Austria – A Long Weekend

We had a little break over the Memorial Day Weekend and took a long weekend away to the Austrian Alps (I just love to say Austrian Alps because let’s be honest- they are beautiful and I have yet to visit the Swiss Alps). We had a plan of going to The Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden, which was our main goal of this trip, and then spending a little time in Salzburg and just relaxing. A couple days before we left we found out that The Eagle’s Nest was still actually closed due to weather, so that went out the window, BUT I was determined to find other things to do and still have a fun, relaxing time.

I’ll be breaking down our full weekend in this blog post for you and then I’ll be doing a much abridged tips/tricks post later on. I don’t have too many tips, but I’ll share what I do have in that post.

After a relatively short, easy drive (about 3.5 hours) on Friday we reached our AirBnB in the mountains of Austria. We’ve (aka my husband) have been really nailing booking solid AirBnB’s for these trips. It’s definitely been the way to go as we got to stay in the mountains in a full apartment with a stunning view.

The owners are great as well, getting us registered in the system (a requirement), giving us some train tips, and recommending a lot of things for us to do near the different spots we were already planning on going. We had a lovely dinner off of the main street in one of the small towns, stopped at a grocery to pick up a couple things and settled in for the night.

Our first full day we spent down in Berchtesgaden. Since we weren’t able to go to The Eagle’s Nest, it opened up our day a little bit more to do a couple other things. We started off at the Salt Mines, or Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden.

This was one of those fun attractions that really allows you to immerse yourself and puts a topic that may be interesting, but not that interesting in a fun interactive way. We had to wear miner’s outfits (which was actually a good thing as it did get chilly in a comfortable way), rode a little mine “train” down to the entrance all before the tour even really began. The train drops you off at the “top” of the mine, then you ride several different “options” throughout the mine. Once off the train there is a brief introduction and then a short slide down to a deeper section. Each slide/train does have a walking option, but I would recommend doing the slides and such. They are easy and a lot of fun! There is also a little ferry ride during the tour over the water used in the mines, with a lightshow and music. The entire tour lasted about an hour to an hour and a half. We ate lunch at the little bistro attached to the salt mines and soaked up the start of afternoon sunshine.

The rest of the day we spent wandering the streets of Berchtesgaden. We wanted to head in to their castle, but it is closed on Saturday. Instead we hiked through the streets, thinking of what it all must have been like at the height of World War 2. We stopped into a couple of churches, which is kind of becoming a staple on all of these trips that we are taking, as well as the local cemetery. It is so absolutely beautiful there and we had fun just strolling along. The boys enjoyed walking through the streets as well. Our final stop was for dinner, which we had at Gasthof zum Neuhaus.

Our second day we rose early (thanks boys who woke with sunrise) and caught an “early” train in to Salzburg. Salzburg is known for so many things, The Sound of Music, Mozart, The Arts, The Alps, the list goes on. First off, I’ll say the beauty of Salzburg is incredible. It is just mother nature at her finest in every part. I particularly love that the town was built with the mountains and river in mind. They didn’t change any of the beauty of nature, but rather enhanced it with the churches, squares, and fortresses.

We decided to work from the farthest highest point that we wanted to go to back to the train station we needed at the end of the day. So that meant a hefty hike/climb up to the Fortress Hohensalzburg. This is an 11 century fortress that was actually built and maintained by Prince-Archbishops. This fortress maintains status as one of the largest medieval castle in Europe. I will say- this was a hefty trek. It is all uphill (obviously) and is a combination of pathway and stairs. There is a funicular that goes both all the way up and back down- we didn’t know this until after we had taken it down. BUT the trek was well worth it for not only the history of the fortress, but the stunning overlook at the end.

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It was breathtaking to look over Salzburg, the mountains, and the river from one of the highest points (not the highest I don’t think). We had some snacks after the tour and then rode the funicular (which was also a stunning view) back down the mountain.

From the fortress we worked our way through the main square, and over to the Salzburg Cathedral.

This Cathedral has to be one of the most stunning cathedrals I have yet to see. The detail, the painting, the woodwork, everything- just beautiful. We walked through the Cathedral and then down to the Crypt. Everywhere we looked was just something to be amazed by. Truly a masterpiece.

From this Cathedral we headed over to St. Peter’s so I could live out my Sound of Music Dreams. When we walked in there was a performance going on within one of the area’s so we got to listen to the main song of The Sound of Music as we walked through the square which just added to all of the ambience.

We walked through the square, the cemetery, and the Catacombs (which meant more stairs). The cemetery holds some of the oldest graves we’ve seen as well as graves for some very famous people.

706016795891509037_IMG_4542.jpgOne of the final spots we went to was Mozart’s Birth House. There are two Mozart houses in Salzburg, the first being is Birthplace and the second being his Residence. His birthplace is still the original structure, with a combination of original and replica’s within. The Residence has been fully reconstructed after being destroyed during World War 2. We decided to focus on his Birthplace during this trip as we were starting to run a little low on time (and kids energy). It is truly something incredible to stand in a place that other prodigies lived and just see the lasting impact. This was an incredible experience and one I wont forget anytime soon. I have always loved Mozart’s music and to see his family lineage, and then his children and wife was really neat.

Our final stop before dinner and then the train home was Mirabell Palace. We didn’t go in the palace itself, which is from the 17thcentury, but rather just took a little break in the gardens.

The gardens are absolutely beautiful (as with everything else) and also boast some of the Sound of Music filming spots. We took a quick break, walked along the covered arches, and then peaked into the Marble Hall where musical performances take place. We then had an early dinner at Sternbrau.

Overall this trip was just as incredible as our other May trip and was just what we needed. I definitely plan on going back to Salzburg at some point to do a little shopping (we went on a Sunday when all the stores are closed) and a little more sightseeing. We also do plan on going back to Berchtesgaden for the Eagle’s Nest, the Nature Park Hike and the Castle. When we do, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

I hope you enjoyed seeing this first trip to Austria through our eyes and our traveling. If you’ve been to Austria, let me know what your favorite part was! If you haven’t, let me know what you’d like to see!

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Things You Should Do and Trips For : Fussen, Neuschwanstein

Not too long ago we spent one of the most incredible weekends away in the little town of Fussen Germany. You can read about everything that we did while we were there HERE. The entire weekend was like a dream come true and I can’t wait to share some of the things that we loved and would recommend…which is, well, everything. I say that jokingly, but seriously this entire trip should definitely go on a travel bucket list. This will be a shorter tips post as there isn’t as much to do/we didn’t do as much on this trip.

Recommendations:

We shall start with the obvious, the Castles.

I would recommend reserving a pass for both Castle’s at the very least.You can pre reserve tickets online, however you do have to pick them up an hour before your time. Since you are already there you might as well see both and I think it is well worth the price. As I said in my first post there are no true replica’s, everything is original to the castle. If you can really only afford to see one, Hohenschwangau is the most “step” friendly (Neushwanstein has approximately 130 steps up and 130 steps down) and has the most finished rooms. The tour gives you a good insight into the royal family and the castle and grounds. Neuschwanstein is incredible inside, but only has a few finished sections to look through and I found the exterior to be quite incredible and accessible by foot. I should note and say that my husband would disagree and choose to do Neushwanstein over Hohenschwangau.

Marienbrucke Bridge.This is a MUST go when you visit the castles. You are going to get one of the best views of the entire castle and such a wonderful experience out of this bridge. The path up to the bridge is littered with some picture perfect spots and you can cross to the other side of the bridge and see a couple of the other viewing spots. The bridge itself gets packed very quickly so be orderly about viewing/pictures and moving along for others to do the same.

Make a Full Day out of It.There is so much beauty in this area that you could easily pack a lunch/snacks or eat at any of the restaurants/food stands and make a full day out of it.

I’ll briefly touch onFussen:

I would first off recommend staying in town(or as close to in town as you can) and using AirBnB to book your room. Not only are the rates slightly different or better than the hotels, but you can get a true experience of the city and people when you book through AirBnB as opposed to a hotel. They have a wide variety of spots right outside of town (such as where we stayed: Mein Lieber Schwan Fussen/Allgau) and they are absolutely perfect.

I would also recommend going to Kalvarienburg. This was the hike that we did and while it does have a religious aspect to it, you do not have to participate in that if you choose not to. It is truly a beautiful hike, right in nature, with a stunning overlook at the end. This is a must do and I feel like it is a relatively easy hike for those who may not be used to hiking.

Take a morning to sit at a café and soak up the atmosphere.This might not be most peoples “thing” (it definitely is not my husbands, but even he enjoyed this), but in a little town like this it is one of the best things to do. It doesn’t have to be on the main stretch (ours wasn’t), but it is the perfect way to start your day, have a mid afternoon break, or end your evening. There are options for café’s, ice cream stops, or fountains to just rest for a little while. In the meantime you can people watch and soak up the way of life. Sometimes a slow approach can be just as wonderful as going full steem ahead.

Tips:

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Tip #1: Get to the property early.They are very strict about time and if you miss the time of your tour you may not get to see the interior of the castle at all. We arrived about an hour to hour and a half before our tour time to find parking, get our tickets, and explore a little before the tour. There are plenty of spots to sit and relax, take in the view, get a bite to eat, or do a little souvenir shopping, so don’t worry about being too early. You’ll want to be at the entrance gate about 15-20 minutes prior to your ticket time just to err on the side of caution.

Tip #2: Only bring one bag. You can bring backpacks/purses on to the property and in to the castles, however when going into Neuschwanstein you have to carry the backpack or purse on the front of your body. If you are traveling with young children this can be difficult and looking back I feel like we could have made do with just one bag and made our lives a little bit easier going through the castles themselves.

Tip #3: Don’t bring a stroller unless you have an infant/non walking child, and even then try and baby wear.  Seriously, we only used our umbrella stroller once the entire weekend (the first night). We didn’t get it out at the castle as both boys really just wanted to walk and we alternated when they would need a little break. The castle themselves are full of stairs, so a stroller is definitely not feasible and I don’t know that I saw a designated “safe” spot for them.

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Tip #1: Walk everywhere!!Seriously the town is just so perfect and was made for strictly walking. Anything you could want is within a walking distance to just about wherever you are and the main street and square are absolute perfection. I would highly recommend just hanging out there!

Tip #2: Make sure to check out Fussen Castle.This castle is not one that is talked about (because let’s be honest, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein really run that show), but it is still a pretty cool castle and was turned into an art gallery. Even just walking through the path’s within the castle and the little hike behind it is stunning.

So that is it on our Fussen weekend! Have you been to any of these spots? If you have anything to add, leave it in the comments below!

 

Fussen Germany – A Weekend Away

In May we spent a weekend away in a small town called Fussen Germany. We booked this trip to go and see the famed Neuschwanstein Castle, as well as Hohenschwangau Castle (same property). We had decided that when we got there we would decide what else we wanted to do that was nearby. We didn’t have too much of a plan and I decided that we should treat it as a little slow getaway. As a chance to relax, live a little bit slower, take it easy. It definitely was that!

We found a room on Airbnb at a place called Mein Lieber Schwan (website: https://www.meinlieberschwan.de). This has to be one of the best locations that we’ve booked and was the prettiest little apartment. We had a full kitchen/living room, bedroom, sitting room (we used this for the boy’s bedroom), and a little terrace that had an incredible view. From our bedroom window you could see the silhouette of Neuschwanstein Castle as well as the main town. This room was a dream and the location was perfect as it was walking distance from just about everything.

-1281214946695758235_IMG_2991Our first evening we wandered around the main town area before heading to dinner. The town itself is full of that European/German appeal that you come to expect. The main street/square is littered with café’s, restaurants, and shops.  It backs up to the Austrian Alps (you are right at the German/Austria border), so you can view the mountain range just about wherever you look. We wandered through the town, headed out to a short nature walk which went through a fort of some sort from 1897. We then headed out to dinner at a restaurant called Ritterstuben.

 

Our first full day in Fussen was our exciting day full of castle’s. We had decided to book to see both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castle’s as we were interested in both and if we were already going to be there, we might as well see both. Our tour times were not too early, 9:55AM, but we weren’t sure of the parking situation, we had to pick up our tickets, and they are very strict on the entrance times for the castles. For these reasons, we decided to get to the castle about an hour early and boy, was I glad that we did. There is so much more to see to this spot than just the castles.

At the end of the property there is an absolutely beautiful spot; a lake that backs right up to the Austrian Alps that you can walk along for a stretch. The whole area is breathtakingly beautiful but for this lake/mountain/nature loving family it was something truly spectacular (honestly, no joke or exaggeration, rounding the corner to this took my breathe away). We got to have a beautiful start to our day watching the fog breakaway from both the lake and the castles, and the boys got to mingle with some very friendly ducks.

Our first castle tour was Hohenschwangau, which is the smaller of the two castles, the older of the two, and the most “finished” of the two. There is absolutely no photography allowed in the castle’s themselves and while I don’t precisely know why, I suspect the reason is twofold- price of the tickets and preservation of the castle. The interior is all original, from the fresco’s and paintings to the furniture, layout, and lighting. The preservation itself is phenomenal and the tour gave us a little insight into the lives of the royal family at the time. Hohenschwangau was predominantly used as a Summer and hunting home by King Maximillian II, his wife, Marie of Prussia, and as a childhood home for their children, King Ludwig II and Kong Otto I. The castle made it through both world wars without damage and portions are still in use today by members of the former royal family.

The tour is semi guided- you have a tour guide who opens the doors and points out little tidbits, but on the whole the tour itself is given in audio format (via little devices that you can either plug headphones into or hold up to your ear). All in all, the tour lasted about 30-40 minutes and gave us a pretty good look at the interior and the family’s life.

We had about an hour or so before our second tour began so we decided to take a carriage tour up to Neuschwanstein. There are three options to get from the Hohenschwangau castle to Neuschwanstein: bus, walk, or horse drawn carriage. Now we have two little toddlers who are excellent walkers, but also love to be carried. We had already walked quite a bit that day (and they did really really well on this past trip with walking) and we knew that we still had a lot more to go. We ended up deciding to take the horse drawn carriage up to the castle (I know horse drawn carriages have their own issues) and it was definitely a fun way to feel special heading up to the castle. Every girl can dream of having that Cinderella moment and this is a good way to get that experience.

If you were impressed by the beauty of Hohenschwangau castle, just wait till we talk through Neuschwanstein.

 

This takes the castle concept to a whole new level. In fact, Neuschwanstein castle inspired the “fairytale castle” for Walt Disney and Magic Kingdom. Neuschwanstein was built by King Ludwig II (fun fact- he could watch the castle being built from his room in Hohenschwangau, he had a telescope set up in the room to do so).

It was built in the 19thCentury, however the interior was not fully finished, and King Ludwig only spent a very short amount of time in the castle before his death. This castle also made it through both world wars without any damage. On the tour we were able to see the King’s Quarters, the Throne Room, the Grotto and another. The tour is handled in the same was as Hohenschwangau, an audio tour led by a guide and once again, I felt like we got a really good amount of information about the castle and the King.

The final stop on our “Castle” Day was Marienbrucke.

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This is a bridge that crosses a valley on one side of the Neuschwanstein Castle. It provides not only a beautiful look at the castle, but also at the nature and mountains all around. It is absolutely stunning and well worth the short hike to get to it from Neuschwanstein (even for me who is absolutely terrified of heights/being suspended in air). Once again, an absolutely breathtaking sight. Most of the pictures that you see of Neuschwanstein are from this view point.

IMG_2068.jpgWe ended our day with another little walk through the town and dinner at a place called Gasthof Krone. This is a medieval restaurant that offers typical German food with the medieval environment. Beer is served in large mugs, soda’s and other drinks in pottery cups. They do set up shows and such, but for special groups and other times. It was a fun experience to have and we really enjoyed our meal (especially my husband who got some local dish). After dinner we headed out on a little mini hike back down to another bridge where we watched the sunset on the lake/alps. A Beautiful end to a perfect day.

 

Our third, and last full day in Fussen, we decided to do a morning breakfast at one of the cute café’s and then a hike. We’ve always loved being in nature/outdoors and if we can find something out in nature we will do it. This particular hike promised a fantastic overview of Fussen and a memorable experience. Breakfast was at one of the cutest little cafés’, Bio Café Baumgarten, that had both a fantastic backdrop and delicious food/drink. We fueled up with Crepe’s Croissants, and a Cappuccino for me, Blood Orange Juice for Rob. We actually stayed in this little spot for around an hour (the longest we’ve ever stayed like this) and it was just the most perfect start.

The sun really came out when we headed out for the hike to Kalvarienberg. The hike is uphill and touches on some religious aspects throughout. It does not have to be a religious experience if you do not want it to be, you can treat it as just a good hike. It is uphill to begin, alternating between steps and terrain and there a couple natural break spots should you need them.

Once you reach the top you are rewarded with one of the most spectacular views that you could ever dream of.

On one side you see both castles and lake along with the Austrian Alps and on the other you get a full look at the town of Fussen.  Again, breathtaking ( I feel like that word is really the only word that can adequately describe everything we saw and experienced on this weekend away). It was truly an incredible view to see.

On our way back down from the overlook we headed to Lechfalls, which is a waterfall system with an Austrian Alps backdrop.

The waterfall themselves were a beautiful sight and it was a really pretty hike to get to them and then get back to the room. The falls themselves are quite simple, it is more the backdrop I feel that adds the level of beauty.

Our final night included dinner at Alstadt Hotel. The dinner was fantastic, as always, and afterwards we wandered the Fussen Castle.

The town of Fussen has its own castle (though not as grand as the other two) and we wandered through its cobblestone entryway, read about its siege techniques, as well as the painting technique on the exterior (hint: all the bits you see are actually painted on to the walls, except for a certain few to give it a much more grand look). The castle itself is now an art gallery, although it was closed when we walked through.

This whole weekend away was beyond my expectations and dreams. I keep using the word breathtaking, but it is really the only word that can even come close to some of the sights that we saw and experienced. I’ll be doing a tips/tricks post, although it will be shorter than some of my past ones, but I highly recommend that you add Fussen and Neushwanstein on to your must-see list!

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May In Travel

I feel like I say this every month, but how has this month already come to an end? We are looking at the end of May and almost being halfway through 2019! I can’t believe we are a)already at that point and b) have already been in Germany for almost 4 months!!! It seems like time is simultaneously flying by and standing still…if that makes sense.

We did a relatively decent amount of travel in May between day trips and weekends away. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that this might have been my favorite month of travel so far! It’s been a fun month of new experiences and although I don’t have all the details tracked out for you yet (coming in the next 2 weeks- stay tuned!!), I will give you guys little peaks into each place.

The first weekend wasn’t too terribly exciting as we adventured back to the big city that is going to be near our house (yes, you read that right, we have a house- more on that at the end of the post!!) and seeing what all the shopping options are in that city.

Our second weekend we did a day trip through our local Outdoor Recreation program that involved taking a steam train through the countryside and trekking through a cave. It was easily one of those cool things that you can do in an absolutely gorgeous location. The boys LOVED the steam train (they thought it was the coolest thing ever) and we all enjoyed leaning out of the windows on the train. The cave has quite the history and we emerged to a gorgeous sunny sky (after a bit of a cloudy start) and a beautiful overlook. It was a really fun day spent with friends. You can read more about it HERE.

Our third weekend in May we spent in one of the prettiest spots that we could ever imagine. Fussen Germany looked like it was a set straight out of a movie (and maybe it was-I’m not sure). I’ve got a full blog post coming detailing our entire trips as well as some tips/recommendations, but safe to say this is a favorite spot. It was the perfect pairing of slow, small town, and beautiful nature/scenery. We were gutted to leave on Sunday morning.

Our final weekend we spent in the absolute beauty that is Austria. We actually flitted back and forth on the border between Germany and Austria throughout the weekend, spending one day in Berchtesgaden and the second day in Salzburg. Once again as with Fussen, I will have a full blog post coming with all the details, but Austria is seriously just so beautiful. The overlooks to see the town are breathtaking, you see the alps from every area and the pacing of the town is just so nice. We aren’t even going to get into all the Sound of Music singing.

And that was our month in travel! We had a lot of fun this month, but are ready for a little breathing room. June is going to be a more “close to home” traveling month with day trips, some down time, and then an exciting move at the end of the month. We’ve finally got a house to move in to, so that along with a very exciting July is playing into a quieter June. As much as I love traveling and we’ve been enjoying it, we are homebodies at heart and are looking forward to a little quiet and peace.

 

Frankische Schweiz and Pottenstein – A Day Trip

***As a note before we begin, some of these photo’s (in particular the cave one’s) were taken with my cellphone, not my nice, good camera. Between the cellphone camera and the dark nature of the cave, the photos did not turn out in the best way that I would normally feature on my blog. My apologies***

This past Sunday we decided to do a very special Sunday Funday trip and take a Steam Train Ride and explore a cave in a region somewhat near us. Our local post has an Outdoor Recreation Office that organizes a variety of trips for the residents assigned to the post. Sometimes it can be a little more cost effective to go through them for the trips they offer and sometimes they will offer up experiences that you hadn’t otherwise planned or thought about doing. A lot of times they are organized for group numbers and can therefore be offered at a lower price point than if you were to book it on your own.

This was not the case with this trip (I think our pricing was just standard pricing as if we had gone to get tickets ourselves), but they organized the whole day from start to finish. It did mean a very early start to our day (alarms set for 5 AM, to make sure we were ready, with a leave time of 7AM), but it was so incredibly worth it. A real dream come true. If you have the option to go through a group travel or through your own Outdoor Recreation office, you should totally do it! We love to travel on our own but doing it in a group was really fun as well.

So, we started our morning off with a beautiful, scenic drive to Frankische Schweiz area to a little train station (you can view the website for the train HERE, but you’ll want to use a google translate as it is only in German). We did end up blowing a tire not far from the station (thankfully it was that close, and we were moving at a slow speed so no real loss of control or anything like that), but it gave us a fun memory to go along with the experience. Our guide from the day was very informative, talking us through not only the day, but cool spots to come back to in the future.

Once at the station we got to take a look at the train itself, watch them bring the steam engine up and connect it all before boarding the train. Our boys LOVED  being able to watch the steam engine pull forward, backwards, and hook up to the train car. It wasn’t too long after we boarded that we were slowly starting to move. The Steam Train itself is from the 1930’s and still runs really well. The full ride was an hour, or two long and we got to lean out the windows, which the boys loved, and get out at the halfway point to watch them move the engine car to the other end. And, of course, they sounded the whistle anytime we were coming through a station or crossing.

If you get a chance to take a steam train ride, wherever you are, I would highly recommend it. Not only do you get that nostalgic feeling of a time gone by, but it is also just such a slower, prettier, more relaxed way to see the countryside. The steam trains can only go so fast, so you really get a chance to take in the towns and landscapes around you.

We then stopped for lunch at a little restaurant along the Wiesent River where three families with 4 toddlers and 2 infants managed to have a full calm no fuss meal. It’s a miracle! The restaurant was called Bruckla and I had a lovely tomato soup and a sneaky little slice of cake. (No pictures this time though!).

Once we finished lunch we boarded back on to the bus to head over to Teufelshohle Pottentstein (Devil’s Cave). This is a naturally formed limestone cave that features several different formations and can be trekked about a mile through. You climb about 400 steps during the course of the tour. It was discovered in 1922 and was extended/ dug through for the following 10 years. It is the longest cave in Germany (sitting at just under/around one mile) and the largest in Franconian Switzerland. You can read about the Cave/Visit the Site HERE, but again it will be listed in German so Google Translate will be a good option.

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There are several “landmarks” of the cave, the first being Devil’s Hole. This is the first hall and features some of the equipment used to dig through after a cave in and some natural formations on the ceiling. Walking past here we can see several natural limestone formations before reaching the next “landmark”, Bears Grotto. This features a complete skeleton of a cave bear. Per the cave the bear was approximately 900 pounds and stood at 12 ft high. There are also some pretty cool formations staggered around the hall.

One of the other “landmarks” that we saw within the cave was a large cavern that was covered in stalagmites and stalactites. Called the “Colossal Hall” It is 42 ft high and features the two oldest limestones of Devil’s Cave. These two formations are suspected of being over 300,000 years old. Then finally we saw the Candle Hall and headed through some very (and I mean VERY) tight quarters to find our way to the exit.

IMG_0831Upon exiting the cave, you come out to this beautiful rock formation and a lite gorge hike to reach the exit of the park. When we walked into the cave we had some light cloud cover, but when we stepped out it was full sunshine and a blue sky. What a wonderful way to come back to ground!

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Overall, this was one of our most memorable Sunday Funday’s and a day trip that I am not likely to forget anytime soon. If you have the chance to do a group travel through your own Outdoor Recreation program I highly recommend it. It was a great way to get to know a couple other families (we knew one of the other families) and you get to experience these things together which is always a fun addition.

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Sunset at the end of Sunday Funday

 

Things You Should Do and Tips For: The Netherlands and Amsterdam

Good morning! We recently spent a long weekend away in The Netherlands, which you can read all about HERE, and this morning I am going to talk about some of the tips/tricks that we learned and what I would recommend you do as well as maybe some things that are maybe a little over hyped.

As always, this will heavily depend on your own interest, how you are traveling, and the time of year that you are going. This is the first (and only) time that we have been to The Netherlands and we went to see two spots, Amsterdam and the Tulip Gardens. We were only there for 3 nights total, so we didn’t get to see everything that we had wanted to. We also traveled with our two young children, which as with Berlin, factored into what we did and didn’t do. I am going to do these as two separate sections, one for Amsterdam and one for everything else, that way if you are only interested in Amsterdam you can only read that part or if you are only interested in the Tulips you can only read that part. It is also too much and too different to try and consolidate into one long recommendations and tips section.

Recommendations for Amsterdam

It may seem overly touristy but take advantage of the boat rides along the canals. To be completely honest this is one of the best ways to get an overall look at the city, the canals, the different “high points”, but without all of the tourists. You aren’t fighting a crowd to look at a church or tower. It also gives you a unique point of view from what it would have been like in history.  If you take the train in, you can find plenty of options all along the exit of the station, as well as options all throughout the canals. Depending on what you are more interested in, you’ll find a boat tour that will meet those needs (we saw everything from a romantic cruise, to all about the alcohol, to a standard hear the history and nothing more). We didn’t originally plan on doing a boat ride, but our older son insisted, and it didn’t look too bad when we got out there.

I would also recommend heading over to Dam Square. This is the main town square and there is usually always something going on. From here you can get a good view of the exterior of The Royal Palace, see The National Monument, and the Nieuwe Kerk Church. There are also a couple other spots right off the square if you’re interested, Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. We did not go in either of those, but we did go inside the Royal Palace. I’ll be honest, The Royal Palace tour is not a necessity to a trip to Amsterdam. If you are interested you can certainly do it, but it is not like a “must see”. I really enjoyed it, but I am a royal fan and think that seeing different palace’s and other type of government buildings is really interesting.

A couple of the spots that I wish we could have gone to, that were on our list but didn’t end up being an option, were: The Anne Frank House, Foodhallen, and The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. I’ll get into The Anne Frank House in my tips/tricks, the Foodhallen is a food court that came highly highly recommended to us, and the Rijksmuseum as a lot of Dutch history that we wanted to learn about.

I’ll touch on one more spot as I feel like I need to make a note on this because to be honest, not a lot of people talk about Amsterdam without talking about The Red Light District OR the booming cannabis market/options. We walked through the Red Light District and I found it to be just like a regular stroll (in a weird way). Here’s the thing, first off you cannot take video or pictures in the District. This is to protect the workers that are there, and I can completely understand. These are regular people who are doing what it is that they do. Just because it is not something that we see every day, or something that may not be as popular or destigmatized in our area of the world, does not mean that they need to put in a spotlight situation. If you choose to stroll along the District, do not leer, do not linger, just be respectful. These are people just as we are, and they are doing what they choose and want to do.

 Tips for Amsterdam:

Tip #1: Bikes have the right of way and they will exercise that right of way whether you are aware of that or not. Amsterdam (and The Netherlands in general) has a huge biking community, it’s how the majority of their population gets around. Most places will have designated bike lanes, so don’t hover in those lanes and make sure that you are aware of where they are when there are no designated lanes.

If you want the true experience, there are so many different bike rental spots!

Tip #2: Make it an Adult Only or Girls Trip. This one is going to be a little bit hard to explain, or maybe it won’t, but I think Amsterdam would be so much different if it was just adults. I don’t say this for any “content” warning for what is in Amsterdam or for any lack of enjoyment reason. We loved (and do still love) taking our kids out throughout the world, exposing them to new cultures, places, people that they would not otherwise get to experience. HOWEVER, Amsterdam is so packed with people that you are spending a good amount of your time just shuffling along with the crowds and worrying about being separate from those you are with, until you get out of the main area. I think I worried a little bit more than normal with having our kids there.

Tip #3: Look at staying outside of the City Limits and taking the train in. Amsterdam is quite expensive and staying in a hotel in the city is very expensive. It is also, once again, full of people and traffic. We stayed outside the city in a little town and took the train in to Central Amsterdam. We were able to book a little cottage on AirBnB for a very reasonable price and it gave us a little breathing room. We didn’t have to worry about fighting traffic in a car or finding parking for the day. I am already a really big believer in public transportation, and this weekend away really confirmed that for me.

Recommendations for Tulips/Flower Season

As for how I would recommend you approach the tulip season that is going to depend on what you actually want to see. If you want to see just the Tulip Fields, there are a couple of different farms that you can go to. Lisse is the most popular spot and has the largest amount of options to see Tulips. MAKE SURE that you check my Tips out though, because there are some rules you will want to be available of. You can also see the Tulips just driving along the road and throughout train rides. I believe you can also see them from the sky, but I couldn’t confirm that.

We went to Keukenhof Tulip Garden, which is one of the more famous well-known spots for the Tulips. I knew that I wanted to see a bit of both the Tulip Fields AND the more manicured growing plots. Keukenhof has the best of both worlds for that. They boast about 7 Million Bulbs are planted and grown in their garden and I would believe it. Plus, believe me when I say there is something for everyone here. They have a kid’s area in the center where there is a playground, petting zoo, and park to eat at. There is also a maze for the kids to run through. There is a windmill that gives you a view over the fields, water, and gardens as well as two other overlook spots. Finally, you also have the indoor flower shows that follow along with themes for the year (one changes weekly). They have a unique planting and growing system that allows them to have blooms for eight weeks, so you have plenty of time to check them out.

My other recommendation would be to bike through the countryside. This is an excellent way to not only see the beautiful countryside of The Netherlands, but also see the Tulip Fields, the windmills, and be true to how the people get around. It is such a fun way to get around and see the country.

Tips for Tulips/Flower Season

Tip #1 (Possibly the Most Important One): DO NOT just go traipsing through the tulip fields all willy nilly to try and get the perfect picture or see them better. The Tulips are not only part of The Netherlands and the culture, but it is also a HUGE business for them. They work incredibly hard to grow and maintain the tulips and walking through the actual field itself ruins the flowers and the field. Only do this at the land owners permission (and if you’ve paid for it).

Tip #2:Go as early in the day as possible. No matter when you go or how you choose to see the Tulips it is going to be crowded. We went the peak weekend for the blooms, which also happened to be Easter Weekend and I didn’t feel like we were fighting the crowds until the very end of our time in the park. We went shortly after they opened and a few hours later everyone else seemed to start coming in. So, go early!

Tip #3:Just enjoy the beauty around you. I am a big one for documenting everything, taking all of the pictures, capturing every bloom and even I had to take a step back and just enjoy the sheer beauty around you. This is such a special place and time and honestly, not to get hokey, just take a step back from the camera/phone and enjoy the moment.

And on that note…

Those are all of my Things You Should Do and Tips for Amsterdam/The Netherlands! We do hope to go back and see some other area’s in the country one day, but this was one of the best trips we’ve taken. If you have any specific questions I will try to answer them in the comments below and if you have any of your own tips, please leave them below!

Amsterdam – A Long Weekend

Good morning! I’ve got another long weekend travel post for you today of one of my favorite vacation spots that we’ve been so far. We just recently spent a long weekend in The Netherlands and it was one of the most beautiful trips that we have taken. Fun fact: Holland is the informal name for The Netherlands and you hear the residents refer to it both ways. I am going to handle this trip the same way I did with our Berlin weekend, today’s post will breakdown everything that we did and I will do a separate post with all of my tips/recommendations! So, without further ado, let’s talk about our weekend!

I want to start by saying that we got incredibly lucky with the weather being as amazing as it was. The temperatures were in the 70’s and everyday was a clear sky. We couldn’t have asked for anything better!

Our trip started off a little rough with the drive over to our final location being a bit longer than anticipated. It was Easter weekend, and that meant cars on the road, but we also had a couple of situations come up for the kids as well. HOWEVER, even with the problems, the drive was absolutely beautiful and we got a chance to see the Tulip Fields on our drive in. It was nice to get a litte view of what we were in for. To say that we were happy/relieved/ready to be done when we arrived at our final location was putting it mildly. With the drive out of the way, we were free to explore the area.

We had decided that we did not want to stay in Amsterdam. Not only is the cost very expensive, but the traffic, population count, and 24 hr atmosphere is quite a lot to take in. We wanted something a little bit slower for our weekend. We picked out a little AirBnB in a little town called Noordwijkaan Zee. This is a beach town that is absolutely perfect in location being about 30-45 minutes by train from Amsterdam and about 15 minutes by car from the Tulip Gardens we planned to visit, AS WELL AS being about a 10 minute walk from the beach.

We spent our first late afternoon/evening walking through the town and the beachfront. I am not a big beach person, but I really enjoyed the time that we did spend on the beach. It was not very crowded and was very well…maintained (by this I mean there wasn’t any trash, the people were very nice, etc.). We had a dinner outdoors at ‘T Elfde Gebod and our food was delicious. For me, I chose a sandwich of Salmon, Avocado, Tomato, Pine Nuts, and Dressing on a Sesame Seed Bun. What a way to kick off our weekend!

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We had already decided to spend one day in Amsterdam and to try and do as much as we could within the city in that time frame. For me, I mostly just wanted to walk throughout the city and if something looked interesting, we would pop in. There were a couple of museums, and The Anne Frank House, that I wanted to visit, but we didn’t get to. There was also a food spot that I wanted to try, but had to pass as well. Those are things I will hold on to for another trip in the future.

Even though we didn’t get to cross everything off our list, we did end up doing quite a bit. We started out in a boat on the canal…

The boat tour was one thing that our oldest son requested (he’s 3…as soon as he saw the canal boats he asked right away) and we actually really enjoyed it. Not only is it a way to go along the actual canals, we received a fair amount of information about the history of Amsterdam and the current information as the city is now. It gave us a really good overview of Amsterdam, as well as let us see some sights without fighting the crowds (because Amsterdam is crowded). IMG_8536After the Boat tour we decided to grab a quick bite to eat (it was already lunchtime) and let the boys eat their snacks as well. We stopped at Bistro Berlage where we enjoyed sandwiches and coffee before heading out.

The afternoon we decided to just walk through the city, hitting up the spots that we wanted to at least see and then experience everything thing else. Once you get out of the “immediate” area of Amsterdam, aka the train station hub, the crowds start to thin out ever so slightly and while you are still fighting a sea of people and bikes, it isn’t as bad. We started out at The Red Light District and worked our way away from there. I will say, The Red Light District isn’t as…mind blowing as many people make it out to be. Yes, it is the brothel area. Yes, there are women in windows attracting passerby’s and selling themselves. BUT, it is not as seedy or as wild as it is put out to be. These are just people going about their business, doing what they do. Once we walked through there, we headed back in the direction of Dam Square and the Royal Palace. 5205528369492211466_IMG_1875Dam Square is their central town square and it was packed full of people. There was some sort of a party/music/event going on and we only got to slightly see the full square before having to hurry along.

Right off of the square is the Royal Palace. The Netherlands does have a monarchy and the monarch is part of the government. The Royal Palace has rooms that are open to the public as long as there is not an event coinciding with your visit. It is one of three palace’s in The Netherlands, and while it isn’t used as a residence, it still has a very prominent role in both history and present day. It started as a Town Hall and was later turned in to a Royal Palace. It was very interesting to see the inside of the palace itself and we were able to see several different rooms, bedrooms, and the balcony. The audio tour not only gives the current relevance of the room, but also gives a historical perspective. Most of the palace had close ties in design to Bonaparte, which was interesting. It was a really beautiful interior, with the  Central Hall taking the cake of beautiful interior.

We finished our day by walking over to the exterior of the Anne Frank House (we couldn’t get tickets to the tour, which I will touch on in my Tips/Tricks/Recommendations post) and then walking along the various canal streets as we headed back to the train station. Even though we couldn’t go inside the Anne Frank House, it was still impactful to see the exterior and put a place to something that we have all heard about. Our day ended with a train ride home and dinner in a town called Leiden at Oudt Leyden. It was a truly wonderful day.

Easter Sunday dawned the prettiest of the four days of our weekend. Lucky for us as Easter Sunday was our day to spend with the flowers. One of the things The Netherlands is known for is their Tulips. If you do a google search you will see aerial and ground shots of just fields and fields of tulips. It is a sight to see just in that search, let alone in person. One of the biggest reasons (in fact the main reason) we decided to The Netherlands at this time was because it was supposed to be the peak weekend for the blooms. There are several different ways to see the Tulips, a flower garden, biking through the fields, or driving along the road. -5581938934245434523_IMG_2009We decided to go to the Keukenhof gardens in Lisse. This is one of the more popular and well known spots (aside from Amsterdam) in The Netherlands. Let me tell you, if you can make it here, do it. It will not be a disappointment and is well worth the time and price. This year was it’s 70thyear of exhibitions and this year boasted 7 million flower bulbs. There is something to be said for the sheer beauty of the garden as you walk through not only a variety of colors, but a variety of tulips. There were tulips I didn’t even know existed on display! Have no fear, it is not only Tulips (although that is the main flower), they also have hyacinth and other flowers on display. We spent a few hours just walking through the center stopping to see different flowers and to walk across the water as well.

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Every year they have a theme to the main exhibit and this year’s was a really fun one, Flower Power. The main floral part of that exhibition had a women in flowers with the headband, peace sign, flower, and a butterfly.  The main exhibition pavilion and outdoor display touched on that 60/70’s hippie free love feeling.

The best part about Keukenhof is that not only do you get the best of the growers fields, but you can also see just plain tulip fields, a full windmill, a petting zoo and playground for kids, and 3 pavillions of floral exhibitions. There is something for everyone involved! Which means that even my husband enjoyed walking through the different plots and gardens within the center. It was a wonderful few hours spent soaking up sun, flowers, and the sheer beauty that is The Netherlands.

We ended our day (and our weekend), back on the beach. This time we decided to do a long walk with both boys and dip our toys in the water and sand.

The boys struggled with the sand at the beginning, but quickly started to enjoy running along the beach. Andrew was especially captivated by the waves from the water, while Colton wanted nothing to do with the water. Either way, they both really enjoyed soaking up the sun in the afternoon after short little naps and we enjoyed walking along the water (and soaking up the sun). We had one last delicious dinner at Malegij’s, which was delicious (as was all the rest of the food that we ate this weekend) and headed back to the cottage to pack and sleep.

And with that, our time in The Netherlands had come to an end! While we didn’t do AS MUCH as we wanted, we still managed to hit every spot that we really wanted to and had the best time exploring a new area. The weather was incredible and everywhere we looked was just so incredibly beautiful. The people were so welcoming and we enjoyed every minute we had there.

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I hope that you enjoyed seeing just a small glimpse into The Netherlands through our eyes.  My tips/tricks/recommendations will be up in about a week or so.