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Surprise Trip to Disneyland

November 27, 2011

This has been a busy few months.  We packed up and moved from our apartment of the last two years in Switzerland back to our home in the SF Bay Area.With the unpacking, adjusting to new schools, reconnecting with old friends and family and making new connections in the community, there hasn’t been much time for travel.

But of course, the itch to get out there and find adventure remains.  So with little free time, I planned a last minute trip to Disneyland to enjoy the Halloween splendour – just my youngest son and I for a couple days.  Decided I wouldn’t spill the beans and instead told him that we were going to get up early to visit my office.  As we approached the office, I said that I broke my special Mary Blair coffee mug and would need to get a new one for the office.  He was ok with that.  So we drove to the store via the Oakland airport because the only store that sold the Mary Blair mug was at Disneyland!

I’d like to report that my little guy jumped for joy and showered my with affection after learning the news that we were sneaking away to Disneyland for a couple of days. Truth is, he stared at me dumbfounded and confused.  Oh well!  I guess he doesn’t like surprises.  The trek to Disneyland was quite easy – Jet Blue to Long Beach airport and then a cab ride to the Disneyland gates.  Once we got to Disneyland, the excitement hit and my son had a permanent smile on his face for the duration of the trip.

Disneyland goes all out for Halloween.  The decorations begin at the gate and you can’t help getting caught up in the magic of the Fall season.  A highlight of the season in the Haunted Mansion Holiday which is inhabited by Jack Skellington and his Nightmare Before Christmas neighbors for the Halloween and Christmas seasons.  You can meet Jack and Sally themselves for photo opps in New Orleans square and there’s Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy for those looking for an adrenaline rush.

Finding good deals on accommodations isn’t always easy with a last minute trip.  We ended up staying at Howard Johnson’s Anaheim motel the first night, which is a great place to stay for budget minded looking for a place walking distance to the park.  We moved to the Disneyland Hotel for our second night, to enjoy the new Monorail pool and tiki themed Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sams.  Probably could have found better deals for both options with pre-planning, but didn’t fare too badly with rates, considering we purchased with less than a week’s notice.

What a special weekend escape we had full of Halloween magic!  It was a wonderful surprise that I hope my son will remember forever.  I know I will.  And now I’m wondering…can we squeeze in a trip for the Christmas holidays?

For help planning your holiday escape to Disneyland, contact me at or check out our website


A Visit to Naboo: Villa Balbianello on Lake Como

May 30, 2011

A Gorgeous Lake View on Naboo

The reopening of Star Tours in Disneyland and Walt Disney World has awakening my love for Star Wars.  All this discussion of destinations on Star Tours adventures reminds me of that special trip our family took to the Lake Region of Naboo this past spring, where we retraced the steps of Anakin and Padme to that lakefront palace where the two shared their first kiss and wed in secrecy.  Ok, we didn’t really travel to the fictitious planet of Naboo, but we did make it to the gorgeous spot on Lake Como where they filmed the marriage of Anakin and Padme: the Villa Del Balbianello in Italy.

For those non-Star Wars buffs out there, let me share some worldly info on the place.  Villa del Balbianello lies on the western shore of Lake Como near Isola Comacina.  It was built in the late 18th century on the site of a Franciscan monastery for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini who lived there in until his death.  By the early 20th century, the villa had fallen into disrepair when Butler Ames, an American military officer bought and restored the villa and its glorious gardens.  In 1974, the Italian explorer who lead the first Italian expedition to climb Mt. Everest, Guido Monzino, purchased the villa (and today you can see a museum of his work at the villa).  The villa has been featured in many films including, of course, Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones.  Though you will find no mention of Star Wars at the villa, you can’t help but recognize some of the memorable spots from the film.

The trip to Naboo was definitely worth the 30 minute drive from our Lake Como accommodations, the Grand Hotel Imperiale in Moltrasio.  After parking, we took a short and beautiful water taxi ride to the villa  jetty, where we ascended the steep promenade to take in the breathtaking views, admire the meticulous gardens and, of course, get our pictures taken at the infamous terrace with the stunning Lake Como backdrop.  We purchased tickets to visit just the grounds, but those interested could get more expensive tickets to enter the inside of the villa and the museum on site.

I definitely recommend a visit to Villa Balbianello if are in the Lake Como region, regardless of whether or not you are a Star Wars’ fan.  It was not by accident that this location
was selected to represent the ideal life of Naboo.  And for those Star War geeks who would love to exchange vows at the very place where Anakin and Padme wed, I believe the site is available to rent for your destination wedding.

Check out photos of Villa Balbianello in Grin Travel slideshow.

Happy Travels and May the Force Be with You.

-Jennifer Grinold, Travel Agent
Grin Travel
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The Alsatian Wine Road

May 15, 2011

Alsatian Wine RoadNorth of the Switzerland border, tucked between the Vosges mountain range on the West and the Rhine River on the East, lies Alsace, a region rich in history, fertile land and natural beauty.  Here you will find the Alsatian Wine Road, a 170 kilometer route stretching from Marlenheim , located just west of Strasbourg, to Thann,  situated near Mulhouse (see Alsace Tourism map).  The route is dotted with over 100 charming villages, each welcoming visitors with its own fine wine, local delicacies and stunning landscape.

The Alsatian Wine Road is a perfect destination for a romantic weekend without the kids, but also can be a great family destination to explore the medieval villages with half-timbered houses, cathedrals, towers and castles.  The area is best visited by car, in order to have full access to the many quaint villages, or alternatively by bicycle, for the more adventurous and athletic.  Visitors are welcome year round: in spring when the flowers are in blossom and the grape vines are fresh with new leaves, in summer when the weather is warm and the days are long, in autumn to witness harvesting for the wine and in winter for the spectacular Christmas markets. 

The wines of the region are primarily white, with a strong Germanic influence.  Alsace produces some of the finest dry Rieslings in the world, and is also well known for its Gewurztraminer wines, as well as Muskat and Pinot Blanc.  Tourists can stop in a village “winstub”, a combination of restaurant and wine bar, to sample Alsatian wines and specialties, like baeckeoffe, sauerkraut and tartes flambees. Or there are many food markets and local shops to visit for specialty cheeses, meats, foie gras, cakes and honey. 

There are dozens of picturesque villages to explore for a short visit or overnight stay.  Here are just a few of our favorite spots to visit when in Alsace:

This town, situated 25 kilometers southwest of Strasbourg, oozes in charm.  Obernai’s origin dates back to the 7th century and in the town you can find abundant half timbered houses, a bell tower and a beautiful cathedral.  There are many quaint hotels to stay in, most quite reasonably priced.  On our visit, we stayed at Hôtel De La Cloche right in the center of town, in a two-floor family room in the hotel’s 14th century building.  The 2-star hotel full of character and has a lovely restaurant serving tasty traditional Alsatian cuisine.  From here we visited the city by foot, walking through town to the ancient fortifications surrounding the city, with its walls, towers and ramparts still preserved from the 13th century.

Mont Sainte Odile
Just a 20 minute drive from Obernai is Mont Sainte Odile.  This convent was founded by and named after the patron saint of Alsace.  The site now houses a hotel, and the convent and chapels remain, including one with the tomb of Sainte-Odile.  At over 750 meters, Mont Ste. Odile provides an amazing vantage point for spectacular views of the region.  You can also walk through trails in the wooded hills and visit the “Pagan Wall” built around 1000BC.

This typical Alsacian village of 5,000 is located almost 15 kilometers from Colmar.  Ribeauville is a wonderful town to stop in for a stroll down the main street for wine tasting, a meal or just visiting the shops.  From Ribeauville you can hike to the ruins of 3 castles in the region: the Saint Ulrich, the Girsberg and the Haut Ribeaupierre.  A great time to visit is the first Sunday in September to celebrate Fiddlers Festival (Pfifferdaj), an event featuring a parade of fiddlers and other musicians dressed in medieval costumes.

This city of over 100,000 inhabitants lies at the convergence of the Lauch and Thur Rivers.  Don’t be fooled by the modern outskirts of the city; the old-town is well preserved from the Middle Ages with impressive attractions like the pink stone St. Martin Church, the Dominican Church with its early gothic architecture, and the Uterlinden Museum with masterpieces from the Rhine Renaissance.   A wonderful way to explore the city is by boat on a canal in Colmar’s Little Venice.

Each time we travel to the Alsace region, we are always surprised us how close we are to our home in Switzerland, yet how far away we feel.    Both French and German influences can clearly be seen and felt in the region, in the language, the food and the culture.  Alsace is the perfect location for a weekend trip to explore historic villages, taste Alsatian wines and to savor local delicacies in a beautiful setting.

Check out our photo album of the Alsatian Wine Road on Grin Travel.

Jennifer Grinold, Travel Agent
Grin Travel

Mammut Flossrennen 2011: A Mother’s Day in Switzerland

May 11, 2011

Last Sunday, I celebrated Mother’s day with my family on the banks of the Sitter River,  enjoying an annual Swiss tradition: the Mammut Flossrennen, or Mammoth River Float Race.  The locals were packed on the river shores with their sun hats and blankets, perched on the river banks to watch the floats compete to win prizes for being the fastest, the most original and the most fun, while remaining intact.  Floats journeyed 12 kilometers in the race and endured a sizeable waterfall drop.  Participants spent hundreds of hours preparing their wonderful watercrafts meant to entertain the spectators who gathered for a day of family fun.

We watched the race from Bischofszell Stadt, a prime point of interest on the race, about 25 kilometers northwest of St. Gallen.   We paid a 5CHF entrance fee for the family to enter the grass park-like area on the Sitter River.  From this area, we had a view of the waterfall drop, which was the most entertaining part of the race where we watched the participants disembark their floats to send them down the plunge, for better or for worse.  All floats seemed to require some repair after the drop and some participants were sent swimming in the river to retrieve parts that flew or broke off during the fall.  After repairing the floats, the race participants re-embarked and set off to finish the race.  For the audience, the floats competing in the original and fun categories were a sight to see.  We enjoyed the Flinestones, Pirates of the Caribbean and for the kids living in Switzerland this year, the Nanomania float was a real treat.

My family enjoyed a wonderful afternoon.  This was a Mother’s Day that will stand out in my memory. I definitely recommend the Mammut Flossrennen if you’re looking to join in some Swiss local for a family day to remember.

A photoalbum of Mammut Flossrennen 2011

Jennifer Grinold, Travel Agent
Grin Travel

Zurich Sechselauten 2011

April 12, 2011

This past Sunday my kids and I had the opportunity to take part in a traditional Zurich Spring celebration, Sechselauten.  This annual festival takes place in mid-April and dates back many centuries here in Switzerland.  Sechselauten literally refers to the “6 o’clock ringing of the bells” which marked a one-hour later end to the work day.  This change of work hours was historically a time to celebrate longer days, with more non-work hours to enjoy in the evenings, and a time to get ready for the coming of summer. 

My children and I attended the Sechselautern Children’s Parade on Sunday with over 3,000 children participating, ages 5 to 15, wearing historical costumes and marching over 3 miles through central Zurich.  The children in costumes were accompanies by hundreds of kids in Zurich’s youth bands.  There were also representatives of Zurich’s Global Youth representing Spain, Peru, Kosovo, China and Japan, amongst others.  At the end of the parade was the Böögg, or artificial snowman, who stood 10 feet high, made of straw, cotton and wool and charged with explosives awaiting his destiny to be burned at the bonfire the following day.

On Monday, members of Zurich’s 26 guilds marched, rode on houses and horse drawn carriages through Bahnholfstrasse and Limmatquai to Sechselauternplatz at Bellevue for the burning of the snowman.  The Böögg symbolizes winter and legend has it that the longer it takes for the snowman’s head to explode, the dimmer weather will be for the summer.  At 6pm yesterday, the bonfire was set fire and the Böögg was burned.  His head exploded in only 10 minutes and 56 seconds which is under the average of 14 minutes, promising a summer of good weather for all!

Here’s a slideshow of photos I took at the children’s parade:

-Jennifer Grinold
Travel Agent, Grin Travel

Things to do in Barcelona for Families

April 4, 2011
Today we have a guest post from Thomas Carter, a writer for Apartime.  Many family travelers will be departing from Barcelona for their cruises this year and Thomas gives some great ideas for things to do in Barcelona before or after departure. 



Tibidabo Amusemen Park in Barcelona

Barcelona is home to dozens of tourist attractions for all ages and ranks. If you´re planning to visit the city with children there is plenty to do all year round. Here are five things to do for families that guarantee a fun filled day in Barcelona!

 Barceloneta Beach

With a shore of over a mile Barceloneta is the largest beach in urban Barcelona. It´s also one of the most traditional beaches of the city. It´s located at walking distance of the Barceloneta metro station (red line) and you also could reach the beach by bus. This beach is very popular with both tourists and locals. An excellent place to bring the children!

The Magical Fountains on Montjuic
Your trip to Barcelona isn´t complete without visiting the magical fountains. These fountains are situated on Montjuic mountain and are home to mind blowing light and music show. This is a real unique experience with which you definitely will be impressed!

The Barcelona Zoo
For over 100 years the zoo in Barcelona is located in the Ciutadella park in the centre of the city. It´s home to over 400 different species, making a total of nearly 7,500 animals in the park. From 1966 until 2003 the zoo was a main attraction for tourists who visited the world famous albino gorilla Snowflake. Just recently a program in order to safe the South American anteater was started in the zoo. Unfortunately this species is suffering heavily from illegal hunting and therefore the Barcelona Zoo is trying to increase the number of anteaters. Prices are about 16 Euros for adults and 10 Euros for children.

Tibidabo Amusement Park
Mount Tibidabo is not only home to quiet an unique church but also to a themed park which hasn´t changed much since it opened its doors in 1899. The park is a combination of the old and the new. Go for the ´La Talaia´ which catapults 10 persons up to 60 meters in the sky or make a ride in Montaya Russa, a roller-coaster making its rounds since 1961. You could also choose for more recent attractions like the 3D cinema. Not the most wallet friendly option in the city as the entrance fee is around 25 Euros for adults and 9 Euros for children (up to 120 cm). Toddlers less than 90 cm tall can entrance the park for free.

Poble Español
Also located on Montjuic this is an area created in 1929 to show people the differences in architecture which can be found in the different regions of Spain. For the children there are lots of things to enjoy like glass blowing or craft shops. This park a real fun experience for the whole family!

 This article was written by Thomas Carter, a writer for Apartime, provider of Barcelona holiday rentals.

A Magical Day at Disneyland Paris

March 31, 2011

Disneyland Paris has released the video “A Magical Day at Disneyland Paris” to celebrate the upcoming Disney Magical Moments Festival which opens April 6.  The video shows vignettes of both Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park, including favourite attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain or the new rides in Toy Story Playland, shows and daily parades, including the Fantillusion Parade, from sunrise to nighttime entertainment and fireworks.

This video utilizes “Tilt Shift” technique, with photographs using selective focus and perspective control, and then post-production techniques like over saturating colors, to give the impression of a miniature model.   Out of the more than 125,000 still photographs which were taken over a period of seven months, only 4,000 were used in the final edit.

If you are interested to visit Disneyland Paris resort in person, contact me at to book a vacation or get more information.

Jennifer Grinold
Travel Agent, Grin Travel