled and explained in an index in the back of the book, making it nice resource as well as a visual feast.

Similarly, Everybody Bonjours! is a colorful tour through much of Paris with simple text accompanying. It also has an index in the back. This is Paris likewise meanders through Paris, but has a little more text accompanying it. It’s whimsical and detailed.

        

Dodsworth in Paris is a short chapter book telling the adventures of a very goofy duck near Notre-Dame, Le Louvre, a bistro, and even the Tour de France. This is repeatedly requested at bedtime in my house!

Paris looms large in books about France, understandably, but there is so much more to France than just Paris! Both France ABCs and Count Your Way Through France explore the culture and country at large in a broader way. The pictures are fun for small children, but there is enough text to be educational for not-as-young children.

          

The Cat Who Walked Across France is notable for being one of the few stories that isn’t centered in Paris! The cat begins his journey in Rouen, and ends it in St. Tropez, and passes several key French places along the way. My one complaint is that all of the stops he makes are neither explained nor indexed; you have to look at the picture on the back cover to know where he’s going. Nonetheless a useful resource, with lovely pictures that all look as though they’ve been painted.

And lastly, I came across a slew of books that unfortunately our library doesn’t have, but they look so charming that they are now on our Christmas wish lists!

       
   

A Walk in Paris, E is for Eiffel Tower, Madame Martine, Paris Hide and Seek

Do you have any favorite France books not on this list?

The links above are provided through the Amazon Affiliates program and we may receive a commission if you purchase books through a link. It does not affect the price you pay.