Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism

As some of you may know our readers are always invited to contact us to ask for advice, tips or any other help planning their trips. The service is free and is available through private email on our contact us section on tour navigation bar or via our FB page. In this case, Lisa’s question about taking her son with autism on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela was first posted on our FB page and as we thought other readers might benefit we decided to turn it into a post.

 

Dear Margalit

Do you have any thoughts on taking one’s adult autistic offspring on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela? I am considering doing just that, although would take it a lot slower than most people, and have more rest days. I would spend about two years physically and mentally preparing my son to go. As my son is also intellectually disabled, an epileptic, as well as a coeliac, am I crazy to even consider it? Any feedback would be gratefully received.
Thanks, Lisa.

 

Dear Lisa,
Thanks so much for your question.The Camino is quite different than some of my other destinations as it is really ‘off the beaten track’, so to speak, and unique in its place in the travel industry. It is, of course, a magnificent part of the world; with some routes and their monuments in both Spain and France even earning UNESCO World Heritage status. Known as a predominantly Catholic pilgrimage route for centuries and called Saint James Path or The Way of Saint James; it used to be known as a means for spiritual growth or soul-searching for a few dozen pilgrims each year.

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism view

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

Nowadays it has become far more popular with a few hundred thousand travelers making the journey annually and not only for spiritual reasons. A lot of people like the idea of peace and quiet and the tranquillity of the path that the Camino offers as an alternative holiday or getaway. Some hikers use it as a personal conquest and for some, it is not unheard of to walk the Camino to find a spouse.

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism hikers

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

In years gone by pilgrims did the journey on their own, but now there are even organized tours that make arrangements for singles, couples, and groups. In recent years, there have been some extra-special accounts of people making the trek in wheelchairs with the help of their family or friends. The ultimate aim of the journey is to be able to receive a certificate of accomplishment (Compostela) to say that the pilgrim has completed at least 100 kilometers by foot; the only thing that is required for this is to walk, eat and sleep.

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism boot

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

Good hiking boots are vital and then one has to decide on food and lodging. Some people complete the walk with the bare minimum; camping out in the open and really roughing it. For those who don’t like sleeping under the stars, other options are little hostels called refugios that are economical and give one the opportunity to contribute to the community’s economy. The route passes through small villages and towns, and there are cathedrals and chapels along the way that appeal to religious and non-religious alike. The architecture and views are spectacular and along the whole route, care has been taken to show hospitality to pilgrims with trails marked out specifically and foot fountains to soothe aching feet. As an added bonus, these days, all the refugios offer free WiFi, really appealing to the modern pilgrim.

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism car

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

Regarding special needs and autism, it absolutely can be done and has been done.
A woman with autism from the United States completed the route in 2013 which was a fantastic achievement.
It is, of course, imperative to plan, like you said. Every single need and possible concern should be discussed and taken into account.

For most people with autism, a schedule is vital for them. In an unusual way, walking the Camino provides a routine in itself. Even though you wake up in a different place every morning, the pattern of the day is the same, and there is an end goal. Your son would not need to feel pressured; walking pace and resting times are flexible.

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism solo hiker

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism road snacks

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

How comfortable is your son with sleeping in a different bed than his own? Part of your preparation can be to expose him to sleeping in different motels. If he is sensitive to light, make sure that he has a sleep mask as each refugio will have different arrangements regarding blinds or curtains.
If your son is noise-sensitive, then earplugs or headphones will be very beneficial.
If your son is sensitive to heat, then choose to travel in the cooler months.
Most hikers start out really early in the morning also to avoid the heat of the day. I suggest you break-in new shoes a few weeks before to avoid getting blisters.

You mentioned that he has celiac disease so you would need to make allowance for carrying extra weight in gluten-free substitute foods and snacks in your backpack. There are stores and stalls for purchasing food along the way, but there is no guarantee that it will be suitable for your son’s digestive system. The meals at the refugios are simple, and if you are in a town or village, there is the possibility of eating at a tavern or restaurant.
If your son is on medication for epilepsy, for example, you will need to take an ample supply and also a means to keep it dry and at a suitable temperature no matter where you will be staying on the route.

If you choose to go with a specialized tour, they do provide you with water, food and first aid as well as the option of a ride to the closest medical center if necessary. It should go without saying that travel insurance is a priority.

If your son enjoys the outdoors, gets a sense of accomplishment from completing goals and embraces the challenge of doing something new, then walking the Camino might be just the thing for him.

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism mountains

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

Please let me know if you are going to do it. We at Autistic Globetrotting would love to hear about your experience.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence

 

Alright parents, let’s be honest for a moment; traveling with kids is not always the most fun thing to do in the world. Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to show them the world, in fact, I encourage it!
But the truth is it can be very stressful at times, and you are not always able to see the sights that you may want to see due to encroaching nap times, temper tantrums and whining. So as a parent you have to find a balance between what you and child will enjoy together. Luckily, Florence, filled with architectural gems, culture, and welcoming restaurants is a great destination for families, even those traveling with autism.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence river

City Views

Parents that want to introduce their younger kids to history and art should take their children to the Piazzale Michelangelo. The Piazzale Michelangelo is a beautiful terrace that offers an incredible panoramic view of both Florence and Arno Valley. Designed in 1869 by Giuseppe Poggi, it was created as part of a major restructuring of the city walls. Poggi designed the base of the terrace as a dedication to Michelangelo, incorporating copies of his work as well as the famous sculpture of David and the Medici chapel statues from San Lorenzo. The hillside was intended to be a museum as noted in Poggi’s design, but for some reason, the plan was never followed through and instead became a restaurant.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence royal

 

 

The Architecture

Next you can head on to the Duomo, capped by a red-tiled cupola and admire its impressive marble facade. If the lines are long, you can skip the inside as it is not that impressive but stop to look at the Sagrestia delle Messe (Mass Sacristy),  panels with their inlaid carved wood and beautiful bronze doors depicting scenes of heaven and hell.If you do decide to brave the crowds and climb all the way to the top where you will be rewarded  (after you catch your breath, that is) with magnificent views of the Florentine city.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence duomo


Old Fashioned Carousel

Another special place that children will enjoy is the Piazza Della Repubblica. This Piazza is Florence’s first public square and is considered to be one of the hubs of Florentine life. There you will find an antique carousel that is still in use. The carousel dates back to the beginning of the 20th century and is owned by the Picci family. Currently Carlo Picci, a fourth generation Picci, runs the carousel, waving to the small children as they circle by, playing special music dedicated to them. The carousel is small, with only 20 horses available but it is just large enough for a child and an accompanying parent as they go round and round the square.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence square

 

After a lovely time at the Picci carousel, you should take the kids for the most famous Italian treat, gelato. There are plenty of gelato places you can stop at, but some of the considered exceptional ones are Vivoli, Crum, Badiani and Perche no! Locals also like to stop by Gelateria La Carraia and cross Ponte Alla Carraia while enjoying their sweet treat.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence gelato

If you are planning on touring Florence with, kids then you should plan a tour of some of its magnificent art museums. Although museums are not commonly thought of as  ‘fun’ places for kids,  there are a few landmarks children might enjoy exploring.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence museum

Museums

If your child with cannot stand in long lines or face large crowds, a short customized guided tour of the Galleria dell’ Accademia (Gallery of the Academy of Florence), early in the day, is highly recommended.This gallery is home to Michelangelo’s famous statue of “David” as well as other sculptures of his and paintings from the Renaissance era. The museum was founded in 1784 by Pietro Leopoldo, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and also houses works from Paolo Uccello, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli and Andrea del Sarto. By the way, don’t feel too bad if you can’t take a shot of the original statue that may be mobbed by visitors there’s a replica outside that is usually more accessible.
For the older and more patient youth, The Uffizi Galleries next door is the place to spend a few hours walking around the different exhibits.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence outdoor david

 

Budding teen fashionistas should not miss the Gucci Museo. There you can learn about Gucci’s 90 years of history by following his life. In the beginning, in the tradition of 14th-century forbears, Gucci made his name as a purveyor of the finest quality of leather accessories. The museum features a CreaKids section where children will be able to participate in hands-on workshops inspired by the museum and also to help children understand the evolution and importance of fashion through the ages.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence old town

 

For kids that are fans of fairy tales and palaces, the Palazzo Vecchio Family Museum is an outstanding choice. Here, there are tours specially designed for children that are not only educational but interactive as well. You can walk around with your family and explore many of the Palazzo Vecchio’s most beautiful rooms as well as find the secret passage that leads to Cosimo de Medici and his wife Eleonora’s private chambers. You will also have the opportunity to pretend to be the Medici family by dressing up in copies of the family’s Renaissance gowns and hear about their infatuation with heels! Children will also be able to hear about the lives of the 11 Medici children and how different it may have been to live back then.Nearby you should take a break for pizza and souvenir on the city’s old medieval bridge the’ Ponte Vecchio.’

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence town square

Florence is filled with outstanding restaurants, but the one we’d like to recommend is unique in that it employs people with disability.The venue called I Ragazzi di Sipario is in the historical artisan district of Florence, off the beaten path, but well worth the walk across the river.It was started by a father who wanted to create a sustainable work environment for his son and others with disabilities who sought employment The place started off with less than ten employees several years back and now has doubled in size after getting glowing reviews of its Tuscan cuisine food on TripAdvisor.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence mom

Autism Travel Tips

 

Talk about Michelangelo and the Medici family with your kid and show them photos and videos of the city’s famous sites.We printed pictures of the landmarks and had our children color them in.
Reiterate to your kids the fact that there are hundreds of steps to climb at the different sites like Piazzale Michelangelo and the Duomo – some kids (like ours) enjoyed the challenge.
Wearing comfortable shoes  ( anything but flip flops) is a must and make sure you bring bottled water with you, especially during the summer months when it is sweltering.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence castle

Look into the hop on- hop off bus that can take you to the different sites to lessen the walking.
Planning on visiting during the summer months (not recommended due to the hoards of tourists), bring a mini fan along since most places don’t have air conditioning.Make sure you stock up on one euro coins for emergencies but have the kids use the museum and hotel restrooms since most others require payment.
Book your museum tickets online ahead to bypass the crowds.
If your child is on a specific diet like GFCF  or suffers from a particular food allergy, have a list of ingredients translated to Italian  (printed or on your cell phone)  that you can ask about when you order any food items including gelato, to make sure your selection doesn’t include those specific ingredients.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence pinterest image

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Most people associate Ireland with romance, and beer drinking or both. Of course, that assumption might be hard to disperse based on the large number of castles and pubs the country has.However, as we discovered on our recent trip to the country, the country has much more to offer, especially for families.Ireland ‘s natural beauty, its welcoming people, and folkloric culture make it a family friendly destination to explore even if you can only stop there for a few days like we did on the way to your next European destination. So , if you are planning a visit to the Emerald Isle here are our top family-friendly attractions to visit.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Kissing the Blarney Stone

For centuries, those wished to be blessed with superior storytelling abilities or unnatural eloquence shave come to Blarney Castle outside of Cork. It is said that the powers of the stone were a gift to the man who built the castle from the goddess Clíodhna after he asked for her assistance in winning a lawsuit. She told him to kiss the first stone he saw on his way out the next morning. The builder won his case and then incorporated the stone into the castle’s wall presumably so that it would be accessible if he ever needed its’ persuasive powers again.
Based on this story, the castle draws visitors from all over the world, that hope to obtain similar gifts for themselves.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

However, it’s no easy feat to get close to the stone. Castle guests have to lean over backward to reach the source of this legendary power. After climbing to the very top level of the castle.
If they have any energy left, travelers can check out the lovely gardens that surround the building, including the Poison Garden or discover the real story behind the fire embers in the witches kitchen.
Blarney Castle is easily reached by bus from Cork. Admission is currently €13 (11.52 USD) for adults and €5 ($4.43 USD) for children.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Autism Travel Tips
Prepare your kid to the fact there are over 100 narrow steps to climb with no place to rest in between and not much wiggle way to turn back if they decide not to go up.
Moreover, to kiss the stone, each person needs to be held in a very awkward position by the feet and pushed into a narrow nook that might be frightening for a child with autism.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Touring Dublin

Travelers on a budget can save money by wandering around Dublin on their own or take the complimentary tours that are given daily by several companies including the Hostel Culture. These guided trips around the city; between the hours of 11 am and 2:30 pm and last for about 2 ½ hours.provide visitors with a wealth of information, but they only cost as much as you would like to tip your guide. Since it rained on the day we visited, we chose to take the hop on hop off bus to shuttle us around town and show us its highlights.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

For older kids the -Kilmainham Goal with its small museum and political exhibit, in particular, the personal letters of prisoners to their families that they wrote before their execution is a good way to introduce your teens to the Easter Revolution and its roots.For families with younger kids, Dublinia’s life-size displays are a good way to introduce children to Irish medieval and Viking history.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Autism Travel Tips
To get around faster and avoid waiting in long queues buy a city pass ahead of time.
Some places give discounts for disability and kids with autism in without waiting in the traditional lines.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Climbing the Giant’s Causeway

Like many other spots in Ireland, this breathtaking one, has its personal legend.According to the myth, these basalt formations were once a bridge created by a giant named Finn MacCool so that he could reach to his Scottish neighbor and rival, Benandonner. However, his adversary crossed the bridge first and turned out to be bigger than him. Finn’s wife, fearing her husband’s safety covered her sleeping spouse with a blanket and told the intruder this was her son. The Scottish giant assumed he was out-matched, panicked and ran back to his lair leaving the-the dis-shoveled bridge aka the causeway behind.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

In reality, it was an underground volcanic eruption that created this intriguing formation north of Belfast along with a similar site on the Scottish Isle of Staffa over 60 million years ago.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Although the true story maybe less prosaic, the Giant’s Causeway remains one of the iconic sights of Ireland, and well worth a stop if you are visiting the country. There is no admission charge for visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it costs around $13 per person to see the visitor center.
Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Autism Travel Tips
All kids will love climbing on the multi-leveled Causeway, but parents need to supervise their children at all times since the stones are uneven and slippery.
Closed toe shoes with anti-skid soles and long pants are a must for this type of terrain.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Despite its’ fragile appearance, the structure is safe and makes an excellent side trip on the way back to Dublin after visiting the Giant’s Causeway.Raised over 100 feet above sea- level, the rope bridge originally constructed by local fishermen to help them fish seasonal salmon is now a major (segments of the TV series Game of Thrones were filmed here) tourist attraction connecting the mainland to a small island with superb views of neighboring Scotland.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland
Visitors should be aware that there is a nominal fee to cross the famous bridge and that the site closes on particularly windy days so they should check the weather forecast before planning a stop there.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

Autism Travel Tips

Though the crossing the bridge is fun, it isn’t recommended for those afraid of heights or those with poor motor coordination.
Like some of the prior attractions mentioned here too closed toe shoes with nonskid soles are ab advantage.

Top Family Friendly Attractions in Ireland

 

Exploring the Guernsey German Occupation Museum with Kids

 

Although the Channel Island had been demilitarized and secretly classified as an area with no strategic value by the British government, the Germans still chose to bomb the small island of Guernsey on June 30, 1940.
Over 30 people lost their lives that day as many others would in the days to come. Even the local tomato harvest did not escape the destruction as the group of trucks conveying the produce to the harbor was bombed after being mistaken for a military convoy.

Exploring the Guernsey German Occupation Museum with Kids
Somewhere between 17,000 and 25,000 people left Guernsey in the days that followed the initial attack.
At first, the local government planned to evacuate all of the island’s schoolchildren as well as any of their parents who wanted to join them.But it soon became apparent that more people planned on leaving the island than first thought and could be carried out safely.

Those in charge soon realized that this could become a problem so they changed their tune and encouraged people to stay if they could. The result was that most of the islanders ended up remaining on Guernsey for the duration of the war.

The island was occupied by German troops for nearly five years before finally freed by the Allies on May 9, 1945.

The Guernsey German Occupation Museum

What started off as one family’s project to chronical the experiences of those who stayed on Guernsey during the occupation became the Museum of German Occupation.
This modest establishment, which received a 2013 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence, documents the local populace’s struggle for survival and shows how they overcame the everyday challenges that were presented by the German occupation.

The well-lit museum contains some dioramas and historical videos that show how difficult life was in those days. The building is home to artifacts like a 4.7CM anti-tank gun, a four-wheel Enigma machine, a gas mask for horses, and even a mini cooking stove made out of scrap metal. Reprinted copies of newspapers from the period even line the walls so that travelers can easily get an idea of what was going on at the time.

Exploring the Guernsey German Occupation Museum with Kids

We visited the island on a short shore excursion while cruising the British Isles.We explored the small but highly informative museum -six rooms in total. Our kids were surprised to discover that   there was a German internment camp on the island that housed over a thousand prisoners and that the island even had its own currency during the occupation.

After ending the  museum visit, we strolled around the St Peter’s  port area and admired the quaint private homes that sported names instead of numbers.

 

Autism Travel Tips

Those visiting the museum should allow themselves several hours to see everything that the site has to offer. Of course, the friendly staff members are glad to answer any questions that their visitors might have.

The Museum can be reached by local bus from the nearby village or by cab from the port area for those who visit on a cruise ship shore excursion.
Visitors that come by car will be happy to learn that there is free parking nearby as well.
There are restrooms in the building and an onsite café so guests here need not leave until they have gotten their fill of the exhibits.

Between the months of April and October, the museum is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm. From months of November to March, the hours are reduced significantly as the building only stays open until 1 pm. The site is also closed on Mondays during this period. The admission costs remain the same year round at £5 ($7.69 USD) per adult and £2.50 ($3.84 USD) per child.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

 

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Most people know Belgium is home to the European Union’s headquarters but international politics are certainly not all this country has to offer travelers. Superb culinary treats and cities packed with beautiful historical architecture await visitors. The country also takes its comic books quite seriously. Belgium’s capital city, Brussels, is additionally well known for its’ whimsical peeing statues. However, there are plenty more spots that families shouldn’t missed seeing while they are in town.

 

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Visit the Atomium

This unique silver building was created to resemble a greatly enlarged iron crystal. The main reason people come here is for the excellent views over the surrounding areas. However, the building is also home to an exhibit on the World’s Fair in 1958 and it occasionally plays host to a variety of temporary, science related displays.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Two of the pods typically have food for sale. Light shows take place here at night, which are always fun for kids. The Brussels icon is open from 10 am to 6 pm on a daily basis, with tickets sales stopping approximately 30 minutes prior to closing time, but the onsite restaurant stays open much later.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

You can see the entire city of Brussels from the top  after a short elevator ride.The cost of visiting during the day is around 11 euros for adults and 2 euros for kids between the ages of 6 and 11 years old. Children under 6 and the disabled get in free. There are additional discounts available for teachers, seniors, and visitors under the age of 18.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

 

Autism Travel Tips

Plan to arrive early since this attraction tends to be crowded during summer months and holidays.
If your child needs accommodations such as inability to stand in long lines call ahead and customer service will help.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

 

 

See all the nations represented at Mini Europe

This educational spot is a great place to bring the kids, on a sunny day, especially if an extensive European vacation isn’t in your travel plans. The entire park is filled with painstakingly crafted, scale models of numerous architectural treasures from around the continent.There’s a placard detailing each country’s capital ,population and when it joined the EU.What we liked most is that one can listen to he national anthem of each country as you are ‘visiting’ it.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Other highlights include cable cars to get visitors from place to place and a model of Mount Vesuvius that erupts on a regular basis. Food and beverage vendors can be found within the park grounds but their prices are generally quite reasonable.
Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Admission for the site is currently around 13 euros for adults and 10 euros for children under the age of 12. However, travelers that also plan on visiting the Atomium may want to purchase a combined ticket for both venues instead of paying for each site separately.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

 

Autism Travel Tips
Look out for a few stations that are spread throughout the park and are interactive if your kid loves to touch buttons .
Arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon if your kid is temperature sensitive since this is an outdoor attraction with few shaded areas.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

 

Try a street waffle

Who knew? During the Middle Ages, communion wafers mutated slightly and the basis for the modern waffle was formed. It took some time before spices, sweeteners, and leavening agents were added to the old recipe. Once this occurred, the treats subsequently became popular with both kings and the common folk alike, though the ingredients used naturally varied by class.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Modern Brussels style waffles are typically light in texture and regular in shape. They are traditionally dusted with powdered sugar but other variations are available. These treats are often sold by street vendors throughout the city and, like most fried foods, they are best eaten hot.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Autism Travel Tips
Plan to split the waffle between at least two people since it is usually on the larger side.
Most have the waffle while walking around but it does tend to drip and get messy fast so bring wet wipes along.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Follow Belgium’s most famous cartoon character TinTin

No visit to Belgium can be complete without acknowledging the country’s beloved iconic,TinTin .The cartoon character that is the subjects of books and movies is practically everywhere.You can trace his steps by snooping around the city’s flea market  where the saga all began .

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Then follow the  comic strip trail in Old Town where over thirty wall murals depicting different adventures are featured  and stop by the souvenir boutique carrying pricey memorabilia .

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Hungry? Stop for lunch at the Tin Tin Cafe in the posh neighborhood of Sablon and top it with an afternoon exploring the Hergé Museum just outside the city.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Autism Travel Tips

Introduce your kids to TinTin before visiting Brussels to build some excitement.You can rent the TinTin movie or read some of the books.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Be advised the museum is about half hour outside the city by train and is geared for kids ten and up since most displays aren’t  interactive.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Sample the Frites

Deep fried potatoes are a tasty regional staple in these parts. In fact, it is thought by some that a geographical misunderstanding on the part of the American GIs lead them to dub the treat ‘French fries’ in honor of the wrong county. In any case, frites are available everywhere in Belgium. They are often served by street vendors and they may appear as a side dish alongside entrees such as mussels in various restaurants. Traditional condiments for the fries include globs of  both mayonnaise and ketchup.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Autism Travel Tips

No tips or introduction needed  despite the fact your kid might be surprised to discover the frites don’t taste anything like the ones  served in US fast food restaurants.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Drop by the  City of Brussels to check out Manneken Pis wardrobe

The famous peeing statue has worn many different costumes throughout the years and this museum inside the city’s Grand Palace houses them all.The museum currently keeps over 300 costumes, many gifted to the symbol of the city by different countries.The tradition of dressing up the Mannekin began when some French soldiers stole the famous artifact, much to the chagrin of the locals. A presumably abashed King Louis XV made amends by returning the town’s statue with a set of new clothes and an honorary medal. Others have followed in their footsteps on both counts.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

The Manneken has been stolen multiple times over the course of his history and he is generally outfitted with new clothes on a regular basis. Of course, parents that are comfortable with mild nudity may also want to take their kids to see the Manneken Pis itself as well as his more modern sister statue, the Jeanneke Pis, and their contemporary dog buddy, the Zinneke Pis. who was sadly struck by a car last August and is undergoing renovations.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Autism Travel Tips
The museum is a good opportunity  for an impromptu geography lesson about different countries and their national costumes. Look out for the Elvis costume sent by the USA among others.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Go chocolate hunting on the Rue de Buerre

Quality chocolate products are one of Belgium’s greatest exports but while you’re here, why not enjoy such treats for yourself? Walking up and down the aforementioned stretch of the Old Town street will put travelers into contact with some of the tastiest morsels in the city. It goes without saying that this is an incredibly fun activity for both adults and kids that have a sweet tooth.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Autism Travel Tips
Don’t rush to buy any chocolates before enjoying the free samples in the various stores.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Enjoy the  Outdoors

Brussels is a very vibrant and active city especially during the  warm summer months.In  June 2015, Anspach Boulevard ,one of the city’s long street was converted to a pedestrian area complete with places to sit and games like table tennis and Bocce to enjoy.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families
Moreover,on Friday afternoons thousands of local skaters,roller bladers and bikers take to the streets in a quasi organized parade  escorted by the police.

Eight Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families

Have you visited Brussels with kids-if so,what were your favorite attractions?

 

 

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Amsterdam

 

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Amsterdam

Filled with culture and beauty, Amsterdam is a city that engages the senses. It is easily navigated and is therefore a popular spot for tourists. There are many family friendly  and autism friendly activities to be found while strolling through its streets. Below are a list of attractions that are sure to please all family members!

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Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna, Austria

 


Vienna is a very family friendly city, experientially diverse with great places to explore. Unlike Paris, London and Rome that tend to be the more popular European cities to visit, the Austrian capital has typically less crowds of tourists during the busy summer months; providing touring families with autism a unique opportunity to introduce music history and fine art to their children in a less stressful environment. Whether you are planning to visit the city with your special needs child for the first time, or contemplating a return trip, here are our top ten autism-friendly spots to visit.

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna ,Austria

Schoenbrunn Palace
This lavishly decorated summer palace and its grounds are among the most stunning in Europe and certainly worth a visit. Depending on your child, you can choose to take a short or long tour of the imperial home but allocate time for the magnificent grounds that include a well designed labyrinth and a zoo – one of the oldest in Europe. If walking outdoors for prolonged periods of time bothers your child as it does ours’, take a carriage ride or the budget friendly hop on hop off mini train. For that perfect ‘selfie’ background, climb to the top of the Gloriette and photograph yourself in front of it with the Neptune fountain below.
Special tip: pack a mini fan, sunscreen and, insect repellent

Imperial Palace (Hofburg)
The winter royal palace in the center of the city is filled with priceless collections and exhibits; mostly those of the last two occupants – the emperor Franz Joseph and his still revered wife Elisabeth who lived during the 19th century.If you happen to like horses and think your child can sit for an hour or to two, the palace also houses the famed Spanish Riding school where you can witness rigorous morning practice sessions with horses and trainers.
Special tip: Watch the movie Sissi starring Romy Schneider to understand the historical background better.

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna ,Austria

Haus der Musik
The House of Music is one of these places that should have been around when we parents were young. It would have changed our museum experiences completely. The interactive and hands-on tools in the exhibits teach scientific concepts of sound creation and propagation. It sure makes learning fun! Our son made his own CD and couldn’t get enough of conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Special tip: Since the museum is extensive, visit their website and plan what sections you wish to visit as it is unlikely you will get to see everything.

Technisches Museum
What’s truly great about the Technisches Museum apart from the fact there are so many interactive exhibits, is the fact that most descriptions are in German and English, meaning that foreigners can enjoy the experience. The displays include technology and science related machines and gadgets, along with some traveling exhibits that are rotated throughout the year. We loved the music /piano room that explained the development and evolution of the instrument, as well as the section on the European space station.
Special tip: If your child is temperature intolerant, plan to visit in the early summer months as most of the museums don’t have air condition and the rooms get warm.

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna ,Austria

Natural History Museum
The museum located in Josefstadt is part of a complex of museums that were established in 1750 by Emperor Franz I Stephan of Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa and completed in 1889.The building is beautifully decorated with paintings on the ceilings and on the walls of each room.The large and spacious museum houses over thirty rooms with artifacts like rocks, crystals and dinosaur skeletons. A must see is the animatronic T-Rex that is quite impressive and startles unsuspecting visitors as it moves. If you sit next to it for a couple of minutes you’ll understand.
Special tip: Get the audio guide so you can understand what you are seeing. All the written explanations are in German.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)
You haven’t seen Vienna until you’ve visited a Gothic church and Stephan’s cathedral is the best one. Go early as it gets crowded by 9.30am.The dark interior with relics and religious statues are remarkable but if you want breathtaking views of the city either climb the 345 steps to the top of the tower or take an elevator for a couple of Euros.
Special Tip: Check listings for free Church concerts on Sundays. The sound is amazing.
Worth mentioning- The Church of the Minorites (Minoritenkirche)located at Minoritenplatz 2A with its life-sized mosaic copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper on the church’s northern wall.

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna ,Austria

 Praterstern
Vienna’s landmark amusement park boasts two Ferris wheels, one being the Riesenrad that towers over the park’s 200 booths, ghost train, go-karts, merry-go-rounds and historical Prater Museum. It was featured in the unforgettable spy movie The Third Man. Don’t leave without visiting the older rides section with antique rides that will amaze you! You can pay by the ride or buy a thirteen-ride ticket.
Special tip: bring headphones or earplugs if your kid is noise sensitive.

Hoher Markt Clock (Ankeruhr)
Designed in 1913 by Franz von Matsch, the Hoher Markt Clock is truly a unique clock. On each hour, a different historical figure comes out of the clock accompanied by music. It really pleases the crowd of onlookers. The best time to see it is at noon when all 12 golden figurines line up together.
Special tip: It’s a perfect way to end a visit to the old part of the city. It takes 20 minutes to see the entire show so try to arrive a few minutes earlier to catch a good viewing point.

 

Top Ten Autism Friendly Travel Spots in Vienna ,Austria

Cafe Central
Make this lovely cafe a must stop when you are in Vienna to savor some much needed old time charm. The Baroque architecture within the cafe is noteworthy and the artistically arranged scrumptious pastries will make your mouth water and crave for more.
Special tip: If you want to enjoy your visit, go between meals 2-5pm and enjoy the delectable desserts in a relaxed atmosphere, with the undivided attention of the staff.

Figlmuller Restaurant
No visit to the city is complete without dinner at this famed venue. Make sure you order the Wienerschnitzel that literally hangs off the gigantic plate and comes piping hot. After the meal, walk around Stephansplatz for some souvenir shopping or stop for an apfelstrudel at Konditorei L. Heiner.
Special tip: The restaurant is a Viennese institution so be sure to go off hours otherwise bring electronic devices to occupy your child while you wait.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Scotland

In the last couple of years, Scotland has become a popular country to visit following Disney’s Brave and now Outlander, the new Starz series based on Diana Gabaldon’s books, set in that country’s Highlands. Scotland has amazing scenery, outdoor activities, old castles, historic battlefields and more so a successful, introductory family visit means balancing activities and an itinerary that includes a taste of everything.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Scotland

Loch Ness
A visit to Scotland’s popular tourist attraction should a boat cruise  on a vessel equipped with sonar to search for Nessie, the legendary lake monster. It is somewhat  kitschy but kids get such a kick out of listening to the stories and believing that the monster is about to show up any minute. To make it a tad more educational, you can always stop by the exhibit center and peruse the scientific research disproving the legend. We bribed our kids into tasting some of the local ‘Clootie’ dumpling ( boiled pudding with dried currants and raisins) after promising to buy them a Nessie souvenir .

Loch Lomond and Luss
Immortalized in the song that ends in “and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye”, Loch Lomond is the largest inland stretch of water in the UK and incorporates multiple tiny islands. It is a popular outdoor destination  for many families during summers as you can steamboat across the lake, feed ducks or paddle a canoe .One of the places our kids still talk about is the  quaint village of Luss with the colorful flowers in the front yards.

Edinburgh castle
The most visited site in Scotland, this historic fortress, towers over the city’s skyline from its position on Castle Rock. In the castle you can tour  St Margaret’s Chapel from the early 12th century, the Great Hall, and the Royal Palace. The Honours of Scotland  (aka crown jewels) and the National War Memorial are housed here. The dark dungeons and tunnels had our sons mesmerized and  listening for the ghostly lone piper who the story says vanished without a trace while playing here. They learned about the Stone of Scone (traditional coronation gem of the Scottish monarchy that was fought over for centuries) and according to legend,currently  still hidden in the castle. They even waited patiently in the rain (it always rains in Scotland)  until precisely 1 o’clock for Mons Meg, the enormous medieval cannon to fire!

Taking your Kids with Autism to Scotland

Stirling Castle
This was probably our favorite castle since it boasted  larger rooms, was well ventilated and turned out to be very kid- friendly offering multiple hands-on activities. Prominent during Middle-Ages battles, it was redecorated by James V and Mary of Guise, the parents of Mary Queen of Scots and served as the Stuart kings’ residence. Kids can look for unicorn pictures and statues, walk along the moat (if it doesn’t rain) and climb up the stairs to the tower ramparts. We enjoyed reading the feast recipes, (peacock and swan anyone?) in the kitchen and the kids’ zone where they can dress up in renaissance costumes and play different instruments.

Urquhart Castle
On the peninsular, surrounded by the breathtaking Loch Ness about 15 miles south of Inverness,  this is a true treasure. Deeply entrenched in Scottish history and having  played a major role in many battles, the ruins of the once spectacular Urquhart castle that was destroyed in 1692 are worth the visit. Start at the visitor center and check out the diorama depicting the  castle’s glory days.Our kids like the kiln and dungeon that was used to hold war prisoners next to the main ruin.

 

Cawdor Castle
Approximately 10 miles east of Inverness, originally built around a tower house and expanded over the span of several centuries, this castle went down in infamy as the one belonging to Shakespeare’s  Macbeth the Thane of Cawdor.In reality  the castle was built long after he died. At the entrance, there is a panel of the family motto  that spells ‘be mindful’ with the initials of Sir Hugh Campbell and his wife Lady Henrietta Stewart who renovated the castle in the late 1600s. Our kids got a kick out of  learning that a real person still resides in the Castle-the Dowager Countess Cawdor, stepmother to the Earl of Cawdor.Allergy  suffers might want to take an abridged tour of the Castle and visit the beautiful gardens instead since  like many other older castles there is quite a bit of dust in the air.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Scotland

The Royal Yacht Britannia
For four decades, this majestic ship served as the yacht to their Majesties Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It saw many foreign celebrities and dignitaries like Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan on board as well as members of the British royal family. Apart from the royal bedrooms that are surprisingly modest, the official dining hall and the sailors’ quarters provide a unique and fascinating insight into what it was like to live aboard the yacht. Britannia even helped in the humanitarian evacuation of refugees in Yemen in 1986. Be sure to check out the fudge sold in the small store that is rumored to have been the late Princess Diana’s favorite.

Cairns of Clava
Not as impressive as Stonehenge the stone monolith cairns, made famous by the Outlander series are still worth the visit, especially for those who have read the books. There are three different circular areas that according to legend hold the souls of the dead. Experts speculate that they were once used as calendars or sundials for the tribes living there over a thousand years ago. Walk among the cairns or imagine going back into the past like the successful book series describes and don’t forget to snap a “split stone” selfie as soon as you arrive to beat the crowd.

Scottish Wool Centre  at Aberfoyle
Here, children can pet farm animals, feed the lambs and learn old fashioned techniques of spinning and weaving. The day we visited they had “try your hand spinning and weaving the wool” and “sheepherding” demonstrations with audience participation which was hilarious. Volunteers were competing against trained sheep dogs in different tasks and guess who won?! Our son was delighted to be selected by the organizer to act as referee and it became a highlight of our trip.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Scotland

Hamish
On vacation we always try to include at least one unique animal experience and meeting Hamish fit the bill. To those who don’t know,Hamish is one of Scotland’s oldest Highland bullocks  who narrowly escaped slaughter during the BSE mad cow scare of 1996. Since then he has become somewhat of a celebrity in the Highlands and for the first time in his life  finally got a ‘girlfriend.’ Heather and Hamish, the happy couple, reside in a field next to the Trossachs Woollen Mill at Kilmahog, Perthshire.The day we visited Hamish was not in a particularly friendly mood but Heather greeted us and was only to happy to be fed some treats.

 

Autism Travel tips

Scotland like other parts of the UK is quite autism friends be sure to ask for discounts to attractions as well as front of the line accommodations since you will get them in some spots.
It rains quite a bit during the summer and many outdoor venues get muddy so bring a pair of crocs with you and several extra pairs of socks

Have you visited Scotland? What were your favorite sights?

 

 

 

 

Top Autism Travel Spots in Bucharest

Neatly tucked away in the eastern part of Europe is a worthy, slow-paced but fun, family vacation destination. In Bucharest, one can enjoy and admire unique architecture, outdoor interactive museums, as well as embark on delightful culinary adventures of traditional Romanian cuisine.

 

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots

Herăstrău Park

On the northern side of the city is an iconic park surrounding a lake. Estimated to be the largest urban park in Europe, it is a Mecca for outdoor lovers; offering diverse family activities like skating, free biking, boating including paddle boats, and rollerblading.

Tip: Go on a weekday since it tends to be crowded with locals on weekends and don’t forget your bug spray!

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots

The Village Museum

Muzeul Satului is a unique open-air museum housed in Herăstrău Park. It showcases farming houses from the different parts of the country.  Its 272 peasant farms and houses created in 1936 by Dimitrie Gusti allow visitors to observe local craftsmen at their work, as well as sample traditional foods like sherbet and homemade jams that are hard to find else where.

Tip – since most of the display areas are not paved, it is best to avoid visiting on rainy days. Make sure to wear non-slip shoes.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots

The Parliament Palace

The World Record Academy lists this architectural masterpiece as the largest civilian administration building in the world, making it the number one tourist attraction in the Romanian capital. The mammoth complex stands tall on a hill; a reminder of the country’s deceased dictator and communist past. Visitors will be surprised at the enormity of the rooms, the extravagant lighting fixtures along with the sparse, almost nonexistent décor.

Tip: Be advised that you can only visit the building if you partake in an official tour. It involves extensive walking and strict safety regulations disallowing separation from the group. Don’t book if you think your child won’t be able to cope.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots

Admire the architecture

Since 1878, following the Romanian War of Independence, Calea Victoriei has been a most exclusive shopping boulevard. It started off as part of the trade route between Bucharest and the city of Brașov, but in today’s capital it projects a mélange of old grandeur with palaces like Cantacuzino and Stirbei, elegant hotels like the Athenee Hilton and the former Hotel Buchuresi now called Radisson Blu, and exclusive designer shops. There are iconic buildings and memorials  too; the  column commerating those fallen in the 1989 revolution ,theNational Museum of Art, the Telephone Palace, Pasajul Macca and the CEC building as you stroll down towards Piata Unirii.

Tip: On your walk, stop and introduce your child to Covirigi – a Romanian pretzel snack filled with different jams or cheese.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots

Arcul de Triumf
Built in 1936 to commemorate the creation of the greater Romanian state and bravery of the Romanian soldiers in WWI, the Romanian Arch is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe, its more famous French counterpart. Located along Kiseleff road, the 85 foot tall arch designed by architect Peter Antonescu stands in the place of two preceding arches that celebrated Romania’s independence and establishment of the monarchy.

Tip: For adventurous tourists and energetic children, I highly recommend the interior staircase leading to the top.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots

Strada Lipscani

Lipscani is both a street and a district that has been a Bucharest feature for the past six hundred years. Once a flourishing commercial center it was named for the lipscan (traders) who brought goods from Western Europe. During the communist era the suburb became a giant slum and narrowly escaped demolition plans. After the revolution of 1989, Lipscani made a surprising comeback and is now a renovated pedestrian zone with food, retail and entertainment venues.

Tip:Stop by Stavropoleos Church to see a representation of the Romanian Brancovenesc style which blends Ottoman and Western elements. Built in 1724 with striking woodcarvings and frescoes, it is a good opportunity to introduce your child with autism to typical Romanian religious art.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots
 
Cismigiu Gardens

Located in the center of Bucharest and considered the city’s oasis by the locals, you will find a park called Cismigiu; the name derived from the Turkish word for fountains. The garden offers multiple outdoor activities like rowboat rentals, a winter skating ring, a children’s playground and cafes and restaurants. During the summer months you can feed swans, geese, ducks and peacocks in large cages, as well as listen to live music in the gazebo area.

Tip: The gardens are a wonderful spot to de-stress in an otherwise noisy, bustling city. During the holidays, one can look for fairs with craftsmen displaying their traditional products and souvenirs.

Visiting Bucharest –Our Top Autism Travel Spots

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Have you visited Bucharest with your family-what are your favorite spots?

Taking the Kids to Dracula’s Castle

On the spur of the moment we decided to take our kids to visit what is known as  Dracula’s  Castle ,located in the sleepy village of Bran a few miles outside the town of Brasov on our latest trip to Romania.

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Despite clever marketing associating this castle with Dracula we did not encounter any ghouls or blood-sucking vampires during our tour.

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But that shouldn’t deter you from visiting.

Far from it!

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The castle rich in stories and myths provides a unique perspective of Romanian history of Transylvania worth exploring.

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We learnt the site was originally a fortress built in 1212 by Teutonic knights was later converted into a castle. During the next few centuries it was repeatedly fought over and exchanged numerous owners because of its economic (tax collection station) and military importance .

In 1920 it was bequeathed to the English born Romanian Queen Marie by the city of Brasov.

 

 

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Turns out she found the place enchanting (maybe she was a Bram Stoker’s fan ) ,spent time renovating it, lived there for the last years of her life  and even asked to be buried there (rumor has it the queen ‘s heart is actually buried in a crypt chapel nearby.)

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Nowadays the Castle that was nationalized by the communists and returned to royal family ownership after the 1990 revolution displays remnants of fine art and furniture collected by the late Queen Marie.

 

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For eight US dollars for adults and six for students (free for anyone with a disability) visitors can tour can the castle’s maze like interior on their own or with a guided tour.

Probably the most striking is the fact the castle though impressive from the outside looks and feels very much like a family home inside. True, a rather large family home with magnificent views but with no fancy or elaborate decorations of any sort you’d expect of a ‘real’ castle.

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Like I mentioned before we didn’t meet any spirits or undead characters but then again we did ignore the screams we heard while climbing the secret narrow staircases in the dark and never once looked back…

 

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If your kids  still have energy to burn after climbing the hill to the Castle and wondering about the Castle head on to the open-air museum park exhibiting traditional Romanian peasant dwellings.

Top your visit off with an obligatory shopping spree at the multiple stores that sell souvenirs like we did to find the perfect Vlad the impaler snow globe to take home.

Taking the Kids to Dracula's Bran Castle

 

 

Autism travel tips:

  • The ground around the Castle is quite uneven so sturdy shoes are a must.
  • The rooms can get crowded and stuffy so you should bring water and a small fan.
  • Try to arrive first thing in the morning to beat the crowds.

 

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