Tag Archives: travel

Spring

It’s officially spring, although the weather everywhere I look seems not to have gotten the memo.  The garden is popping up some spring-y looking surprises, but England generally doesn’t feel really like spring until at least late May, so it’s not quite time to put away the scarves and heavy coats yet. (Matt got overly optimistic yesterday though and, fooled by the sunshine, wore his spring coat to watch Gabe’s soccer match.  He regretted every single minute of that decision.)

We’re finishing up our second-to-last term of school here, with one more week to go until Easter break (which lasts 3.5 weeks!).  Then we’ve got one last crazy, full term of school to go until we move back to the U.S.

It’s going to fly by.

We’ve got four (!) more trips planned before we head back across the pond.  Plus this last term of school is always the busiest with sports, school plays, awards days, sports days, and other end-of-year activities.  Looking at the calendar with Matt the other night, we realized we only have a few weekends left with no plans.  It’s insane.

We’re going to Barcelona next week.  Venice for a long weekend in April.  Bruges and Amsterdam at the end of May.  And Athens for five days when school gets out in July. 

Then we’re flying home.

The Grand Adventure is coming to an end. A new one is beginning, I know, but man this chapter of our lives was exceptional. 

Until we get on that plane though, we’re ekeing out all the England we can.  Spring means cricket matches, school play practices, late sunsets and fire pits on the patio instead of in the living room, Easter break, flowers in the garden, and slightly warmer rain. It means bright yellow and green farm fields and baby lambs on every hillside.  The Queen’s birthday and a Royal Wedding this year! 

Long may it last.

Alpine Road Trip, Part Two

Usually, Matt and I plan a trip to the minute; both of us are Type A planners and having no itinerary for a trip is not an option.  We plan in “down time” (of course we do) and pad all our timetables with at least 20 minutes on each end because we’re not new and we travel with four kids.  But it’s a rare thing to not have a plan at all for a full afternoon on a trip with Matt and I.

Thank the gods for small blessings, though.

During our tour of Neuchwanstein Castle, we realized that not far from us was a town called Tegelberg, where a cable car would take us up the mountain for some really cool views and an alpine coaster (which we loved in Chamonix!).  We cabbed it from Neuchwanstein over to Tegelberg and it was one of the most amazing things we’ve done in all our travels yet!

We took the cable car up the mountain (not nearly as steep or dramatic as the one to Aiguille du Midi, but really amazing anyway).  At the base of the mountain it had been warmish – probably in the low 50s.  At the top, though, there was snow everywhere and we had somehow crossed a threshold into an alpine wonderland.

Looking in one direction we could see green fields surrounding this huge, calm lake, and then when you turned to look in the other direction, it was just snow-capped mountains and evergreens.  The contrast was astounding.

We had lunch at the cafe at the top of the mountain – more wiener schnitzel and fries, and some good German beer – and took a walk around.  There were lots of hiking trails heading up into the mountains, but unfortunately none of us was dressed for a wintery, snow-covered path and we had to skip the hike.  We did see two para-gliders take off though.  They just ran off the edge of the mountain and floated away.  It looked so serene; I’d never considered trying that, but now that I’ve seen it, I think I’d like to give it a go one day.

We took another cable car ride back to the bottom of the mountain and we all had a round on the alpine coaster.  So interesting to see how my children react differently to being in charge of their own speed on this sort of thing – it’s funny to see who the daredevils are and who is more cautious. (And it’s not who you’d expect.)

The next day we got back in the van and headed to Stuttgart.  Matt had work there for a few days, so his parents and the kids and I did some touring on our own.  On the first day, we visited the Mercedes Benz Museum, which was in walking distance from our hotel.  Although I am not really a car person by any stretch of the imagination, this was one of the best museums I’ve visited!

The museum was certainly centered around the cars, but it traced the evolution from the very earliest horseless carriages up to the present day, and tied the automobiles into what was happening across Germany and around the world at the time they were made. 

We each had an audio tour which had three listening options: a more technical one for the car fanatics, a general one related to the history of the time, and a children’s one that simplified everything and told a few stories about the cars and the time periods in which they were built.  It was a fantastic learning experience and the actual cars were pretty amazing too.

One of the funny highlights of our time in Stuttgart was that our hotel room had a sauna in it, which the kids loved!  They’d never been in one before, and they couldn’t stay in very long, but they loved using it and now we all want one in our house!

We were also lucky enough while we were in Stuttgart to have dinner two nights at friends’ houses; Matt has work colleagues based there who hosted us two nights in a row and it was really great to take a break from restaurants, hang out with friends, and just let the kids play.  Plus, both nights we had great views of the city and some stunning sunsets!

We had one more stop on our road trip – Colmar, France – and I loved it so much it’s getting it’s own post!  Coming soon.  (Part one of the Alpine Road Trip!)

Alpine Road Trip, Part One

Over the kids’ school break in October, we took a road trip through Austria, Germany & France.  Matt’s parents joined us and together the eight of us drove 500+ miles in a 9-passenger van through three countries. 

Matt navigated and I drove; traveling the mountain passes through the Alps in the snow in a giant manual-transmission van is not something I’ll ever forget.  It was just a tiny bit stressful, but the views were worth it (although I didn’t see all of them as I was white-knuckle driving with my eyes glued to the tractor trailer filled with timber in front of us).  It was really fun to have Matt’s parents along for the trip too – they’d never been to Austria or Germany and it was good for them to see the kids in traveling-action!   

We started off in Salzburg, Austria but made a side trip just over the border into Germany to visit Kehlsteinhaus – Hitler’s Eagles Nest – atop a mountain near Obersalzberg.  A harrowing bus ride up the side of a mountain on roads with essentially no guard rails brought us to the lower level of the mountain fortress. 

We took an elevator ride up through the center and came out at the top of the world. 

While we were eating lunch in the rooftop restaurant, our clear views disappeared and a snow storm rolled in.  It was amazing to see how quickly the weather changed.

That night we had dinner in the oldest restaurant in the world, called St. Peter Stiftskulinarium.  It has been in operation continuously since 803 A.D.  (There is a restaurant in China that contests the “oldest” claim, saying that they have been in operation for 6 years longer.  However the Chinese restaurant has some gaps in their paperwork, while the Austrian restaurant can prove continuous operation with no gaps for over 1200+ years.) 

The food was amazing and we found the kids all have a strong affinity for wiener schnitzel.  The experience was incredible, and Salzburg was lovely.

Before leaving Salzburg the next day, we did a little self-guided tour of some of the locations from the Sound of Music.  I would have loved to have done the real tour, but they were quite long and pretty expensive and not every member of our traveling party is quite as obsessed with the movie as I am (although Gabe is, so at least I have one partner to sing Do-Re-Mi and dance around with).

As we drove from Austria toward Germany, we stopped with a plan to hike Lammerklamm Gorge.  The rain and cold made the hike a little treacherous though, so we didn’t quite make it all the way to our destination.  Instead, we managed a shortened walk in the rainy Alpine forest that, while damp, was gorgeous nonetheless.

I was itching to keep going, but common sense won out and we cut the hike short.  If (when) I ever get back to Austria, though, completing that hike is at the top of my to-do list.

We continued on to Fussen, Germany, a town near Neuchwanstein Castle.  Neuchwanstein is a destination I’d wanted to see for years and years and I’d built it up in my head so much that I was actually nervous that it couldn’t live up to my expectations. 

I needn’t have worried; it was magical.  A horse-drawn carriage ride up the mountainside brought us to the castle entrance and we took a guided tour. 

One of the things I’ve loved most about our European travels is watching the kids on these sort of tours; they listen and learn and soak it up and get excited about random things and it’s like every hard bit of parenting becomes worth it as you watch them just immersed in history and different cultures.  Watching them is more fun than the tour itself.

Outside the castle we walked some of the trails and took in the insane scenery. 

We made our way onto the Marienbrucke – a bridge over the gorge surrounding the castle.  It was wobblier than I would have liked but it was worth the view.

There were tons of trails that led over the mountains, down into the valley below, and all over the countryside – we had no idea or we would have planned for more time to explore them!

Next: Tegelberg, Stuttgart & Colmar!

Menorca, Spain

I had to turn the heat on in my house today because it was so cold I couldn’t feel the tip of my nose.  While I waited for the radiators to heat up so I could lean against them and get warm, I flipped through the photo album from our summer trip to Menorca. 

Beaches and sunshine — even just in photos  — made me warmer.

Menorca is an island off the coast of Spain, the less-well-known sister to Ibiza and Mallorca. 

Quaint and relaxed and pristine, this was one of the most ruggedly beautiful places we’ve been. 

With a pool in the back yard of our fantastic Airbnb and two beaches within a five-minute walk from our house, this quick 4-day trip was all about relaxation. 

But because we can’t sit still for four straight days, it was also about kayaking and snorkeling and catamaran trips.

We sailed around the island on a big catamaran, jumped off the boat and explored hidden coves, fed the seagulls and the fish. 

My children took turns steering the boat.

The kids had never been snorkeling before, but we bought everyone fins and masks before the trip and they took to it, well, like fish to water. 

Fearless and curious, they swam around the coves and beaches in shallow pools and in water 20+ feet deep, searching out cool fish and crazy rock formations. 

A little octopus, maybe a foot across stretched out tentacle-to-tentacle made an appearance at the beach one day, wrapping himself around Matt’s shin to announce his presence, and for twenty minutes we all followed him and his swirling progress across the ocean floor, just amazed and mesmerized.

White sandy beaches surrounded by rocky cliffs.  Crystal clear water and nothing but sunshine for days on end. 

All the seafood we could eat. 

We baked in the sunshine, read books on the beach, climbed the rocks, and swam in the sea.  

We threw ourselves into the Spanish lifestyle, eating dinner at 9PM. 

Not all of us made it to dessert every night.

Whenever it’s cold this winter, when it’s rainy and windy and raw and damp and the chill gets in my bones and I just can’t get warm, I’ll look back on this trip and remember the perfect sun and it will get me through.

Menorca was amazing.  You should go.

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