Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Cologne part 2 - tips for travelling with children, tips for the Christmas markets, plus win 4 flights on Germanwings!


So yesterday, I told you all about our fantastic trip to Cologne to see their Christmas markets that we were lucky enough to be invited to see by Germanwings and 9flats. I wanted to end the post by giving you our tips for travelling with children on short breaks and a few tips if you go to the Christmas markets in Cologne yourself next year. It'll have to be next year now as Friday is the last day you can see them so you'd have to be quick. And who knows? You could be there. Keep reading.

I'll start with some more general tips. If you're going away on a short break, you'll want to make the most of every second and travelling will be tiring for everyone, not least the children. And if you don't want tired children spoiling your break, I'd recommend planning a few things in advance.

Before you go

- If you're driving to the airport, shop around for great parking deals. Valet parking is often well priced booked in advance for quieter times. We managed to get a deal parking in the multi storey at the airport terminal, which meant it was a short walk into the terminal. This saves time on waiting for transfers with tired children when you arrive back.

- Try to see if you can just take hand luggage if only going for 2-3 days. We took three trolley cases for three of us when we went to Barcelona in March but managed two trolley cases between four of us for Cologne, with the addition of a rucksack and my lovely new bag. It doesn't work if you're intending to buy loads, but it will save you time waiting at baggage reclaim. Don't forget to put your liquids into a little bag though.

- Make sure you've all got E111 cards, which are free. Yes, travel insurance covers most things but I believe there is an agreement that if you have a valid E111 card, the insurers will waive the excess of any health related claims.

- Keep a wallet with passports, boarding passes, E111 cards etc. I use a plastic wallet with a popper so I can seal it when I'm not showing passports etc - there is then less chance of losing anything and it's quick to lay my hands on it.

- Check in online if your airline offers this to save more time. Even if you have luggage to check in, you can normally check in, print boarding passes and in some cases, choose your seats. Then all you have to do is go to the luggage drop if you do have cases. If not, you can just walk into the terminal and go straight through to security if you like.

- Consider buying tickets to fast track security.Ours were £3.50 each. I'm glad we did as it eliminated yet more waiting. However, it did make me forget to remove my liquids from our cases and we got our hand luggage searched! Never mind, it was still quicker.

- Buy a treat for each child that you know will keep them occupied during the flight and hide it in your hand luggage. Only produce this on the plane. We find this almost guarantees good behaviour for flights under 3 hours. Sticker books work for us, it could be colouring or puzzle books, but don't forget crayons or a pen. Buy it at the airport if you don't have the time.

At the airport

- Once through security, remember you can buy as much liquid as you like from the shops. We tend to buy a bottle of water for the flight.

- Make use of priority boarding for families if this is offered. It can make it so much easier getting on and if you don't get allocated seats, you have a much better chance of getting a good seat sat all together.

On the plane

- Don't expect a child that has previously flown OK not to be scared. Children change so much. Missy Woo suddenly announced plaintively "I'm scared" as the plane left the gate as she thought the plane was going to tip back to vertical when we took off.  She has flown before and didn't bat an eyelid. Even Monkey suddenly developed an aversion to the plane turning mid-air when we flew to Barcelona and gripped my hand but he has got used to that now.

Arriving at Cologne airport

- The train is fast, frequent and cheap (3 euros for an adult) from the airport into the central station, taking about 20 minutes.If you arrive late, when there are fewer trains, a taxi might be a better option. They cost 30-35 euros.

Getting around in Cologne

- You can get a Cologne Welcome card from the tourist office and other places, that costs 9 euros each or 19 euros for a group of up to 5 people. It gives you travel on public transport for 24 hours and discounts at various attractions. Just don't forget to validate it when you first get on an underground train or tram *cough*. I think it's valid for travelling to the airport. (At least I hope so!) It's definitely worth getting as it will probably save you more than you spend if you travel back and forth between the different markets and where you are staying.

The Christmas markets themselves

- Try to visit the busiest markets early, especially at weekends when it's at its busiest. The market by the cathedral is particularly bad at the entrance by the cathedral itself but once you're in, it's just busy by the food and drink stalls. The Gnome market get very packed and it just won't be nice for little ones, especiallyas  a small minority will try to push and shove. The Fairytale and  Angel markets seemed to be a lot quieter, the children enjoyed them a lot more and we were all a lot more relaxed.

- Pace yourself and have breaks. Visit a market or two, then go and do something else for a while, even go back to your apartment. Looking back, we think we should have done this but we felt we had to try and cram it all in. If nothing else, you will get a break from children asking you if they can buy everything.

- Wrap everyone up in layers. It will get hot in crowds but you'll suddenly turn a corner where it's much less crowded and the wind can cut you in half.

- Pace yourself on the buying too! You'll want to buy everything as soon as you see it because you'll see the same stalls repeated around the markets. The children will want to buy everything too so either set them a limit of what they can spend or just let them have a small amount of money and be firm once they have spent it. Be realistic about what you can take home.

- Plan your trip - if you have to take a late flight flying out to Germany, I would recommend a 3 night trip, but if you can get an early flight, a two night trip would be fine.

Flying back out of Cologne airport


- Beware that food and drink options airside are limited but seem to be plentiful and more varied before security. If you need to eat at the airport, I'd try landside first.

So, would you like to go yourself, perhaps next year? Or would you like to visit another part of Germany? If you do, then I have some brilliant news. Germanwings are offering one lucky winner 4 return flights on Germanwings (you can see their full network here, just click on your nearest airport to see which airports they fly to). To enter, just follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter widget, which I'm trying out below. As an an absolute minimum, you need to read my first post on Cologne and tell me in the comments which Christmas market was our favourite and also where you'd fly to if you won and why. (I won't hold you to this!)

The competition close at 5am on 1st January 2012. (That's midnight Eastern Time on 1st January 2012.) Get entering, and best of luck to you all.

Please note that Rafflecopter won't accept entries until 5am on 21st December 2011. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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