Tag Archives: traveling


Sometimes I think it’s silly to use up Matt’s precious vacation time going home for a two week trip.  Then I get there and see all the people we miss while we’re living 5,000 miles away and I remember why it’s important to come home occasionally.

We spent two weeks in the U.S. – we started off in MD, visited our friends in VA, made a quick stop in PA, spent one night in NY, and then finished up the trip with a few days in MA.  I called it our East Coast Tour and it was a bit of a whirlwind, but it was full of fun.

We saw family and friends, enjoyed some real summer heat, swam in the pool at Matt’s parents’, watched a baseball game, had rooftop dinner and a movie in NYC, kayaked at my parents’ lake house, played with the puppy, went to my faux 20-yr high school reunion (the real one happened in the fall), and saw all the cousins.

So. Many. Cousins.

It was so nice to travel somewhere familiar.  I wasn’t expecting that, but it was true.

We didn’t have to look for directions or restaurant recommendations.  We just went to the places we know and miss and love and loved them all the more for having missed them.

It’s funny how much you realize you love a place when you haven’t seen it in a while.

It was good to go home.

Shopping in Ireland

Living in the UK is really expensive.  I forget sometimes, since we’ve been here over a year and a half and you just get used to things costing what they cost.

Then we travel somewhere and I look at price tags and I’m like SO CHEAP! BUY ALL THE THINGS!

There were tons of gorgeous cool shops in Ireland and items seemed so reasonably priced.  I had a hard time not going on a full shopping spree!  If I had more room in my luggage to get things home, I probably would have succumbed to the temptation.  I was really impressed everywhere we went with how many great options there were for clothes and home goods and shoes. 

There was one shop, though, that I absolutely, positively wanted to visit while we were there.  I don’t even remember where I first heard of it, but Avoca was high on my To-Do-In-Ireland list, and on our very first night in Dublin we happened to walk right by it!  Thankfully my family was on board with a little shopping.  In fact, it was such a cool shop with so many amazing items that I actually had to DRAG my boys out when we were ready to go! 

Avoca is an Irish-run business with their own mill where they create amazing and gorgeous blankets, scarves, gloves, shawls and more.  They also have an in-house design studio where they create clothing, home goods, ceramics…you name it.  It is a seriously cool company and the store was visually just beautiful.  Avoca goods are available in shops around the world, so keep an eye out for them.

I’ve said before how I have a bit of a throw blanket addiction, so this shop with stacks of wool, mohair, cashmere, herringbone, and Irish knit throws was like my own personal heaven.  I couldn’t fit one in my suitcase, though, so they were sadly not an option on this trip.

The other thing that really caught my eye was the stack of cashmere/wool stoles.  They’re bigger than a normal scarf, smaller than a full wrap, and soft as buttah.  There were some gorgeous neutrals, and I try to be sensible and get items I can wear with lots of stuff, but the one that I could not resist was actually neon orange.  It came home with me and I wore it like 4 out of 5 days in Ireland and almost every day since I got home.  Best. Purchase. Ever.

If you’re going to Ireland, I would add this shop to your must-see list.  And leave space in your suitcase for all the treasures you’ll want to take home.

A Weekend in Stuttgart, Germany


We flew to Stuttgart, Germany for a long weekend over the kids’ half-term break in October.  Autumn is the right time to go to Germany; it reminded me a lot of New England in the fall.  The weather was chilly but not freezing and the foliage was gorgeous. 

Once again, we rented an Airbnb rather than get a hotel room.  It usually makes more sense for our family since we’d need two hotel rooms, however in this case I think a hotel might have been better.  Although our apartment was perfectly nice and had plenty of space, we didn’t actually need the kitchen at all — not once did we cook OR eat in the apartment — and it was located pretty far outside the city center.  Looking back, we’d have been better off spending a little more money on two hotel rooms downtown and not having to drive 20+ minutes minimum to get to anything we wanted to see.  Regardless, though, we had a nice place and a rental car, so it wasn’t really a big deal.  Just a thought for next time.

The first day of our trip was the only one with rain in the forecast for the afternoon, so we planned an indoor activity that day.  Sensapolis is an indoor amusement park that, to be honest, I really wasn’t that excited about before we went.  I figured it would be basically a big indoor playground, which would keep the kids happy for a few hours but that wouldn’t necessarily be that cool or special.  I was so, so wrong.  It was the COOLEST indoor play place I’ve ever seen.  There were enormous play structures with different themes: a space ship with tons of crazy slides of differing levels of speed and twistiness (some of which were so fast and steep that the two younger children weren’t even allowed on them), a giant castle with secret passages and dungeons to explore, a woodland climbing playground made entirely of natural materials with rope bridges and cargo nets, rock climbing walls, a zip line, a pirate ship playground, and the scariest, most difficult ropes course I’ve ever seen or done.

I am not exaggerating when I say I was absolutely astounded at the level of difficulty of the ropes course.  I have no fear of heights.  I love roller coasters and you can’t make them fast enough or twisty enough for me.  I’ve done obstacle courses in the military, run obstacle races for fun, love zip lines and really would like to try bungee jumping.  And I was terrified on this ropes course.

I went through it with Gabe and Bridget and about 15 seconds into it, I was shaking both with fear and exertion.  I would have absolutely dropped out and not finished it if there had physically been a way to do so.  The course was made of ropes and actual tree branches and logs and was suspended from the ceiling about 3 stories in the air with no net whatsoever underneath it.  In fact, it hung above the food court and a concrete floor.  I didn’t realize until I was on it how ridiculously high above the ground it was or that the climbing elements were all free-swinging.  It required real strength to get from one obstacle to the next because they would swing away from each other if you didn’t hold them together with your legs and arms, and then you’d be hanging in a split 50 feet above the ground.  Several times the distance between two obstacles was far enough that I had to let go completely of the obstacle I was leaving and lunge forward to catch hold of the one I was going to next; if that was the case for me, it was even worse for Gabe and Bridget.  I was shaking, sweating, and swearing through the whole thing.  Bridget, who has even less fear of these type of things than I do, at one point summed it up: “This seems unnecessarily hard, so much so that it’s not actually that fun.”  I agreed.

When we finally got back on the ground I told Matt it was insanely, ridiculously, appallingly difficult and it was a good 10 minutes before the adrenaline rush subsided and my hands stopped shaking.  Naturally, Matt had to try it then too.  He came back in a full sweat and confirmed my claim: it was the hardest ropes course he’s ever done too.  I am sort of proud I did it, amazed that my two older kids did as well (twice, actually, because they went back with Matt when he went through), and relieved that Matt agreed with me that it was incredibly difficult.

We spent probably 5 hours at Sensapolis and the kids would have stayed longer, but Matt and I wanted to get outside once the weather cleared up.  We headed over to Schloss Solitude on the outskirts of Stuttgart where we wandered around the grounds and gardens and took in the views.  It was gorgeous.  We didn’t do the inside of the castle, because it’s only possible to go inside with a guided tour but we missed the timing for the English language one; to be honest, we were all perfectly happy to walk around outside.

The next day we got up and headed south to Hohenzollern Castle, which is the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal Family and one of the coolest castles I’ve seen so far in all of Europe.  We did take the guided English tour there, and it was great.  To make the experience even cooler, the Royal Family was actually in residence that day, an event that is apparently fairly rare; no one lives there and the family actually only visits a few times a year, so it was sort of a lucky coincidence to be there on a day they were there too!  Even better, the reason they were there was because that night was a party at the castle celebrating the relationship between the Prussians and the Romanovs, so the Romanov Royal family was there too!  This was super, extra exciting to me since I studied Russian in the military and have a particular interest in and affinity for the Romanovs; to be there that day while they were there too felt like a little gift!

The castle itself is gorgeous but what makes it most special is its location situated on top of a sharp rise looking out over the most gorgeous valley in all directions.  It was a serious hike up the paths to get to the castle up top, but the views were absolutely breath-taking.


We had lunch at the castle too, enjoying some traditional German foods: rote wurst, wiener schnitzel, and curry wurst, which we all really loved.  After lunch we trekked back down the hill to the car and headed toward our next destination: Triberg Waterfalls in the Black Forest.

This was one of my very favorite things we’ve done so far in all of Europe.  The waterfalls are stunning, but the forest itself was just as amazing.  We hiked the paths, searched for fairy houses, and just breathed in the smell of autumn.  The Black Forest was one of those places where, as soon as we arrived, I felt peaceful.  I felt happy and calm and definitely like there was some magic going on in those trees; if you’d said people claim to spot fairies or gnomes on Black Forest paths I’d have nodded in agreement and kept a sharp lookout.  Some places are just magical like that.


As we strolled through the forest paths, we occasionally walked past little booths where Park Guides sat.  Outside each of them hung a picture of a squirrel with something written on it in German.  Finally Matt and I figured out that you could buy a small bag of peanuts from the Park Guides and that squirrels would, theoretically, come up to you in the forest and eat peanuts out of your hand.  Obviously I immediately bought one; I was instantly imagining myself traipsing around the forest like a Disney Princess with woodland creatures following me and eating from my hand.  I didn’t take into account, however, that the squirrels must actually come up to you to eat from your hand, and they won’t do that when you’re walking through the forest with three boys who make enough noise to scare off a bear, never mind a tiny woodland creature.  Bridget also wanted to Disney Princess it up, so we tried to walk AWAY from the boys while still keeping sort of together.  No luck.  I didn’t see a single squirrel.  The boys spent half the walk pretending to be Army guys taking cover behind fallen trees and rocks and shouting military instructions to each other, and the other half trying to climb the trees and shouting at me to look how high they’d gotten.  And then they ate all the peanuts, since we wouldn’t want them to go to waste and the squirrels were clearly not coming for them. 


Our last day in Germany was spent at Ludwigsburg Palace at the world’s largest pumpkin festival.  The actual biggest pumpkin ever in the world was on display, sitting next to a Smart Car which was dwarfed by the pumpkin.  Kind of crazy!  We are pumpkin and spaetzle pizza (SO YUMMY) and cinnamon sugar pumpkin seeds (less yummy).  The kids climbed Rapunzel’s Tower — like the actual tower that inspired the story — and we just soaked in all the autumn goodness.  Good final day.


There were fewer people in Germany who spoke English than we’d encountered in France or Italy, which meant we had to work a little harder to communicate, but that was okay.  The roads were so smooth and wide compared to England; driving was lovely.  And although we DID go on the autobahn, the fastest we drove was 140 kilometers per hour — only about 85MPH. 

We had a lovely weekend and I would definitely go back, especially to explore more of the Black Forest area or to either the Porsche or Mercedes museums in Stuttgart, which we just didn’t have time to see.  We’d also like to go to Munich, which we couldn’t fit in on this trip but which looks amazing.  Every time I check a location off our list of places to see, I add three more!

Traveling vs. Vacationing


There’s a huge difference between traveling and going on vacation. 

We’ve been on vacations before, and although there is certainly a good argument to be made that traveling with kids is almost never a vacation, we have taken trips that were about relaxation and fun far more than they were about experiencing a new place.  I like those trips just fine and can always do with a little downtime. 

But I’ve come to learn that, given the choice, I far prefer traveling to vacationing.

Traveling is not about lying on a sunny beach and baking to a golden tan, a fruity drink in hand and a dip in the pool your only concerns.  That is a vacation.  Vacations are fun. 

But I want to travel.

Traveling is going to a new place and learning about what makes that place worth visiting.  It’s finding the landmarks, learning the history, trying the local food, and at least attempting to speak the language.  It’s hard work more often than not.  But that, I believe, is what makes it worthwhile.

When I successfully communicate with a cab driver in Rome who speaks no English but wants to tell us all about the amazing sites we’re driving by, and I’m then able to turn around and explain what he’s saying to my kids, that is traveling.  When we navigate the metro in Paris even though none of us read French anything like fluently and none of the maps or signs are in English, that is traveling.  When Matt drives a right-hand drive, stick shift, 7-passenger van through morning rush hour in London to get us to our new home in the English countryside, that is traveling.  When we try the haggis, that is traveling. 

There are so many places to see and paths to walk, so many languages to learn and foods to try.  When I travel, I make my world a little bigger.  I make my kids’ worlds a little bigger.  We know what it looks like to eat breakfast in the sun on a porch overlooking the Mediterranean.  And we know what it smells like to walk through the Black Forest in the autumn.  We know what it feels like on top of the Eiffel Tower in the wind and drizzling rain, and how long it takes to walk up the long hill to Edinburgh Castle. 

Because we know those things, it makes it easier to imagine other things, even less like what we’re used to in our normal lives. 

We’ve stretched our understanding, and with it, our imaginations.

There have been moments, more than just a few, when we’ve been lugging bags through train stations and airports and convincing tired children that if they can just hold on a little longer, we’ll find a place to eat and sit and relax, when I’ve wondered if all the hard work and exhaustion and confusion is worth it.  There have been many times when I stood, uncertain, before someone whose language I didn’t speak and who didn’t speak my language in return, and wondered how I would communicate. But we find a way to make it work.  We learn something new, we smash down the walls of our comfort zones, and every time we do it, we grow.  In the end, every hard moment is worth it.  

It’s worth it when your 10-yr old son makes a comparison between the architecture in Germany and the architecture in Italy.  When your 12-yr old daughter reads and translates the signs in French.  When your 8-yr old son declares that the curry wurst in Germany is one of his favorite foods.  When your 6-yr old son sees a picture of Il Duomo on a magazine and exclaims with excitement that he’s been there, it’s in Florence, and he had the best gelato ever sitting in the square beside that dome.  Every long walk, delayed flight, argument with an overtired child (or an overtired spouse), they’re all worth it when you see how much it’s changed your understanding of the world.

Travel — real travel — is hard.  But it is worth it.  And I will take it over a vacation every day of the year. 

Also, a trip doesn’t have to be far to be meaningful.


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