Olden & Stavanger

Just as I did with Geiranger, I made sure to set the alarm, got up early, and headed to the top deck to watch the ship cruise through the fjord and into Olden. Unlike Geiranger, I was greeted with an almost completely empty deck. It had rained early that morning and I think everyone voted to stay in bed after having an early morning the day before. They had no idea what they were missing.

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Olden is what I imagined Norway to be like. Mountains, mist, green grass, red barns and of course waterfalls.

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The final view at port.

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Unfortunately, the rain from early that morning was just a prelude for the day to come. It rained most of the morning and even teased us all with a little bit of snow. There was one break in the weather and we headed off the boat to see Olden. We did the tourist train. The kids fell asleep immediately and slept for the entire trip. We were afraid to move in case we waked them, so we have zero pictures of our little jaunt around. I promise it was beautiful. We headed back to the boat to warm up and got back just in time to join Spider Man’s Web Warriors.

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An ice cream run and we called it a day.

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The next day was our final stop of Stavanger.

Stavanger is an adorable town. You dock right in the middle of town and everything is walk-able. We headed over to the Norsk Oljmuseum (Norway Oil Museum). Now you might think an oil museum doesn’t sound very kid friendly but this museum was very hands on and even had a play area.

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You could climb up into that helicopter and make the blades spin. There was also an escape shoot you could try out to see what it is like to get out of an oil platform quick. A small, but super fun, museum.

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Just outside the museum is the Geopark. It is a park made out entirely of recycled materials used in the oil industry. I have mixed feelings about this park but the kids seemed to love it.

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E jumped on that trampoline for like 20 minutes and O loved bouncing on the buoy balls and balancing on different objects. But yeah….glad I brought hand sanitizer.

Stavanger also was home to lots of great quirky shops and cafes. Overall I would love to come back to Stavanger on its own and do a more thorough exploration of the area.

Norway is such a beautiful country with so much to see and do. Already thinking about another trip!

Geiranger, Norway

Geirangerfjord is something out of a dream. It is steep cliffs and mountains that dive straight down to the water. There are waterfalls everywhere you turn and there is this amazing stillness that is only disturbed by the water falling off the cliffs and into the fjord. Just look at it.

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The most interesting thing about the slow cruise through the fjord was just how quiet it really was. The boat was moving very slowly, almost coasting, barely making a ripple in the water. There was over a hundred people on the top deck taking in the views but everyone was silent. The view had taken their breath away. You could only hear the rush of the waterfalls and an occasional “Wow”.

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To imagine how close we are to the side of the fjord, here is a picture of the boat with the cliffs in the back.

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Geiranger itself is a very small town at the end of the fjord. We decided to head up to the Norwegian Fjord Center to spend our day. The walk up to the Fjord center is a very unique experience. It is 327 steps up the side of a hill with a raging waterfall roaring next to the stairs.

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The Center at the top is a nice little stop. It walks you through the history of the fjords and the people who lived here. There is a lovely children’s area and of course they serve waffles!

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It also has some great views.

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We were so lucky to have such a beautiful sunny day. The cruise out of Geiranger that evening was just as beautiful.

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After walking all 327 steps (both up and down) we ended up having a tired and cranky Viking by the end of the day. Ha!

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Oh the joys of traveling with littles!

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Alesund, Norway

Sailing up to the Norwegian coast is a sight to be seen. There are beautiful islands popping up out of the water and the mountains meet the ocean right at the coast. Everything is green with a bit of a mist surrounding it all. It is stunning and other-worldly. Then out of nowhere you find a city with bright colored houses set up across several islands to greet you.

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Alesund is a beautiful art nouveau city situated at the opening of Geirangerfjord and it also happened to be the first stop on our fjord cruise.

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We decided to spend our day walking out to the aquarium. We will talk more about that walk in a minute. The aquarium sits on the outskirts of town right on the water and it is in a stunning location.

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The aquarium is rather small but had fish and animals that are only natural to the area so that was a unique twist. We were able to see most of the inside of the aquarium in under an hour.

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They also had frequent “shows” during our time there. We watched the diver feeding the fish. There is a diver in this picture somewhere.

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The real star of the museum, particularly on the insanely beautiful day we had, was the outdoor area with the children’s play area. I mean look at this.

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The children loved playing around in the sunshine and we enjoyed taking in the amazing views.

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We had lunch and started the walk back to the ship. Just outside the aquarium across from the parking lot, there is a little trail that leads you down to a seaside park, a great place for a picnic.

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Overall, I think the Atlantic Sea Park is worth a visit, particularly if you have kids. The aquarium only takes a few hours to fully enjoy. So I would suggest taking the bus out to the aquarium to save some time. That way you can schedule an additional activity for the day.

We were able to enjoy our day in Alesund and enjoy the views from the ship. Norway is stunning.

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That night we would be off to Geiranger to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

Character Breakfast on the Disney Magic

We just finished up our second fantastic cruise with Disney Cruise Line. We were on the Disney Magic again (as it is the only ship that comes to Europe) but we still managed to find new things to do, new sights to see, and even more fun to be had. One of the new activities we did this round was the VIP Character Breakfast.

We scheduled our Character Breakfast for our second day on the ship (first full day on board). This was a day at sea for us and I thought getting the kids to meet the Characters early in the cruise might help them warm up to the Characters for future photos. Neither of the kids really understood what was in store and here are the pictures to prove it. Ha!

Here is E sitting nicely at the table with her croissant. Not a care in the world.

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Then Minnie Mouse walks in and E is completely shocked!

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Then comes the look of “Oh my. Are you seeing this? This is Minnie Mouse right here!”

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All smiles.

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Don’t worry O got to see his favorite as well.

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Same level of excitement!

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You typically get to see 3 characters at the breakfast, so the one and only Mickey Mouse finished up our round of breakfast guests.

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The VIP Character Breakfast was free. We just had to book a reservation ahead of time during our cruise check in. We just happened to be seated at the first table that the characters came to visit. They would walk out from behind the wall and surprise E every time. I think it made it even more exciting for the kids because you didn’t know who was coming until they popped up at our table. Of course, breakfast was also included with Mickey waffles for everyone. Smiles all around! Great way to start a Disney vacation!

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Playmobil Funpark

Nuremberg is one of the most famous cities in Germany. It is known for the unique city center, sausages, lebkuchen, and the Christmas Market.

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We visited the Christmas Market last December and you can find that post here: Christmas Markets and Prague

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All of these things are great but for those families with children there is also another hidden gem in Nuremberg. It is Playmobil Funpark!

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This amusement park is focused on active and imaginative play. There are no rides. Instead it is play areas and playgrounds that are set up around different Playmobil themes. For example:

Castle:

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Farm:

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Noah’s Ark:

This area had an “under 3” water table and a 3+ water table which were different heights. Our kids would have stayed here the entire time if possible.

Fairies:

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And those are just the areas we were able to get to before the kids were worn out. We missed an entire water and mud playground, a pirate ship and the dinosaur area. I absolutely love this place. It is an ideal park for young kids and such a fun and unique set up.

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We were able to have lunch in their indoor facility. It has large play areas filled with Playmobil toys. There is also an indoor playground.

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They have these little cubbies tucked in with the eating tables. The wall was just high enough to keep her in. Perfect!

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I found out that in the winter they close down most of the park but you can get into this indoor play area for only EUR 1.50. That is a steal of a deal. So if you are driving past the park in the winter stop by and let the kids run wild while you enjoy a coffee.

The park is also not too far from Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is another famous spot. We had the Littleboy family with us so we made sure to make a trip over there as well.

We have been to Rothenburg several times before and it never disappoints. You can read more about the town here: Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Overall we had a great little weekend trip. I highly recommend Playmobil Funpark. So get out there and have some fun!

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Murano and Burano

During our quick trip to Venice, Sara and I got the chance to hop out to the outer islands of Venice. The islands of Murano and Burano were well worth the trip.

On the way to the water taxi, we stumbled upon the Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto. Venice has so many hidden gems.

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Murano is a small island known for glass blowing. Working with glass requires very high temperatures, which posed a major threat to the island of Venice. Therefore they decide to move all the glass-makers to one island to mitigate that risk. There are glass shops lining every street, canal and walkway in this town.

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After a quick lunch, we hopped on the next water taxi over to Burano. The island of Burano is known for the lace that is made there. However, it is becoming a more popular tourist attraction due to the Instagram-worthy colorful houses.

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I mean come on! This place is just beautiful and so much fun

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Random side note: We also found Coca-cola with coffee here. It was actually delicious.

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If you have time during your trip to Venice, the islands are worth a visit. They give a different feeling than the main island (though the overflowing tourists are still there). The water-taxis to the islands are included with the Venezia Card, making it worth the purchase.

In 48 hours, Sara and I were able to hit all the main attractions in Venice and both islands. It was a perfect, quick, girls trip and we checked a bucket list item off the list. Thanks for the memories Sara!!

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Venice

Sometimes in life you just have to say “yes”. You have to jump on an opportunity when it presents itself without thinking too hard about it. Now if you know me, then you know that isn’t my personality. I am an over-thinker and planner. However, when my friend Sara said she NEEDED to see Venice before she moved back to the States. Oh and by the way we need to go in the next couple weeks. I said “Ok. Let’s go!”

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Venice is only a 1-hour plane ride from us and we had 48 hours to try to see it all. As soon as we got there, we hopped on the water taxi and headed to the center of town.

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We went to check out all the major sites like:

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Saint Mark’s Basilica

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Doge’s Palace

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Campanile di San Marco

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Bridge of Sighs

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Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal.

We also decided to do a Vino and Cicchetti tour. Cicchetti is basically Venice’s version of tapas. We hopped around from bar to bar with 10 other people and a tour guide.

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The food tour was nice in that it got us into back neighborhoods and bars that we probably wouldn’t have gone to on our own. We also met a family of 6 Americans on the tour that we kept seeing around town and even had dinner with them one night (By complete accident we ran into them at a restaurant). That always makes for a good time and great stories to tell.

Oh and we randomly ran into this guy playing the piano while being lifted out of a boat and into a party venue. You can’t make this stuff up.

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And that was just our Friday.

On Saturday, we decided to tour the outer islands around Venice. (I will do a little blog post on those beautiful islands in a bit.) But first we had to do a gondola ride. I know that a gondola ride is an expensive, gimmicky tourist thing but come on! We are in Venice. Take our money already.

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The gondola ride price is set by the city and you have to pay cash. The price is the same for up to 6 people on the boat. So find some friends and bring some Euros because you have to have a gondola ride in Venice.

Before we had to leave Venice, we made sure to stop by Saint Mark’s Square at night. Everyone says it is a different experience and it truly is unique. Everything was lit up and there was a five-piece band playing outside a restaurant. It was a great way to finish our quick trip.IMG_4960

Venice is such a beautiful place but a fair warning to those who are planning to visit. We went at the end of March. We had beautiful weather and it was not nearly as crowded as it is during the summer. However, it still looked like this at the main square on a Saturday afternoon.

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I cannot imagine what it is like in summer. However, Venice is always a good idea and she will reward you if you decide to come see her.

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Happy Travels!

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Christmas Markets and Prague

Christmas is such a magical time of year all over the world but I must say that Europe does it best. My absolute favorite thing   (that I have become a bit obsessed with I must admit) is the Christmas Markets. They are just such a joy and really put you in the Christmas spirit.

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When you see pictures like this, you can understand why the markets are so amazing. This is the market in Heidelberg, Germany. Some of my friends and I have started a little mission to see as many different markets as possible before our time overseas is up. We have managed to see almost all the local markets so we have started setting our eyes on the most famous markets in Europe. And that is how our little road trip to Prague started.

Prague is about a 5 ½ hour drive from us and has a very famous and popular Christmas market. We dropped the kids off at school Friday morning, said “Good Luck” to our husbands, and we were off. The halfway mark between here and Prague is Nuremberg, Germany. Nuremberg is home to another very famous Christmas market so we stopped off here to get this Christmas party started.

The Nuremberg market is HUGE.

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This is the only market I have been to so far that has a separate international section and a kids’ section. All of this is set up in front of Nuremberg’s Cathedral.

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Most of the Christmas markets in Germany are known for the glühwein that is sold, which is a warm spiced wine. The Nuremberg market is actually known for serving a warm beer (glühbier). When I think of warm beer, it is not usually happy thoughts. However, this is a citrus flavored beer with Christmas spices and it was actually really good. I may even like it better than glühwein!

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You pay a fee for the mug when you get a drink. You can choose to return the mug and get your deposit back or keep the mug. I have quite the collection of Christmas mugs. We had our drink, ate some yummy food and got back in the car to finish the trip to Prague.

We spent the next day exploring the city of Prague. We came to the Christmas market just as it began to snow. It was that beautiful snow where you can see the actual snowflake pattern when it lands. It was magical.

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The largest market was in the Old Town Square so of course we also checked out the famous Astronomical Clock.

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It had just been renovated and repainted over the last year and was looking in excellent condition. On the hour, the clock rings and a parade of Apostles come spinning out and staring down at you, judging your worthiness apparently. Also, Death rings the bell ….. so yeah….. that’s comforting.

The Christmas Market was the big draw for us to Prague but we couldn’t come to Prague without seeing the other major sites. So we headed over to the Charles Bridge.

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There were so many great views from the walk along the river and over the bridge.

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On the other side of the river is where you can find Lennon Wall.

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Apparently, the day after the murder of John Lennon, someone painted a picture of Lennon on the wall. The graffiti took off from there. The wall and its art are supposed to be symbols of peace and love, but it also became a symbol of rebellion during the communist days. The art on the wall is always evolving so every time you visit it will look different.

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We enjoyed our short little girls’ trip. On the way home, we swung by the Bamberg market, which was excellent (another mug for the collection). We also saw a car explode in front of us on the Autobahn (no one was hurt) but that is a story for another day.

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Becoming a Swiss Chocolatier

When you think of Switzerland, images of mountains, money and chocolate pop into mind. We took care of the mountain part in our last post about sledding (you can find that post here: Sledding in Switzerland). Everything in Switzerland is also crazy expensive so that takes care of the money part. So now let’s talk about chocolate!

In Interlaken, we found this super cute little shop called Funky Chocolate Club. It seems like a small quiet little café that serves chocolate drinks and sells chocolate creations in all different designs. However, the real show is in the back of the shop. Here is where they host chocolate making classes. We were able to snag some last minute reservations, which was amazing since we were here over the holidays.

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The class starts out with everyone getting ready including donning our chef hats.

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Our instructor then had us taste different chocolates with different strengths like 50% dark then 70% dark (milk chocolate was also in there of course). This was to help us understand the differences in the chocolate. Our instructor also provided information on the history of chocolate, the varieties and why Switzerland is so famous for their chocolate (hint: it has to do with cows). O loved all the educational pieces because he got to eat chocolate through most of it.

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We got to pick dark or milk chocolate for our individual chocolate bars. Then we got to work tempering our chocolate.

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Then we had to test it to make sure it was cooling properly. The nose test always works. Ha!

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Then we poured it all into our molds and started decorating.

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This is O’s masterpieces. Pretty impressive for a little one.

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At the end of the class, we all got a certificate stating that we were approved Swiss Chocolatiers and got to bring home the three chocolate bars we made. Not too bad for an hours work.

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If you want to take this class:

We highly recommend this class if you happen to be in the Interlaken area. It books up fast so reserve your spots ahead of time on the Funky Chocolate Club website. The class is about an hour long and then you have to let the chocolate bars set for about an hour before you can bring them home. So factor that into your planning. Kids 3 years old and older can join the class. I would say the class is more geared toward adults but O had a fantastic time and was completely involved in the chocolate making the entire time. The chocolate samples that are spread over the table may have also helped with his enjoyment of the class. Ha! Oh and randomly, there is no bathroom at this location. They will give you a token to use the public restroom one block away but it is not the most pleasant. It may be best to show up to class with an empty stomach and an empty bladder.

Off we go to our next adventure.

Sledding in Switzerland

Blue skies, snow-capped mountains, and the sound of your oldest screaming “Faster Mommy!” as we go hurdling down a mountain on a wooden sled, what better way to spend the last day of the year! Grindelwald, Switzerland provided the backdrop for our epic sledding excursion.

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(Don’t worry the clouds cleared out quickly)

We started our journey in downtown Grindelwald, where you pay to board a bus to take you to the top of the mountain. They leave about every hour.

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(Playground by the bus stop. Not bad of a backdrop)

The bus is a large tourist bus and it takes you up a very steep, one lane road that is full of switchback turns to the top of a mountain. I could not believe the tight turns that this bus was able to maneuver around. Mind you, all of this is done on a completely snow covered road. It was a bit nerve racking (though O fell asleep on the way up) but the views were absolutely stunning.

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At the top, everyone piles off the bus and you can rent your sled at the top from a little hut. This is a cash only operation so make sure you bring some Swiss francs with you. Also, this is the German speaking area of Switzerland so brush up on how to order some sleds (Ha!). After a little confusion, we all had sleds including one with a toddler seat attachment, and we were off.

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We decided to take the easiest, family friendly course. This option allowed for some fast downhill sections and also some flat walking parts with excellent stops for pictures.

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It took a little practice to get used to steering the sled but we managed.

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O loved it. E was not a fan for the majority of the trip but then started to like it toward the end.

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We made our way down our course after a few hours (with some snack breaks in there of course). There is a bus stop right at the end of the track where you throw your sled on the bus’ back racks and hop on for the return trip to town. I thought this was going to be just a morning trip but it took the majority of the day.

It was a great adventure and a great way to finish up our year.

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