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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Copenhagen

I had been feeling pretty good about how well our little family has been traveling around. We’ve done car trips, train rides and airplane flights with minimal chaos. Of course, there has been some tantrums and blow out diapers but nothing too bad. Then we decided to fly to Copenhagen. I guess our time had come for the major travel meltdown.

The flight from Frankfurt to Copenhagen is about 1hr 15 minutes. O had stayed up late the night before (for no apparent reason) and woke up early. This was the warning for how the day was going to go. Being 3 is hard and he reminded us of this every moment of the day. There was a tantrum about what to wear, another tantrum for getting into the car, a tantrum about having to wait to get on the plane (our flight was delayed) and so on. You get the idea. It was a very rough flight. O had a meltdown starting at take off and didn’t calm down for almost 40 minutes. He wasn’t screaming the whole time but just easily upset and having little fits. The guy in the seat in front of us even tried to bribe him with cookies. On top of all of that, E is now officially mobile and she does not like to stay still for even a minute. She was trying to grab and touch everything (except the toys we brought her). It was absolute utter chaos. I was so happy to land and get off that plane.

We got our bags and headed straight to our Airbnb. After some rest and recovery, we were able to venture out into public again. Here is what we did in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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The Round Tower

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The round tower is home to Europe’s oldest functioning observatory, with the tower being completed in 1642. The real draw for tourists today is the view of the city from the top. Most towers with a view that you find in Europe require climbing up old, steep stairs (not child friendly). What makes the round tower unique is that there is a spiral ramp that wraps around a hollow core (7.5 times to be precise).

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It makes this tower child and stroller friendly (warning: there is one small flight of steep stairs at the very top). We lucked out and had a semi-sunny day.

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As mentioned above, the ramp wraps around a hollow core. For those of you feeling adventurous, you can step out onto a glass plate covering this hollow core. Gavin of course jumped right on. I stayed to the side but got a picture.

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This hollow core also happens to be Denmark’s zero point. This point was used to help make the first accurate map of Denmark. Final interesting fact about this core, it is 85ft from the glass plate to the ground (Yikes!). In 1880, a choir boy was playing hide and seek (a church is attached to the round tower) and fell down the core from the top!! He lay trapped (and unconscious for part of it) for almost a full day before being rescued. He lost a couple teeth but otherwise was unharmed. And now you know….

Rosenborg Slot

After leaving the Round Tower, we decided we needed a place for O to run off some extra energy. We noticed what appeared to be a park a few blocks down so we headed that way.

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What we had found was the King’s Garden (Kongens Have). It was a nice open area with lots of people picnicking. It was a rare sunny day in Copenhagen and everyone was taking advantage of the sunshine. Inside the park is a nice little playground. It has a dragon theme.

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The King’s Garden is here because so is the King’s Castle- Rosenberg Slot.

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We actually had no idea what this was until we got home later and looked it up. Apparently the crown jewels are in there.

On Saturday we ventured to downtown Copenhagen. Our goal was to see Tivoli Gardens but the park doesn’t open until 11am, which means extra morning time that needs to be filled for our busy toddler. We were using the Copenhagen Card (more about that later) so we decided to add a museum to our itinerary.

National Museum of Denmark

The National Museum of Denmark (Nationalmuseet) sits just a few blocks away from Tivoli Gardens. They have a children’s museum section and they open their doors at 10am. This was a nice way to get in an extra activity while enjoying some history. The children’s museum section is lots of hands exhibits.

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If you find yourself at the National Museum with your kiddos let me give you a couple quick pointers. First, you cannot take any bags into the museum (including diaper bags). There are lockers to the right at the entrance where you lock everything up. The baby changing station is also at the entrance. So you can clean up the kiddo and then lock everything up. Second, you are not allowed to bring your stroller into the museum. The museum provides their own strollers that you must use free of charge. I think this has to do with narrow spaces between exhibits. Finally, the children museum section is directly to the left when you enter. The entrance to this area is actually BEFORE the ticket counter. We went all around the museum looking for the children’s section and then as we were about to leave we noticed the entrance.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens is a large amusement park and garden in the middle of Copenhagen. It opened in 1843 and is thought to have inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland.

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The park has rides, gardens, concert venues, playgrounds and lots of restaurants. It is an interesting mixture. You can pay a basic entrance fee and then you can buy individual ride tickets or an unlimited ride pass. We opted not to do any rides during our visit but there was a nice variety of options.

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There was an amazing playground for the kids. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures. We were too busy having fun. After the playground, we found the pirate ship restaurant and of course we had to try that out.

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We only visited during the day but many reviews of Tivoli state that you should also visit at night as everything lights up and gives the park a whole new dimension.

On Sunday we made the trip out to the National Aquarium and we were not disappointed.

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This is Copenhagen’s large and new(er) aquarium. It is nestled on the bay right next to the airport. You can typically see the aquarium when you are flying in and out of the airport and it is supposed to look like a whirlpool from above.

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The aquarium is divided up into 5 parts and you can kind of pick the journey you would like to take. Most things are touch screen and you can select English as the language. I was super impressed by just how clean the entire aquarium is from top to bottom.

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The big draw at the aquarium is this massive tank with sharks, stingrays and other interesting tropical fish.

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You can go and sit right next to the glass and it feels like you are underwater. It was such an amazing experience.

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As you move out of this section of the aquarium, there is also a water tunnel to walk through. The huge stingrays seemed to have a path that traveled right over the far end of the tunnel.

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(E is not impressed because she has puffs)

The next section we visited was the rainforest. Again massive fish to be seen here but there were also plants and butterflies. Butterflies were absolutely everywhere and some of them were bigger than my hand.

We also made our way over to the touch and feel tank and O and I met a nice little starfish. There was a whole other section on native fish of Denmark but we got distracted by the outdoor playground. There was a huge water play area as well.

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We then got sidetracked by the play submarine on our way to lunch.

When we made it to the café, one of the main meal options was fish’n’chips. There is something odd about eating fish’n’chips at an aquarium but it was tasty.

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(note the pirate money he is still carrying around from the pirate ship the day before)

After spending the morning at the aquarium, we decided to head back to our rental apartment. However, on the way back we decided to make one final stop.

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Nyhaven

Nyhaven is the place you probably think about when you think Copenhagen.

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It is a beautiful little canal with colorful buildings. It is only a short walk away from the Metro stop so we thought we would check it out. Wow was it busy! It was a nice sunny Sunday afternoon and everyone apparently decided to head to the canal at the same time. We took some quick pictures and headed back to the metro.

If you were going to spend some time here, this is a good spot to pick up the canal tour boats. The Papirøen or Street Food Market is across the water from Nyhaven. There is a little pedestrian bridge that can get you there. We were hoping to do both of these during our visit but sometimes you have to surrender to the idea that you aren’t going to see everything with 2 kids in tow.

That was our quick weekend trip to Copenhagen!

(Oh and in case you were wondering, both kiddos fell asleep at take off and slept the entire flight back to Frankfurt!!)

Travel Details

This is some boring extra stuff that is only useful if you are thinking about heading to Copenhagen. We flew into Copenhagen. The airport is fairly small but is being extensively renovated at this time so it can be a bit confusing. At the airport you don’t go and check in at your airlines desk. You have to look on the sign and it will tell you what area to check in based on your flight. So for example, we had to check in with SAS airlines even though we were flying Lufthansa back to Frankfurt. Yeah it is weird. Also, Copenhagen does not do gate check of any kind. When we flew in from Frankfurt, we had gate checked our stroller but when we arrived in Copenhagen they said we could not get the stroller at the gate and it had something to do with how the gates are designed (not sure if this is going to change with the renovation). So instead what they have done is that the airport provides free strollers for you to use. There are regular black strollers or there are carts (kind of like a mini-shopping cart with the kiddo seat in the front). There are little corrals all over the place where you can pick one up. On the way to baggage claim there is a corral to drop off the stroller before you go down the escalator. Kind of a unique little set up. When we flew back to Frankfurt, we had to check in our stroller with our regular baggage (but no fee). You could take an umbrella stroller to the plane but it had to be the really small ones.

We stayed at an Airbnb in Copenhagen that was close to the Nørreport Station. This station is actually rather big and all the trains stop here, meaning the Metro and the S-train unlike the Central Station where only S trains travel (along with buses of course). Torvehallerne is also near the Nørreport Station. This is a popular food market. We ate here several times during our stay as they have everything from authentic Mexican food to freshly caught fish to fine chocolates. This made it easier for us in regards to finding food for our family of four. By staying close to a public transportation station, we were able to travel to everything by train or by foot. This was really nice for us, as it means no need to lug around car seats for the kiddos.

We used the Copenhagen card during the weekend. You can buy this card ahead of time online or buy it at the airport. We only had to get 2 adult cards and the kids were free. The card allows you unlimited transportation on all modes of public transportation and also gives you entrance into lots of different locations throughout the city. Everything we went to that is listed above was included on the Copenhagen card. We liked the idea of the card as we knew what we were going to spend on entertainment before we ever left for our trip and we didn’t have to worry about constantly getting train tickets while we were there. Anything that makes traveling with kiddos slightly easier is worth every penny to us.

Hope you enjoyed our travel story and hope some of this information helps if you decide to head to Copenhagen.

Barefoot Park

Last weekend we ventured to our first barefoot park (Barfuβpfad). The park was located in Bad Sobernheim, which is about an hour drive from our house. It was such a unique experience with lots of sensory and balance challenges for all.

When we first arrived, we parked in a parking lot of what appeared to be an abandoned building. We assumed we were lost (as usual) but our friend had arrived earlier and instructed us to follow the path to the park. There are white feet spray-painted onto the path to guide you were to go. There is a small fee to enter ( 4 euros per adult and kids under 3 are free). There is an outdoor locker area near the entrance. You can pay a euro to have a locker with key or you can leave your shoes on a shelf free of charge. There are absolutely no shoes allowed in the park.

Ok on to the good stuff. The first “obstacle” on the path was a muddy walking path.

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(walking up to the mud)

Notice O’s yellow shirt. Well that shirt didn’t last. O stepped onto the ramp to enter the muddy water area and slipped straight into the water getting completely soaked. It was a bit cold that morning so the cold water was definitely a shock for him. After some screaming, we made it to the other side of the mud pit and luckily we were prepared with a change of clothes for the kiddo. It was a rough start but after that first slippery mess it was all smooth sailing.

There were tons of balance obstacles like these moving planks. You can also see a balance board in the back.

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More water obstacles.

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Don’t worry we made it safely through this one and there was no mud. The park also did a great job of alternating between high sensory and low sensory items. For example after walking through the water hole that had large, hard river rocks, the next part of the path was soft grass.

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Here’s some wooden poles set up at different angles followed by soft sand as the contrast.

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As mentioned before it was a cool morning, so that cool sand felt amazing on your feet after walking over those harder surfaces. It really was a work out for the feet and calves both from a sensation standpoint and an actual muscular workout.

There were some more challenging areas in the park such as this river crossing.

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However, the park was set up so that you could always bypass something if it was too much. There is a bridge just past this river crossing area, which is where we made our crossing with the toddlers. All this talk of river crossing immediately makes me think of Oregon Trail (the computer game). Do you wish to ford the river? Don’t worry no oxen were harmed in the crossing of this river.

The trail through the park is just over 2 miles in length. There was always a different obstacle coming up so the kiddos never got bored along the way. There was also a playground toward the end of the route.

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The final obstacle was a long rope bridge or a boat that you pulled across using a pulley system. We opted for the rope bridge.

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There are benches and picnic tables throughout the park if you want to stop and have lunch or a snack. You can bring your own food in with you. There is a nice food area at the end, including beer and wine for sale. There was plenty of seating in this area overlooking the river.

Overall, we had a great time at the barefoot park. We are sure we will be visiting here again!

Luzern, Switzerland

July has been a busy month around here. We started off the month with O turning 3. We traveled to Drayton Manor in England to see Thomas Land for O’s big day. It was a little overwhelming for O but we made the best of it.

A few weeks later we turned around and headed to Switzerland to visit our friends from Maryland. They had come to Europe for a family wedding and were making a stop in Luzern (or Lucerne), Switzerland.

Luzern is a 4 hour drive from us. It is a town on the edge of a lake surrounded by the Alps. We stayed at an Airbnb cabin outside of town. It was just us and the cows.

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To get around, we invested in the Swiss Rail pass. The pass was expensive (as is absolutely everything in Switzerland) but ended up being worth it in the end. The pass included all travel by train, bus, boat and even gondola. The pass also provided entry into most museums for free or at a discounted rate.

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(E’s first train ride)

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(Riding the boat into Luzern)

Of course we visited the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke). It is the most famous spot in Luzern. The bridge was actually partially burned in 1993 after someone tossed a cigarette over the edge, landing in a boat, which in turn caught fire. This bridge has survived since the 17th century until one cigarette took it down. It has been mostly restored but a large portion of the paintings that had adorned the inside of the bridge have been lost.

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We also visited Mt Pilatus. We took the cograilway train up to the top. It claims to be the steepest cograilway in the world at 48% gradient. Great views along the way.

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You reach the top (2,132m or just shy of 7,000ft) and are greeted by great views of the Alps and also the city of Luzern and the lake. On the way down you can take the train or you can take the aerial tramway and then the gondolas.

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We opted for the tram and gondola option. The aerial tram was a unique experience. It is called the “dragon ride” and is supposed to give you the feeling of flying. I didn’t feel like I was flying but it does move very fast and smooth. The views are absolutely incredible.

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You have to get off the tram about 1/3rd of the way down and switch over to regular gondolas.

At the 2nd stop on the way down is a nice little playground. We have a knack of always finding the playgrounds when we travel.

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The next day we ventured to the Swiss Transportation Museum (Verkehrshaus). This museum was AMAZING! Super kid friendly, lots of activities and history/ education all mixed in. We spent the entire morning there and could have easily done another day there without repeating any activity. It was fun for kids and adults. If you are in Luzern, you need to go to this museum.

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After a day at the museum, we finished our trip with wandering the streets with our friends from Maryland. There was a festival in town, which means… meat on a stick! What a perfect way to end our quick trip to Switzerland. We hope to be back to Switzerland before our time here in Europe comes to an end.

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P.S. Swiss Chocolate is everything you hoped it to be and more. I wish we bought more.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen Part 2

Back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen we go.

Summer Solstice Fires

This one wasn’t a planned event, we just happened to be in the right area at the right time. Every year during the summer solstice, it is a tradition in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area and throughout Austria to light fires on the mountain. The tradition has been going on for centuries and it is absolutely breathtaking to see.

It starts out by you seeing all of these twinkling lights almost dancing along the crests of the mountain. Then suddenly these lighted images appear. There are all different images but a large cross was the one most visible to us. All of this was easily viewed from our cabin porch. We sat there completely stunned. First, shock at what in the world is going on. Then, amazement at what was happening in front of us. You slowly begin to realize that all of those twinkling dancing lights are people up on the crests of the mountains moving along and starting fires.

I am completely failing at describing this scene to you. It was so astounding to watch that I didn’t even think to grab my camera or move until the fires were beginning to fade. In that final moment, I snapped a quick picture with my cell phone.

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Obviously this is a terrible picture but I hope it motivates you to Google summer solstice fires, see some amazing photos and really appreciate this event.

Partnach Gorge

This is another classic place to visit if you are in the Garmisch area. To get to the Gorge you actually have to park in an old ski jump parking lot. How old you ask? Well actually it is the ski jump used in the 1936 winter Olympics that were hosted in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It is still used today but the stadium remains in its original form with some maintenance of course. There is actually a nice little café at the base of the jump which we enjoyed after our little hike.

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You walk through the stadium to get to the road that takes you to the gorge. There are signs in the stadium that lead you to the road and then you just have to follow everyone else up the road. You walk along a nice little stream. Of course there is a horse drawn carriage that can take you all the way to the entrance of the gorge but the walk is nice and not that difficult (though it was VERY hot the day we went with limited shade along the road). The Gorge has become something of a tourist hot spot and it now costs money to enter the gorge. This may sound crazy but check out the view.

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Unfortunately we didn’t spend too much time here because the kiddo had used up his energy walking in the heat. If we make it back to the Garmisch area, we will return to this Gorge and hopefully be able to enjoy more of the hiking paths in this area.

O’s Favorite things

No trip is complete without checking out some new playgrounds. Even the views from the playground were breathtaking.

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However, when we asked O what his favorite part of the trip was, the answer was playing in the rain.

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Family Photos

We also got some family photos taken. First time we have had our photos done by a professional photographer since the maternity photos we had done when I was pregnant with O. I can’t give away too much because the photos will be on our Christmas cards this year.

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Despite this long list of adventures, we really only touched the tip of the iceberg in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This is a nice ski area in the winter and there are lots of activities and areas we simply didn’t have time to see on this trip (I’m talking about you Innsbruck, Austria). We had a fantastic time and continue to enjoy our crazy European adventure. Cheers!

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Garmisch-Partenkirchen Part 1

At the end of June, we headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany along the Austrian border. It was our first glimpse of the Alps and it was spectacular. There are so many things to do in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area. Here is what we were able to see in our week there. I decided to break this post up into 2 different parts because, honestly, I babble on too much and there are a lot of photos to see!

Zugspitze

The Zugspitze is Germany’s highest mountain at 2,962 meters (a little over 9,700ft). Now that may not sound like much to our Pikes Peak friends, but let me tell you it is just as breathtaking. It is a sharp, steep mountain that rises from the valley floor. There is a cog railway train that takes you to the top and the view is of the Alps flowing into Austria.

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Of course we had to head to the top and we were not disappointed.

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At the “top of Germany”

Uncle Marcus (official title, kind of a big deal) was able to join us on this adventure.

Eibsee

On the way up to the top of the Zugspitze, we caught a glimpse of this beautiful lake. It was the Eibsee.We spent the next day on its shores. The water is unbelievably clear and an enchanting blue. There are hiking trails throughout this area and at the start of the lake there is a hotel, ice cream shop and a rental place to get a paddleboat, paddleboard, etc. Don’t worry this did not detract from the beauty and overall quietness of the lake. You could spend days here.

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This is a picture of O up to his waist in the water. You can barely tell he is sitting in water.

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The boys went out on the lake. The 2nd red dot is their paddleboat. Lucky for O, he had Uncle Marcus and Daddy to push him all around that lake. Ha!

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The girls stayed on shore.

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This lake is so special it has made it into our list of top destinations.

Ettal Abbey

This was a quick side trip we did spontaneously one day. It is an active Abbey and school however the big draw seems to be the beer. They brew a variety of beers on site and sell in the gift shop. The place is stunning including the inside of the church.

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However, I feel that it has turned into a tourist trap. Beautiful scenery, good beer, but don’t know if I would do it again. We went at the very end of the day and were able to avoid the rush as the last tourist bus was loading up as we got there.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle is probably the most famous castle in Germany. It is thought to be the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle.

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This is another super busy tourist area but if you have the chance you simply have to go. Once you arrive into the parking area (at the bottom of the hill) you have to decide if you are going to walk up or pay for a horse drawn carriage ride. It is a somewhat steep hike but worth it (there is a hiking path and a paved road). Takes 30-45 minutes.

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(view of the castle from the start of the path)

Hiking up to the castle doesn’t actually give you the greatest views. So you have to continue the hike up the hill to Mary’s Bridge. On the way up you will get a great view of Hohendchwangau Castle (try to say that 3 times).

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And views of the valley.

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When you finally make it to Mary’s Bridge you are greeted with this:

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Mary’s Bridge also happens to be a metal bridge with a wood platform. The wood bends and moves with the weight of all these people. I stepped on and NOPE! It totally freaked me out. I was on the bridge for maybe 30 seconds, had Marcus snap a picture and made a run back for solid ground. There is a beautiful waterfall sitting just below the bridge.

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However, everyone is there for this picture.

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Glad we went. Beautiful to see.

There are also tours of the castle that I have heard are fantastic. You must book them far in advance. We have 2 small children so …yeah…outside pics are good for us.

End of Part 1. Part 2 soon to come!

Luxembourg

Have you ever had one of those trips where you have everything planned and you know it is going to be a great trip? Then life suddenly gets in the way and everything gets jumbled. Well our trip to Luxembourg was one of those trips but we made the best of it.

Luxembourg is a small country tucked in among Germany, France and Belgium. Luxembourg City (the capital) is about a 2.5 hour drive from Wiesbaden. It has a small population with lots of open spaces and forests. It has the highest GDP in Europe and is the only Grand Duchy left in the world. It has an interesting history and was the site for major battles during World War II including the Battle of the Bulge. We planned our trip to include hiking and history.

Unfortunately, the day before our trip both of our kiddos came down with a fever. Off to the doctor to find out they were both fending off RSV (again!). Meds, breathing treatments and a follow up visit to the doctor the next day (which is the norm here). Our pediatrician always wants to see our kiddos again within the next day or 2 to make sure everything is going well and the treatment is working. Makes you feel better as a parent too knowing that they are double-checking. This was supposed to be day 1 of our trip but health comes first. After the check-up and the pediatrician encouraging us to go on the trip due to the “fresher air in Luxembourg”, we were off.

Luxembourg is a beautiful country. Rolling green hills, small quaint towns and a true “European” feel. We spent day 2 in the Echternach area. First, we visited Beaufort Castle.

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There is a nice hike leaving from the parking lot that goes around a small pond. You get excellent views of the castle and it is a dog friendly hiking area.

Then we visited Echternach Lake.

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Great time spent outdoors getting some fresh air.

On Day 3 of our trip, I had lots of fun and exciting things planned. However, we weren’t getting much sleep due to one fussy baby so we cut down our plans again and focused on seeing Clervaux Castle in northern Luxembourg. Clervaux Castle is actually the home of 3 museums: a small museum that houses replicas of all the Castles of Luxembourg, The Battle of the Bulge Museum and The Family of Man exhibit. The Family of Man exhibit is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the real star of the show, though it is worth going into all 3 museums as it only cost 11 euros for all 3.

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Clervaux is a pretty town with nice shops and cafes. Worth spending a day here if you have the time.

The final day of our short trip was Memorial Day. We visited the Luxembourg American Cemetery outside Luxembourg City to honor those who have given their lives for our freedom. This cemetery was beautifully maintained and it was a very moving experience. There are over 5,000 soldiers buried here. Among them are 22 sets of brothers and General Patton. All died during the Battle of the Bulge and other small battles in this area during World War II.

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You can’t help but be brought to tears when seeing a place like this in person. It really helps you put things into perspective.

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Our trip didn’t turn out as planned but it was still a great experience. We loved our time in Luxembourg and are already planning another weekend getaway to explore this country a bit more!

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Photo Fails

On our recent trip to the Netherlands, my husband and I had a funny little moment. We were driving around the tulip fields trying to find nice places to take some photos. We stumbled upon this beautiful field of yellow and red tulips. They were just stunning. We pulled over to get some pictures. I am the photographer in the family but there was one problem. I was trapped in the middle seat in the back of the van between 2 sleeping kiddos. There was no escape for me to get out of the car to take photos so I asked Gavin to go snap a couple photos of the fields. As he was getting out of the car I also shouted: “Don’t forget the purple field next to it!”

He gets out, walks down to the field, snaps some pictures and returns. We drive off and I start looking at the pictures he took. Here they are:

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Ummmm…. Really!! The 2nd picture is aimed at the road and the sign that says do not walk in this field. Ha! Luckily we were looping back on our route so I asked if we could stop at that same stop on the way back. Gavin agreed but said: “What my pictures weren’t good enough?”

Here are some of mine.

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That night we were looking at the photos taken for the day and we couldn’t help but laugh when comparing his photos to mine. We still joke about it.

This photo fail made me think about all the other photo fails we have had. Of course none of these photos make it onto Facebook or the blog. Until today!

The really terrible ones always get deleted right away (which I am going to try to stop doing) but here are some of the photo fails that survived. Some of them have actually become some of my favorite pictures.

Photo posted:

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Real life:

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That is Gavin’s “It is too early in the morning to be taking pictures” face. Don’t worry I asked him if it was ok to post this one. Haha!

This picture was posted on our Tulip blog:

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The picture before it was this:

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Nice photo Roxy. The picture directly after our “nice photo”

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A swarm of bugs had snuck up on them. Haha!

E obviously has been a focus of a lot of my pictures. Here is one of the pictures that made it online:

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Here are a couple that didn’t:

Yep she is falling over in one and has become intensely focused on her drool in the other. The drool one is actually one of my favorites. It is just real life. O was not a big drooler but E is and this photo will remind me of that even after they grow up.

Easter photos. This is the one that made it online:

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Here is another version:

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I have absolutely no idea what she is doing but it makes me laugh so it has been spared from the delete button.

Now you may have noticed there are no photo fails of me. The truth of the matter is that there are almost no photos of me period. This is an issue I think all moms face. We are always the face behind the camera and are rarely in front of it. I am going to make more of an effort this year to hand over the camera and get in front of it. I want my kiddos to remember me being in these moments with them. I want them to have pictures when I can no longer share the story with them.

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Looking back on all these photos makes me laugh and makes me think. The photo “fails” are sometimes the best picture because they really tell the story of what was going on. They tell of real life and funny moments. I am going to keep more of these photo fails and hit that delete button a little less. (Even for those really bad ones)