Our Disney Cruise- Spain & France

Traveling with children is always an adventure. This trip was no exception. We booked our Disney cruise 18 months in advance. I know that sounds crazy but the cheapest price is on the first day the itinerary is available. Everything was going smoothly. We had all our excursions, transportation, hotels, etc. booked and we were ready to go. Our cruise was to leave on a Saturday out of Barcelona. We were going to fly in early Friday morning, explore Barcelona, stay overnight and then board the cruise ship on Saturday. Notice how I said “we WERE going”. Thursday rolls around and as E is taking a morning nap I check us in for our flights. Then E wakes up from her nap with a fever! We are able to see the doctor that afternoon and they find an ear infection. Her first ear infection ever. EVER! The doctor recommends that we postpone our flight as much as possible due to the fever and the swelling and to give the antibiotics some time to work. We spend Thursday evening making phones calls and trying to rearrange everything. When changing our flights we were not able to get on the early flight to Barcelona because it was already full. Instead, we had to book a flight that got into Barcelona at 11:30am. I call up Disney and they reschedule our transportation for us. They say it will be fine as long as we land before 1pm.

E was fever free by Friday and, after a follow up visit with the doctor, we got official approval to fly Saturday morning. On Saturday, we headed to the airport with our fingers crossed that everything was going to go smoothly. When we got to our gate, our flight was on time but it had been overbooked (probably from that family of four who got tickets late Thursday). Long story short, our flight was delayed by 30 minutes as they tried to convince people to take a later flight. I was getting crazy nervous.

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We finally take off and arrive in Barcelona about 12 (1 hour to spare so far). E did great on the flight. No problems with her ears. We get our luggage, add our cruise tags, and head out to find our transportation. There was a lovely group from Disney holding Mickey hands right where you exit with your luggage. I breathed a sigh of relief as I felt like this is it. We made it. I walk up to them and they ask if we are the “So and so” family. Umm… no. They look at their list and we are not on it. I start to get nervous. There is only one family left on the list whose names haven’t been marked off. We explained our crazy situation and in true Disney fashion (I personally feel Disney has AMAZING customer service) they just said “That’s fine. Wait here for a few minutes and we will take you to the ship.” After maybe 10-15 minutes, that last family on the list arrived and we were able to get on the bus to the cruise ship.

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After chatting with the family, we found out that their flight had actually been delayed repeatedly on their journey from the US to Barcelona. I would like to take a moment to send a shout out to this lovely family of 3 from Oklahoma. If their flight had not been delayed, the Disney shuttle would not have been at the airport waiting for us. Thanks guys! You were a lifesaver and you didn’t even know it!

When we arrived at the cruise terminal, there were just a few people still going through the check-in process. We were able to get through security and all the lines quickly. The final thing before you get on the ship is they take a picture of you as a family.

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Look at us. That is the definition of hot mess. We had been running around like crazy for the last couple days just trying to get to this point. The looks on our face are a mixture of fatigue, happiness and relief. We made it!

Moral of this story is….always get travel insurance. It is worth it. Particularly if you are traveling with kids.

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Marseille, France

The first stop on our cruise was Marseille, France. Our original plan for this stop was to take a ferry to Chateau D’If and the other islands in the Frioul archipelago. Chateau D’If is the prison setting for the book The Count of Monte Cristo. The other islands in the archipelago are mainly wildlife preserves with some quiet beaches. Unfortunately, it was very windy the day that we were in port and we didn’t feel comfortable having the kiddos on a small boat in rougher water. Our back up plan was to take the little tourist train up to the Cathedral on the hill. It is supposed to have a stunning view of the city and harbor.

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There is the cathedral way up there.

However, when we arrived at the tourist train the line was extremely long and it hadn’t even opened for business yet. I guess everyone else had the same idea as us. So instead we walked along the harbor and had some snacks that we picked up at the local farmers market.

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We did get to see some nice architecture and scenery on the shuttle bus ride back.

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Not the most exciting way to start a cruise but it was nice to have a calm day to recover.

 

Villefranche-sur-Mer, France

Most cruise ships usually dock in port in Nice, France. However, since we were on the Disney Magic, which is Disney’s smallest ship, we were able to have the pleasure of dropping anchor in Villefranche-sur-Mer.

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This little harbor is just stunning. The views from the ship in the morning were breath-taking.

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We weren’t able to dock directly in town but instead we dropped anchor in the entrance to the bay and took tender boats into town.

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We didn’t realize how beautiful Villefranche was going to be. We thought it was just going to be a port that would be easy to hop on a train and get to A) the beaches of Nice or B) Monaco, with Monaco being our original plan. We could see a beach from the ship and we decide that was going to be our destination for the day.

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The beach is a bit of a walk from where the tender boats dock, maybe half a mile. You get to walk along the water and there are cafes along the way if you just want to sit and watch the water. When we got to the beach, there were maybe 20-30 people, who all appeared to be locals having a morning swim. The beach is sandy but there is a fair amount of rock. It wasn’t huge but it was perfect for us and the littles.

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This was E’s first time with her feet in the sea. We had visited a beach in the Netherlands during the tulip season but it was much too cold to get in the water (or in bathing suits for that matter). So we are considering this her first true beach experience.

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She absolutely loved it. The water was a bit cold.

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It didn’t seem to bother the kiddos.

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Plus look at the view.

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On the way back to the boat, we decided to stop and grab the kiddos an ice cream. We saw a black and orange food stand with an ice cream sign and decided to stop there. As we are waiting in line, we notice that they serve sandwiches. Gavin and I start debating if we should get some sandwiches as well. The guy in front of us turns around and says “do you guys like anchovies?”. For Gavin, the answer is a firm yes. For me, the answer is more of a not really but I’ll try new things. So we said yes and this really nice gentleman recommended the seafood sandwich. He was also visiting France and said this was his third time that week visiting the stand to get this particular sandwich. I have to be very honest here. This is a black and orange food stand that isn’t looking the nicest or even that well refrigerated but here is this guy highly recommending this seafood sandwich. Despite our initial hesitation, we ordered 2 seafood sandwiches with anchovies. The sandwiches were absolutely amazing. My mouth is watering right now as I write about them. This is one of the things I absolutely love about travel. Here we are in some town far from home when a nice stranger recommends we try something and it becomes a wonderful experience. Ok now I am hungry.

Villefranche also has a lovely little town center (though it is all up hill with lots of stairs). There are cute shops and cafes tucked in every corner. We had a nice look around before heading back to the ship

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I just cannot get over the beauty of this place.

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This last picture was taken on my iPhone from the back of the tender boat right before we departed for the cruise ship. Seriously, every angle of this town is stunning.

That is the start of our journey. Next up is Italy!

 

Our Disney Cruise- The Ship

I have been debating how to break down writing about our amazing Disney cruise. There is so much to tell you guys about! I think I will start by just talking about the ship and everything that goes with it.

We did a 7 night Mediterranean Cruise on the ship the Disney Magic. We left Barcelona, Spain and finished in Rome, Italy with stops in Marseille, Villefranche-sur-mer, Genoa, Livorno and Naples.

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Our Room

We opted to stay in a room with a porthole window. We were debating about getting a balcony and then we remembered we have 2 small children who love to climb. Soooo….we’ll take a room with a window only please. Plus look at the fun pictures.

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The rooms are pretty much like a typical hotel room except that the couch becomes a single bed and a second bed can drop down from the ceiling. The room hostess does this for you before bedtime each night so you don’t have to worry about managing any of this alone. The nice thing about this is that you have access to a “living room” during the day and then it converts just for sleeping at night. We needed the extra space for activities.

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Another nice feature of the room is that the bathroom is split. In one side is a toilet and sink with mirror and in the other side is the tub/shower combo and a sink with mirror. First, having a tub is so nice with the little ones. Second, it makes getting ready easier when there are 2 sink and mirror options.

There is a ton of storage in the room with dressers, closets and drawers everywhere. Our large suitcases were able to fit under the bed and E’s car seat fit in the closet.

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Overall, we felt very comfortable in the room as a family of four. We stayed on Deck 7, which was only 2 floors down from the pool deck (where lots of food and drink options were available) and only 2 floors up from the Kids club area. This made everything easy and convenient for us to reach and we could take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevators.

Dining Options

There were 3 main dining rooms on our ship: Animator’s Palate, Rapunzel’s Royal Table and Lumiere’s. On the Disney ships, you have an assigned table number and dinner-time but where you have dinner changes every night (there is an assigned rotation you get at check-in). You have the same servers every night (they rotate with you) but the scenery changes.

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Spoiler Alert!

At Animator’s Palate during one night of the cruise, you will start your dinner by drawing a character onto a provided piece of paper (with instructions). Then by the end of the meal they make your characters come to life and the characters dance and do different things while placed in iconic Disney movie scenes. Super fun! Though O didn’t make it to see his character come alive.

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At Rapunzel’s Royal Table, this is like a dinner with a show. We are all preparing for Rapunzel’s birthday party. The Snuggly Duckling characters are there and Rapunzel arrives. After they do their performance, Rapunzel comes around to each table to greet the guests. O was very shy when the Snuggly Duckling characters came around but they were so nice to him and he absolutely loved it!

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Lumiere’s is a great dining room with excellent food. The theme is based off of Beauty and the Beast, though this is the only dining room that could easily be on any ship. The Disney stuff is kept to a minimum and this dining room is more focused on the food (in my opinion).

Beyond the main dining rooms, there are lots of food options available. You will never go hungry. Disney is unique in that room service is included (though you do need to tip the person who delivers and some food items are extra, like alcohol, etc.). The buffet is Cabana’s at the back of the ship. They always had excellent options there, but we ate most of our dinners in the main dining rooms. There was also Daisy’s De-lites, which was a little food area next to the kids’ splash pad area. This was our go to place. They had quick and easy to grab breakfast items in the morning. They also always had fresh cut fruit, salads and sandwiches. We had watermelon every day after swimming.

Of course there was free ice cream

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Basically, there were a million options for food. There is a reason you gain weight on a cruise.

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Don’t worry it is only milk!

Entertainment

There was always some activity going on throughout the day on the ship. Every night you would get a “navigator” placed on your bed. It was a piece of paper that laid out the next day events. Everything was listed from kids’ club activities to movies to dance parties to the theater shows. Disney Cruise Line also has an app now that provides all of this information. We used the app but I also loved having that piece of paper in hand to highlight things and figure out what we wanted to do. I also thought it helped me visualize better how things would overlap.

Movies:

The Disney Magic does have a movie theater as most ships do these days. We were lucky in that The Incredibles 2 movie had just come out to theaters the day before our cruise departed. O loves the original Incredibles movie so it was an extra special treat that he got to go to his first move theater on “Mickey’s ship” (as he preferred to call it) and see Incredibles 2 only a few days after it came to theaters (and at no additional cost!)

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Gavin and I took turns with the kids (and with the assistance of the kids club and nursery) so that we could sneak in a couple of movies as well. In addition to the movie theater, the TV in the room had access to the “Disney Vault”, meaning you had access to watch any Disney movie you desired.

Character Meetings:

This is a Disney ship so of course there was plenty of opportunities to meet with some of our favorite characters.

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O was so excited to see the characters but didn’t know what to think about them once they got a little closer.

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Notice Gavin’s arm. Ha!

But by the end of the cruise, O was actively seeking out characters to make sure he could get a picture with them.

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E was more than happy to meet everyone

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The one exception to all of this was the Princess Gathering. All of the Princesses get together at one time and you get a chance to meet all of them in one go. Perfect! I signed us up and got our tickets (they are free) with our designated time. I get E all dressed up in her Snow White outfit. We get there and everything is going smooth. It is our turn to meet the Princesses. O becomes super shy and hides behind me and E starts screaming. Like top of her lungs, cannot be calmed, SCREAMING. We exited stage left and didn’t even attempt a photo with those poor startled Princesses. Ah the joys of littles!

Dance Parties!

Dance parties are our thing. Well Gav and I have no dance skills. I look something like Elaine from Seinfeld attempting to get my groove on. But for some unknown reason, our children LOVE to dance and we support this passion. So we hit up ALL the dance parties. It started with the Sail Away party.

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Through Pirate Night and including the Princess and Pirates Dance Party

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And even randomly dancing on the decks. They love to dance and the cruise ship was more than happy to give them plenty of opportunities.

Kids Club

Obviously, Disney Cruise Lines is very focused on families and particularly on kids. They do not disappoint with their kids club and nursery. The Kids Club is for kids 3 and older who are potty-trained. O was able to hang out here and he had a fantastic time. I think the fact that there was a Toy Story room with a slinky the dog slide helped. Kids Club was included free of charge. E stayed in the nursery but only during our dinner time. The meals took 1.5-2 hours due to the shows and it wasn’t possible for E to sit that long at a table. She seemed happy with the nursery. If we do another Disney cruise, we plan to wait until E is old enough to be in the Kids Club with O just for convenience and I think they will both be happier to be together.

Pools

There were several pools and splash areas on the ship. Children in swim diapers could only play in the small splash area and were not allowed in any of the pools (due to some health regulation). So E and I hung out in the little splash area while the boys enjoyed the rest of the pools.

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There was a small very shallow pool with a larger splash pad area. This is where O spent the majority of his time until he discovered that they play Disney Movies on the big screen over the other pool. Ha!! The ship provided swim vests/ flotation devices in all different sizes and that was very convenient for us. The pools were rather small but the only day they felt crowded was the day at sea.

There is also an adults only pool (in the adults only area). This pool looked very nice. It seemed larger than the other pools with 2 hot tubs, beautiful blue tile and nice lounge chairs surrounding it. At least that is what I could tell as I looked longingly at the pool while I quickly ushered my 2 kiddos through the area after realizing we had stumbled into the kid free zone with ours. There is a full bar at the pool and the Cove Café is tucked in this area as well.

Random Details

We didn’t bring our stroller with us and instead we brought the backpack carrier. However, we didn’t have a plan to get E asleep for her nap. So we ended up renting a stroller from the front desk at no extra cost. We used it to push E around Deck 4, which is the shuffle board/running track deck where it is quiet and usually no one around. It worked well.

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We did have to get the stroller right away on the first day as it is first come first serve. We also had to keep it in our room but it fit under the bed with our 2 suitcases just fine.

Ok that is it for the ship. Coming up next will be where we stopped and what we saw!!

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Berlin Part 2

On to part 2. We are going to start out with a tourist trap but it will get better!

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie is a tourist trap. I’m sorry but there is no other way to describe it.

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If you get a little closer there is a booth with some old looking sand bags around it and you can get your picture taken with folks dressed up in WWII era uniforms. I honestly would say just skip this stop. However, if you don’t go toward Checkpoint Charlie then you won’t be able to hit our next stop.

Currywurst Museum

Only 2 blocks from Checkpoint Charlie is this adorable gem of a museum.

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We are big fans of currywurst, which is sliced sausage with this amazing sauce that is also sprinkled with curry powder and served with fries. It is served absolutely everywhere.

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Here’s your order now.

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The museum was small but very interactive. There were video games, gigantic pillow fries (to go with the ketchup dripping off the ceiling), and even a currywurst cart where you can pretend to serve up some sausages.

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At the end of the tour you can also get different currywurst samples at the food stand (different ticket options give you 1-3 samples at the end of your visit).

I don’t think this museum is for everyone but we absolutely had a blast during our visit. We even had to get a little currywurst souvenir.

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Ritter Sport

Once you leave the Currywurst Museum, I would recommend heading over to the Ritter Sport Café. It is about 6 blocks from the museum. You can hop on the U-bahn (underground train) and take it one stop down or you can just walk. I recommend the walk because you will get to walk right past the Deutscher Dome and the French Cathedral.

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When we got to Ritter Sport (popular German chocolate brand) the store and café were actually not very busy. This place is usually packed as it has become famous for the place to make your own chocolate bar. The kids were getting tired though so we opted to buy some prepackaged chocolate and head out. I did get in line to make my own bar but the wait was 30-45 minutes and that was with only 1 family (of 4) in line in front of me. I am assuming the wait is much longer on busy days so be prepared. I think the majority of the wait is for allowing the chocolate to set properly. In case you are wondering, I was going to order a dark chocolate bar with cornflakes and marshmallows.

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Computerspielemuseum (Computer Video Game Museum)

While looking up some fun spots to visit while in Berlin, I came across this not so well known museum. The moment I saw video game museum I knew we would have to go for my techie husband. It seriously did not disappoint. It had all the old school video games you could imagine (which you are allowed to play!!). They also had the games set up in little display areas that resembled 80s bedrooms or a 90s dorm room (you get the idea).

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The museum is not huge so easily managed in under a couple hours (unless you really get into a game). It is also only a block away from the U-bahn stop so getting there is a breeze.

Weberweise Station

After leaving the Computerspielemuseum, we headed back to the U-bahn station that is just a block away. That station is Weberweise. As we were standing on the platform we noticed a sign posted on the wall.

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The sign reads “On February 26, 1945, shortly before the end of World War II, this U-Bahn station was hit by three bombs during a heavy air bombardment. Of the hundreds of people seeking shelter here on the platform or in the two stationary trains here, many more perished than the 108 victims who could later be identified.”

It was chilling to read. And here we stood with our little family in that very same spot.

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It just amazes me how much history there is all around us and we would have never noticed if we didn’t take the time to stop and read the sign.

Museum of Technology

We hadn’t originally planned to visit the Museum of Technology. However, E started feeling sick during our trip. The hard part when traveling is that if one kiddo is sick that means that other one has double the energy and that there is no where to escape in a hotel room. So the boys headed to the Museum of Technology, which was just a few blocks away from our hotel, and E and I stayed in the hotel room to give her some rest.

From the boys’ account of the museum, it was a really fun, interactive museum. It is absolutely massive in size and the boys spent 3.5 hours there, which might be a new 3 year-old attention span record.

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There is also a playground and beer garden (biergarten) at the Museum (German standard). Unfortunately for Gavin the biergarten was closed as it was Sunday. This for sure is a museum that you could spend a whole day enjoying.

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Overall we really enjoyed our time in Berlin. It was a fun, active and vibrant city. The public transportation was insanely easy even with a baby and a toddler in tow. Despite the long list of stuff we were able to visit during our trip, we feel like we have just scratched the surface of what this city has to offer. Berlin would be worth another trip.

Random Trip Info

If you are thinking about heading to Berlin here is some detail about how we stayed and traveled with 2 kids. First, we stayed at the Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz hotel. This hotel is very kid/family-friendly and has multiple room options that are accommodating to families (such as rooms with bunk-beds). This hotel is also 1 block away from a U-bahn stop.

Getting around Berlin is extremely easy. Their public transportation is excellent. We did purchase the Berlin Welcome Card, which allowed us unlimited public transportation and discounts at certain museum and tourist hotspots. We bought 2 adult tickets but the kids were free. For us we didn’t really save by using the card but we didn’t have to bother getting tickets every time we got on a bus or train. With the discounts to the museums we just broke even, which was fine with us. The convenience of the Welcome Card made it worth it to us. If you are going to be able to enjoy more of the museums then the Welcome Card is the way to go for sure (particularly if your kids are older). If you are just using it for public transport then there are better options.

English is very commonly spoken in Berlin. Everywhere you go things are posted in German and English. You will have absolutely no problem managing even if you don’t speak a word of German.

The whole city and public transport are stroller-friendly. Sometimes you have to do a little bit of searching for the elevators but they are there somewhere.

There is usually a grocery store in the shopping malls if you are looking for one. Staying close to an Aldi or Lidl (discount grocery store) is always a bonus. Remember that pharmacies are not usually open on Sundays but there is usually one open at the main train stations. You have to go to a pharmacy to get any kind of medicine like Tylenol, Advil, etc. We may have had to use this on our trip. Typically in Germany everything closes down on Sunday but I didn’t feel this way in Berlin. Lots of stores were closed but most museums and tourist attractions were open. Restaurants were probably 50/50 on being open.

Have fun and safe travels!

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Berlin Part 1

You cannot live in Germany and not visit Berlin. It is one of the most iconic cities in Europe. It had to be done. We took advantage of O’s 4-day school weekend and hopped over to see the sights. Here is what we were able to manage in 4 days with 2 kids at 3 and under.

Berlin Zoo

When traveling with children, a stop at a zoo is a requirement. It is a bonus when the zoo happens to be the iconic Berlin zoo. We got there bright and early.

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First chair! Wait I think that might only be a ski thing….

The zoo was absolutely beautiful and very well maintained.

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The big crowd pleaser at the moment is the panda house.

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In the middle of the zoo is an amazing playground. It is actually more like 4 playgrounds that are all connected with equipment for varying age ranges. Here is the toddler playground.

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There is a lovely café right next to the playground to grab a coffee (within viewing range of the children) and of course the ice cream stands are strategically stationed close by as well. The kids (even the big one) loved it and it was hard to pull them away once it was time to move on.

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We opted to do the Zoo and Aquarium combo ticket. The aquarium actually looks really small but it packs a big punch.

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They had some really interesting jellyfish displays (everyone had their phones out to snap a picture). They had some crazy creatures.

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What happened to this guy?

They also had lizards, reptiles and other creepy crawlers. Our kiddos were pretty tired by the time we got to the aquarium so we kind of sprinted through it but if your kiddos can tolerate a full day then I would recommend doing both.

Brandenburg Gate

One of Berlin’s iconic landmarks is the Brandenburg gate. We stayed fairly close to the gate so we were able to walk by and do the standard tourist stop and quick pictures.

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Napoleon walked though this gate and so did we. So there is that….

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

This Memorial is only a block from the Brandenburg Gate. There is a lot of controversy surrounding it from what it symbolizes (like what do the blocks represent), what it doesn’t say and even what material was used to build it. It gives you this weird kind of confused feeling and from my understanding that is exactly how it is supposed to make you feel. I don’t want to comment too much on it. I highly suggest looking up some info on the site if you have an opportunity and visit the memorial if you get a chance so you can decide for yourself.

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East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is 1.3 km of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved with artwork painted on the wall with various themes. It is an interesting mix of contemporary art and history.

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I found it really interesting and it was worth the trip for us. There is also a museum at the start (or the end depending on the direction you are traveling I guess) of the wall. We didn’t make it that far.

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The gallery is a little out of the way of the other sites but well worth the trip.

 

That’s it for Part 1. Part 2 coming soon.

Frauenstein

My New Year’s Resolution to keep our blog up to date has officially failed. I had a good run going and now I have fallen a bit behind. Here is a quick blog to get me back into the groove and so you can see what we have been up to this spring.

Germany does spring in style. Everything here blooms. I mean everything! Everywhere you look the plants are in full color. I have been searching out some more local places for us to visit and I discovered that there is a beautiful street in Bonn, Germany that has amazing cherry blossoms that turn the street pink in the spring. The pictures looked amazing but the drive to see a street of flowers didn’t seem like the best idea with 2 small ones in tow (apparently it gets very busy).

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Luckily for us, there is a town only 30 minutes away that also happens to be famous for its flowering trees and cherry blossoms. That town is Frauenstein.

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As you drive into Frauenstein, the large cherry blossom trees are right there on the main street. When we arrived, they were in full bloom.

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Another view:

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Frauenstein is also known for its many fruit trees and the fruit wines that are made in the region. We had just missed the peak season for the blooming fruit trees but some of them still had some white blooms left.

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We parked downtown and were able to find a walking path through the vineyards and orchards. Germany is known for its walking paths. No matter where you go you can usually find a nice smooth path to get into the fields and nature quickly.

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It was a lovely day and we all enjoyed getting out and enjoying the sunshine. We are starting to find our way around to the little hidden gems. More blogs to come soon!

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Cologne

Spring has sprung! Well…not really. Some flowers have bloomed and we have also had some snow. Winter is still trying to hold on but we are finally turning the corner toward some nicer weather. This weekend there was SUNSHINE!!

Sunshine means time for another quick day trip. We headed north to Cologne.

I knew going into this trip that it was going to be a quick get in and get out kind of trip. The kiddos could rest/nap on the car rides there and back (1.5 hours each way) and we would attempt to see as much as possible as quickly as possible before they crashed. Here is what we managed to accomplish:

Chocolate Museum (Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum)

After we parked our car, we headed straight for the river and toward the Chocolate Museum. As mentioned before it was nice and sunny, so we were able to enjoy a little walk by the river on the way to the Museum.

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The Chocolate Museum is extremely popular. It is always busy and there is always a line. I have heard mixed reviews about the museum itself particularly for small children (though it must be good because it feels like everyone in town is there) so I decided to take a different route.

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I had read that you can go into the gift shop and café without going into the museum itself. So that is exactly what we did. We weaved our way around and through the long winding line inside the museum and at the back of the entrance was a really nice large café. It had stunning views overlooking the river.

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(Apparently there is a nice view behind me. I was distracted)

There was a handful of people in the café itself despite the large crowd outside. We had coffee, cake and a children’s hot chocolate.

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(Good to the last bite)

We didn’t get to enjoy the museum itself but it was a happy compromise for us. O seemed to approve.

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German Sport and Olympic Museum

Right next door to the Chocolate Museum is the German Sport and Olympic Museum. This is the real hidden gem.

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This museum as the title implies follows the history of German Sports with a focus on Olympic sports. There are lots of wonderful displays with signs in German and English. Most importantly, there are hands-on activities throughout the museum! There was a balance beam, a long jump, gymnastic bars, balance boards, etc. The list goes on and on. O loved it!

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Then to top it all off, there is a soccer field on the roof of the museum. You can go play a game (or let the kids run wild) with a nice view of the river and city.

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After providing the kids chocolate and a super fun interactive museum, it was my turn to sneak in something I wanted to see.

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral is the icon of the city of Cologne. The cathedral dominates the skyline of the city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you see it from a distance, you can already tell that it is going to be immense. It still doesn’t prepare you for its colossal size. It is simply massive. (Did I mention it was big?)

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(of course I forgot my fancy camera at home. Bummer!)

Despite the cathedral being there in all its glory, O was not impressed.

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Oh the joys of traveling with toddlers! Needless to say we grabbed a quick late lunch (which is most likely the cause of the meltdown) and headed out of town. Attempting to travel around Europe with two small children can be challenging.

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(This is his “I am mad and not talking to you” face)

We don’t get to see the sites as in depth as we would like (and some we skip all together) but we are trying our best to make the most out of this opportunity. Thanks for following along with us!

Burg Eltz

It has been a cold winter here in Germany. There hasn’t been much snow but it has been chilly. We have been struggling to find things to keep us busy while we have been trapped inside. I should mention that at O’s school they have continued to play outside everyday. I have heard this saying from multiple people we have met here “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” We haven’t fully adapted to the idea of being out in all weather but we are slowly getting there. We are starting to emerge from our winter hibernation and we even managed to sneak in a trip to a castle when the sun was shining.

Burg Eltz is a beautiful castle located about 1.5 hours from us, near Wierschem, Germany. We didn’t do much research but just jumped in the car and went for it since the weather was in our favor. When we arrived we found a large parking lot right next to the hiking trail. The trail is a nice packed dirt path that is rather wide. It runs along the edge of a hill with the Eltzbach river winding in the valley below it.

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The hike was not difficult and was beautiful. Since I did not do my research before coming to the castle, I kept looking around all the surrounding hills to see where the castle was located. I was expecting it to be perched up high somewhere. I could not see any sign of it. We rounded a corner and boom! There she was.

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The castle is sitting in a valley but perched on a natural rock outcropping. The morning fog was still clinging around the edges of the castle giving it a very mystical and medieval feeling.

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The castle is unique in that: 1) It has been owned by the same family since the time it was built until today and 2) the castle was never destroyed by war or other incidents. Most of the castle is in its original state. It is like a little slice of the past hidden in a stunning green valley in the middle of Germany.

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During the summer months, I have heard the castle is very busy with tourists. There are several restaurants, guided tours and a gift shop inside. Everything was closed for the winter when we were there and only a handful of people had made the hike over to see the castle. It made us feel like we had discovered some unknown gem in the middle of the woods.

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(Looking for dragons)

After pausing for a snack (because…kids), we decided to follow the road back to the parking lot instead of the trail. We thought this would be the shorter route and the road is only for the shuttle bus, which was not running at the time. However, if you are going to the castle I do not advise this route, particularly if you are going with kids or if the road is wet/icy. The road ended up being rather steep and it switched back on itself 3 different times. On the positive side, there is a nice overlook at the top of the hill that provides an excellent view.

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If we were to do it again I think the best option would be:

From the parking lot take the trail to the castle. The surprise of the castle coming around that bend in the trail is wonderful. I would also take the trail back to the parking lot. Once back to the starting point, I would then walk down the paved road to the overlook. Enjoy the view and head back to the car.

In my opinion, seeing the castle in the winter is the best time. There are fewer people there and it was free! There is a little hut set up at the entrance to the parking lot. It wasn’t open when we were there but I have a feeling they charge for parking in the summer. The down side to the winter is that you are not able to tour the inside of the castle. I have heard fantastic reviews about the castle tour but honestly that is probably something we would have skipped since we have 2 small children.

It was a perfect little day trip. We got to be outside, enjoy the sun and take in a beautiful castle. The sunshine gave us hope that spring is around the corner!

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Tuscany Part 2

Thanks for making your way over to Part 2 of our Turkey Day in Tuscany adventure. Here we go…

Florence

Of course we visited the city of Florence on our trip. We knew that Florence was going to be a bit crazy and crowded so we had a short list of must see attractions. First up, Michelangelo’s David.

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I read online to book your tickets far in advance but since we were traveling in November I thought I wouldn’t need to do this as peak tourist season was over. However, I double-checked online the week before we were set to travel. This is when I discovered that tickets to see David were already sold out for the day we originally planned to go to Florence. Needless to say I booked tickets right then and there and rearranged our travel plans to accommodate the change. Lesson learned: Do book your tickets in advance to see David no matter what time of year you are traveling to Florence. Also note that even though children are “free” to get into the museum, you do have to pay a 4 euro service charge for them so you have to add this to your ticket reservation. On the website it will literally say children free and then next to it you select quantity and it charges the 4 euros each.

There is a lot of beautiful pieces of artwork in this museum. We were trying to take it all in but we have a grabby 1 year old so it keeps you on your toes a bit. This picture says it all…. Don’t touch the artwork E!!

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We then swung by the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (or Il Duomo di Firenze).

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The next destination was the carousel in Piazza della Repubblica.

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This carousel is beyond charming. I also like that it is a bit of a slow mover (more our pace). O got to ride for the first time without daddy holding onto him and E had her very first carousel ride ever! Pretty memorable moment!

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We are now going to pause this lovely, authentic Italian vacation for a tacky tourist moment. After having fun on the carousel, we decided it was time to eat. There are lots of lovely cafes and restaurants surrounding this Piazza. However, out of the corner of my eye I spotted the Hard Rock. Now if you are visiting Europe for a short amount of time, I highly discourage you from visiting an American chain restaurant. This is particularly true when you are in such an outstanding food location such as Florence. However, the moment I saw that Hard Rock sign I thought: “This Momma could use a Bloody Mary!” The Hard Rock makes a mean Bloody Mary and I haven’t been to a Hard Rock since we lived in Baltimore (over 7 years ago). As a bonus, I knew there would be a baby-changing table in there. I could sense it with my super human mommy powers. Long story short, huge bathrooms with baby-changing table and one delicious Bloody Mary later and I was one happy camper.

Ok back to your regularly scheduled authentic Italian vacation.

Did I mention there is amazing shopping in Florence? There is amazing shopping.

The city itself was easily accessible for us. Stroller and kid-friendly, though I feel like this is an adult city. This is someplace that I would like to come back when the kids are a bit older or better yet an adults-only adventure for just Gav and I. I think then I could appreciate it a little bit more. It is always a good sign of an excellent vacation when you are thinking about when you can come back.

Oh and of course we got gelato on our way out of town.

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We actually stumbled on this quaint gelato shop called La Strega Nocciola on a side street not far from the Duomo. It is true homemade gelato. The type that is tucked away under metal lids not piled high in large containers like in other big gelato shops. Holy cow this was the most AMAZING gelato I have ever had and the best we had during our entire trip. I highly recommend the dark chocolate and the pistachio. And now I want gelato….

Florence American Cemetery

This cemetery is located south of Florence on the route to San Gimignano.

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We have made it a point to visit these places on our journeys, as this is an important part of our history. This is a generation that is being lost to time and I want to make sure that our family does not forget the sacrifice these men and women made for our freedom.

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There are 4,399 soldiers buried here and a memorial with 1,409 names of the missing. These men fought and died during World War II.

Inscribed on the wall are these words:

“Freedom from fear and injustice and oppression is ours only in the measure that men who value such freedom are ready to sustain its possession and defend it against every thrust from within or without.”

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Volterra

On our last full day, we decided to visit 2 smaller towns that were near our rental home. Volterra is a beautiful town on a hill east of San Gimignano.

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Apparently this town has become a more popular tourist town recently due to the Twilight series. I know nothing about Twilight but apparently some of the show is supposed to be set in Volterra (though the actual filming was done in another town south of here). When we were in town there was a movie being filmed here but we never found out the name of it.

This small town is easily done in a day (and stroller friendly). We did a nice stroll, stopped for cappuccino, and visited the Roman baths.

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I rather liked this sleepy little town but Gav was not impressed. I think O liked the town as well because 1) He got to pick out his souvenir.

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2) There was a gigantic red O in the middle of a field on the way up to the town.

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When O saw it he started screaming: “Look!! It is a big O just for me! That is my O!” So here’s another pic just for you kiddo.

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We finished our day at a playground in Colle di Val d’Elsa.

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Italy stole our hearts. We fell in love with the places, the people, the food and all the fun we had. We are already planning our next trip back! Until we meet again il mio amore!

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Tuscany Part 1

We have been in Italy for less than 24 hours and we find ourselves standing outside the Duomo di Siena

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I am in search of a place to change E’s diaper and feed her (Glamorous life I live I know). I walk into a door that says Tourist Information across from the church entrance. I ask the lovely lady sitting at the desk if she knows of a good spot to change and feed E. She responds that there is a cafeteria down the street but then she pauses for a moment and says “No that is no good. Come with me.” She walks me through a beautiful, antique, wooden door and into this huge room where an ancient fresco is being restored on the walls. There are couches placed throughout the room to allow people to sit and take their time viewing the amazing painting. This wonderful lady then offers me a seat on a couch and tells me that this is part of the art museum but that I am more than welcome to use this area. I could not believe it. I sat there taking in the ancient artwork and looking out the window, which perfectly framed the Duomo.

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And that was it. That was the moment I fell in love with Italy.

We spent the week of Thanksgiving finding our way around the Tuscany region. My father-in-law Larry joined us on this adventure. We stayed in an Airbnb home in Castel San Gimignano. This is a quaint, little town just south of the famous San Gimignano.

Siena

Our first day trip was to the breathtaking town of Siena.

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Piazza del Campo

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O’s favorite activity

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They hold a horse race in this Piazza every year called Il Palio. The seventeen neighborhoods of Siena compete for bragging rights. The Piazza is big but not THAT big. I can’t imagine holding a horse race there. However, the event looks amazing and you should Google Il Palio Siena if you ever get a chance.

Cappella di Piazza and Torre del Mangia

Sitting in Piazza del Campo is this Church and tower. The climb to the top of the tower is supposed to be very steep but has breathtaking views. We have two small children so the view from the bottom was good enough for us.

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Duomo di Siena

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Facciatone

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This was supposed to be an extension onto the existing church but the construction was poorly done and the plague hit town. So now it is a tall wall that you are able to climb up and check out the panoramic view of Siena.

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Siena was such a stunning town and a great way to start off our trip.

Cooking Class

When in Italy you must make pasta! We enjoyed a cooking class at Il Vicario, a small B&B located outside San Gimignano. Il Vicario is run by Fulvio along with his niece Katia. They grow almost all of their food on site. E was not feeling well this day so I had to stay at home while the boys learned their way around an Italian kitchen.

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Gavin said the class was great fun but also hard work. Apparently making pasta from scratch isn’t the easiest job in town but the results are worth it!

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Bonus for me: I am not the one with the pasta making skills in the house now.

San Gimignano

We did a quick trip to San Gimignano in the evening as the sun was setting. San Gimignano is a rather small town with only a few attractions so it can easily be done in a few hours (if most of the tourists have gone home for the day).

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While we were strolling along the streets, we noticed a sign that pointed to a scenic viewpoint. We got to it just as the sun was setting and it did not disappoint.

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Of course we also ran around the piazza:

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Saw the church.

Most importantly, we ate gelato.

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A nice way to end the day.

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Tours Around Tuscany

We hired a private tour guide for a day. My former classmate had highly recommended the company Tours around Tuscany. Gianni, the owner, was our tour guide for the day and it was fantastic. This company focuses on taking you to places off the beaten path. No large tourist areas but more small towns, local points of interest, family owned wineries/restaurants and a few places you may not have even thought to stop at and have a look. For example, Gianni brought us to a crystal factory where they hand make amazing crystal pieces. This is not something we would have scheduled to do on our own but it ended up being a really unique experience. If you are ever in Tuscany, you need to schedule a day with Gianni. It is worth it!

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That’s all for Part 1. Coming up next will be Florence, Volterra and more!

 

 

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Fall has been kind to us here in Germany this year. We have had several days of warm (ish) temperatures and sunshine. We decided to take advantage of this weather and make a quick weekend trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

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Rothenburg is one of the iconic towns that people think of when you think of Germany. It is located along the Romantic Road in southern Germany and is a little over a 2 hour drive from Wiesbaden. Rothenburg is a very well preserved medieval town, which can be hard to come by due to World War II bombings throughout the country. When looking at the history of the city, you discover that the US did bomb the town during World War II but the US also understood the importance (and beauty) of the city. So after the initial bombing, the US troops negotiated with the German troops and offered to spare the city from further destruction if the German troops were willing to surrender the city (which they did). Some rebuilding had to be done but most of the town was spared.

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For the Harry Potter fans out there, scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1 and 2) were filmed in Rothenburg.

Ok back to our little trip. Lucky for us, my new friend Kate had just been to Rothenburg so she gave us some great info with the very best info being where the playground is located.

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This lovely playground is located next to the P4 parking lot. We were able to let O burn some energy and have a nice picnic lunch before heading into the walled city.

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The entrance into town is pretty impressive.

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Once inside, there was a set of very steep steps leading up to a walkway that goes along the wall. There are several sets of stairs dispersed along the wall so you can decide when you want to climb up and when you are ready to head down.

The walkway is sturdy but the handrails are not. E was in the backpack but O was required to hold hands at all times. It is not the most toddler friendly activity in town but still worth the high blood pressure. O of course loved it.

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The wall circles most of the city and you can walk the majority of its length. We just walked along a small section until we reached one of the main streets near another entrance point.

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This town is just absolutely stunning. It has amazing architecture, beautiful colors, and unbelievable charm.

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It is also home to a pretty famous Christmas store (Käthe Wohlfahrt). The store has beautiful Christmas ornaments and decorations for sale but it is also just fun to walk through. There are dancing bears at the entrance, large Christmas trees, and a massive spinning Christmas Pyramid. Unfortunately, they have signs everywhere saying no pictures allowed so you will have to use your imagination. I am a HUGE Christmas decoration fanatic so I absolutely loved the store. The entrance to the Christmas Museum is also located within the store. We didn’t make it to the store until the end of the day so taking the little ones into the museum section wasn’t in the cards for us.

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For our final activity, we picked up some schneeballen for a snack. This is a pastry that is famous in the Rothenburg area. I had read a blog post about them before going and it stated that they were like donuts. No! They are not donuts. They are strips of pastry balled up and deep-fried. I felt like it was similar to fried wonton strips in ball form with toppings. I must say that I was not a fan but they are extremely popular and you can find them in just about every other store in town. This is one of the only places to get them so I say if you are in Rothenburg then just go for it and try it out. Oh and schnapps. They are known for their plum schnapps so get some of that too.

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There are several museums in town that we did not get a chance to see but may be worth it if you are visiting. There is a night watchman’s tour, which I have heard wonderful things about. They do an English version and a German version. We did not stay in Rothenburg for the night so we didn’t make it to this but if we ever come back it is on the top of our to do list. For this trip, we went at the end of October and there were not nearly as many tourists as we had anticipated. During our whole day there, we only saw one guided tour group (with the leader holding up the sign for everyone to follow). There were no crowds and no wait times at any of the main attractions.

Overall, we had a wonderful time in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It is as beautiful and as charming as people describe. If you are in Germany it should be on the top of your list of places to visit.

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