Trains, Teens, Tech & Travel – a Family Interrailing Europe
It’s not easy to tempt connected teens to travel far from their tech. Sometimes it’s easier to embrace it in your travel plans. We took our tech savvy teens on a short family interrailing adventure across Europe, connecting four family friendly attractions in four European cities by travelling on high speed WiFi enabled trains and staying at hotels where connectivity was on the menu. In this post, in part an advertising feature with Wyndham Rewards, we give you the low-down on a teen friendly journey in which we visit a digital eatery, examine body parts, follow a hi-tech music trail, and save the world from nuclear destruction, all while testing on board and hotel WiFi speeds, travelling across Germany to Austria and back.
Digital eats in Berlin
This isn’t the only time we have been family interrailing. We also undertook a mad dash from London to Istanbul by train, on one of the classic Interrail routes in Europe. But today our journey begins in Berlin. Berlin is a playground for tech based startups and we are confident our kids will find lots to amuse them. We invite them to plan the itinerary and they start by taking us to The Digital Eatery – the only combined café and Microsoft drop in centre in the world. You can take a Microsoft product you are having problems with and chat about it to staff on a help desk while a barista makes you a cappuccino or a smoothie. Charge points and superfast WiFi are not in short supply and there’s someone on hand to sell you the advantages of Windows 10 should you ask! It’s like Central Perk for the 21st century with groups of twenty somethings hanging out on sofas playing computer games on giant screens. The kids would like to stay longer. But we have some real life exploring to do. Exploring the inner workings of the human body.
Peering inside the human body
Our Berlin challenge is to expand our knowledge of the workings of the human body at the BodyWorlds Exhibition. Anatomist Gunther Von Hagens’ once controversial touring exhibition is now resident in many parts of the world including the Menschen Museum in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. It opens up the human body through a technique called Plastination.
“With the sharpest dissection tools and aesthetic sensibilities the anatomist reveals what is usually hidden, camouflaged, dismissed or routinely ignored,” we are told on entry.
Through a series of exhibits we get an unprecedented glimpse underneath the skin to the organs, nervous system, muscles, and tendons. We follow arteries to their finest branches. We see the mechanisms for digesting food and reproducing. Through a ballerina and a hurdler we see an athlete’s bones and joints, and the interplay between surface and intermediate muscles. Romantics may be pleased by anatomist’s conclusion that a broken heart is a real thing. This is a lesson in life and living at so many levels.
Possibly the best biology lesson you’ll ever get
The exhibition brings the kids’ biology studies to life. And while it is based on human anatomy it isn’t without its high tech exhibits. You can stand in front of a screen that portrays how your organs move when you do. Cameron watches how lungs and liver cope with Gangnam Style dancing. You can also attempt to bring your own blood pressure down in relaxation pods, something the kids were better at than me. And if your kids really get into the whole thing you can take them down to the lab, or Plastinarium in Guben (again this is possible on the train) where you can watch some of the 200 staff work on the bodies. You can also see animals in various stages of dissection and join in workshops that teach you more.
Hi tech music lesson in Leipzig
An afternoon train whisks us from Berlin to Leipzig, the next stop on our four day break. Trains in Germany are spacious, with loads of rooms for luggage and lounging, and stations are easy to get around thanks to an array of escalators and lifts. The journey from Berlin to Leipzig takes less than 90 minutes.
Leipzig is known for its Classical music and a good way to spend a couple of hours if you have limited time is to do a self guided music tour on the Leipzig Music Trail. The trail takes you to the places where music grew up in the city and where the famous composers lived and worked; the Mendelssohn House, St Thomas’ Church (where Bach worked as music director in the 1700’s and where he is buried) and the Grassi Museum with the world’s largest collection of musical instruments and sound lab with transparent piano.
You’ll be asking the kids to get their phones out for this one. In fact their tech is the star of the show; your guide. Let them lead you around the city listening to music and anecdotes at more than twenty stops. (They will need to be able to access the local phone network to dial in the numbers.) If you prefer to go low tech (or no tech) you can also pick up a pamphlet at Tourist Information or just look out for the curved metal posts while strolling the city.
The whole self guided musical tour is around 5 kms and a couple of hours is be enough to get a taster of music in the city. If you find yourself drawn in you can always catch a concert by the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra, based in the Gewandhaus concert hall on Augustusplatz, It’s the oldest civic concert orchestra in Germany and the concert hall is spectacular inside.
High tech escape in Munich
The following day finds us back on a train to travel from Leipzig to Munich. This intercity journey takes just under 5 hours, giving plenty of time to relax, work or play. The train has plug sockets for just about every seat, waiter service for coffee and free on-board wi-fi. It puts our own rail services at home to shame.
We are no sooner in Munich though than we are trying to escape. Not the city but two small rooms packed with technology. This is Munich’s latest Escape Room, an experience in which we are locked in a cell in the middle of the Cold War on a mission to save the world from nuclear destruction. Phones reel off puzzling numerical codes, plug sockets light up in different colours, maps glow and reveal secret coordinates, and a box with an alarming amount of dials threatens annihilation.
Yes the end of the world. After Trump and Brexit nothing surprises me these days – not even a suitcase that promises Armageddon. But I am slightly surprised how into the experience the teens are. In fact it’s hard to get a word in as they take control, sweep the cell with a flashlight for ultraviolet clues, go through pockets and lockers like experienced burglars and deactivate the alarm with less than three minutes to go. If I ever take up spying I want Matthew on my side – his logical mind saves us and the world. And he’s taken his headphones off. Admittedly he puts other headphones on, but at least these are at least part of the game.
The Escape Room phenomenon
If I suggested we play a family game together at home, everyone would look at me as though my head just fell off. It seems I was suggesting the wrong kind of game. Escape Room games have an urgency that a family board game does not – a challenge that the whole family can get their teeth into and work together on. If they seem tailor-made for teams it’s because the concept came from video games.
“They were based on the original computer strategy games where you combine objects to get out.” says our guide at the Fox in a Box Escape Room company. “Escape rooms were introduced in real life about 16 years ago but only for companies and team development. Then around six years ago they came to Europe for entertainment.”
The Escape Room concept spread quickly and now they are all over Europe with several different companies in Munich alone. At Fox in a Box in Munich city centre we could try to rob a bank or escape from prison but nuclear destruction wins and our briefing is simple and clear.
“What you need to do when you enter the rooms is search for the clues. Every clue has only one purpose. Don’t mix it up. Everything is logical. If you find scissors you are going to cut something. Use your brain! We have everything that you need to solve every puzzle. There is a help system if you are find it difficult.”
Our help system in mostly called Matthew, pictured here getting rather too into his role.
Hi tech babysitting in Salzburg
Putting the kids in charge is actually quite relaxing once we give into it. And the technology helps. If the teens can navigate us to the right train at the right time on the right platform, why should we stress about it? They get us to the station for the last leg of our journey on time and we travel from Munich to Salzburg in less than 90 minutes. It’s enough time for them to snooze, with headphones firmly attached to their ears. When we get to our last hotel, in Salzburg, their tech enables us to split up and do our own thing.
We leave the kids under the care of Matthew (although of course it’s 11 year old Hannah who is actually the boss.) They bed into their room in the Wyndham Grand Salzburg with a giant sized TV, a WiFi login, and some money and instructions to get themselves to the nearest burger bar when hunger strikes. Meanwhile Stuart and I head off for lunch in the city, a mile of walking without everyone making faces and dragging their feet.
Teen free in Salzburg
We admire the Mirabell Palace and Gardens where The Sound of Music was filmed, and refrain from singing Doh Re Mi as there are no teenagers to embarrass. The Makartsteg bridge, packed with lovers’ padlocks, is a both a spectacle and a photographers dream and we beat our kids to Instagramming it. We wander through the stunning Old Town centre and wind up at the foot of the famous Hohensalzburg Fortress, one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. We notice a funicular railway which takes passengers from the heart of the Old Town up to the fortress in less than a minute. This would be the perfect end to our teen rail adventure, but sadly we have neither teens nor time. Perhaps we will have to return.
We end the day at a traditional cafe where we head for the newspapers while the kids catch up on the news from home on their various devices. Different preferences for different generations, but each of us finds it relaxing in our own way. Just like our rail adventures.
Follow the links in the copy above to get current information on opening times and admission prices for the various attractions we visited.
We flew into Berlin and back from Munich, and travelled by train between the cities on journeys which were relaxing, punctual and stress free. The kids loved the free WiFi on some of the inter-city services. The Man in Seat 61 is an excellent resource for information on train travel in Europe.
We travelled on Deutsche Bahn services on pre-booked e-tickets with advanced reservations for each leg of the journey. You can find out more about booking Deutsche Bahn trains here. An interrailing pass is another good option if you want to travel a lot by train. Interrail passes allow unlimited travel on trains for a certain number of days in a month. Passes are available that allow travel in multiple countries but it is more cost effective if you restrict travel to one country. Many countries offer 2 free child (age 4-11) passes for every adult pass purchased and additional children or under 26’s benefit from Interrail youth discounts. You can find more details and prices for interrail here including details of family interrailing options.
We stayed in four Wyndham Hotel Group hotels which were well able to cope with our teens WiFi demands.
Wyndham Berlin Excelsior Hotel was the first rest stop on our teen adventure, located within easy walking distance of Zoological Gardens station in the West of Berlin city centre. It has an atmospheric living room bar with log fire which provides a great hangout space. Even better for teens there are four Apple Mac workstations with internet access in the lobby area. The rooms are modern and spacious with free WiFi Internet Access throughout.
Ramada Leipzig City Centre is at the top of a high rise building and if you ask for a corner room you get an amazing view of the city skyline. Set your time lapse app on your phone and capture the sunset. Or, if your teens like an early start (unlikely) the sunrise. The hotel is pet friendly and has free WiFi so streaming cat videos shouldn’t be a problem.
The compact Super 8 Munich City West is colourful and fun. It’s a ten minute walk to the nearest train station with fast connections from there into the city centre. A budget hotel and great value for a family, it’s fresh and cheerful interior provides a nice welcome. All rooms have flat screen TVs and free WiFi. The kids love the coffee shop with big armchairs, hot chocolates and pizzas on demand, even late at night.
Wyndham Grand Salzburg is a spacious conference hotel within easy walking distance of the station and with great spa facilities. Our business suites are spacious with huge TV’s which pleased the children. And the turndown service included gingerbread treats.
Wyndham Hotel Group and Wyndham Rewards
Wyndham Hotel Group have 8,000 hotels in 76 countries around the world, with 18 brands ranging from luxury to economy to suit all budgets. At the time of writing their special Winter Offer means you can get up to 30% off a stay at selected properties.
For this post we were trying out the Wyndham Rewards Programme. This recently relaunched loyalty scheme enables you to redeem rewards simply and easily without booking blackouts or complicated searches for what you can afford with your points.
Noah Brodsky, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Loyalty and Engagement at Wyndham Hotel Group explains the re-imagined scheme. “One of the things we heard over and over was that loyalty programmes have got really complicated. And its really hard to understand what you are earning and what you need to get. Our brands are accessible; they’ve got great distribution all over the world, and we wanted to make a loyalty programme that was equally accessible and really easy to understand but also provided incredible value to travellers who may not be the top one per cent of mega travellers. Travellers who aren’t staying at five hundred pound a night places but might be travelling on the road, might be staying at airports or maybe travelling with the family.”
On the Wyndham Rewards programme you can choose a free night in any of the group’s hotels for just 15,000 points, or redeem your points for free stays at 25,000 holiday homes, apartments and villas worldwide.
“We’ve made it so if there’s a room available you can book it, so it’s a great way for a family to travel. We see people on prime holidays staying in prime locations. If you want rooms in New York City on New Year’s Eve you can get them. There’s no surcharge or hidden pricing structure that goes into play. We want you to travel when you want.”
Disclosure Note: This post is an advertising feature for Wyndham Rewards who sent us to Germany and Austria to experience their hotels. However all opinions, streaming, dreaming and escaping from locked rooms and the end of the world was as ever, our own. As is the photography.