Long live Europe!

The castle of Kufstein, part of the European miracle.

The castle of Kufstein, part of the European miracle.

This weekend plus two days off from extra hours (who would ever opt for getting them paid out if he can have additional free time for it?!?), was good for a spontaneous four-day trip of the Woodpeckers clan to the Bavarian mountains.

Staying at a nice basic apartment close to lake Schliersee for about 40 EUR per night, we had a fantastic and not too unfrugal time.

Luck was with us, the first snow of the year fell plentiful only one day earlier, it was crisp cold and clear, sun was shining the whole time.
Thus nature abundantly granted us with all its beauty and free wonders. A nights walk through the snow, a hike up to a mountain hut with a 5 km sledge ride back, snow-ball fights, half a day in the local steam bath and all the other stuff you wouldn’t want to miss when being out with your kinds on a winter day.

However, as much as I could talk on and on about the fun and good feelings nature provides to our lives, this is not my topic today.

My topic today is Europe. Continue reading

Vienna – a top Downshifter’s venue!

The town hall with Austrias National Colors

The town hall with Austrias National Colors

After the more general post on the fun of a father & son trip, I want to follow-up with some thought (and pics!) about the fantastic city of Vienna, that I also had the pleasure to live in for some time as a student.

In my eyes one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and quite first place worldwide when it comes to quality of life (of all cities Woodpecker has seen at last, but as exploring cities is one of my hobbies since 20 years, I know a few). Even on top of Munich that is! Well, slightly on top at least… 😉

So, what makes Vienna so special?

Well, if you are into bustling, booming and glittering cities, devoted to commerce, consumerism, growth and cheap superficiality, then Vienna would be nothing for you.

In that case, you should go to Dubai, Hong-Kong, Singapore and what not. All glittering steel and glass. Looking impressive for today. And maybe for tomorrow. But in their core, these pure “business” or “money” cities seem unattractive and boring (at least to me), and I dare not imagine how they will look like in let’s say 100 years.
Nobody seriously would think that this glittering towers will be sexy a 100 years from now, would you? So basically, all this “modern” boom cities are reflecting todays consumerist attitude: Looks nice, brings fun on the short-term and then to be littered and exchanged for the next one.

Then look at Vienna in contrast:

A city like an open air museum, built for centuries. Displaying self-confidence, power (albeit most of that is obviously gone), massive solidity, a sense for beauty instead of pure efficiency, and a generosity and openness in city layout sprinkling with large green avenues and tons of beautiful parks that would make every Asian Boomtown inhabitant feel like living in Garden Eden.

Impressive and stylish historical buildings are actually so plentiful, that back in the time Woodpecker studied in Vienna for some time, ordinary student parties took place in palaces that would be reserved for state receptions in Munich or Berlin. That is with red carpets on the floors (mostly coated with plastic covers though), huge historic pictures in golden frames at the walls, marble stairways and crystal candle holders on the ceiling. And in-between the student music of that time, bottled beer and teen spirit. Fantastic!

And all of that combined with a relaxed, friendly and slow-moving atmosphere.
In fact, back then locals were quite proud of a study comparing the average walking speed in different European cities. First (most hectic) was London, last (most slow) was – of course! – Vienna. And people were proud for it! Compare to Germany, were a result like that would have caused another outcry: “Oh My God! We are not first! What went wrong?! We have to improve immediately or will all go under!”

The whole city of Vienna actually is un-hectic. I think one reason is that Vienna in fact has fewer inhabitants today than in its greatest time, around 1910. Thus the city is laid out for more people than there are today, whereas most cities in the world were laid out for much fewer people a hundred years ago and are now totally overcrowded.

Plus the city enjoys a beautiful surrounding, with its borders giving way to rolling hills with vineyards, with lovely winegardens on the foot of them and splendid walkways on top.

And then the Vienna mentality. Not unmodern, but not this rootless kind of hectic and homeless modernity, that other cities and their inhabitants display. Not that capitalistic and career driven either, maybe a bit more turned to the good old past. But in a quite sympathetic and un-pretentious way.
At least it seems to me that way, perhaps a local would want to comment?!

All in all very laid back, a downshifter’s dream city and a must see for everyone around in Europe.

Let’s have a look at some pictures (hover for Subtitle, click to enlarge):

And now a Special on a new discovery I made this time. As said, Woodpecker spent quite some time in that lovely city, but I have never been to the Natural History Museum before!

A lovely place that instantly makes you feel being warped back 100 years.
Please, dear Museum Directors, never let them talk you into getting more modern or adapting to todays taste!!!
(hover for Subtitle, click to enlarge)

OK, that’s it for the moment.
I could add tons more of pictures and of enthusiasm, but best go out and see yourself!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

The joy of a Father&Son trip: Vienna

The Vienna Giant Wheel - teaser for big little Woodpecker

The Vienna Giant Wheel – teaser for big little Woodpecker

Since a long time I am thinking to write a post about children and happiness. But never found the right angle to do so until now.

Because if you simply look at the statistics, they will tell you that after an initial boost, happiness and having kids is not really correlated.

Thats good news out there for people without kids: You can still be and stay happy!

But why is it then, that for Woodpecker myself having kids was an enormous life changer, and all to the better despite all that diapers, costs, sleepless nights, etc.?

I’ll put up the following theory (happy for any comments):

If you get kids and then want to continue an un-downshifted life devoted to work like you had it before without kids (as many people seem to do), then your happiness probably will stay flat.
Reason is that any happiness gains from having the kids (coming via the affection, your hormones, the new angle you’ll see the world from, a boost in optimism about the future, the sheer fun you can have with them etc.) will be counter-balanced by negative effects like having much less free cash-flow to consume plus having much less free time for other activities, if both partners are stupid enough to continue working full-time.
That’s a sad situation, but one that I can frequently observe among friends and colleagues. Many people do not really set the stage for enjoying the gift of kids to its full extend.

In contrast let’s look at a situation where you already are committed to downshifting, i.e. money and consumption does not play that much a role for your life satisfaction. And you work as little as possible and have no TV thus time is an ample resource to you (maybe that ample that you actually are one of the few happy people today that still know the feeling of boredom 😉 ).
Then kids will bring a wonderful boost of happiness to your life, so please:

Go ahead when thinking about having kids! Don’t wait for the “perfect point in time”, just do it now, before it is too late!

Hurray to father and son

Last week Woodpecker had some days off plus one of Germany’s luckily numerous public holidays (The day of work 😉 Hurray!)
Unfortunately, Mrs Woodpecker was not able to take this days off, so Woodpecker and Big Little Woodpecker (the three-year old boy) decided to do a mens-trip to my favorite city in the world, Vienna.

Vienna is the city I myself had my first father and son trip to ages ago, when we quite frugally cycled down the Danube from Passau to Vienna (yes, Woodpecker’s father was a good example in downshifting and having time for his kids as well!).

Vienna is the city that Woodpecker went to on his first holiday without parents and a friend only, when he was 16.

And it was the city Woodpecker had a simply wonderful time spending a year abroad during studies.

Now it would be the first city for big little Woodpecker to visit with his father alone (Ha! Dear old dad, outperformed you on that one 😉 ).

I’ll write about the uncountable beauties of Vienna in this separate photo-post, but here I’ll focus on promoting trips with your boy/girl as early as you can.

Fun and Fun costs

Well, it was a men’s trip, so we did take our comforts (by Woodpecker’s standards at least).

We spent the tremendous and unfrugal amount of I think 50 EUR at Viennas fun park, the Prater, riding the ancient giant wheel, a mini train, a horse (well, actually the little one did, and talked about it for days), auto-scooter, carousels etc.  while we were enjoying tons of totally unacceptable and unhealthy food besides. As some of you might know, it is not easy for a downshifter to spend money so recklessly (for most of the population it would have been a perfectly normal costly visit to a fun park though).

But wise Mrs. Woodpecker instructed me please not to look at money on this trip to make it something special. So we didn’t.  🙂

Next we had lots of more unhealthy food by enjoying at every occasion (and there are plenty!) the most of Vienna’s fantastic sweet bakery and confectionary products. We visited some Museums, see next post. Despite being three years old only, big little Woodpecker has more stamina in Museums than old Woodpecker, and he loves them.

The Vienna Tramway. Turned out to be THE highlight for the boy.

The Vienna Tramway. Turned out to be THE highlight for the boy.

And – very important – we made very ample use of our four day public transport ticket (only 16 EUR), riding the beautifully old-fashioned Vienna tram-ways up and down all of the city for sheer fun.
And, boy, that was fun!
Big little Woodpecker in the end was even more pleased by that simple and cheap pleasure than by riding the horses and the giant wheel at the Prater! At least 5 times a day he saw a tram somewhere and said: “And now, we have to ride that one, dad!” And so we did!

Two additional observations:

Feeling the time

As described here, Woodpecker’s sole new year’s resolution for 2013 was to experiment with time and e.g. living without a clock for a prolonged time.
We did exactly that the whole four days, except when we had to reach the trains to and from Munich.

We did not purposely look at the watch at all.

We simply slept until we woke up, got to breakfast (luckily the body clock is clever enough to wake you in time for that), start the day.
Looked for food when we felt like.
Did a break when the mood was for it.
Went back when any of us started to feel tired and slept when our bodies told us now it is time to stop to daff around in the chamber and to close the eyes. One day bed-time must have been after 11 p.m, after we had to make a final tram drive plus an ice cream in the dark. This is way later than the boys usual time, but then the next day he decided to do an additional nap around midday – a good opportunity for Woodpecker to have a coffee and read the newspaper.

What a fantastic experience! Simply drift through the sunny days and see where they are taking you!

Highly recommended with or without kids.

The plus with kids is, that this is actually their natural state of living, and I firmly belief you will see how relaxed even the most stressed and nervous kid would become, once you take the pressure of the clock from them. A very rewarding experience.

Getting into Contact

On top, doing it the slow way does get you into contact with all kinds of people, mainly locals. This is actually boosted if you are travelling as a father with a young kid, as fathers with young kids unfortunately still is a seldom thing in todays crazy world of work.

All the disadvantages that you still will encounter at your workplace if you seriously take out time for your family as a father are paid back by friendliness of people towards you if you move around with your small kid in public.

Example? Two times (!) tram-drivers got up from their steering wheel and helped me carry out the buggy without me asking them to do so.
Ten or twenty times I was approached by total strangers for a chat.
At least five times or so I got into contact with other parents as my and other kids teamed up for playing in one of the wonderful city parks.
At least five times the boy benefited from some sweets some people insisted on sharing with him.
All of the three breakfasts and one train ride we spent in nice conversations with other travellers.

Thus: Kids boost your social contact. Especially when travelling with one parent only.

Base Costs

As said, costs on fun, entrances and food were ridiculously high by Woodpecker’s standards.

But, guess what? Thats all no problem, as our “base costs” were really low, making the overall trip frugal again, despite a very loose brake on daily spending.

Of course we took the train to Vienna, relaxed, much more fun and contact, and cheaper than the car. With the regular special “Europe” offer, it was 90 EUR in total, kids being free.

Being there we stayed in a Youth Hostel for only 20(!) EUR per night, including breakfast. Kids again free. Absolute central location (send me a mail for details), two-bed rooms with own shower. Well, very basic but quiet and clean, what more do you need?

Thus a quick overview on total cost:

Woodpecker’s trip Average family trip Extreme frugal option
Transport for 2 Train, 90 EUR Car, 700km+parking, 150 EUR Car-Sharing, 50 EUR
Accommodation 3nights Youth Hostel,60 EUR 3nights Normal Hotel, 300 EUR As Woodpecker, 60 EUR
Necessary Food Eating out, plus some take away and picnics,70 EUR Eating out only,160 EUR Only picnics, 50 EUR
Fun Food Ice cream, pastry (a must!), frequent coffees (a must too in Vienna),50 EUR 50 EUR 0 EUR
Entrance Fee Museums, Fun Park,50 EUR 50 EUR Museums 20 EUR
Total, 2 persons, 4 days 320 EUR 710 EUR 180 EUR

Not too bad, isn’t it? 320 EUR for four days fun for two. Still fine with me, given we were so relaxed on costs. And still much closer to the extreme frugal option than to the average family trip.

The secret is that accommodation, transport and Eating out make most of the difference. Keep those in check and the luxury of daily spending will be ok.

Summary

All in all one of the best trips I had in my life, and of a total different nature than anything before.

A trip alone with your kid will force you to concentrate fully on him/her. If you do that and are willing to forget the clock, this will be a very relaxing experience.

It will make you see the world from a different angle.

It will be full of social contact.

It can still be frugal while having a lot of fun.

Go ahead and do it! (Or get a kid first 😉 )

Cheers,

Woodpecker