Tag Archives: adventure

Family Trip to Ireland, Part One: Dublin

Our trip to Ireland last week was one for the ages — we traveled with my parents, drove the entire breadth of the country in a 9-passenger van, and visited the farm where my grandfather grew up and where my mom’s cousins still live.  It was a multi-generational experience that we’ll never forget.

We started out in Dublin, which is where my Dad’s Dad was born.  Rather than go our normal Airbnb route, we found that hotel rooms were actually a better fit for this part of the trip.  Since we had four adults traveling, we could get two rooms and split the kids up.  We knew we’d be spending very little time in our rooms because the two days in Dublin were PACKED with activity, so having a kitchen wasn’t a necessity.  We stayed at the Jurys Inn Christchurch and the location was super convenient to everything.  And it included breakfast, which is always a bonus with my children who wake up starving every day.

We arrived in Dublin mid-afternoon and got lunch at a cool restaurant called Bull and Castle near our hotel.  We walked around a bit, strolled along the Liffey River that runs through the city, walked across the famous Ha’Penny Bridge, and did a bit of shopping on Grafton Street (which Bridget was super excited about because it’s mentioned in her new favorite song, Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran).  Then we headed to Croke Park, a huge 80,000-seat stadium in Dublin, to watch a Gaelic football match!  This was the first time in all our travels that we’ve gone to a sporting event, but I don’t think it will be the last.  It was so much fun!  My Mom’s Dad played Gaelic football in the 1940s for a team in Galway called the Tuam Stars and he used to play in Croke Park — it was absolutely amazing to see the stadium and know my grandfather played there when he was young.  Gaelic football is also really exciting to watch; it’s fast and requires a level of athleticism and agility that is incredible to watch.  Everyone was totally into it — we had a great time.

The next day, which was actually my Dad’s birthday, we did a Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour.  We’ve done these in a few places, and although it’s definitely tourist-y and a bit cliched, I think it’s one of the best ways to get an overview of a city, learn some history, and be able to choose which sites you want to see in more depth.  Dublin is not a huge place, so we were able to see the entire city and get off at a bunch of cool stops to explore. 

The first place we went was to Phoenix Park, which is 7x the size of Central Park in Manhattan, and home to the Dublin Zoo and the Irish White House.  In the park is a herd of “wild” Fallow Deer that was originally established in 1660.  They roam the park at will, but because they are so used to people, they’re not skittish and we were able to walk right up to the herd.  Another family there had a bag of carrots with them which they shared with us and we were able to hand-feed the deer — it was like being in a Disney movie! 

We got lunch at a tea room in the park, then hopped back on the bus and headed to Trinity College, where we walked through the gorgeous library and saw the Book of Kells.  Somehow the boys had all learned about the process by which scribes created books like the Book of Kells and they were all excited to see it and were telling me how it was created and decorated before we even got inside.  Any time my kids get excited by history and start teaching me what they’ve learned, I consider it a win.  The library itself is just breath-taking.  I totally had ceiling envy the whole time.

Then we hopped back on the bus and took it to the Guinness Storehouse where we had a tour of the brewery and a pint in the Gravity Bar, a 360-degree glass room at the top of the factory tower overlooking the whole city.  The tour was really cool and even the kids loved it — it was really visually interesting, full of cool facts and information, and the perfect birthday outing for my Dad.

Dublin was a really cool city — it felt very international and we heard tons of different accents and languages being spoken as we walked around.  Because it’s fairly small, I think you could get to know it really well pretty quickly. And there were so many fantastic shops and restaurants that we saw and wanted to explore but just couldn’t fit them in just two days.  I would love to go back again.  I think we all would!

For the next part of our Ireland adventure, we picked up a 9-passenger van and headed west to Killarney, Galway, and Connemara!  Coming soon!

The Halfway Point

Tomorrow marks 18 months since we moved to England.  We’re here for another 18 months before we head back to America.  This is the halfway point. And still I sometimes can’t believe we’re even here and we made this happen.  I love living in England,I truly do.  I love that we did this big thing and we’ll always remember it and it changed us in so many good ways.

I even don’t mind the weather; I can deal with grey chilly winters with a great deal more tolerance and grace than I can handle humid, sticky summers with 95+ degree temps. 

We’ve already done so much in our first 18 months here, but we really do have even more left that we want to do.  I’m glad we’ve got another 18 months, but even with that time I doubt we’ll ever do everything on “the list”.  Mostly because the list grows faster than we can check items off of it.

It’s astounding to me to look back at the first few weeks and months we were here and realize how insanely overwhelmed I was.  I didn’t really comprehend it at the time, because when you’re really inundated, you just do what you have to do without processing it too much.  But then I read my journal or this blog and I can hear the notes of panic behind my voice back then.

Not anymore, though.  Now it’s just normal here. 

I’m used to the insanely narrow roads and the slightly different version of English.  I love the longer school days and the longer school year and the much longer school breaks.  I know that we must take advantage of sunny weather anytime we have it because it doesn’t happen all that often.

I know now that every pub in the country serves a Sunday roast ONLY on Sundays, really there are no other restaurant options that day.  That there’s always fish on Fridays.  That tea isn’t just the drink, but also a term for an early dinner.  That pudding means dessert of any type.

I know that sweaters are jumpers and sneakers are trainers and pants are trousers and underwear are pants.

I know that we’re all expected to just get on with things, regardless of the weather or the complications or the extenuating circumstances.  Stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on, and all that.

I also know that my kids are amazingly adaptable and will rise to any challenge.  That they embrace whatever they’re doing and wherever they are with open arms and their whole hearts.  I know they can and will be fine anywhere they go, because I’ve seen them adapt and overcome and assimilate.

I know, too,  that Matt and I can get through difficult things with a reasonable amount of humor and cooperation.  We can navigate through really, really confusing times and we can fake it till we make it, and we always do it together.  I love that.

More than anything else, more than the amazing travel and the incredible schools, what I know and love is that we’re doing something that has forever changed us and will forever stay with us.  We are different today than we were when we got on that plane in August of 2015, and the things we’ve done and learned and experienced have shaped us into more well-rounded, adventurous, adaptable, happier, more open-minded people.  No matter where we go or what we do for the rest of our lives, these years in England will stay with us.

Here’s to another 18 months, and to all the adventures behind and ahead.

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Visiting the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix, France

The Aiguille du Midi is a gondola ride that goes from the village of Chamonix seemingly vertically to almost the tip top of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps.  This single experience was, without a doubt, one of the very coolest things I’ve ever done in all my life.  I cannot recommend it highly enough; none of us will ever forget it.

When we planned our trip to Chamonix, this was the only thing besides skiing that we felt was a MUST DO.  But, because the gondola can only operate in the right weather conditions, we almost didn’t get the chance.  We spent the first two days of our trip skiing; overnight that second night, the weather in Chamonix turned and it snowed.  When we woke up on Sunday morning, we went to the ticket office and were told that because of the snow and high winds, the gondola wasn’t open yet and to check back at 10:30AM.  We were totally bummed, but went and got some hot chocolate and croissants while we waited for the next update.

When we got back, thankfully the ride was opening!  The sky had cleared, the clouds had lifted, and we were on our way.

The ride up takes about 20 minutes, with a stop halfway where you switch from one car on the lower set of cables to a second car on the higher set.  The village of Chamonix sits at about 1035m above sea level (2277 ft); the first half of the gondola ride takes about 10 minutes and seems like a fairly gentle incline — rising up to 2317m (5097 ft).  The second half of the ride takes you up to 3777m (8310 ft).  Our ears popped and Gabe was freaking out a little bit, but that’s what Gabe does.  Then we got on the second cable car and looked up.  And then Gabe wasn’t the only one freaking out a little bit.

I thought for sure that there must be another relay point we just couldn’t see between where we were and the top; looking at the cable stretching up in front of us I felt completely sure that there was no way on earth that we were going to follow that line straight up.  It looked physically impossible.  And yet, that is what we did. 

As we glided over the snowy, rocky mountainside, sitting in a metal box dangling from a metal rope hundreds of feet above the ground, I felt this weird combination of exhilaration and fear.  We were hanging in space, suspended over a mountain and a glacier.  It was both breath-takingly gorgeous and spine-chillingly terrifying.  As we rose, the gondola swung a bit each time we passed one of the three pylons holding the cable aloft (one of which is 70m tall!).  Each time, everyone in car gasped a little.  There was a general sense of amazement and a feeling like everyone there was holding their breath.  It was intense.

At the top, we stepped out of the cable car and had to walk across an open air bridge…

…that looked across this incredible vista…

…and up at our eventual destination. 

The wind was absolutely whipping and it was about -15C and within 5 seconds my hands were numb and stinging.  On the other side of the bridge we went into a bit of a tunnel carved out of the ice.  In there were a few mountain climbers who had taken the Aiguille du Midi UP, but were making their way DOWN on their own.  They had ropes and ice picks and gear that I can’t identify and were attaching crampons to their boots and they were going to go OVER THAT GUARDRAIL and climb down the mountain. 

I made the children promise right then and there that if they love me they will never, ever do that.

We walked through the building to an elevator that brought us up to the very top.  Because of the altitude, everyone’s ears were popped and it was, to be absolutely honest, a bit hard to breathe normally.  We all had headaches off and on, and I got dizzy walking up the scariest staircase on the planet, all metal and snowy and hanging off the edge of a mountain.  But it was 100% worth it for what came next.

When you stand at the top of the world and look out, you feel both tiny and immense.  The Alps stretched out beyond us in every direction forever and ever; at that moment we could see France, Italy, and Switzerland all in one panorama.

It was a perspective change that you don’t forget.  We are these specks on the Earth, so insignificant in comparison to the mountain.  And yet, there we are, standing at the top.

The last part of our tour was called Step Into Void.  It’s a glass box built off the side of the building that hangs out over a 1000m drop.  In order to convince my brain that it was okay to walk out there, I had to look straight ahead.  Once I was in the box, I looked down, and even though I am not afraid of heights, I felt my knees go a little weak.  I may have cursed out loud.

Bridget was the only one who, throughout the entire experience, never hesitated, never felt a tingle of fear; she loves this stuff, eats it up.  She’s the one I’m going to have to worry about going over guardrails and climbing down icy mountains. 

Owen went in the box, but only with Matt beside him.  Quinn declined entirely.  And Gabe, who spent the entire time up until that point near tears with fear and anxiety, watched the rest of us Step into the Void with his back against the opposite wall, refusing to even look.  And then, when everyone else had gone, quietly asked if he could have a go.  He’d worked up the courage; he knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime.  And he slid out into the glass room, looked out and down and up and raised his hands in triumph. 

And I thought, “THIS.  THIS IS WHY WE TRAVEL.  THIS IS WHY WE DO THESE THINGS.”

Even if we hadn’t skied, the trip to Chamonix would have gone to the top of my list of favorite destinations for this single experience alone.  It was inspiring, it was humbling, it was exciting.  If you can go, you should go.

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A Weekend in Paris

Rainy Paris

At the end of May my kids had a school break that coincided with a long weekend for Matt, so we decided to make the most of it and head to Paris for the weekend.  Since we’d done so many tourist-heavy things in Italy, much of not really child-centered, we wanted to make this weekend mostly for the kids and spend two of the three days in Disneyland Paris.

Overall the weekend was fine.  We enjoyed it and all the children want to go back to Paris.  But let’s just say that not every trip can go perfectly.

We arrived late on Friday night and had a car service booked to take us to an Airbnb just outside the Disney park.  Since we arrived so late, the property manager had left our keys and instructions with the host at a restaurant near the apartment.  We arrived, picked up our packet, and followed the directions to the property.  When we got to the correct floor and looked for apartment #222 as was listed in our instructions, we found that the apartment numbers only went as high as 210.  Reluctant to try the keys in multiple doors in case people were in those apartments and thought we were breaking in, we checked #202 just in case that was the typo, and were unable to get in.  Unfortunately, our phones weren’t working either, despite having gone to the service provider earlier in the week to make sure we knew the procedure for getting data and cell service abroad.

It was about 10:30PM, so we found a restaurant with WiFi and emailed and texted the phone numbers for the property managers.  But, since it was 10:30PM on a Friday night, we doubted we’d hear back.  With no other options, we searched online for a nearby hotel.  Thankfully, because we were so close to Disney, there were plenty of options.  We walked to the closest one, paid double what the Airbnb had cost us for a night, and finally got into a room and put down our suitcases at about midnight.  The big reason we always use Airbnb is that, with six family members, one hotel room is usually not big enough.  This hotel DID have a suite that slept us all, gratefully, but we paid a pretty penny for it.  At that point in the night, though, we had no other option and were just grateful the hotel had vacancies.

Sometime in the middle of the night, the property manager obviously got my message and responded saying she was sorry about the mix-up and hoped we had figured it all out.  No correct apartment number included. 

The next morning I saw the message and I was pissed.  My response was that NO, we had not figured it all out, still had no idea what apartment we were supposed to be in, and had had to pay for a hotel room.  Eventually she got us the correct info and we made our way back to the apartment building and got inside.  Unwilling to let the delays destroy our weekend, we hopped on the train at a nearby station and took the 35-minute ride into Paris.

From that point, the day was lovely; the children loved the city and so did Matt, who had also never been.  We strolled the banks of the Seine, saw Notre Dame, toured an underground ruin, and had a yummy lunch.  We walked miles and the kids never complained.

kids at Louvre

Having checked the weather forecast before leaving for Paris, we knew the whole weekend looked very rainy.  We came prepared in waterproof coats, and the temps were only in the 50s.  Paris is lovely in any conditions, so we didn’t let the occasional drizzle stop us.  We walked BY the Louvre, stopping outside to check out the fountains and the pyramid, but we didn’t go in.  We strolled through the Jardin du Tuileries, let the kids ride the carousel and play on the playground, and had a delicious pastry-break at Angelina Paris where we drank the most delicious hot white chocolate imaginable.  After our snack, we caught a ride in a giant, motorized bike taxi (that fit all of us!) down to the Eiffel Tower. 

Standing under the Eiffel Tower for the first time is pretty awe-inspiring.  Nevermind the fact that it’s one of the most famous sites in the world, it’s sheer size is just so much more massive than I ever anticipated.  It’s just huge and incredible.  Watching the kids and Matt’s amazement as they saw it for the first time was even better than seeing it myself.

Gabe at Eiffel Tower

Because we’d planned this trip pretty late, tickets for the Eiffel Tower had been all sold out online for the day we’d be there.  But the rainy, cold weather worked in our favor and when we arrived at the base of the tower, there were no lines at all!  We walked right up, purchased tickets, and started climbing.  We made it to the second level, where there’s a shop and a restaurant and some really cool views, but the line to get all the way to the very top WAS quite long.  With the fog and rain, we also doubted the view would be much better.  Walking up the Eiffel Tower was one of my favorite adventures yet because we’d been so sure we wouldn’t be able to do it, it was a fantastic surprise when we could.

climbing the eiffel tower

Coincidentally, an old friend of mine from high school was also in Paris that weekend, so we met him and his girlfriend for dinner.  As we sat in the restaurant, the drizzle turned to real rain, and the rain turned into a downpour.  We caught a cab to the train station to make our way out of the city back toward Disney, and the rain just kept on falling.

We spent the next two days soaking wet right to the bone in Disneyland Paris.  We made the very best of it — we went on tons of rides and had lots of fun — but that kind of weather makes it hard to really enjoy the scenery.  I don’t think I could tell you what most of the park looks like, because I spent the whole two days with my hood up and my head down as we walked between rides.  We laughed and splashed in puddles and tried to remain positive, we hung our wet clothes to dry overnight, and we did it all again for a second day, but it was certainly not the trip of our dreams.

Disney Paris

By Wednesday, after we’d been home a few days and the rain in France continued to fall, we watched the news report historic flooding in Paris as the Seine crested its bank and the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay were forced to move art from certain parts of the museums to save it from the rising waters. 

In the end, it was a good trip and it proved that conditions don’t have to be ideal for us to have a good time.  Not every trip can go smoothly from start to finish.  Now we just need to go back to Paris and enjoy it in the sunshine!


Also, a weekend in Edinburgh and a girls’ weekend in Paris!


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