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Trip Report Trip Report: Visiting the Czech Republic & Poland...with a Toddler

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My husband, young daughter (18 months at the time) and I returned last month from a two week trip to the Czech Republic and Poland, with brief stays in London on each end of the trip. I’ve been an avid reader of the forums for years and before each trip I take, I have every intention of taking notes and then preparing a trip report so I can give back in some way. Dozens of countries later, my trip report count is at zero. Until now, that is. In doing research for our trip, I found that there isn’t much out there for folks traveling with young kids so I promised myself that I would actually prepare a trip report for anyone who is planning a trip with a toddler.

To provide some background, we were avid travelers before we had our daughter and wanted to continue to travel once we felt she was old enough to do so. She traveled domestically quite a bit her first year of life so we felt that she was ready for a longer trip. We chose the countries we visited for several reasons. First, we’d traveled to every country around the Czech Republic but not the Czech Republic itself. Second, we tend to like Eastern Europe and had a great time on our first visit to Poland in 2006. Third, my research showed that both countries tended to be rather child friendly. Fourth, we could get from one country to the other by car with relative ease – we did not want to be stuck in a car with a child for days on end.

Our itinerary: USA-London-Prague-Telc-Olomouc-Krakow-Warsaw-London-USA.

I'll post the trip report next.

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    USA-LONDON:

    We always travel using miles as we prefer to book open jaw tickets. When we called last summer, we found that booking three seats instead of two limited our options. We were told that we could not get a connecting flight from LHR to PRG on the same day, and would need to spend the night in London, at the cost of 10k miles per seat. At first I was upset but then I realized that this was a blessing in disguise. It would give us a day to get accustomed to jet lag and it would break up our total flight time.
    Prior to having our daughter, we would have stayed in London for the night but given our luggage and her stroller (and her, of course), we opted to stay at the Hilton Hotel at Terminal 4. From T3 (where we landed), we took the Heathrow Connect train to T4, and then walked about 5 minutes through a covered walkway to the hotel. The hotel is very nice and because I have gold status with Hilton, we were given an Executive Floor room with free internet, breakfast and snacks in the evening.
    After showering and resting for a bit, we grabbed lunch at Café Rouge in T4. Café Rouge has an excellent children’s menu (each meal consists of an entrée, veggie and dessert) and sandwiches for grownups. After lunch, we headed out to London by taking Heathrow Express. It is far more expensive than the regular tube but we traded cost for convenience. This was at least our 6th trip to London so we had no interest in sightseeing. We avoided the Westminster Abbey area since the Royal Wedding had just taken place the day before. Instead, we went to Kings Cross station to take photos by Platform 9 ¾ (Harry Potter reference). I figure that my daughter will one day read the series and she might like knowing that she had once been to the platform. The platform is easy to find and there was only a short line of other Potter fans waiting to take pictures. Once we finished that, we headed over to Coram’s Field, which is a large enclosure with a playground for kids walking distance from King’s Cross. The pollen was a little out of control that day but other than that, we had a great time. Dinner was on the run – we were pressing up against my daughter’s bedtime and desperately wanted to get her back on schedule. We grabbed some sandwiches at a stand at Paddington Station and ate on the Heathrow Express. Once we got back to the hotel, we topped off our dinner with some finger foods from the Executive Lounge, and then put our daughter to bed. We followed shortly thereafter, since we were
    heading to Prague in the morning.

    PRAGUE:

    After taking advantage of the free breakfast at the hotel, we took the hotel’s free shuttle to T5 for our BA flight to Prague. For our transatlantic flight on American Airlines, our daughter sat in her own seat using the CARES harness. For BA, she was required to sit on my lap for takeoff and landing, using a seatbelt extender. She ended up falling asleep at takeoff, so her seat wasn’t used, but it was a short flight so that was ok.

    We had arranged to rent a one bedroom apartment in Prague. This way, we could put our daughter to bed at night and have a separate living area so that we could watch TV, surf the web, etc. without disturbing her. We chose this specific apartment because it came with a washer and dryer, which meant we could pack less clothing. The apartment also had free wireless internet which was a nice perk. We arranged for an airport transfer through the rental agency (Svoboda Williams) and had specifically mentioned needing a toddler car seat. Unfortunately, the driver showed up sans car seat. This was partly our fault, as we did not reconfirm everything prior to leaving, and had booked the original requests months before. The driver was great, though. He spoke to a cab company and got us into a cab with a car seat in no time, with the price coming out to the same as what we were expecting to pay with the private transfer. We did have a small mishap once we got to Prague. The cab driver dropped us off a few blocks away from our apartment, insisting the whole time that this was the right place. Luckily, I had the address written down so I left my husband, daughter and luggage at the spot we were dropped off at and went in search of the apartment. I found the driver (who said he was going to meet us there) and a rental agent and between them, we got all of our stuff moved quickly over to the apartment.

    After a quick signing of the rental agreement, we were all set to begin exploring Prague.
    For this first day, our plans were not very ambitious – have lunch, and then buy some groceries as our apartment had a kitchen and we wanted to have breakfast there each morning. Lunch was at Karavanseraj, a Lebanese restaurant by the river. We chose it because it had high chairs and was in the same direction as the Tesco we would do our grocery shopping. After lunch, we walked to Wenceslas Square to check out the last day of the Easter Market. We listened to a band play for a bit and walked around to view the wares being sold by the different vendors. Once we were done there, we went to the Tesco at Narodni Trida. It was Sunday night and the place was packed but we were able to buy what we needed. We headed back home and put our daughter to bed.

    We woke up the next morning to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. This didn’t alter our plans in any way but I did take a few minutes to register our trip with the State Department online, just in case. Once that was done, we headed out for our first full day in Prague. Our goal during the trip was to have a few child-friendly activities sprinkled in throughout the day to keep our daughter entertained. On this day, our first activity was an English language music class for toddlers, held at Komunitní Centrum KAMPA, in (obviously) Kampa, just off the river, near Mala Strana. Our apartment was just off Old Town Square so we walked to Kampa by crossing the Charles Bridge. Unfortunately, the crowded bridge was even more crowded that day because they were filming something on one side of the bridge! I didn’t think we’d ever make it across but we did. Once we got off the bridge, it was a five minute walk to Komunitní Centrum KAMPA.

    I read about this organization on the Kids in Prague website. The organization offers a young toddler music class in English. Ordinarily, attendees must enroll in a series of classes but I emailed the organization and asked whether we could take one class. They agreed, as there was space available. For 120 KR, our daughter enjoyed a one hour class filled with music, stories, bubbles and a parachute (anyone who has raised a young kid will know how popular the last two things are). Our daughter had a great time singing, dancing, playing with bubbles and listening to stories. Afterwards, we took her to the playground that was adjacent to the center, where many of the kids from the class were playing. Once we were done there, we went to lunch at Hergetova Cihelna just north of the Charles Bridge, on the same side as Kampa. We chose the restaurant because it was known to be child friendly. Not only did they have a great high chair (it was the kind you see in people’s homes, not restaurants – this was a trend that we saw repeated in many places throughout our trip) and children’s menu, but they provided our daughter with crayons and coloring books. The bathroom also had an actual change table with a cushion and everything (another trend we saw repeated elsewhere). The meal was delicious and the view of the Charles Bridge was great.

    We knew our daughter would probably fall asleep soon after lunch so we headed over to Prague castle. Sure enough, she was out by the time we got to the top. She slept the whole time we explored the area, including visiting the church and seeing the changing of the guards. We then decided to follow one of the walking tours highlighted in our Lonely Planet book. We got a little off course but found our way back, in a downpour, to the castle. From there, we walked over to Mala Strana and caught the metro to the Palladium Mall for dinner. While not glamorous, mall food courts are ideal places to eat with toddlers, especially in Europe as many have children’s play areas nearby. The food options weren’t great (lots of fried food) but we managed to find something we would all like to eat and then we had our daughter play in the children’s play area for about an hour. I cannot recall the cost but it was nominal. Older kids may be dropped off while parents shop but younger kids must be accompanied by an adult. There was a nice mix of kids including one English speaker and several Russian speakers. Apparently Russian speaking visitors are very common because the woman running the play area asked if I spoke Russian and then proceeded to converse with me in broken Russian. My Russian is more broken than hers so we made quite an interesting pair.

    Once we could tell that our daughter had her fill, we headed back to our apartment to put her to bed and then strategize for tomorrow. The weather report was indicating heavy rain (and possible snow flurries) plus temperatures in the 40s so I needed to figure out what indoor activities we could do.
    We woke up the next morning to lots of rain, so the forecast was spot on. We took our time getting ready so by the time we headed out, it was still raining but not as hard. I decided that we would spend the day in Novy Smichov because they have a train museum that is ideal for small kids. First, we went to the Novy Smichov mall to eat lunch. After lunch, our daughter promptly fell asleep so we wandered the mall for a few hours, grateful to be indoors. We got a little shopping done and when she woke up, we crossed the street and went to Království Železnic which translates to Railway Kingdom. It is a model train museum that is perfect for young kids. I learned about it on the Kids in Prague website and selected it as the day’s activity because it was indoors. I had no idea whether my daughter would even take to trains but even if she was bored, she’d be dry, warm and bored.

    The train museum is in the basement of the building and you buy tickets in the train store on the ground floor. The museum far exceeded my expectations. There are about a dozen elaborate setups with trains constantly running. The way the platforms are set up, even younger kids are tall enough to look at the model villages and the trains as they run by. The museum was a huge hit with my daughter. She could not stop saying “oh wowee” at all the trains and could have stayed there for hours and hours. The variety was impressive – everything from old school trains (including some that had “Czechoslovakia” written on the sides) to Lego trains. In some areas, kids could activate the train with the press of a button. Once we were done looking at all the displays, we spent some time in a little activity room, where there were many Thomas the Tank trains available for kids to play with. By the time we left the museum, the rain had stopped so it turned out to be the perfect rainy day activity.

    Dinner that night was at Ambiente Pizza Nuova Restaurant in Nametski Republiky, chosen, once again, because it is kid friendly. The usual elaborate high chair and baby changing options were available (in this case, the baby changing room also had wipes) plus there was a kid’s corner where our daughter played after dinner. The kid’s corner had a TV for bigger kids to watch a film as well. As we left, the hostess handed my daughter a balloon which made her day.

    The next day promised to be cold but sunny so we decided a trip to Zoo Praha was in order. We got up early and caught the subway to the bus and made it to the zoo in time for an early lunch on the premises. After lunch, we viewed the various animal exhibits and eventually worked our way to the children’s section, which included a petting zoo, playground and train that – for a nominal fee – kids could ride around several times. This is not your local mall’s Christmas train; this train track was actually pretty substantial. As my daughter is young, my husband was able to go with her. For a kid who loves trains, this was a big hit. After we left the zoo, we took the bus back to the subway station and then headed over to the River Market, which is an outdoor flea market of sorts. I was pretty disappointed with what was being offered. It is definitely more of a local market than a souvenir market so don’t head up there if you are looking for good deals on souvenirs. Our daughter fell asleep while we were there so we opted to walk back to our apartment (as hopping in a cab was not an option given that cabs in Prague don’t have toddler seats in them). We crossed one of the bridges and then walked along the river, stopping to take photos of Letna Park and its big metronome. We then walked through Josefov, eventually winding our way down to Old Town. After checking out some marionette shops, we decided to eat at Café Adria, as I had read it was kid friendly. The restaurant did have a kid’s corner, but it also did not have a true non-smoking section (a section in the same room as the smoking section doesn’t count to me!) so we left and ate at Restaurant Corto, an Italian place by the Mustek subway stop. This was probably the only time in Prague where we ate somewhere I had not researched ahead of time and it worked out perfectly: good food and a high chair.

    We were getting closer to the end of our time in Prague so the next day I suggested a trip to Petrin Hill using the funicular. We headed there on foot and just after crossing the Charles Bridge, we ran into a small protest that blocked our way to our intended lunchtime destination – Bohemia Bagel. Luckily, our detour took us past the Lennon Wall so we got a few photos of that. Lunch at Boehmia Bagel was a big success and right after that, our daughter fell asleep so she missed our entire visit to Petrin Hill. We still went to the Eiffel Tower but were not allowed to take the stroller up the elevator. The lady working there offered to watch our daughter while we rode up but as nice as she seemed, we were not about to do that. We took turns going up the tower and taking photos of the views of Prague.

    Once we were done, we took the funicular back down and then caught the subway to Vysehrad. The purpose of our visit was to find a marionette workshop so that we could buy a couple of marionettes for less than what we would pay in Old Town. It would have been quicker to walk through the local neighborhood to get to the marionette shop but we took the longer route, walking through Vysehrad. Along the way, we stopped to admire the Vysehrad cemetery, where Smetana, Dvorak and other Czech greats are buried. Vysehrad also has a great playground within its grounds so we stopped there for a little while so our daughter could get out of her stroller. Once we got through the grounds of Vysehrad, we headed into the local neighborhood and found Rici Marionette, the workshop and store that makes many of the marionettes sold (at considerable markup) in the Old Town shops. I read about Rici on Fodors and am very grateful to the person who posted about their existence. We arrived 20 minutes after the store was due to close but thankfully they were still open. We bought two marionettes and they carefully packed them up for us after we told them we would be flying multiple times with them in our luggage.

    Once that was done, we walked back to the subway and took it back to Wenceslas Square. We wanted to do some final shopping and grab some dinner. Tonight, dinner was at Vytopna in honor of my daughter’s love of trains. At Vytopna, your drinks are delivered by train – in our case, a Thomas train brought us our beverages. There are tracks throughout the restaurant that run from the bar to each table – and the tracks run right through the middle of the table. Our daughter was fascinated by the trains and also enjoyed the meal we picked from the children’s menu. Afterwards, she played in the kids play area until it was time to head home to bed. With that, we concluded our five days in Prague. Next up: Telc and Olomouc. But first, we’d need to get our rental car…

    So, the night before we were scheduled to pick up our rental car from Europcar, I stopped by the concierge at our apartment complex with a note (written in Czech, thank you, Google translate) kindly asking him to reserve a taxi with a toddler car seat for the next morning. He had no problem scheduling the taxi but was told that no cabs carried car seats with them in Prague. He suggested we just put our daughter on my lap. I wasn’t comfortable with that idea but we really needed the cab, as we had luggage to deal with. In the end, we decided that my husband would take the taxi, with the luggage, to the rental car office and I would walk. The rental agency ended up being less than 10 minutes away by foot, in Josefov, and I arrived shortly after my husband. We were given the keys to a brand spanking new BMW SUV and told to have a good time in Poland. I couldn’t believe they were okay with us taking such a nice car to Poland but we weren’t going to be told twice. We hopped in and followed our printed directions through Prague and got on the highway to Telc.

    TELC:

    Our ultimate destination for the next few days was Olomouc, chosen because it was about halfway between Prague and Krakow. We chose to stop at Telc for lunch since we were not going to Cesky Krumlov on this trip and wanted to see a picturesque small Czech town. Telc proved to be as lovely as advertised but as I get motion sickness, I could’ve done without the windy back road we took to get there. Lunch was at Šenk Pod Věží and then we stopped for dessert at PizzerieTelc, sitting outside on the square. We also walked around and browsed the various little shops before getting back in the car and driving to Olomouc.

    OLOMOUC:

    We arrived in Olomouc late afternoon. We chose to stay at Hotel Alley, a business hotel just outside the center of town. We chose it because of its good reviews online and because they offered a large suite called the “Alley Suite”. We wanted a suite so that we would have a separate living and sleeping area. This hotel also offered free wifi in common areas (and wired internet in the suite) and our room came with breakfast, which was your usual European fare (meat, cheese, pastries and eggs). Unfortunately, we had a hard time finding the hotel. After a few wrong turns, we finally found it. For future reference, it is next door to the police station just off of Tr. Svobody which is a pretty main road in Olomouc. The suite lived up to its expectations – it was large, clean and had a huge balcony just for us. By this time it was pretty late so we just ordered room service for dinner.

    The next day was our only day in Olomouc so we wanted to make the most of it. Unfortunately, I was still feeling the effects of yesterday’s motion sickness so while I took an early nap, my husband drove to the local Tesco to pick up more milk for our daughter. He then took her to the local market right by the hotel. I believe the market is open every morning in the same spot. After I woke up, we headed to the Horni Nam for lunch at Kavarna Caesar. After a great lunch of pasta and pizza, we wandered the square, admiring the astronomical clock and the many fountains, including one fountain that is perfect for kids to splash their hands in. We then walked through the rest of the town until we reached the start of the Bezrucky Sady. This park ran down to where our hotel was, so our plan was to leisurely stroll through the garden and stop in the playground for a bit. I thought the park was a great way to spend the afternoon. Within the park are a pretty botanical garden and the aforementioned playground. You have to pay a small fee to access the garden but if the fee pays for the very clean, large and comfortable bathroom located within it, then I’m all for paying. That bathroom was far nicer than what you’d expect to find in the outdoors and it had, of course, a great changing table.

    We took our time working our way through the park and to our hotel. Dinner was once again at a food court in Olomouc City, as they had an indoor play area that we wanted to take our daughter to. On our way to the play area, we decided to stop at the local supermarket (two quick notes – first, there are supermarkets in a lot of malls in this part of Europe. Second, all of these supermarkets have at least 40 cashier lanes!) and that turned into our daughter’s entertainment for the evening. We used one of those shopping carts that has a car attached (requires that you leave a small deposit – maybe 50 kr?) and she had a blast “driving” through the store. We took advantage of this to get some other things we needed and wanted, like a few more small toys to keep her busy for the rest of the trip and some soda and snacks for tomorrow’s drive to Krakow. We bought a few toys that spoke in Czech that my daughter is still enjoying. She was wiped out from her time in the car so we skipped the play area and went back to the hotel, ending our day in Olomouc.

    KRAKOW:

    We left for Krakow right after breakfast, wanting to make good time so we could do some sightseeing that afternoon. We were doing just fine on the drive until we crossed the border into Poland and arrived at Bielsko-Biala which must be Polish for “major construction project”. This is the site of a huge highway interchange that I imagine is being expanded though I couldn’t tell. What I could tell was that our exit to Krakow was completely blocked off, with no signs of a detour. We had chosen not to rent a GPS so we were at a loss on what to do. My husband eventually just turned around and luckily the same exit on the western side of the highway was open. That took us to a smaller road (similar to a state road in the US) which eventually led us to a highway and that highway took us to Krakow. Once we hit the city limits, we realized that once again, we were at a loss without a GPS. Luckily, our hotel for the next three nights, the brand new Hilton Garden Inn, had posted directional signs every few miles so between that and our printed map, we found the hotel (not before accidentally driving to Kazimierz, though).
    We chose the Hilton Garden Inn, which is located on the other side of the Wisla from the Old Town and Kazimierz for several reasons. First, we would have a car for one night, and we didn’t want the hassle of parking in the city center. Second, HGIs offer laundry services and we needed to do some washing. Third, with my Hilton gold status, we would get free breakfast and hopefully an upgrade to a suite and fourth, when we booked the hotel, it had yet to open and Hilton was charging a measly 7,500 Hilton points per night to stay there. So we went ahead and booked all three nights there last year, and then anxiously waited as its opening was repeatedly delayed. We contacted the HGI management there a few times to follow up and they reassured us that the hotel would indeed be open by the time we came. I don’t recall the final opening date but it was about 2 months before our trip which meant that we stayed in a brand spanking new hotel.

    The only downside to this hotel is its location – it is not in the city center as I mentioned before. For our purposes, this was fine. We enjoy walking and didn’t mind the 20 or so minutes it took to get to Kazimierz or the 15 minutes it took to get to Wawel. On a map, the walk seemed daunting, as the hotel sits on one side of a major road but the timing of the lights gives you more than enough time to cross the road. No matter what time of the day we were walking, there were always a ton of people crossing to and from Old Town at the same time. Being on that side of the river was also ideal for having a car. We were able to get to Podgorze, Tesco and the mall with ease.

    We arrived at the HGI, parked our car, checked in and learned that we had been upgraded to a suite. The suite was fabulous. It had a large living area, bedroom, one full bath and one half bath, located in the living area. The hotel also provides free internet to all guests and the self-serve laundry is free (no need for coins!). I’ll take a minute to mention the laundry now as we used it quite a bit. There are two washing machines and two dryers, one set on the 6th floor and one set on the 3rd floor. There are instructions for using both machines posted in both English and Polish. We brought our own detergent but I believe you could purchase some from the “Pantry Pavilion” convenience store available on the first floor. Like most European washer/dryer sets, these were small and the dryer took awhile to thoroughly dry but I was so happy to have an easy place to do laundry.

    Once we checked in, we had lunch down in the hotel restaurant. The food was very good. Afterwards, I took a nap and my husband took my daughter to an amusement park/market that was set up just off Most Grunwaldzki (the bridge we would take to walk to Old Town). Apparently this fair is around all summer but only on weekends (we didn’t see it again once Monday hit). They came back to get me and then we headed out to do some sightseeing by car before we turned it in the next day. Our plan was to visit the sites in Podgorze because it was too long of a walk to do with our daughter. Having read Schindler’s List back in the early 90s, I wanted to see some of the sites referenced in the book, like the factory and the Plaszow camp. While researching the trip, I found that it was a little difficult to find information on everything in the area but we were able to see the factory (which is now a museum; we did not go in because my daughter is really too young for museums and would likely disrupt other visitors), a few buildings that were part of the original camp and the monument built on the site of the camp. It was important for me to take photos of these sites for my daughter as she will study the horrors of the Holocaust someday and we can supplement what she learns with discussions of our trip. I hope to go back one day when she’s much older and visit Auschwitz as well.

    Once we finished in Podgorze, we drove over to Bonarka City Center, a large mall a few miles from our hotel. We ate dinner at City Bar and Grill, which is as American as its name. We were seated in the kids’ corner which had some toys for our daughter to play with. Afterwards, we did a quick grocery run in the giant grocery store in the mall (I counted at least 30 cashier lanes) and then went back to the hotel to put our daughter to bed and to start on our laundry.

    The next day, my husband headed out to drop off the rental car. He spoke with the hotel to arrange for a taxi to meet him there so that he would have a ride back, as the Europcar location was not near the center of town. When he got there, he found that the Europcar office had moved! Luckily, he had the phone number for Europcar and after speaking with someone, they met him at the old location to drop off the car. They said they had no idea we were even coming, because offices between countries don’t speak.

    Once my husband got back, we went to Old Town and had lunch at Café Marmolada, which is Italian. I thought the food was great and the location just off the Rynek Glowny was ideal as it was not crowded so we were able to eat quickly. After lunch, we wandered around the Rynek, visiting Cloth Hall and listening to the Trumpeter of Krakow. We then had dessert seated in one of the cafes in the Rynek while our daughter slept. When she woke up, we took her to the children’s section of the Empik bookstore, located in the Rynek. She had a good time looking at the books and picking out a few to buy (since she can’t read yet, it doesn’t matter if it is in Polish!). We then went to the toy floor to see if they had any good toys/souvenirs but everything was either too big to pack up and take home, or was for kids far older than she was. At this point, we had a little time left before dinner so we decided to walk the Planty so our daughter could run around in the grass. She had a fun time picking wildflowers and trailing behind some slightly bigger boys who were also playing in the Planty. We decided to eat on this side of the river instead of back at the hotel, and chose El Pueblo, a Mexican restaurant. While it is nothing like the Mexican food you find in the US (and clearly nothing like what you find in actual Mexico) the food was good and our daughter, who loves beans of any kind, was in heaven. Once we were done, we walked back to the hotel, put her to bed and resumed laundry duty.

    The next day, we spent some time in Wawel and then wandered around Kazimierz. We then went back to the Rynek and parked ourselves there with some bread so that our daughter could feed the pigeons. Once she was out of bread, we took a carriage ride around the city and bought some more souvenirs at Cloth Hall. We were all a little tired as we were now more than halfway through our trip, so I think we all appreciate the low key day we spent in Krakow. Dinner that night was room service at the hotel while we packed and watched the first Eurovision semifinal. Tomorrow, we would fly to Warsaw for the final leg of our trip.

    WARSAW:

    Before I discuss our trip to Warsaw, I should mention that initially, our plan was to drive to Warsaw from Krakow. Then, we discovered that the fast train was faster than driving, so that became our chosen mode of travel. Then, on a whim, my husband decided to see how much flights were. We learned that for $60, the three of us could get to Warsaw on LOT in less than one hour. Guess what we chose to do?
    We had arranged with the hotel for an airport transfer with a toddler seat. The taxi driver got us to Balice airport with no issue. I had done some research on the airport and learned that it was quite kid friendly. Unfortunately, I failed to realize that my research was for the international airport, while our flight to Warsaw would leave out of the domestic airport. The domestic airport was one of those one room deals, where the same two people do everything (check you in, serve as gate agents). This one room though did have a small store and coffee shop but there was very little seating so we were forced to sit primarily outside with the smokers. Security and boarding went smoothly and soon we were on our way to Warsaw on a prop plane. The flight only took 45 minutes and we landed on time in Warsaw. After waiting about 30 minutes for our bags, we headed out to meet our driver. We arranged an airport transfer with our hotel, the Le Meridien Bristol, and remembering the mishap in Prague, I reconfirmed our request for a toddler car seat a few days before. The driver met us there and had the seat already in the car so quickly we were on our way to the hotel. A few days before, I had gotten an email asking whether I wanted to upgrade to a suite for about $90/night. Rather than take my chances on an upgrade (as I have no status with Starwood), I accepted the offer. After so many nights in a 2 room suite, I didn’t want to spend the next three nights in one room.

    We chose the Bristol for location and location only. If I’m staying in a Western hotel, I prefer something more like a Hilton or Westin but the location of the Bristol, right on the Royal Way, can’t be beat. The furnishing was far too ornate for my taste but the layout of the suite was great. The living room and bedroom were separated by a hallway, with the bathroom in the middle. After checking in, we headed out to have lunch and get a feel for Warsaw. I should probably mention here that Warsaw was not on our radar when we initially planned our trip but we were unable to fly out of Krakow (our original choice) using miles so we opted to fly out of Warsaw. Having to change our outbound city was nothing new to us. We fly overseas on miles often, and twice we’ve had to fly out of a city or country that was not on our radar. In both instances, we actually really enjoyed the new location (one year, it was Belgrade, Serbia, another year, it was Singapore) and are grateful that we were “forced” to go there as we never would have done so otherwise. We were curious to see if we would feel the same about Warsaw.

    Lunch on our first day in Warsaw was at the Bookhouse Café, about a 10 minute walk south of the hotel. The café served sandwiches and had a nice kid’s corner with coloring books available. From there, we knew our daughter would be sleepy so we walked over to Nowy Swiat, which is pretty street lined with shops and restaurants. We needed to do some shopping as the weather was supposed to heat up the next day and neither of us had packed appropriate clothing. After finding some shorts to buy, we then took our still sleeping daughter to the “Centrum” part of town. The Centrum is home to a number of skyscrapers and western hotels like the Westin and Hilton as well as the Palace of Culture. It also has that dull, gray look that is common in former Soviet cities. Our reason for going there was to do some more shopping, this time for another bag so that we could comfortably pack all of the new things we had purchased on the trip. On the way, we got distracted by the store SMYK, which is a kid’s clothing and toy store. We bought a few outfits and checked out the children’s play area, though our daughter was too young to use it. The play area charges an hourly fee that you can have waived if you show a receipt from the store (I cannot recall how much you have to spend to get an hour free). Also located within the store is the Polish Build a Bear company. It is exactly like the one in the US but you can’t get a bear in the US wearing a t-shirt that says “I love Warsaw” so we decided to go ahead and build a bear. Our daughter had a lot of fun picking out the bear’s clothing and watching her get made. In addition to the bear, we got a birth certificate written in Polish. With the new bear in tow, we resumed our search for luggage and found it at TK Maxx (European version of TJ Maxx), located across the street from the dominating Palace of Culture. By now, it was getting late and our daughter was getting hungry. I didn’t really spot any restaurants on my “child-friendly” list that were in the area so we decided to eat a quick meal at McDonalds because they served broccoli and tomatoes, two things my daughter loves. Luckily she had a good meal because we didn’t – we don’t really eat fast food in the US and didn’t really want to eat it in Poland but in a pinch, it worked out. The only downside is that we tried to eat on the patio adjacent to the restaurant but the mosquitoes were out in full force and made it intolerable to eat outside.

    The next day, we decided to head north from our hotel and visit Old Town and New Town. Old Town and New Town had been destroyed by the Nazis in WW2 and carefully restored over time. I absolutely loved Old Town – it is beautiful, charming and, unlike Prague, devoid of huge crowds of tourists. We let our daughter wander around Old Town Square for a bit and then had lunch at Subway because we felt like having sandwiches. From there, we walked through Old Town to New Town and then headed over to the river. Since it was a warm day, the park by the river had some water fountains going and there were tons of people lying around sunbathing. Our daughter fell asleep at this time so we just sat there, people watching. After awhile, we decided to go back to Old Town to see about buying one of the many paintings that were for sale by various artists. After settling for one, we dropped it off at the hotel and headed over to the Saski Gardens to give our daughter some time on the playground. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were absolutely unbearable and we left after 10 minutes. I feel I should point out that we live in Florida and are used to mosquitoes. In fact, I’m fortunate enough that I am never attacked by mosquitoes at home (my husband and daughter are a different story). In Warsaw though, even I was getting attacked. It was really awful and if we ever do return to Warsaw, we plan on doing so when the weather is cooler.

    On our way out of the gardens, we happened to catch the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the placement of Polish and EU flags outside the tomb area. We then walked over to the University of Warsaw campus and bought a couple of t-shirts as souvenirs. By then, it was getting late enough for dinner so we headed back towards Old Town to Giovanni Rubino restaurant, an Italian place up the street from our hotel. The food was great but once again, we had to eat inside due to the mosquitoes. I was glad that rain followed by a cold front was forecasted for the next day, as that would likely mean no more mosquitoes.

    The next morning we woke up with a strict plan. Rain was scheduled to arrive by noon and my goal was to be planted firmly inside the new Copernicus Science Museum by then so that we would avoid getting soaked. Breakfast was at a small French bakery just south of the hotel that served croissants and other French goodies. From there, we walked about 20 minutes southeast to the Science Center, which had just opened in December. Since it was so new, it wasn’t in any guidebooks but luckily my hometown paper had done a short write up about it a few months back. It is located right on the river, near one of the bridges that takes you to Praga, and not really near anything though it was easily walkable from our hotel. The rain arrived at about 11:50 so we were caught in the initial drizzle but luckily made it into the Center just as the heavens opened up.

    The Science Center was a great rainy day option. They have a specific section just for kids under 6 and that is where we spent all of our time. The only bad thing about the place is that it is field trip central and when we wanted to eat lunch, it was tough to find a table not reserved for one of the many school groups visiting that day. The cafeteria at the Center served hot food as well as sandwiches, and had high chairs available. They also had a great bathroom with a big changing table for small kids. After lunch, the rain had stopped so we decided to take a more scenic route from the Center though the University to the Palace of Culture. Our goal was to head up to the viewing area high up in the Palace but when we got there, we were first distracted by a book fair taking place. We picked up some children’s books and then went in to buy tickets. While we were in line, a couple brazenly cut in line in front of us and then proceeded to order about 30 tickets, all of which had to be printed out individually. We were pretty annoyed so we decided to skip the views and head instead to a local mall, Zlote Tarasy as it had an indoor play area. We spent the next hour watching our daughter have fun in the play area, which included a huge ball pit area, a child-sized connect four game, a see saw, a whack-a-mole game and some other fun things. Once she had her fill, we decided to indulge her love of trains and ride the Warsaw subway up towards the northern edge of New Town and then walk back towards Old Town for dinner.

    I’m glad we chose to do this as we were able to see some great monuments to WW2 and the Warsaw Uprising during our walk. For dinner, we chose Restaurant Literatka, near our hotel and since it had cooled down considerably from the day before, we were able to eat outside. We were seated next to an author (not surprising, given the name of the restaurant) and watched as giggly 20-somethings came up to him asking him to autograph his book (I didn’t get his name or the name of the book). After dinner, we went back to the hotel to put out daughter to bed and to pack up as we were beginning our journey home tomorrow. On our walk back, we both agreed that we were very happy that we had wound up in Warsaw because of the flight schedules and that of all the cities we visited on this trip, this was our favorite. I hope to go back one day.

    The next morning, we checked out and found our taxi (with car seat) waiting to take us to the Warsaw airport. The Warsaw airport is quite child friendly, with two small children’s areas available. Our daughter had a wonderful time playing with a slightly older Polish girl and promptly fell asleep once we took off. After landing at Heathrow, we took the free shuttle bus from T5 to the London Heathrow Hotel at T4. As with our earlier stay, we were given an executive floor room, free breakfast and snacks, and free Wi-Fi. We settled in and then grabbed dinner at Café Rouge again. That evening, as our daughter slept, we watched the Eurovision finals and mentally prepared for the 9 hour flight that awaited us. Our daughter had been fabulous on all flights but had slept through most of them. There was little chance she would sleep much on this flight, as it would be an all day flight.
    The next morning, we woke up, had our free breakfast in the Executive Lounge, and then walked over to T4 to catch the Heathrow Connect to T3. After speaking with the AA representative, we were able to get bulkhead seats for our flight which would certainly help us if we had an active toddler on our hands. T3 was under construction so it was quite crowded but luckily we didn’t have to wait long for our gate to be called. Our daughter slept at take off for about 1.5 hours but thankfully behaved great for the remaining 7.5 hours. We each took turns watching her while the other watched a movie and relaxed. We brought enough toys to keep her stimulated but I also think having the room afforded by the bulkhead, plus three seats, helped. As we waited to deplane, the flight attendants and nearby passengers complimented her behavior as I sighed with relief that we had made it through two weeks of travel without incident!

    Looking back, I wouldn’t hesitate to return to the Czech Republic or Poland with a toddler and I am very glad I took the time to do the research I did to identify child friendly activities and restaurants. If I could do it all over again, I would probably choose to spend less time in Prague and more time in Warsaw. We also probably would choose to fly from Prague to Krakow, and avoid the car trip and the stops we made. In the past we used to take two week road trips, sleeping in a different town every night and enjoying the journey as much as the destination. Until our daughter is older, I think we need to focus on the destination, and make the journey as quick and painless as possible.

    I hope this trip report is somewhat helpful and I am happy to answer any questions anyone may have, especially for those looking to take their kids with them as they travel.

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    Very thorough and interesting report. We toured the same area more or less a few years and can relate to the sites described. What is especially interesting is that you were on your own with an 18 month old. We have a granddaughter same age and hard for me to imagine such bravery! But you did it. I can just see your little one romping around Old Town Square in Warsaw.

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    whew - reddit. [what do frogs say when given a book? - a joke your DD may like when she's a bit older!] a very interesting and informative report - thanks.

    your thorough planning clearly paid off as did not being not over-ambitious. and thanks for the info about Warsaw - we have had a plan to do a trip roughly like this for some time and had ruled out warsaw as we have had bod reports of it, but I'm now officially ruling it back in!

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    That was really a wonderful trip report, thanks for sharing your trip. I admire you and husband for traveling with a child so young, good training and a great way to start a life- time of rewarding experiences for her.

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    Glad to hear that you spent some time in Vysehrad; it's one of our favorite areas of Prague, much quieter than Old Town Square. I think we also stopped in the same marionette workshop that you were in while we were searching for a restaurant after visiting Vysehrad. We didn't buy any marionettes because my daugters are in their 20's but I do have photos of my girls holding them.

    We also spent one night & a day in Telc & loved it!! It is so pretty & peaceful. We toured the castle & walked around the ponds.
    We didn't have time to visit Olomouc, but we did go to Krakow on another trip & loved that city, too.

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    Thanks all, glad you enjoyed the report. In hindsight, I should have broken up the report into several posts but I had no idea how long it actually wound up being. I appreciate everyone's patience in working through all of that.

    Traveling with a child was not always easy but we are already scouring Fodors for ideas on where to take her next!

    Annhig, glad you are reconsidering Warsaw. I found the city fascinating and very different from the usual European capital cities.

    Kwoo, you replied to some of my posts when I was planning this trip, thank you again for your advice.

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