A Girls Weekend- Heidelberg

After months and months, I finally was able to do my little girls’ getaway! Back in March I was supposed to go on a girl’s weekend to Prague. This was something that we had planned, booked train tickets, an Airbnb, and some things to do while we were there. Then everything shut down in Europe and we had to cancel the entire trip (and any hopes of doing any girls things at all that weekend-even locally). In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that bad, but it was definitely a bummer for us, and I’ve been waiting since then to be able to do a little get away. So, when a free weekend popped up, I took it and one of my best friends, Kim, and I headed out to Heidelberg.

Heidelberg is a university town in south-west Germany, right on the Neckar River. The city itself has been designated a “City of Literature” and has quite a scientific hub as well within the university. The city also serves as the site of the remains of the earliest signs of human life in Europe ( a jawbone was found in 1907 dating back 600,000-200,000 years ago). Heidelberg as a region dates back to the 5th century BC, with the Celtic people and then the Byzantine/Roman Emperor Valentinian building homes in the location. In the 1st century AD a Christian church was founded inside the Celtic Fortress, with a Monastery and Abbey being added in the 12th century.  The actual founding of Heidelberg is considered to be in 1196. Heidelberg then went through two changes of “rulers” first the house of Hohenstaufen, then the Duke of Bavaria, Ludwig I acquired the city. In 1386, Heidelberg University was founded and, finally, of the upmost importance to me, Heidelberg’s library was founded in 1421, making it the oldest (public library) in Germany. So, a lot happened in the town’s history, long before our more modern history.  

A couple other random facts about Heidelberg, before I get into what we did on our 24 hrs…

Heidelberg went through quite the religious battle (as did most of Europe at one point or another), concerning Lutheranism and Calvinism. In fact, it played a leading role in the conflict, hosting Martin Luther shortly after his Ninety-Five Theses. Heidelberg was also a key player in the beginning of the Thirty Years War, after Frederick V was overthrown in 1621 by the House of Habsburg. Heidelberg has seen several different countries invade, including Sweden and France. And, during World War 2, Heidelberg was a stronghold for the Nazi Party (the NSDAP-National Socialist German Workers Party). The local populace was very much on the side of the Nazi’s and the university served to build an amphitheater and hold rallies during Hitler’s rise. While Heidelberg wasn’t targeted by bombings or other air raid actions, the old treasure bridge was destroyed (3 arches) by Germans fleeing in March of 1945. One final note, Heidelberg has one of the largest American communities outside of the United States (and I can definitely see why), along with an overall large population of expats from around the world. 

Ok, so now that we’ve got the history of the city out of the way (seriously- that was much longer than I had originally intended), let’s talk about what we did. We basically spent 24 hours wandering the Altstadt (Old Town), just reveling in being in an old German Town. The fact that it’s home to so  much history gives it a certain…feel and we just wanted to soak that up. 

We started off at Heidelberg Castle. I’ll be doing a full castle post on it, but I’ll touch on some of the basic information in this post.

The castle was first mentioned in the early 2nd century when the Duke of Bavaria (Louis I) received it from the Hohenstaufen Emperor. From that point on, the castle became two castles, upper and lower. The Upper castle was destroyed by a lightning bolt in 1537. The present castle was expanded in 1650, to then be damaged by war and fires, before another lightning bolt struck in 1764. It was incredible to walk through the walls of the castle, then along the ramparts overlooking the city, and finally just outside the main walls along the side of the complex. It has a real feel of history and tells a multitude of stories. 

From the castle, we checked into our hotel, and headed to the Old Bridge. The Old Bridge is actually the Karl Theodor Bridge, an arch bridge that crosses the Neckar River.

The current bridge is actually the ninth built and is dated back to 1788. The bridge location has a storied history (it had to have been with Heidelberg being on its’ ninth bridge) of bridges being destroyed by mother nature and wars alike. The medieval bridge gate on the Old Town side of the bridge dates back to the original town wall, however the tower helmets were added with the new stone bridge in 1788.  

A fun fact, on the gate side of the bridge there is the statue of a monkey (it’s ok if you don’t see the monkey until you read that it was a monkey- we originally thought it was a cat) which has quite the story attached.

The original monkey dates back to the 15th century and was placed within the tower to represent mockery against the tower’s representation of fear and respect. The monkey had a mirror in one hand (to encourage critical self-reflection) and his other hand on his…rear end. This was turned so that his rear end was facing across the river towards Mainz; which in turn was how the people of Heidelberg told the Bishop of Mainz that he had no power in Heidelberg. The 15th century version of an…eff you. The current bronze statue was installed in 1979 and legend says that if a visitor touches the horns, they will return to Heidelberg, the mice will provide fertility, and the mirror will provide wealth or good luck.

Our hotel was right at the Altstadt side of the bridge, so we were on it…a lot. We walked across to the other side of the Neckar and wandered down the water a bit before heading back over. We got some dinner right off the bridge and then wandered down and around the main street of the Altstadt. It was fun to just wander the streets and take in everything. 

Our final stop of our trip was a stop into the Church of the Holy Spirit, a church that dominates the main square of the Altstadt (and the steeple dominates the entire city).

The first mention of a church on this site is from the 13th  century, then in the 14th century another Gothic Church, and finally this church during the 15thcentury. The construction took around 150 years to complete, however it was interrupted for a period of time, and has been rebuilt once due to being set on fire by the French. The church did have the Palatine Library; however, the collection was taken during the Thirty Years War to the Pope and are now, on the whole (only about 885 manuscripts were returned) in a dedicated section at the Vatican Library. 

One of the things that I really liked about the church was how there was a little market set up on the direct outer walls of the church. Market stalls were set up within the walls of all different varieties, which reminded me of something straight out of a Ken Follett novel. The church itself was incredible and not what we were expecting at all. The walls and ceiling had a pink hue to them and the church itself had a simple elegance to it. 

The only thing that we did not get to do, but wanted to was walk up the Philosophers Walk. This is a walk (or hike) that offers scenic views of the old town from the opposite side of the river. It was a tradition of the philosophers and professors at the university to walk and talk along the path. If you hike a bit farther up you can see the ruins of the Monastery, the amphitheater, and the Celtic fort.

Overall though, we had such a wonderful time and I really recommend a trip over to Heidelberg. It, once again, reminded me just how much I love Germany and the German Old Towns. There is not a bad choice to make anywhere within the Altstadt and even just sitting along the river is incredibly peaceful. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020- Cochem

Our last stop on our Summer Holiday was back in Germany in a small town called Cochem. This is the weird part of the blog posts as I am going to do a general blog post today on Cochem and the couple of things that we did, but one of our reasons for stopping in Cochem, was its vicinity to a couple of castles we wanted to see. I’ll be giving full details on the castle’s in separate blog posts, but wanted to get this last stop blog post out for you. We really enjoyed the time we spent in Cochem (2 nights) and it really solidified how much we’ve fallen in love with Germany (which I’ll talk about at some other time). Regardless, after leaving Belgium, we crossed the border back into Germany and headed straight over to Cochem. 

Cochem is a small town (total population ~5300) on the Moselle River.

It has had settlements from the 1stcentury onwards, was an Imperial estate in the 13th century, and was granted town rights in the early 14thcentury. It’s been under the rule of Germany, France, and Prussia. During World War 2 there was an underground subcamp of the Natzweiler Concentration Camp with 13,000 prisoners at its height. It’s important to note that Cochem is located along the Mosel River which happens to be an area of Germany that produces, and is known for, wine. German Wine is typically a Riesling wine as that is the most widely planted grape, although they do produce a variety of white wines. (Luckily for me- I love a good Riesling so I was in the very right place ha-ha). 

The first place we stopped at, the minute we arrived in Cochem, was the Reichsburg Cochem, or Cochem Imperial Castle. As I said, I’ll be doing a whole separate post on Cochem Imperial Castle, but I’ll include a brief overview here as well.

Reichsburg Cochem dates back to around the 12th century when it was occupied and declared an Imperial Castle. In the 17th century the French King Louis XIV overran it and then destroyed it. In the 19th century a businessmen from Berlin purchased in and then reconstructed it. It is now owned by the town of Cochem. After a tour of the interior, we headed to our hotel and over to dinner. We stayed at Hotel Zenthof which was another perfect spot, right off the main bridge connecting the two sides of the river, and a view of the castle out the front. We had dinner right on the waterfront and watched the sunset with a lovely glass of Riesling for myself and a beer for my husband (this is the aforementioned moment where we just realized how perfect Germany has been for us). 

The next morning, we were up and off early (only stopping at a local supermarket to pick up some pastries for breakfast) to head over to our second castle, Burg Eltz.

Again, a full dedicated blog post is coming, but this is a medieval castle located in the heart of the hills above the Moselle River.  First dating back to the 12th century, this particular castle is still owned by the same family that lived there at that time (it was actually 4 families and quite an interesting tour!). We had the dreamiest morning walking along its walls and corridors. 

From there we went to do a little…adrenaline push. In Hunsruck there is a 360-meter suspension bridge (its height is 100 meters up) that you are able to walk across. The Geierlay Suspension Bridge was first suggested in 2006 and rejected, then re suggested in 2010 for a second look.

Modeled after the Nepalese suspension bridges (which means that it is “unstiffened”), construction started in 2015 (record time as the bridge opened 130 days later), and the bridge was inaugurated at the beginning of October of the same year. The bridge itself has a layer of local Douglas fir that you are actually walking on as you walk across the bridge.  Finally, the name was picked after an open competition and refers to the land and history of the area of the bridge.  The bridge itself is center to several hiking and biking spots, so you can definitely combine a hike with crossing the bridge.

Honestly, I am terrified of heights. Well, I mean really I suppose I am more terrified of falling, rather than heights, but the two go hand in hand. So, the idea of walking across this suspension bridge that moves with every movement (even more so in some areas than others) was not…appealing. As always, while I was on it I just stepped one foot in front of the other and just focused on that. I did, from time to time, look up to take in the absolute beauty that was around me, but on the whole it was an accomplishment to make it to other side breathing normally for me. And once I got to the other side? I felt like a bad ass ha-ha.

We decided to hike our way back to the car, rather than walk back across the bridge (this would have actually been preferrable, but my older son wasn’t keen on walking back across the bridge). The hike itself is gorgeous, taking you down into the valley before up the mountain side. It’s not a terrible hike, although I would recommend wearing comfortable shoes. 

A few things to note about the bridge currently (during Covid-19)- in order to maintain the appropriate health precautions, they are restricting movement on the bridge. This means that during the heightened visitor time (11-5 I think) they only allow foot traffic one way each hour. So odd hours going from one side, even from the other. This meant that we waited in line for about 2 hours to just make one pass on the bridge. One side is easily more packed than the other (as it would be) and the line wasn’t the most socially distanced it could have been. However, they grouped people together in groups of 10 or so that they would release on the bridge at a time, so it wasn’t a massive amount of people walking through at a time.  If you are going to go, I would recommend going outside of the popular visitor hours (I would recommend this regardless though). For example, I am looking at the webcam as I am writing this (10:26AM German time on a weekday) and there is hardly anyone on the bridge at this time. No lines, no crowds. 

And that wrapped up both our time in Cochem AND our Summer Holiday! What was your favorite stop? To recap on our entire Summer Holiday (or if you missed any) you can go along with us to LUXEMBOURG, PARIS (1 & 2), MONT-SAINT-MICHEL, NORMANDY, and BELGIUM. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Normandy, France

We spent a total of 2 ½ days in Normandy (including our to “travel days” to and from as we did things on those days). You’ll have seen my post devoted to Mont-Saint-Michel already (if not it’s HERE), but we did so much more in Normandy than that. Normandy has played such a role in World History being a landing site and the beginning of the Allied Forces taking charge during World War 2, however before that it was just…an area of France. The beaches that were stormed were just beaches and the area is absolutely gorgeous. During our time in Normandy, save for the Mont-Saint-Michel reprieve, we focused very heavily on World War 2 history. My husband had a long list of places that he wanted to see, and we managed to see most of them. Not only that, but our children were able to learn and understand what happened during that war, but I’ll get into that a bit later.

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After checking in to our hotel (we stayed at an Ibis in Port-en-Bessin-Huppain which I would recommend), we decided to just hit the ground running and head off to our first spot. It only felt right to pay homage and respect to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice before anything else, so we started at the American Military Cemetery at Omaha Beach.

The cemetery was originally a temporary American cemetery established in June 1944 and was the first American Cemetery on European Soil in the war. The cemetery has 9,385 graves, most of those who perished in the D-Day Landings and following operations, as well as a Walls of the Missing monument that contains 1,557 names. There is a visitor center within the cemetery, although this was closed due to Covid and there was also a path from the cemetery to the beach, but that closed due to security a few years back. You are able to walk the entire cemetery, through several different pathways (should you choose to walk along the beach side, the center, or the roadside), the wall of the missing, and the monument that details out the landings and invasion.

From the cemetery we went over to Point du Hoc. We wanted to make sure we were able to walk the area before it closed (as the locations with centers have opening and closing times, the beaches do not-you can walk those at any time), so we passed walking the beach until after. Pointe du Hoc is a little west of the center of Omaha Beach and a Ranger battalion was tasked with attacking and capturing the fortifications. Pointe du Hoc is a wall. A rock wall.

The Germans had a completed 4 casemates that housed guns, an observation bunker, and anti-aircraft guns.  The plan was to land by sea, scale the cliff and capture the area. There were quite a few problems that arose during the attack, a timing setback, the ladders weren’t long enough, and the second wave of soldiers did not get the flares in time and wound up landing on the beach rather than scaling the cliff. Now you are able to walk amongst the paths of the original fortifications and see the various gun mounts, observation deck, and bomb craters from World War 2. The site starts with a large plaque detailing what happened, and pointing out information before you start walking through the path. It ends at the monument to the battle.

We went to two beaches while we were in Normandy, Omaha and Utah Beach. I’m not going to go into all the history of what happened at the beaches as we should all have a basic understanding of D-Day and, quite honestly, there is so much information about the pre landings, landings, and ongoing battles afterward that it would be too much for this one post. However, I will do a brief rundown as to what we saw at each and a little comparison.

We went to Omaha Beach first.

Omaha Beach is probably the most “well known” of the beaches, the one that is featured in a lot of the films/movies, and the one that is talked about frequently. At Omaha Beach you are able to see the remains of the temporary harbor that was built after landing during low tide, as well as the memorial. The memorial is located at the center of the beach and features three independent sections. It was an incredible bit of time walking the same steps that a soldier might have taken.

Utah Beach was our second beach, visited on our second day, and it was another incredible experience.

Utah Beach was different from Omaha in that there was a lot more artifacts to explore. Utah Beach had one of the Huey Boats, had the anti-tank obstacles, had some tanks, and the museum also has airplanes and other items from D-Day. Our boys were able to have a much better understanding of what happened as they were able to see and visualize what it looked like.  It was something special to, once again stand there, but then see and wander through the various areas that…really haven’t changed in these 76 years.

After leaving Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey on our second day in the region, we headed over to the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Sainte-Mere-Eglise is one of the well-known towns from the various battles in France during World War 2. The town was under German control and the airborne paratroopers were to drop in the town during the night. What led was one of many firefights to liberate the French town. Over 3 days the Americans managed to maintain control of the bridges through the town, liberate, and continue to move forward. Sainte-Mere-Eglise is one of the French towns that continues to hold the American Military and the night of liberation in the highest esteem. The town is milestone 0 of The Freedom Path which is the path taken by Patton’s 3rd Army from Sainte-Mere-Eglise to Bastogne.

The Airborne Museum was born out of a desire to continue the memories of those who gave all and of that night that the town was liberated, and all of World War 2. This was one of those museums that you just have to visit. Beyond the typical artifacts and such that were used in the war (which were incredible) the museum has debuted an interactive iPad experience. They also offer a simulated jump experience that replicates what it would have been like to jump during World War 2 as well as what the ensuing battle would have been like. Excellent for both kids and adults as it’s a bit tamer than some of the other WW2 museums we went to (like Bastogne…but that’s another post).

The final place we went to on our final morning in Normandy was Longues-sur-Mer battery.

This is a World War 2 German artillery battery that is still relatively intact. On another cliffside, this battery is between Omaha and Gold Beaches. This is the ONLY battery in Normandy to retain all the original guns in their original positions. Walking the path, you are able to see the 4 casemates and the observation tower all fully intact, as well as walk through the guns in the casemates. I don’t think we could have picked a better spot to end our time in Normandy as this was just…incredible. To see the guns in the places they would have been, the cliffside as it was, the debris in the water, the view from the observation tower…there are no words.

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And on that note, we drove out of Normandy and over to Belgium.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

I’m going to start our time in the Normandy Region off with our visit to the Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey. It wasn’t the first thing we did, BUT it was one (in a long list) of the most incredible things we visited. Our entire time in Normandy was full of incredible places, both in happy and heartbreaking times. 

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I’ll be honest- I’m going to give a brief rundown of the history of the abbey, a short breakdown of our visit, but I’m mostly going to just let the pictures speak for themselves in this post. It’s safe to say that this was hands down my favorite place we saw on our entire summer holiday. A place that I’ve heard about so many times, is featured on so many bucket lists, a place that you can only dream about, and a place that I can now say that I’ve been to and it doesn’t disappoint. 

Mont-Saint-Michel dates back to the 1st century (708 to be exact) when a bishop had a sanctuary built on the Mont-Tombe. This mount soon became a sacred point of pilgrimage and in the 10th century a group of Benedictines settled in the abbey. The village outside the abbey grew larger until it reached the edges of the rock island it is located on. Of course, the abbey hasn’t only been used as a religious spot, it was also used as a prison the in the 19th century. During that time, it was known as the “Bastille of the sea”. Finally, in 1874 it was classified as a historic monument and restoration work was able to begin. Restoration work is regularly done to continue to keep the abbey in the state it would have been during the Middle Ages and in 1979 it became the first property in France to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The abbey is still, of course, in active use today as a religious site. 

 

An interesting note to make about the architecture (before I get into our visit) is that the concept of the abbey had to be somewhat redesigned to accommodate the pyramid nature of the rock. This makes it entirely unique; unlike any other monastery. The church stands on various crypts and a platform so that the church itself doesn’t collapse. The concept applied in order to make sure the entire abbey stood and stayed were relatively new and unheard of at the time as it met both the constraints for the monks as well as the constraints placed by the land itself. Walking through the tour you are able to see how this was done and where various platforms and load bearing spots are. 

Like I’ve already mentioned, I think this was one of the spots that I was most in awe and will never forget (like most of the Normandy portion of our trip). From walking the path to the bridge to cross the water, to walking through the tight alleyways with the shops and restaurants out to get your business (it’s not nearly as sinister as it sounds- promise), climbing up the rock until it opens up to the abbey itself was a memorable experience. The view from the uppermost point is the most incredible view, you really get the sense of isolation it could have been (as – at the time – it was only accessible at low tide). The abbey itself is an incredible feat. The architecture aside, the sheer beauty of the church, the intertangling yet separation of the various spots within the abbey was really neat to see. You are also able to see one spot that is an homage to the buildings use as a prison. 

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To be honest, we spent way too long contemplating if we would actually go. It was one of those situations where we would probably not ever get *this close* again, but it was just a bit too far. We didn’t know how long we would spend there and it was across the peninsula from us. The morning we decided to go it was a spur of the moment let’s just do it and have no regrets…and I’ll be honest- it was well worth it. The drive to the abbey is gorgeous, meandering through the French countryside and then along the shoreline leading up. The parking wasn’t bad at all (we did get there early thought), and the crowds were less than what I was expecting (but still more than we had seen previous). We only stayed for a couple hours at most before heading out, but those were hours very well spent. 

 

In terms of Covid and general tips…

I would purchase your ticket online, park, and then walk the path to the Abbey rather than take the bus (take the bus after your visit). The walk isn’t long and it’s stunning to see the rocky island get larger and larger in front of you as you get closer. We went mid-morning (our tour was around 11:30-45 I believe) and it wasn’t that bad. The shops are fun to look into and walking through all the little back alleys was neat. You get a real gist of what it would have been like to live there. They do require masks at all times once you enter in the abbey and the tour is, as many others, a very strict one-way tour. There is also an option to rent a room and stay overnight on the island (which I kind of wish we had done, but it’s totally ok). If you choose to just go for a day, I would plan on spending a few hours on the actual island. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Paris pt. 2

There is a word derived from French, flaneur, and it means to stroll and observe; which is basically what we spent our second day in Paris doing. If our first day was spent dotting from here to there, hopping off and on public transport and staying on more of the Notre Dame side of things (read about it HERE), our second day was spent truly walking the streets of Paris. We utilized public transport twice, once heading in and then again heading back out. So, what did we do?

We started our day off at Hotel national des Invalides, or The National Residence of the Invalids. This building has several different facets, but it’s original use was as a military hospital and retirement home for war veterans. It also holds a large church with the tallest dome in Paris and the tombs of some very notable war heroes (we will break this down in a bit, but <cough, cough> Napoleon <cough, cough>).

The original project was commissioned by Louis XIV in the 17th century and it has some key history beyond just serving as a military hospital. During the French Revolution it was stormed by rioters and used against the Bastille, it also served as an important spot in the degradation, and then rehabilitation, of Captain Alfred Dreyfus (which I am just now learning about?!), and holds the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte. Of course, Napoleon is not the only Frenchmen interred in the dome, there is an exhaustive list of tombs, vaults, and hearts that are in Les Invalides. 

These days the property not only serves as a facility for veterans (it still holds a medical and rehabilitation center), but it also serves as a museum center with museums detailing war history as well as an archive center for the 20th century archives. The complex is massive, and we spent a few hours walking through all of the sections. The amount of compiled information just in the museum portion is a lot and spans not just French history, but quite a few other countries as well. They’ve got a lot of little models of battlefields and battles that our boys enjoyed. The church and dome are also quite grand and incredible in their own ways and of course, the tomb of Napoleon is front and center. 

From the Hotel des Invalides we walked over to the Eiffel Tower. We chose to simply walk as the distance is not that far and it’s an easy route (you just keep the tower in your sights…). It was actually a really nice walk that allowed us to see a bit more of the Paris architecture (that is different from the countryside in my opinion). 

So, the Eiffel Tower. Constructed in the late 19th century for the 1889 World’s Fair, it “towers” over Paris at 324 meters tall. I feel like it should be noted that this particular World’s Fair was held to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. As with the Louvre Pyramid, there were objectors on several fronts (although the Eiffel Tower massively predates the Louvre Pyramid- HERE). The two popular counter arguments to the Tower were those who objected on aesthetic grounds and those that did not believe that such a tower could be constructed. Gustave Eiffel fought back, had powerful people behind him, and so the tower went ahead. The tower has a storied history, but survived both World Wars (narrowly in the second as Hitler did order it to be destroyed) and still stands today. There are three platforms with the third being at the very top. We were not able to go up to the third due to Coronavirus, and ended up choosing not to participate in going in the Eiffel Tower at all. Instead, we walked “under” (really beside it), across the Pont D’lena bridge and over to the Trocardie Gardens for a view of the full tower. We didn’t linger to long, partly because you can see the Eiffel Tower from any viewpoint on this side of the city of Paris, choosing instead to head over to our next stop of the day. 

From the Eiffel Tower we walked along towards the Arc de Triomphe. The route that we ended up walking allowed us to see a bit more of the “white collar” business side of Paris (I say white collar very lightly) as well as a part of their embassy section. It wasn’t a bad walk and before long we were right at the Arc. 

Commissioned by Napoleon towards the beginning of the 19th century, the Arc de Triomphe is a tribute to the armies of the Revolution and the French Empire. Napoleon really liked Roman antiquity (and you see this theme in quite a few of the buildings he commissioned) so there are a lot of similarities between this arc and those in the Roman Forum. It was placed in a central point of the city, with the Emperors residence at one end of the walkway (now the Avenue des Champs-Elysees) and became a central point for numerous roads leaving from the arc (did that make any sense?). Construction on the Arc was quite start and stop, however once completed it became a rallying spot for the French Army and is home to several large military parades and demonstrations. In 1920 the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was interred beneath the Arc and the first eternal flame in Western/Eastern Europe since the Vestal Virgins was lit. There are a lot of architectural details and war history carved into the Arc and you are able to go to the top of the Arc and see the expanse of Paris. We declined to do so, but wandered around the base reading the names and paying our respects to their tomb. 

From there we wandered down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees which was open to foot traffic (not vehicular). The Champs-Elysees is an avenue that runs from the public square of the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. It is home to luxury stores and boutiques as well as military parades and other major events. Originally called the Grand Promenade it was originally an extension of the Tuileries Garden and the Tuileries Palace. It quickly was extended (several times) and then became home to townhouses of the nobility before finally, much much later in history (not entirely- right around the 1860’s) settling to the shopping center it has become. The avenue is not only famous for its shopping, but also for its military parades. The Germans had two victory parades, but the most joyous were of the parades of the French and American forces after liberating the city. While we didn’t do any magical, high end shopping, we did stop for dinner on the avenue and treated ourselves to a nice little feast before continuing on. 

We wandered over towards the Grand and Petite Palais on Winston Churchill Avenue. The Grand Palais is an exhibition hall and museum dating back to the late 19th century. It is dedicated and intended for the arts and showcased objects innovation and modern technology (think planes, automobiles, household goods). During World War 1 it was used as a war hospital and during World War 2 it was used (by the Germans) as a truck depot and propaganda center. The Petit Palais is directly across the avenue and is an art museum and dates back to the 1900 World’s Fair. 

From there we walked across Pont Alexander III Bridge, which was built to connect the Champs-Elysees with the Hotel des Invalides and Eiffel Tower. Named after the Tsar Alexander III it was commissioned and built in the late 19th century. It is the most ornate and extravagant bridge in the city and boasts incredible views- from one side the Grand Palais, the other the Hotel des Invalides and out towards the water you see the Eiffel Tower. 

And that concludes our time in Paris!  

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Luxembourg Tips & Tricks

On Monday I shared the first stop of our Summer Holiday 2020, which was Luxembourg City. You can read about everything we did on our ~36 hours in the city HERE and today I am going to continue on with the theme of Luxembourg and talk about my Tips and Recommendations for Luxembourg City. 

This particular post is going to be a bit different from my typical “Tips & Recommendations” posts as I don’t really have a lot of either category. To be completely, bluntly, honest…there isn’t A LOT to Luxembourg City. I don’t think you need more than a day to see everything you’d like (we definitely did what we wanted in a day and could have stopped at a couple more places – aka museums and such- if we wanted to) and it is relatively “central” in the fact that you can just walk the entire city and see everything there is to see. 

Honestly, that is what I would recommend that you do- walk the city. As I mentioned, we did the Wenzel and City Promenade Walking Tour. If you stop of the tourism office, you can get a guide pamphlet and map that takes you along the bigger sites in the city and the important monuments. You are also able to kind of tailor this to what you want to see. For instance, we wanted to see the main squares and monuments, but mostly had our sights set on seeing the Casemates and Old Fortifications, so we spent most of our day in that area, with shorter stops at the beginning. 

If you do get the pamphlet from the tourist office, then I would start with the tour they outline, but once you get to the Casemates, I would head down towards the Grund Gate and across the road to walk through the walls (in the direction of the Neimenster area. This gives you the chance to see quite a bit more of the older fortifications as well as a really nice walk along the river. The signs will directly you back towards the bridge and then you can continue the City Promenade tour if you would like. At the simplest, these are two “separate” tours, but between the two of them you can see the most of Luxembourg City. Just note, that they are separate so to see everything, you’ll need to combine them. 

Public Transport

I think I am going to make public transport its own category in these posts as it seems to be something I talk about at every location we travel to. So, Luxembourg City public transport is free within the country. Let me repeat, FREE within the country. You can just hop on a bus and go from (for example) the airport to the center of town, free of charge. This is a recent change, but one I am totally on board with. Trams and such within the city are free as well. The only time that you have to pay for public transportation is if you are crossing the border or outside the city (I believe- check the tourism website HERE for all of the details). 

I think that pretty much covers my opinions and tips as far as Luxembourg is concerned. Since visiting, I’ve come to realize that a lot of Luxembourg is inspired by the French (and a bit of Spanish as well). Most of the city seems to be made up of a cultural meld of visitors and immigrants from the surrounding country. While we enjoyed our time there, we don’t plan on going back, nor would we recommend a trip solely to see the city (just as a stop if you are maybe already traveling through). I didn’t hate it and actually found it pretty cool in spots, but I wasn’t overly in love either. 

If you want to know the Covid-19 specifics (do you?) I found Luxembourg City to be the strictest of all the places that we’ve visited, and they’ve actually recently gone “red” again with visitors and numbers (and we are no longer allowed to travel there due to personal work restrictions). Masks were required in stores, restaurants (unless you were seated at your table), physical distancing was enforced, and their law enforcement was on alert reminding those who weren’t abiding by the rules. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Luxembourg City

I’ll start our Summer Holiday posts by saying, our ultimate destination we had in mind with this trip was the Normandy Region of France. My husband is a massive War History person, with an emphasis on World War 2. He had his heart set on visiting the beaches, the cemetery, and a couple other spots and I was interested in seeing them to. As opposed to last summer, this year we decided to stop for multiple nights at each location (a minimum of 2 nights a place). Spreading out our trip a bit more made it much easier for us pace wise (one of my biggest complaints from last year was by the time that we arrived at our last destination, we were so worn out from the pace of the first chunk that while we enjoyed it, it was a different enjoyment). 

So, in keeping this in mind, our first stop on our Summer Holiday was Luxembourg City. Luxembourg is a smaller country bordering France, Germany, and Belgium. It was a good first stop to have as there wasn’t a lot, a lot to do, but it was somewhere that we wanted to see. We visited the capital, Luxembourg City, which also happens to be one of the European Union Capitals. Luxembourg itself has quite a long, hard fought history that has formed it into the independent country it is today. The city of Luxembourg is actually listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site and on the whole, we spent a lovely time there. 

We arrived in the afternoon on Wednesday and checked in to our hotel. We stayed at an Ibis outside of the center of town (actually at the airport), but public transportation was very easy and there was a bus stop right at the hotel. The hotel itself was nice and clean and had plenty of modern amenities. The boys loved staying in the bunk beds and it’s a chain that I wouldn’t mind staying in again (and we did later in the trip).

After getting settled we headed out to start wandering around. We didn’t have any major plans for that first night as we wanted to do the city offered “Wenzel Circular Tour” which would be a full day long event. So, instead of doing much planning, we hopped on a bus and just headed for an overlook. 

Our first “view” of Luxembourg City was Le Chemin de la Corniche, one of the “most beautiful” balconies in Europe (claimed by a Luxembourg writer- so maybe a little bias? Ha-ha).

Between the overlook and the walk leading up to it, you can get a fairly good look at Luxembourg City and its history (you can see the Grund and the Casemates). This spot was built by both the French and the Spanish in the 17th century and, once the fortress was dismantled, was levelled off. I will say- it was a beautiful look out point and it was really nice to see the river cut between the houses and roads.  

We headed away from the balcony as a good amount of the spots over there we were planning on seeing the next day, and headed into the old town area of the city. We made a quick stop into Saint Michael Church.

This is the oldest church in Luxembourg and its location has been mentioned back to the 10th century. This particular church area has, similar to the city itself, had quite a turbulent history with the current standing church dating to the 17th century. You can see from the interior that the church itself is on the smaller side (in comparison to other churches and cathedrals), but still grand and incredible in its own way. You are also able to see areas that showed some of the previous structures that have been destroyed and rebuilt. From the church we wandered towards the main square and towards some dinner. We ate dinner at a restaurant called La Boucherie (Colton’s pick because they had a cow statue…) where we dined on meats and beers. 

After dinner we decided to walk over to the Adolphe Bridge.

One of the more well-known bridges in Luxembourg this is a double deck arch bridge (with the lower suspension bridge opening in 2018 for pedestrian and bike traffic). Originally built in the early (very early) 1900’s this bridge is known to the people as the New Bridge and has stood as a symbol of Luxembourg independence. The lower deck has become a large tourist attraction and we decided to take our chance and walk across (this was before I realized that it was basically just another lower road, rather than any form of “scarier” bridge). It did provide a unique view of some of the lower walkways and was a fun experience. 

Our full day in Luxembourg City was the day that we had planned to see it all. Luxembourg City Tourism offers a free, self-paced and guided walking tour called the Wenzel Circular Walk. It covers the history as well as the modern touches to give you a full picture. It also takes you through some of the nature walks. We knew that Luxembourg City wasn’t big, and we figured this was our best way to “see it all” (as tourist offices tend to be good places to start in these cases). You can start at the tourism office by picking up your guide pamphlet, which is also offered in a kid’s version with activities, and head out on your way. 

***A Quick Interjection here- if you don’t check my Tips & Tricks post coming on Wednesday (which will have A LOT more details about this walking tour and my full thoughts on how best to see the city) I would recommend stopping at the tourist office, but also making sure that you have downloaded into your phone the pamphlet from the website. The tourist office gave out a City Promenade guide, which will guide you to most of the same sites, but the signs and guide can conflict with each other, so having both options is better. The two pamphlets have different stopping points (mostly because I think they are actually different) and they cover different spots.  We ended up following signs at some of the points and putting the pamphlet aside- especially around the casemates area.***

I’m not going to go through every single stop on the tour, but will give a general overview and highlights of some of the big ones. The tour starts in William Square (which is kind of tucked almost “above”/”parallel” the new square that holds more restaurants and other spots) and covers the town hall, statues, and the Grand Ducal Palace. From there we walked through to the Cercle Cite and the other squares, and then over to the Bibliotheque Nationale (The National Library- we found two libraries by happenstance in Luxembourg City) and the Cathedral to the Blessed Virgin. 

Also known as the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Luxembourg this is the largest church (and only Cathedral in the country) in Luxembourg. Dating back to the early 17th century, this was originally a Jesuit church that was then consecrated and elevated to a cathedral in the late 1800’s. Something interesting I learned was that this cathedral had a fire as well (thinking along the lines of Notre Dame in Paris). In the 1980’s (on Good Friday actually) there was a fire in the towers that destroyed the church bells, the west tower collapsed, and the roof was partly damaged. This cathedral was incredible with all of the artwork and stained glass, it was just a special place. 

From the cathedral we stopped at a couple more monuments, but mostly made our way over to the Bock Promontory and Casemates.

At the Promontory you are able to see several things, the original, uncovered foundation walls of the very first stronghold, the original castle bridge,  and the Bock Casemates right below the street. These are the longest casemates of the world and are able to be walked through during certain times of year (unfortunately not for us due to Covid-19). However, we were still able to walk along the wall, the defenses, see the holes in the wall where canons would go, and much more. 

***This is where we started following the signs for Wenzel Walk, as opposed to the City Promenade map that we were given at the Tourist Office. The signs are placed at various spots that allow you to get the most out of the “lower” portion of Luxembourg City.***

Heading downwards, we walked through the Grund Gate and along the wall of the Promontory towards the Wenzel Wall.

We crossed the water at the Stierchen, which was really cool, then walked down the stairs and along the water. This was probably my favorite part of our entire day as it was basically (at this point) a nature walk. It was beautiful. If you would like, you are able to walk through “Neimenster”, which is now just a social cultural center, but has quite the history as an abbey, a prison, and a military hospital. We chose to head up the stairs to see some more of the tower and lookout points from the original fortifications. 

The signs then gently nudge and directly back around towards Adolphe Bridge through a series of walled pathways (original fortifications) before dropping you at the base of the Bridge. 

And that pretty much concluded both our walking tour of Luxembourg City. It also concluded our time in Luxembourg as we ate some dinner, headed back to the hotel to get ready to leave early the next day. Which concludes this first post of our Summer Holiday.  

Travel & Covid-19: My Experience

We recently got home from a trip to several different countries outside of our own (we currently live in Germany) and I figured I would share a little insight into OUR experience. Obviously this is all very new and things are constantly changing from location to location, but this is what I experienced and saw. 

This isn’t a debatable post, nor is it a place for opinions to be spewed one way or the other, I want to make that very clear. This is a place for those who may be traveling soon or want insight on what travel even looks like currently. Also, I don’t have the current accurate case numbers for Covid-19 and I wouldn’t share them if I did. These numbers and information changes daily and I would refer you to check the WHO, EU, or CDC websites for further details. Finally, I am going to give a very brief rundown of our situation. My husband is in the military and we are stationed here in Germany (I don’t talk about this much and wont moving forward very often, but need to address it for the sake of this post). We have our own restrictions set in place by nature of his job, above the European Union and Germany restrictions which do include where/how we travel currently. 

Another – shorter & quicker – note we traveled to Luxembourg, France, Belgium, and a smaller town in Germany. I would say we experienced everything from strict enforcement to relatively relaxed enforcement in terms of recommendations and Covid-19. I feel like we experienced enough to actually speak about not only what we did, but how we felt and what the experience was like. I’ll be sharing everything from masks, to shopping, to border crossings and finishing up with my thoughts. 

I’ll start by saying that masks are recommended across the board in Europe. In some countries they are required, but not all (for example in Brussels they were mostly recommended, but not required and in Luxembourg they were required inside at all times). In countries that require masks, they are required in any indoor situation (so a museum, church, store, etc.). They also recommend and ask that you have a mask in any outdoor setting where being able to be physically distant from others is not feasible. You are not required to wear a mask outside (unless that specific establishment ask that you do) and I found that most places that had outdoor exhibits chose to minimize the amount of people allowed in at one time over requiring a mask. One final mask note in regard to dining out. In the countries we went to, you wore your mask to enter the restaurant, go to the bathroom, and leave the restaurant. The wait staff wore masks through the entirety, but you were not required to wear one once you were seated at the table. 

Public transportation was something that I was the most intrigued about as it is what we use the most when we travel. We rely on a metro or bus system, so when figuring our trip out, this was what I wanted to know the most about. AND aside from a mask requirement and limited seating options (to ensure people from separate households minimize contact) everything seemed business as usual. The limited seating falls into this: if someone is sitting on a seat, the seat next to them (or in some cases behind- basically the seat touching them) should not be occupied by someone other than a member of their own household. Obviously they would prefer that you not get on a train that is already close to capacity (so don’t pack in like sardines), but there wasn’t any sort of force enforcing that. Public Transportation seemed very…”business as usual, but with masks”.

Everywhere we went, no matter mask requirement, you could count on markers (whether signs or tape on the floor) directing the flow of traffic as well as minimizing the amount of people in an establishment at one time. There is no disruption in any way to doing things this way. In fact, I somewhat prefer it. Most tourist locations know their sights the best and know the best way for visitors to get the most out of their visits. They have engineered the markers to take you along the best routes and allow you to get the most out of your visit. Marking the direction of traffic not only allows them to safely have people on the premises, but minimizes a lot of flow problems and allows you to end up seeing exactly what you want to see without a crowd of people or backtrackers. We didn’t run into any issues with making it into locations or museums due to the smaller group sizes, nor did our wait time to anything get too astronomical (except our last day at a suspension bridge). Honestly, I found it to be a bit more enjoyable. 

Since we are on the topic (kind of) of the smaller tour groups, I will say we didn’t see an overwhelming number of tourists, until we came back to Germany. Paris seemed almost empty (and in fact a few people that have been previous to Covid have said my pictures made it look almost like a ghost town) and most of the “tourists” we did run into were “within country” folks (people who are sticking within borders). I will say, it was a bittersweet addition to our trip. I know how important tourism can be, how many are suffering and dealing with Covid (in any way from actually being sick, to dealing with job cuts, to being higher risk for it), BUT I would be lying if I said that we didn’t enjoy being able to truly enjoy the various spots without all of the crowds. It was a unique experience. 

No matter what country you were in, whenever you entered an establishment there was a hand sanitizer station set up. These varied from just regular sanitizer bottles, to fancy foot pump bottles, to wipes (in only one or two locations). It was expected that when you walked in, you sanitized your hands (and our kid’s hands) and then again when you walked out. What varied the most with this from country to country was the guidelines of what to do after you touched something. This is a guideline I’m not even sure what or how I would advise, but we saw one location where they sanitized items right after you touched them, others would take them to the back (I’m guessing to wait out some time period), and some would do nothing at all (now some of this made sense depending on what it is that the store was selling), but otherwise shopping wasn’t very much interrupted. Most places had some form of clear material around their cash registers and I found stock wise things were good. 

A note on dining out in restaurants. We found that we didn’t need a reservation 90% of the time. Of course, you can make one to guarantee you have a table (as you would regularly), but it wasn’t required. We were able to walk into most restaurants and find a table to eat. Tables were placed at generous spacing and those in the middle would occasionally have those same clear barriers on either side of the table. As I already stated, masks were required until you were seated at your table. In the strictest location, restaurants had paper recyclable menus, but most had standard menus that would get sanitized after every use. Wait staff wear masks through their entire shift, but that is really the only “abnormality” (you could say). 

As far as crossing borders, we didn’t run into any issues. The European Union (and our little area) has open borders and at this time there aren’t any border checks for the countries we visited. Of course, you can always get randomly stopped and screened, but we didn’t actually experience that. We drove so I can’t speak to what planes or trains look like unfortunately. 

My Thoughts/Feelings

Honestly, I was a bit nervous going into this trip. I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what the right steps to do to prepare, how paranoid I should get, etc. Now that we’ve gone and done it I have no fears. Well that may not be entirely true, I am definitely still worried about Covid and everything involved with that, HOWEVER I didn’t feel…unsafe in that sense whatsoever. Basically, a lot of what you do (just in general with travel right now) is going to be what you’re comfortable with. We wore masks inside even if they weren’t required, because that is what felt right for us (for numerous reasons). We tried to stay physically distant as much as we were able to and only going into places that we really wanted to. I think once we got into the swing of things it became second nature quite quickly. It really wasn’t all that bad. 

So, that’s that! Do you have any questions that I didn’t cover or that you want a bit more information on? Let me know!

Round the Kettle Ep. 26: Home Again

Hello! Long-ish time no blog. It’s been a nice little breathing point; I’ve been able to focus on our traveling and some much-needed family moments. It’s funny as this blog is my hobby. It’s my outlet. It’s like my library- my little corner in this great big world. And it’s a lot of work. It’s something that I love to do, that I feel a responsibility with, and that also takes up a lot of my brain space. I love it, but I get worn out from time to time. It’s not just sitting down at the computer, typing up some words, and then pressing publish (although it has been and can be that at times- especially these Round the Kettle posts). I try to put thought and information into each post I publish, I try to make it cohesive, and try to correct my grammar throughout each post. A break is a good thing every once in a while, to let my brain pause and let new ideas come. 

So, what did I do with my break? We took a little summer holiday. I spoke about our decision to start traveling HERE and originally that was limited to within Germany (where we live). However, we got a last minute “OK” to travel to some other countries (this is a longer story and maybe I’ll talk about it sometime…) and we jumped at the opportunity. We took a little under 2 weeks and explored areas of Luxembourg, France, and Belgium. 

I’ll be honest…it was glorious. Yes, we were overly precautious with masks, hand sanitizer, and washing our hands, but we also got to see places without the bulk of tourists. While there are positives and negatives to tourism and seeing tourist hotspots with all of the tourists, I won’t deny that walking through parts of Paris without a million other people was incredible. I will have blog posts and tip posts for every location, but it was a really great time overall. I didn’t know how much I truly missed (and needed) travel until we started traveling again. It was like something clicked back into place in my soul and I realized just how important that is. 

We do not have any immediate plans to travel again (beyond our German borders), as work schedules will start to pick back up again, school will start at some point in some way, and we are still carefully evaluating locations based on numbers (and approval). We have hopes though that late fall will have us planning another trip as well as sometime in the holiday season. 

Finally, now that I am starting to work through blog posts and content I wanted to give a little insight as to what you can expect coming up on the blog…

To start off I am going to be doing a little post about what the actual travel and Covid restrictions were like. What we noticed, what we practiced, and just what that was like. If you have any questions, please let me know and I’ll try to address them in that post. I will say- I cannot advise plane travel as we drove. 

Then, much like every other holiday, I will have blog posts on each city we went to, along with the tips/tricks posts, and a couple of castle posts (as we visited a couple of those). I’ve got a lot of thoughts and opinions to share on this particular trip so I’m looking forward to compiling those together. 

I will also have my standard reading wrap up post coming up at the end of this month/beginning of the next, a chatty post about the upcoming school year, AND hopefully a big announcement towards the end of next month (August/September time frame). 

All of this kicks off on Wednesday with my experience traveling in this new unprecedented time. 

How have you been? Have you started to see things open up near you?

Life in Europe – 1 Year In

Where to even begin with this post?! I mean, seriously…where do I even start? It’s been a year. We’ve been here a year. Well technically it’ll be a year on Friday, but still…a whole year. It’s hard to wrap my mind around.

A year ago, we stepped on a flight leaving out of Baltimore (after a flight from KY to MD) and into, at the time, the unknown. 8 hours later (or something like that) we stepped off the plane on a whole new continent that we hadn’t been to before, in a new country, ready for a new adventure. And an adventure it has been.

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Our first 5 months here consisted of living in a hotel, traveling (A LOT), and trying to learn our way around the customs and traditions of Germany. Things like stores being closed on Sundays, paying for restrooms, paying for water at restaurants, the dinners out that last hours, and driving as fast as we “like” on the autobahn (which isn’t as true or fun as you would think) were all new to us. After 5 ½ months in a hotel apartment, we got a house. A spacious 3 bedroom + to make all our own (well except for no painting, no major construction, etc.). We spent the rest of the year “settling in”. A year later and I feel like we finally feel settled, feel a part of our little community, have good friends that we can count on, and have things figured out.

And traveling. We’ve traveled more in the past year than I think we have in the span of our lives. We’ve learned more history, more culture, more information in the past year than ever before. We’ve seen the not so good parts of history up close, seen the gorgeous scenery of several countries, and have had one incredible trip after another. This first year taught us, more than anything, how to adapt, how to go with the flow, how to work with what we have. And, as much as it may seem like an “on the go” lifestyle, we’ve really slowed down in a way. We’ve stopped and smelled the roses for lack of a better phrase. We’ve taken so much more time as a family, exposing not only ourselves, but our children to different ways of living. One of the most incredible things was my older son telling us, at 4 years old, about The Colosseum and what used to happen. At 4 years old.

We’ve traveled to 11 countries, visited 14 castles, we’ve seen more churches than I can even count, seen the Tulips in The Netherlands, the Tower of London, the Dachau Concentration Camps, the filming locations for The Sound of Music, The Pantheon and Ancient Rome, and so, so much more. We’ve been to Oktoberfest, a whopping 7 cities (some of which had multiple within the city) Christmas Markets, and numerous cultural festivals and events. We’ve really tried to be involved and be a part of the culture in Germany. To celebrate with them, mourn with them, understand their history, culture, and what is important to them in life.

Even with all of that, we are still just living our life. We live our everyday lives. My husband goes to work in the morning, our oldest is starting school (just preschool, but still), both boys go to playgroup, I read and write every day, and we chat with friends over coffee or dinner. We just happen to be in Germany. I think this might be when I just get mind boggled the most. When I’m making that afternoon cup of tea or curling up in the evenings with my family. When I look at my backyard and it hits me…we are in Germany. This is when I count my blessings.

It’s hard to believe that we have our “home” days. That we aren’t always out adventuring, discovering new places, seeing more and more. I think that’s kind of the strange assumption that is made when you see someone who is able to move to a foreign country for a few years- that they are always going to be traveling. But that is just not the case for us. For us we have to have that down time. Not only do work and our boys make that a necessity, but it’s also just a quirk to us. We are homebodies by nature and so we usually need to have a little bit of home time in between all the travel, and it can’t just be a couple nights. Plus, there is adventure right in our backyard. There is so much to do and see right nearby us that it makes our home time weekends still full of fun.

This first year in Germany has been an adjustment, a whirlwind, an adventure. I can’t wait to see what the next two bring us.