A Weekend in A Camper

Over Labor Day weekend we decided it was time to take another camper trip. To be honest, I’ve been kind of itching to get back into a camper, get out into nature, and take some massive steps back from the world. There’s just something about being in a camper, disconnected, in nature that really just works for me. It gives me that much needed “silence the world” feeling. 

Now, last year when we did our camper trip it was in October to the Lake Placid area, and it was glorious- the beauty of Autumn in the Adirondacks is unparalleled and unreal. You can read that HERE. It was our first time in a camper, and we fell in love (if you can’t tell). 

This time we decided to go to another famed region of New York- Letchworth State Park. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” it is known to be one of the most “scenically magnificent areas” of the eastern part of the country. It is home to a lot of hiking, horseback riding, white water rafting and kayaking, hot air balloon rides, as well as a variety of lodging right within the park. 

We decided to stay outside of the park, mostly because most of the spots were already reserved when we looked (these spots, both, book up FAST). We chose a KOA campground on the southern end of the park and we’re actually very pleased with it! I know that in some instances KOA’s can get a bit of a bad rep, and sure being as close to neighbors isn’t like…great, but our experiences thus far have been great. We arrived in the afternoon on Friday and spent the first few hours getting settled in, unpacking, letting the kids run free and wild. 

The next morning dawned bright and clear so after breakfast we headed out to Letchworth State Park. Letchworth State Park follows the course of the Genesee River for about 17 miles as the river goes over a total of 3 waterfalls and cuts a gorge through the landscape. It crosses two counties as well as 5 cities. The park dates back to 1859 when William Pryor Letchworth started purchasing the land. He started with the land nearest to the Middle Falls, built his home and then started to look beyond. In the end by 1906 he had 1,000 acre’s that he bequeathed to the state of New York. The park contains three waterfalls, Upper, Middle, and Lower. Each are unique, each are located within the southern section of the park (yes there is a southern/northern line, and it is marked within the park-it is THAT big). Upper Falls has an active Railway arch bridge above it, creating quite the photo backdrop, but also historic as that railroad bridge path dates back to 1875. Middle Falls is the highest of the three waterfalls at 107-foot drop and is just the powerhouse you expect it to be. Lower Falls is exactly what you would think from the name, a lower “calmer” fall over several levels, with a stone bridge just below. There is one smaller, ribbon waterfall, however most of the time you are not able to truly see it. 

My initial thought was to hike the distance between the three waterfalls; HOWEVER, this is a 7-mile hike and is listed as a “moderate” level hike but has a steep incline/decline that we didn’t know about until we overheard some hikers speak about it. We decided at the middle falls that hiking the full way was not feasible with two little kids on an 80 something degree day. This is fine as not only can you drive the entire park, but you are also able to stop at more than enough spots to get out, take in the gorge, the river, and the falls. There are two parking lots for the falls, one located in between upper and middle, and then one close to lower falls. (To be honest- I was also ok with not hiking as most of the hike is above the river, rather than within the gorge.)

I think that the park itself is incredible and definitely worth a visit, and the amenities for camping or staying within the park are great, but if you are looking for river/waterfall/gorge hiking, I would recommend Watkins Glen State Park. Obviously, these are two VERY different parks and I hate to even put the comparison there, but I would definitely say I preferred that one to Letchworth if we are talking about water adjacent hikes/locations. 

We basically spent all day within the state park, as planned, and just decided that when we were done, we would head back to the campsite. The KOA campground had live music both nights right near our site, so we had an enjoyable evening next to the fire. 

We slept in a bit the next morning and it was a bit more overcast than Saturday. We knew there was a possibility of rain later in the day (hence the State Park on Saturday), so we decided to choose things a bit more…low key. We gave the kids an option of two activities, both geared towards their interests (but we would enjoy too). The first was a train ride that would span the countryside, the second being an animal safari. It was a tough decision, but they ultimately chose the animal safari. 

Now, let me say this first- I am always wary of the animal sanctuary/roadside zoo style places. I tend to…avoid or research the practices prior to visiting. I just wanted to share that before getting into this. I think, like anything else, there are good places and bad and it’s up to us to look into each place before we visit. 

So, we decided to spend a couple hours at Hidden Valley Animal Adventure. We opted to do the safari they offered, in their vehicles with a tour guide, rather than our own. We did a more mid-day tour time and our tour guide ended up being one of the animal care takers. So, we not only learned what the park was like, but the specifics in how they care for the animals and how they manage heards, relationships, and the like. Not to mention how they…simply maintain and provide the best for the animals. We were able to see quite a variety of animals, but I never felt like they were animals that were…inappropriate or overly exotic for the location. We did get to feed them which was cool, and the guide was incredible in passing along knowledge and letting us know when to step away. After the safari you are able to walk up to the petting zoo and feed the goats or down to the Koi Pond and feed the fish (or both really). It was a great couple hours.

Thankfully the rain held off until after we got back to camp and didn’t properly start coming down until later in the evening. We started up the fire to try and enjoy one last one, cooked up some dinner, and just relaxed. When it started to rain, the pitter patter created quite the perfect ambiance for us and the live band for the evening were great! 

That really wraps up our weekend. It was a much needed, very relaxed, leisurely weekend unplugged and away. One of my goals in the coming years is to make these Camper trips more than a once-a-year occasion. We really enjoy them and, eventually, want to get a camper of our own. 

Autumn in the Adirondacks

Oh, the pure bliss of it all. Autumn in upstate New York is one that you hear talked about a lot, along with Vermont and New Hampshire (ok basically all of New England). It’s one that everyone says is absolutely incredible (actually I’d argue that people tend to exclude New York from that conversation, which is completely unfair, but that’s a post for another day), but you always wonder…”can it really be that good?”. The answer is yes, yes it can be, in fact it’s better. 

In fact, when I dreamed about what Autumn in New York would be like, I dreamed of spending a weekend in a cabin in the middle of the forest and just watching in wonder at the beauty around me. However, rentals go FAST around here, and you’ve got to plan almost a year out to get what you really want at a decent price (and I was determined NOT to do a hotel in a city for this particular dreamy weekend). My husband took over the plans and ended up booking us an RV and a campsite for the weekend in the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain area. There aren’t a lot of words that I can really give to the sheer beauty of it all, and so, while there will still be words in this post, the real star of the post will be the pictures that I took throughout the weekend. 

Now, before we go much further in this post, I’ll address the elephant in this post. Yes, we stayed in the RV in a KOA campground…and we LOVED every minute of it. My husband has been trying to sell me on the whole RV thing and while I wasn’t opposed to it, I also wasn’t jumping up and down and going out to buy one. This weekend convinced me though that an RV for the bulk of our travel is actually a really good idea. Let me briefly explain. When we travel to certain locations, we do a lot of outdoor activities. We are big outdoors people, loving to explore nature, hike through the woods, see waterfalls, and just general do everything we can within nature. When you spend all day just reveling in Mother Nature and the beauty that is around you, only to go back to a hotel in a city it can be a bit…jarring. Especially if what you are craving is an escape from “the real world”. Enter: the RV. It was brilliant and honestly, really added to our weekend. The boys loved it and, at least for this weekend, I didn’t feel like I was truly missing anything by staying in an RV instead of a hotel. It is something that, while we will be renting a few more times first, we are definitely going to be looking at investing in. I would say we do a fairly equal amount in our travels between visiting cities and escaping into nature, so this would definitely be something to have. 

Anyways, tangent over back to our post about Autumn in Upstate. We pulled in on a Friday afternoon and got all set up and unpacked at the campsite. Made up the beds, set up our little cooking and dining area and feasted on some dinner. Like I said, we stayed at the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA and we really liked it. It had good amenities, very active and sweet owners (this was actually their last weekend there) and was VERY beautiful. It is a perfect spot to stay due to its location close to everything to see in the immediate region. 

Our first full day in the area we spent chasing leaves across Whiteface Mountain. Whiteface Mountain is the 5th highest mountain in New York and part of the Adirondack High Peaks. It is unique in that you are able to access the summit by car, with the Whiteface Memorial Veterans Highway. This highway was constructed as part of the New Deal public works projects and funded entirely by New York State. It winds up the mountain giving absolutely incredible views of the valley below (with several pull off points to step out of the vehicle and stare in awe), stopping just shy of the summit you are able to then walk through a tunnel and ride an elevator to the fully developed summit OR hike the stairway trail to the summit. The tunnel walks you through to the center of the mountain where an elevator whisks you to the top. We chose to take the elevator due to weather and little children (if the weather hadn’t been windy and damp, we would have probably hiked the trail up). The summit is the most incredible view of Lake Placid and the surrounding area. On a clear day you can even see the skyscrapers of Montreal on the distance. We didn’t have a clear enough view to see Canada, or even Vermont, but we were able to see down to Lake Placid and our further out surrounding area. Whiteface Mountain Summit is only open May to October (in fact the weekend we went was the last weekend), in part due to weather at the summit, but also because on the opposite side of the mountain is the Whiteface Ski Resort. The workers who work the roads and top, also work the ski resort, so they transition from one side to the other to prep for winter and the upcoming ski season.

So, like I said, the opposite side of the Veterans Highway is the Ski Resort. The Ski area is noted by the Olympic Regional Development Authority as a major ski area and is known for hosting the alpine events of the Winter Olympics as well as an Olympic Training Site and just a generally good spot to ski. There are two double black diamond trails within the ski area, as well as quite a few standard trails, and a great separate beginners’ area. Year round, you are able to ride the Cloud splitter Gondola up to the summit of Little Whiteface, which is what we did after leaving the summit of Whiteface Mountain. I will say- this is totally not necessary. In fact, I would recommend just choosing to drive the Veterans Highway and summit Whiteface Mountain. Yes, the gondola rides up to Little Mountain is INCREDIBLE, but it’s just not as good as the drive up the mountain. Just a personal opinion. 

We finished our day out at High Falls Gorge, a nature park that has been around since 1899. This nature park provides trail access to look throughout the falls of the AuSable river with bridges, clear viewing platforms and several photo spots to get close to the falls. There is also a nature trail that walks you through a protected untouched forest called Climax Forest. While the trail, river, and foliage was gorgeous, I don’t know that it was entirely worth the cost. It’s a really pretty area and maybe if we hadn’t spent time touring various waterfalls in the Finger Lakes (HERE) the month previous I would have felt differently, but this just wasn’t absolutely worth the cost. It’s one of those, I recommend, but I also wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it. It was neat I suppose.

And that wrapped up our first full day in the Lake Placid region. I’ve literally never been so in love with a trip (maybe if we had rv’d or camped that Finger Lakes trip, but we stayed in a hotel instead) and a space at a moment in time, but I just kept looking around in awe at every turn. A tear may have been shed over just the sheer beauty of it all. After the High Falls Gorge, we went back to the RV for the evening and spent our night around the fire, munching on some smores and just reveling in the area. 

On our second full day in the region, we headed into Lake Placid proper. Lake Placid, originally known as North Elba, started as a location for an iron ore mine. It started to grow in the late 19th century, starting as a place for former slaves to own land (thanks due to Gerrit Smith and John Brown) before turning in to a resort town. The name change was brought about by Melvin Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal System) who made a “Placid Park Club”. Lake Placid was incorporated in 1900 and became known as a resort spot, as well as a rest and recouperation area (especially for those suffering from tuberculosis- Saranac Lake had a sanatorium for those sick with the disease to convalesce). Before too long Lake Placid became known for alpine sports, later on going on to host the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. 

We started our morning off on the lake itself, taking a boat tour and looking at all the different “camps” and lodges that sit right on the water. It was a peaceful start, giving us a little look into some of the more “known” families that lived there at one time or another. We were also able to spot loons on the water and an eagle up in one of the pine trees. Not to mention, the leaves were just starting to wane from peak season, so all those beautiful reds/yellows/oranges were still standing amidst a sea of green and gray (from the trees that had already lost their leaves). It was a special bit of time. 

Once finished with the boat tour, we headed into downtown Lake Placid. Lake Placid is actually currently under construction…yes, the entire town is undergoing a massive overhaul. This made walking the main street a bit of a struggle, but we wandered down amongst all the shops and scenery of Mirror Lake. We did not make it to the Olympic Complex in town as it was under construction too. It was open to the public, however the reviews that we had read, it was only a fraction of the complex and so we decided to head to a different Olympic attraction from the overall complex. 

The Olympic Ski Jump Complex is one to see. You cannot accurately understand what the jumps are like, until you are standing in front of them, on top of them, riding the lift up next to them. They are MASSIVE. The current jumps are the only free-standing jumps and are listed at 90 and 120 meters tall. The 120 Meter jump is the one open to tourists, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The original jump was built into the mountain in 1920 and was known as the Interval 35 Meter. This jump was initially lifted, still within the mountain, to 50 meters in 1923. In 1927 they built the first tower to increase the jump to 60 meters. Ever few years this was increased, with a 75-meter used for the 1932 Olympics, until 1977 when the entire complex was demolished to build fresh towers for the 1980 Olympics standing at 70 & 90 Meters. The current towers date back to 1994. Another feature of the complex is the freestyle aerial training center, seen from the right of the jump towers. Athletes can train on two similar jumps and jump into a massive pool of water. 

Now, I’m terrified of heights. More specifically, I’m terrified of FALLING from high up. I do not have the personal strength to actually do this jump, just standing up at the tower, a few feet above where the ski jumpers would launch from was more than enough for me to get nervous (aka panic panic panic), but it was pretty incredible to think that people actually do jump and enjoy it. 

And that really wrapped up our weekend in Lake Placid and the Adirondacks. It was one of the most incredible trips.  I really just fell in love with this area of New York (and specifically at this particular time of year, but I’m sure of its beauty year-round) and will happily go back again. I think that we talk about New England as being such a hot spot for Autumnal Foliage, but don’t write off Upstate New York. It’s just as incredible and I would highly recommend checking it out. 

A Morning in Salem

It’s officially October, officially the Spooky Month, and officially time for me to talk about our stop during our Summer Holiday (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE) that I haven’t yet. I’ve been waiting, because to me, Salem is the heart of October, and while we went during the middle of Summer, I held on to that spooky feeling the entire time. We only stopped for a few hours, for several reasons, and didn’t do much, but it was a really exciting stop. 

With all of that, it’s definitely time for me to level with you…I went to Salem mostly for Hocus Pocus. I wanted to see the history, pay homage to those who were killed during the Witch Trials and learn their stories, but I also very much wanted to stop at certain points for filming purposes to see them for myself. There was A LOT more that we could have done, but after leaving Boston, the boys were tired, it was sunny and hot, and so we tried to limit our stops. 

So, a little recap on Salem history…

Salem was founded in 1626 by a group of immigrants from Cape Ann, with the Massachusetts Bay Company arriving two years later in 1628 to settle it for the Puritans. Over the following decades the town grows, militia is established (Salem would later be recognized as the birthplace of the National Guard), trade is established, a cemetery is created (“Old Burying Ground” or Charter Street Cemetery), a custom house is built to deal with taxes, and so on. In 1668 the House of Seven Gables is built, known later as a home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and in 1675 the Witch House is completed, which played a large role in the Salem Witch Trials as one of the presiding judges lived there and some cases were heard in the home.  Finally, in 1692 the Salem Witch Trials, what would bring this little town to the history books, began. I think we all have a fairly good idea of what the Salem Witch Trials were, but you can read through HERE to get a good look into that history. The trials concluded (after a whopping 3 months and an accusation levered at the governor’s wife) with at least 20 dead by ruling and many others dying in prison. 

After the trials, life in Salem quieted down for a time until 1775 when Salem conducted the first armed resistance of the Revolution. The British were attempting to collect ammunition that had been stored in the town, but the militia of Salem successfully blocked them. The town of Salem continues to grow and expand and in 1799 a group of Sea Captains worked together to found the Peabody Essex Museum, the oldest continuously operating museum in the country. It features culture from the New England area, as well as around the world. 

Once again, a period of time passes; Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes a Salem local book (Fanshawe in 1828 and in 1836 Salem is incorporated as an actual City.  Then, thanks to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Salem comes back in the spotlight with the publishing of The Scarlet Letter in 1850. The residents were not a fan as they felt it mis portrayed the residents. However, Hawthorne followed up with The House of the Seven Gables, which turned the house into one of the most famous historic houses in the country. In 1866 Salem held the first public demonstration of a long-distance phone call. 

After a massive and devastating fire in 1914, and a National Historic Site designation in 1938, Salem becomes part of pop culture when the seventh season of the show Bewitched is filmed in town. This reignites interest in the city and the city starts to lean a bit more into its…darker past. In 1982 it hosted a one-day Haunted Happenings Festival, which still continues to this day (every October for the entire month now) and offers a variety of spooky and historical events to attend. You can see the site HERE if you’re interested! 

In 1992 they added the Witch Trials Memorial, which is simple, but contains stone benches around the perimeter with the names of every accused witch along with the execution date.  Finally, in 1993 Hocus Pocus is released into theatres and catapults Salem not only from the history books, but into a constant pop culture sphere (in my opinion). Fun fact, the very very opening scenes (think like opening credits) were actually filmed overhead the Plymouth Patuxet that we visited in Plymouth (you can follow the first link in my vacation above or HERE). 

So, what did we actually manage to see on our quick morning? Well, first I could not help myself but see the house from Hocus Pocus. It’s privately owned and while they don’t mind folks taking photos of the front, be courteous. Don’t leave your trash, don’t block traffic, don’t blast their personal information (such as cars, license plates, etc.) into the online world. We literally pulled over long enough for me to take a couple photos and then we left- a total of maybe 5 minutes. Then, we parked at the downtown mall, paid for two hours parking, and trekked through main street. 

We stopped to pay our respect to the accused Witches at the Memorial, we wandered over to Town Hall, to the Witch House, and stopped at the Ropes Mansion. The main street is absolutely delightful and the perfect spot to buy all your souvenirs, take in the sights, grab a bite to eat and just enjoy the small-town vibes. It was all in all, a delightful stop and I would definitely recommend making a least half a day to a full day to learn the history and take a step into both real life history and a world of pop culture.

A Long Weekend in Garmisch – Partenkirchen

We recently took a little trip “to the mountains”. The Garmisch- Partenkirchen area is an area on the Austrian border in the Bavarian Alps. This area is a great one for hiking, mountain climbing, skiing, and just feeling right in the heart of the alps and nature. It has something for everyone. We took a quick weekend getaway and explored some of the top sites. 

Garmisch and Partenkirchen were two separate cities for quite a long time, up until 1935 when they were forced to “merge” for the Winter Olympics in 1936. Partenkirchen is the older of the two as it dates back to Roman times and A.D. 15. Garmisch was not mentioned until 800 years later. The two cities have quite the history between the land, the plague, and the witch trials. Not to mention, the Winter Olympics of 1936 (the first year Alpine Skiing was competed) and then World War II when the town held a major hospital for the German military. The towns have distinct differences, with Garmisch being more “modern” of the two and the area is now referred to as Garmish-Partenkirchen OR GAP (although many people try to simply say Garmisch).

So, upon our arrival to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, we decided to start with a trip up the mountain, to the highest peak in Germany, Zugspitze.

The highest peak of the Wetterstein Mountains, this is one of the most incredible viewpoints in the region. The German/Austrian Border runs right through the peak, so you can head for lunch at the peak in Austria (or Germany) and see the beauty all around. The peak was first reached in 1820 by Josef Naus, Maier, and Johann George Tauschl. If you choose to climb, you have three routes to take, however if you’re like us, you can also choose from three different cable cars to “ride” up to the top. We took the Seilbahn Zugspitze up which provided us with some incredible views both on the way up and down. 

Once we came down, we walked down to Lake Eibsee. Lake Eibsee is one of those lakes that I feel like are beyond words. Created by a rock fall, the water is crystal clear, the deepest, prettiest shade of blues and greens that you could dream of, and provides the peace and clarity that only being by the water can provide. It is actually considered one of the purest lakes in the Alps. Similar to Alpsee at Hohenschwangau/Neuschwanstein or Forggensee in Fussen, this is a level of beauty that just seems to need to be seen (and then can’t be captured perfectly because you need to see it in person) and just held in your soul. We walked around a bit of the lake and found another little “hide away” lakes that was also incredibly gorgeous.

From there we headed in to town and over to our Hotel. We stayed at Reindl’s Partenkirchner Hof and I would highly recommend a stay here. The hotel was beautiful, and the room was incredible. They had offerings throughout the day, could arrange several activities for guests, and the location was great. From check in, we wandered over to the site of the Winter Olympics Ice Rink. Fun fact about me, I was a competitive figure skater for about 12 years. Seeing the history of the ice rink was awesome and seeing the location was really cool. We headed more into the Altstadt side of town and found a little restaurant to eat some dinner. We ate at a restaurant called Zum Wildfchutz and the food was delicious. I got a bread/pizza concoction and my husband got a meat dish. We also sampled the 2020 Oktoberfest beer from the Hacker-Pschorr brewery, which was also delicious (I think I’ve just decided that German beer is the only beer for me- especially the Oktoberfest brews). 

After the massive meal, we felt like walking a little bit longer (to walk off a bit of that delicious meal) and found ourselves in a church, Pfarrkirch St. Martin. This is one of those gems that you could very easily miss just by not walking in. I find churches to be some of the most incredible stops to make when traveling as they are all different in unique ways. Yes, the structure and such can be similar, but each church is still incredibly unique. And this church was breathtaking.

This particular church is first referenced (and an initial church was built) in the 18th century, with mentions going back to around 750. The current church was renovated starting in 2007 to repair the entire building (from the roof to the flooring). The ceiling paintings were painted by Matthaus Gunther. When we walked through an organist was playing the organ, which only added to the special feeling that we were experiencing. That was the perfect end to our day. 

The next day we spent our entire day in the Partnach Gorge area. In its most basic (read: I am not a geologists and I don’t understand a vast majority of that) sense, the Partnach Gorge is a 702-meter-deep gorge that has been incised by a mountain stream. In some places the gorge is over 80 meters deep. The gorge was initially used by locals in the 18th century as a way to transport firewood, as well as a rafting stream (until the 1960’s). In 1912 the gorge started to be developed for tourists to visit and has undergone changes as the landscape changes (there was a rockfall in 1991 that changed the path), and the walk is…incredible. 

Sometimes we experience, or visit somewhere that we cannot put into words. Somewhere that just connects with every fiber of our being, and the experience of visiting that place just transcends everything else. That was Partnach Gorge for me. It was just incredible. The rush of the stream, the rockwall all around, it was an experience that I will never forget. Not to mention, the actual water itself was a gorgeous blue/green that you think only exists in highly edited photos. 

However, to back up for a minute (I got a little excited and ahead of myself), we started the day at the Olympic Ski Park. We didn’t climb the stairs to the top of the jump, but rather stopped on our way to the gorge (as you have to pass through to get to the walking path for the gorge). So, the Olympic Ski Stadium.

The 1936 Winter Olympics were only the fourth Winter Olympic Games and set quite a bit of records and history. You are able to climb to the top (although we did not do this) and you are also able to see what the skiers would have seen (and still do- there are two annual competitions held in this stadium). If you are into the Olympic sites and history, you are also able to visit the bobsled track which held the “most dangerous track” title for quite a long time. 

Now, after the Stadium and after you walk through the gorge, there are two different routes to get back to the gorge entrance (I’m actually pretty sure there are more than two, we just chose between two that we mapped out). We let our older son Colton choose the route, and he chose the “road less traveled”.

This path meant climbing partially up the side, then back down, and back up again. It was quite the hike, but so well worth it as the scenery of the Alps is unparalleled. Not only do you get the views within the Alps, but you are also able to see the gorge from above (though you can see this whichever path you choose- there are definitely easier paths to take). It was quite the way to spend our day and I loved every minute of it. 

Our final day on our weekend was our “head home” day, but we incorporated one final stop on our way home to Schloss Linderhof (or Linderhof Palace). Now, I’ll devote an entire post to Linderhof (just like I will for Heidelberg Castle, Cochem Castle, Burg Eltz, and all the rest- they ARE coming I promise), but I’ll give some bare bones here to hold you over till that post.

So, Linderhof. Ludwig II was quite the dreamer and builder. He commissioned a lot of different monuments and statues (Walhalla, Liberation Hall, Neuschwanstein, and many, many, more) and he turned these ideas into realities fairly quickly. Not long after redesigning rooms in his Munich residence and laying the foundation stone for Neuschwanstein, he started plans for Linderhof (all of this took place 4 years after he crowned King). His initial plans didn’t come to fruition, however what did was incredible. The original building was the Foresters house, which was used when the King (Ludwig’s Father, Maximilian) and Crown Prince would go on hunting trips. The palace was remodeled and rebuilt in various stages, but ended up being the only palace Ludwig II saw completed in his lifetime. 

This palace easily jumped to almost the top of my favorite castle list (it’s battling up against Hohenzollern Castle if you’re wondering) as both the building itself and the location is perfect. Ludwig II loved the concept of the French palaces (and Versailles in particular) and this most definitely reflected that love. It’s ornate, it’s incredible, and the attention to detail, to making smaller rooms appear larger, while still trying to keep them “cozy” is just wonderful. Not to mention the garden and the exterior and something to behold as well. What a way to end our weekend. 

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 – 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 – 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!