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.

IMG_0129

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.

IMG_0134

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.

IMG_3408

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.

IMG_0137

 

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.

IMG_6862

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.

IMG_0141

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

IMG_3267

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.

IMG_6865

IMG_6878

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

IMG_6870

IMG_6884

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.

IMG_3302

IMG_3308

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.

IMG_3410

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.

IMG_6923

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.

IMG_6915

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

IMG_6918

It didn’t seem to bother the kiddos.

IMG_6919

IMG_6916

Plus look at the view.

IMG_6909

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

IMG_3297

I just cannot get over the beauty of this place.

IMG_3298

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.

IMG_3410

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.

IMG_3292

IMG_3383

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.

IMG_3381

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.

IMG_3209

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.

IMG_3273

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.

IMG_3406

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!

IMG_3278

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

IMG_3319

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

IMG_6905

IMG_6904

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!)

IMG_3387

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.

IMG_3260

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

IMG_3254

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.

IMG_3411

E was more than happy to meet everyone

fullsizeoutput_427e

IMG_3413

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.

IMG_3219

IMG_3215

Through Pirate Night and including the Princess and Pirates Dance Party

IMG_3401

IMG_3399

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.

IMG_3269

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.

IMG_3385

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!!

IMG_6885

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.

fullsizeoutput_3f54

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.

fullsizeoutput_3f38

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.

fullsizeoutput_3f51

(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.

IMG_2835

(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.

fullsizeoutput_3f27

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.

fullsizeoutput_3f1f

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!

fullsizeoutput_3f6f

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.

IMG_2847

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?)

IMG_2853

IMG_2858

IMG_2861

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

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

IMG_2854

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.

fullsizeoutput_3f56

(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!

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.

IMG_2417

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!!

IMG_0232

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

IMG_2437

The next destination was the carousel in Piazza della Repubblica.

IMG_2423

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!

IMG_2434

IMG_0234

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.

IMG_2438

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.

IMG_6654

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.

IMG_6660

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.”

IMG_6651

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.

IMG_6692

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.

IMG_6679

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.

IMG_6687

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

IMG_6676

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.

IMG_6677

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

IMG_6702

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!

IMG_6671

Tuscany Part 1

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

.IMG_6644

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.

IMG_6647

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.

IMG_6610

Piazza del Campo

IMG_6615

O’s favorite activity

IMG_0201

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.

IMG_6627

Duomo di Siena

IMG_6643

Facciatone

IMG_0196

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.

We finished our day with a picnic on the Piazza. IMG_6620

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.

IMG_0212

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!

IMG_0211

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).

IMG_2382

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.

IMG_2388

IMG_2392

Of course we also ran around the piazza:

IMG_2394

Saw the church.

Most importantly, we ate gelato.

IMG_2402

A nice way to end the day.

IMG_2384

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!

IMG_0219

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

 

 

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.

IMG_1913

The Round Tower

IMG_1332

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).

IMG_1316

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.

IMG_1319

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.

IMG_1331

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.

IMG_1339

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.

IMG_1343

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

IMG_1354

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.

IMG_1822

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.

IMG_1860

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.

fullsizeoutput_3848

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.

IMG_1835

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.

Den Blå Planet

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.

IMG_1862

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.

IMG_1865

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

IMG_1869

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

IMG_1873

IMG_1877

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.

IMG_1890

IMG_1893

(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.

IMG_1901

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.

IMG_1908

(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.

IMG_1911

Nyhaven

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

IMG_1914

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.

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.

IMG_1594

IMG_1595

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.

IMG_1604

(E’s first train ride)

IMG_1701

(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.

IMG_1588

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.

IMG_1608

IMG_1611

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.

IMG_1617

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.

IMG_1626

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.

IMG_1657

IMG_1656

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.

IMG_1677

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.

IMG_1703

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

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.

IMG_6353

IMG_6333

IMG_6338

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.

IMG_1403

IMG_1401

IMG_1397

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.

IMG_6372

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.

IMG_6379

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.

IMG_6377

IMG_6378

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!

IMG_6367

Tulip Tour

We had conquered flying as a family of four. The next logical step was our first road trip as a family of four. Destination: Netherlands.

IMG_6248

We decided to head up north to see the tulips in bloom. It is about a 4 ½ hour drive that only took us 10 hours. I am not kidding. We left the house at 9am and got to our Airbnb place at 7pm. That was due in part to a lengthy lunch break that included eating, playing at the playground and walking the dog. Oh yeah, we brought the dog too because when you are in this deep why not. We also got stuck in some traffic in the Rotterdam area and we decided to stop at Kinderdijk.

Kinderdijk is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located outside of Rotterdam. It is a collection of the iconic windmills that have become a trademark of the Netherlands.

IMG_6249

We got there in late afternoon (later than planned) and Holy Tourist! That place was packed. There were tour buses everywhere. Tulip time is prime time in these parts. The funny thing is that most of the tourists were Americans. Gavin even stated: “It is almost refreshing to hear a Southern accent. Haven’t heard that in a while.” Ha!

IMG_1222

(We weren’t being tourist at all. Ha!)

The site was lovely but we did a quick tour version as A) too many tourists B) we were approaching the witching hour (aka toddler meltdown time). I would highly recommend going during the off-season but still worth a trip.

IMG_6258

When we finally did make it to our Airbnb we were happy to find a nice little studio apartment located directly on a canal in the town of Alphen aan den Rijn. O loved looking out the window and watching the boats go by.

IMG_1229

The next day we made it out to the tulip fields. The most popular route is between the towns of Lisse and Haarlem. There is also the popular Kuekenhof Gardens in Lisse, which is known world-wide. However, we had been warned that it is insanely crowded during this time of year so we opted not to go. When we drove by the gardens at 9am there were already at least 100 buses in the parking lot with a long line waiting to get in to park and the rest of the parking lot looked 75% full. Instead, we opted to drive around the small towns and make our own route. We were able to find some great spots but only got pictures of a few fields.

IMG_6285

IMG_6286

IMG_6278

IMG_6274

IMG_6297

For the rest of the weekend, we spent our time exploring different areas close to our rental home. The seashore was not too far so Gavin made a request for a quick trip to see the North Sea.

IMG_6308

IMG_6302

IMG_6329

Netherlands is a really unique and beautiful place. We plan to visit again.

IMG_1243

Traveling as a Family of Four

The time had come. Time for us to dive in to flying with two kiddos under 3. Here’s how it went down.

Our first flight as a family of 4 was to London to see Gavin’s cousin get married. Quick trip and only 1 hour and 15 min flight. What could go wrong?

IMG_0905

(Umm… we are just going for a long weekend right??)

We got to the airport with no trouble. We have a fancy new stroller (Chicco’s Bravo for 2 stroller) that holds both kiddos so no one is running around dangerously as we maneuver through parking lots and crowds. We get to Lufthansa’s check-in desk. Everything is going smoothly so far.

Lufthansa actually has a family check-in desk at the Frankfurt airport, which is nice in theory. However, when we got in line we got to stand and witness the slowest moving person I have ever seen. Have you seen the movie Zootopia? You know the sloth that works at the DMV? This check-in lady was the real life version of that sloth. I wasn’t even mad (we had plenty of time). I was more amazed by her dazzlingly slow movements. Words fail me in describing the scene.

We finally get checked in and head to security and this is where things started to head south. The nice security people let us skip to the front of the line with our kiddos. We get all of our stuff up on the belt to go through the X-ray. Last step is to get E out of her car seat so it can go through. I pick her up and I instantly feel wetness on my hand. Oh. No. Say it isn’t so. We are ushered over to the metal detector. At this point, O has decided that all of the security staff are scary and starts screaming. The security guard then asks me to hand E to my husband so I can go through the detector first and then the kids can go through. Poor Gavin! Like a champ he is holding O in one arm (mid-tantrum) and is holding wet from unknown causes E in the other arm. I wish I could have taken a picture. I go through, I get handed wet baby and then they decide to pat us down. Luckily for the security lady she was wearing gloves because E was sharing that wet grossness with everything she touched.

O then comes through (still screaming) and they pat him down, causing even louder screams. At this time, we are officially making a scene. You must remember that German children never make any noise in public. Seriously…never. It is like the Loch Ness monster. You have heard stories and maybe seen a blurry photo or 2 but no one has actually seen in real life a German child throwing a fit in public. It is simply not done. We are not German though. We are Americans and we are experts at tantrum throwing in public. EXPERTS!

We survive the security point and make it out with all of our belongings and most of our pride. Next up was a mad dash to the nearest bathroom to fix the massive blow out from E. Please refer back to my traveling with toddler blog as my Ziploc bag obsession and a stashed additional outfit saved the day.

The Frankfurt airport is actually very family friendly and there are family bathrooms everywhere. The one I stepped into had a changing area, a seat for breastfeeding, adult and child height sinks and a stall that had 2 toilets in it (one adult and one child size). I felt like it was well thought out.

The flight for the most part was uneventful. A couple crying episodes with take off, ears popping and landing but overall a smooth flight. The flight attendants gave O a puzzle and E a small stuffed animal. They also gave us a booklet documenting all the info of E’s first flight. Lufthansa did a great job and I am glad we used them for our first flight with E.

We had a great time visiting family in London and the return trip went much smoother. The travel gods must have thought we had enough the first round.

Nothing left to do now except book our next flight