A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday – Detroit Michigan

Our next overnight stop on our Summer Holiday was Detroit Michigan, but before we crossed the border back to the States, we hit up Point Pelee, the southernmost tip of mainland Canada. A small National Park founded in 1918, this little area of the country has been occupied in some way since 700-900AD (that’s been documented). Initially a hunting area, the Europeans found it in 1670 and it’s been in dispute for a long while until it became a national park. You are able to camp and picnic in the park, even enjoy the waves on the beach front, but we headed further up to the small museum and bus ride out to the tip and then a walk on the marsh boardwalk. This spot is a boon for birdwatchers, and we saw several while we walked. It was a nice little stop and stretch your feet while being somewhere really cool. 

From there we did head straight through to Detroit. We stayed in the Financial District, close to the water and not far from the spots we really wanted to see- mostly on the auto factory side of things. We had one full day in the city, so we started off early the next morning by stopping in the GM headquarters (scoping out all the new and old vehicles on display as well as quite a few displays about what GM does beyond cars- it’s fascinating), then a short walk along the water- seeing both the statues and Canada across the way, before stopping in at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center. 

Owned and operated by the Department of Natural Resources the Outdoor Adventure Center provides a variety of hands-on exhibits and activities meant to highlight the offerings of the region. Originally committed in the 1990’s, the museum and surrounding park area had quite the struggle to open up between funding issues and property ownership difficulties. However, in 2015 they were able to open up and logged 100,000 visitors in their first year. There is a little history, and a lot of nature information. The boys were able to “snowmobile”, ride an “atv”, practice “hunting”, as well as sit in an airplane, eagles’ nest, and learn about the environment of Michigan (which is a lot more than just Detroit). It was just as fun for us adults as it was for the kids. 

From there we headed back down the water and over to the tram for a ride to the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. Built in 1904 this was the second building of Ford’s, however the first purpose-built factory. BUT in order to understand the importance of Ford and his mind and motor company, let’s take a minute to quickly talk about Henry Ford. 

Henry Ford was really a pioneer of his time. He was, what I like to refer to, as a tinkerer with a brain that didn’t stop. In 1892 he built his first motor car (he was 29- so if you’re younger than that and still haven’t figured anything out or are just starting to figure things out at 29- you’re in good company!) after becoming an engineer at Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit. Yes, that Edison. In 1893 he became Chief Engineer and in 1899, cheered on by Edison and several others, he founded the Detroit Automobile Company. In 1901 it was dissolved. However, in late 1901 Henry Ford designed, built and raced an auto that got some attention and he, tried again, founded the Henry Ford Company towards the end of 1901. However, once again, it was not to last as once Henry Leland was brought in as a consultant, Ford left, and Leland then renamed it to Cadillac. 

Finally, in 1903 Ford Motor Company was founded, with the Dodge Brothers as investors (!) and then in 1908 the ever-popular Model T was debuted. It would sell that year for $825 with a price that would continue to drop year after year. Something that Henry Ford is known well for is forward thinking and in 1913 he introduced the concept of the moving assembly belt to his factories (though this could not be only attributed to Henry Ford- several employees helped design and produce this concept). Some interesting facts about Henry Ford to end this little side tangent…He was an early backer of the Indianapolis 500, he was a notorious anti-Semite (both Hitler and Himmler were big fans of Ford and some of his writings were combined and published in Nazi Germany- AND Ford is apparently mentioned TWICE in Mein Keimpf, but he didn’t financially donate to the party – I don’t know why that was such a distinction that needed to be made…), and while he introduced the $5 dollar wage, and 40/48 hr. work week, he HATED labor unions and fought fiercely against his workers unionizing. 

So, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. Built in 1904, this was the second location owned by the Ford Motor Company and produced the Models B, C, F, K, N, R, S and finally the Model T during its 5 years. Initially cars were manufactured with hand tools that would be carried to the vehicle and a single location. This plant is where the idea of a moving assembly line was created. Just before the Model T debut in 1908, employees experimented with the idea that the chassis of the car moved along to the workers, rather than the workers moving to the chassis. They continued experimenting by using a rolling option, instead of the previous rope maneuvering, before coming up with the initial moving assembly belt (a precursor to the one Henry Ford later put in place at the Rouge Facility). Now, once the Model T was completed and out in the world sales quickly skyrocketed. Demand became so much that the Piquette Plant closed for two months to help catch up and the plant itself quickly became too small. In 1909 Ford Motor Co started packing up to move over to the Highland Park Ford Plant to continue. The plant building itself went through a couple different owners and businesses before being sold in 2000 to the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex (after hearing that it was going to be torn down) and re purposed the building into a museum full of over 40 early automobiles. The plant was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and a National Historic Landmark in 2006. 

Finally, a few fun facts about the cars…most Model T’s (post assembly line introduction) were black due to the fact that it was the fastest drying of all the colors, when the production of the Model T concluded (in 1927), Ford had produced 15, 007, 034 cars. 

That about summed up our day in Detroit. Heading back towards the hotel, we stopped over at the Fox Theatre and Comerica Park just to take a little look and then stopped for some food. Our second day, on the way out of the city, we stopped over in Dearborn to see The Henry Ford. 

The Henry Ford is the massive complex that houses the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and works in partnership with the Ford Rouge Factory (The Henry Ford is also known as the Edison Institute). It is the largest indoor/outdoor museum in the United States and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, with the National Historic Landmark label attached in 1981. Where to begin?

We started our day with the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. The Ford River Rouge Complex is well known in the auto industry. Construction beginning in 1917 (opened for production in 1927, completed in 1928) it is the largest integrated factory in the World. The concept was to have everything that was needed to manufacture vehicles right at your fingertips. With the docks, the interior railroad, electric plant, and steel mill, there was no need to wait on much to be delivered in order to complete a car. The complex itself is made up of 93 buildings with 16 million square feet of factory floor space and, while the first products produced were the WWI Eagle Boats, it currently produces all of the Ford F-150 and soon to be Ford F-150 Lightning trucks. The factory tour is really interesting, showing the history of Henry Ford and the current projects, as well as a look at the factory tour (this was not in action when we toured, but you can tour when it is in action). 

From there we headed into Greenfield Village. Greenfield Village is known as an Outdoor Living History Museum- the first in the nation and a model that many other “living history museums” follow. The village is made up of various homes and buildings that were upended from their original locations and moved to the property with the end goal of showing the history of living and working in America since its’ founding. The village is a total of 240 acres, with 90 being used by the village itself. Some of the notable homes are those of the Wright Brothers, Edison and Ford, as well as the courthouse where Lincoln practiced law and a covered bridge from Pennsylvania. There is also the Farris Mill- one of the oldest in America. As part of the admission, you can pay to ride in an authentic Model T (some of which are replicas, some of which are actual authentic – we were lucky to get an authentic Model T), as well as on the Weiser Railroad. 

Finally, we headed into the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Henry Ford was a bit obsessed with collecting and preserving historically interesting items that portrayed what the Industrial Revolution was like, both from an everyday life perspective (think items in the home, kitchen, toys, etc.) and from an industrial machine perspective. The museum is full of a variety of artifacts that range from massive steam and coal locomotives to presidential motorcade vehicles, to doll houses and tractors. There is also the Rosa Parks bus, the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile, a variety of engines, and restaurant signage. 

The museum itself was started as his personal collection on a 12-acre site. The building was designed with the Philadelphia Historical Park in mind (namely the Old City Hall, Independence Hall, & Congress Hall). Initially opened in 1929 as the Edison Institute, a private education site, it was later opened to the public in 1933. I will say that between all three (the village, the factory and the museum) we spent almost all day here and still didn’t see everything there was to see. We could have spent much longer if we hadn’t really needed to hit the road to make it to our next stop before bed time.

And with that we headed to my favorite spot on the entire trip…any guesses as to where that was? I’ll share it soon! 

A Weekend in Montreal

Over the Easter Holiday Weekend we decided to get out of town and head up north across the border to Montreal. We’ve been to Canada several times, but never Montreal. This comes on the heels of Andrew and I heading up north with a friend when the border re opened without testing for those who are vaccinated. We went up for a day to Kingston, shopping in a little district area (including an independent bookstore- finally!) grabbing some lunch and enjoying the beautiful waterfront that Kingston offers. After that little day trip, our plans for a longer weekend were solidified. We’ve always loved Canada and wanted to see more, and it’s gotten a bit easier for us to do that. 

First off, for full transparency, Covid protocols…you’ll want to check the Canada website HERE for a full breakdown of the most up to date rules. When we headed across the border by car, there were no testing requirements for fully vaccinated. The rules apply to all those age 5+, but there is some verbiage for families traveling together with young children who may not be fully vaccinated, but the adults are (it involves testing). Regardless of the protocol at the time, you will need to have downloaded and filled out the ArriveCan documentation, which is super simple and straightforward. You’ll input your passport info, vaccination or testing info, and travel info.  Specific requirements will also vary depending on what province you travel to. For instance, when we went to Kingston (in Ontario) masks were not required to be worn inside, but in Montreal (which is Quebec) they were mandatory. You’ll need to check the specific province and city you are heading to as with any other travel. Beyond those two items, traveling to Canada was much the same as it was when we went three or four years ago. 

So, our weekend in Montreal. Where do I begin?

We arrived around dinner time on Friday evening and immediately got settled in our hotel. We stayed at the Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel Montreal which was every bit of incredible. Located right behind the Notre-Dame Basilica Montreal it is located almost in the heart of the Old District of Montreal. It is also conveniently located right near the river, with the Rue St. Paul (the pedestrian shopping street of Montreal) just a 30 second walk away. We had a “ground floor” room with a window looking out on the street below. 

Once settled we decided to just take a quick walk around the district to get some of the road trip energy out for the boys before dinner. I will say that reservations are very much a thing in the city. Most restaurants will still be able to seat you, but if you have something in mind, I would definitely get on their books ahead of time. This was something we ran in to twice, once with a restaurant and once with the Biodome and Botanical Gardens. So, reserve, reserve, reserve. This is something that we normally do, but the lead up to this trip was a bit hectic between sickness and family visits. Anyways…

We didn’t have any definite plans while we were in Montreal, just a few general ideas. A spot we really wanted to see was the Biodome, botanical Gardens, and Olympic Complex, but we were not able to get the reservations in time (good thing Montreal is only a few hours away, so we could go back if we really wanted to). Instead, we decided to just sort of walk/wander the city- which is one of our favorite ways to see new cities. Our first stop was breakfast, and we really wanted some crepes to start our day. A quick stop at Chez Suzette for some truly delicious crepes and mimosa’s and we were set for the day. We started at the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. 

This church dates back to 1672 when a small stone church was built. The church was quickly outgrown and the church as we see it started in 1824 after a long period for approval of the plans. As many cathedrals, it took quite a while to be built into the massive church we see today. In 1982 it was declared a minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II and in 1989 it was recognized as a national historic site. The crowning interior was designed and created by Victor Bourgeau and features a variety of pieces, including 4 scenes from the Old Testament at the altarpiece. The organ is a feature piece of the church currently featuring 7,000 pipes. There is also an incredible Notre-Dame du Sacre-Coeur Chapel in the back of the cathedral which features a bronze altarpiece. The altarpiece is said to represent humankinds overcoming life’s hardships in the march to the Holy Trinity. It was incredible to see. 

From the Basilica, I made a quick stop to Le Petit Dep, which is a small marche with several locations. Known for its bright green storefront, delicious coffees, and wide selection of local artisanal goods it was a nice little spot to grab a coffee or tea. Quick word of advice though- go during the “off” time of day unless you are prepared to wait. I grabbed a tea and a mug and was set to go- it was truly a charming little stop. 

Then we headed off on the Metro to Mont Royal Parc. The Mont Royal is first mentioned in our history by Jacques Cartier, but it was occupied, hunted, and used by Indigenous People (the Hochelaga are who showed Cartier the way) for long before that. However, it was Jacques Cartier, in 1535, who gave it the name Mont Royal. The mountain has been home/location for many things, the site of several cemeteries (which are still in existence- 1852), a religious site, a hospital (1861), a college (1821), and finally, a park. In 1872, after many discussions of what to do with the Mount, the city purchased the land to officially turn it into a park. Frederik Law Olmsted (of Central Park) was brought in to design the park with the goal of it being a refuge from the city at large. In 1876 the park was inaugurated with great fanfare. In 2005 the park gained heritage status and the land itself will be protected from further development. 

We hiked up the park using the stair option, which was not only quite a workout, but provided several spots to look out at the city and a peaceful refuge from the city. We stopped at the lookout spot in front of the Mount Royal Chalet. This chalet was built in the 1930’s as part of the Make-Work project during the Great Depression. It hosts historic works of arts, chandeliers, and such and is used today as not only a reception hall, but also a gift shop and restaurant. It was a really pretty spot to stop- not quite the summit of Mont Royal, but still a beautiful view. 

From the Chalet we ended up catching the bus over to Saint Joseph’s Oratory. Originally a small chapel built by Brother Andre in 1904 in honor of Saint Joseph. It very, very, quickly grew in both size and worship. In 1914 new plans were approved for what would become the current basilica. The Crypt church dates back to 1917, with the basilica construction starting in 1926. Brother Andre died in 1937, with over a million people visiting his coffin. In 1946 construction of the votive chapel and Brother Andre’s tomb alcove begin, with completion and blessing in 1950. In 1955 the Oratory is marked as a Minor Basilica and it was officially opened in 1956 with construction on the interior being completed in 1967. Fun fact, in 2010 Brother Andre was officially declared a Saint. There is currently construction taking place to make the Basilica easier to access by visitors, but that didn’t stop it from being incredible. 

My first thought upon seeing the exterior of the Oratory is that it is Montreal’s very own Sacre-Coeur. It is very reminiscent (though I don’t know which came first…ok just researched-the timelines ever so slightly overlap with Sacre-Coeur be finished as the design plans for the Oratory are released), though they say that they leaned towards the Italian Renaissance when designing. The interior of the Basilica is incredibly modern (even by today’s standards, let alone when it was actually built) and vast- seating 2028 people. There is also the Crypt Church which is located right off the Votive Chapel (we’re getting there). This church features a statue of the Saint Joseph, where Brother Andre would pray right at the heart of the sanctuary. Then there is the Votive Chapel. This is a space that wasn’t included in the original design, but rather added as a space between the Crypt Church (to connect it to the Basilica) and to provide a space for Brother Andre’s tomb. Opened in 1949, one of the unique features of this space is the cane’s/crutches that are hung between the pillars, left behind by pilgrims who visited during Brother Andre’s time. The central lampstand in front of the tomb features 3500 candles, and his tomb (located through a tunnel underneath) is made of black marble. Following a path behind the lampstand and tomb, you are able to see a statue of the Virgin Mary, between the chapel and the mount rock. 

It was an incredible site to see and history to learn, to know how this man impacted so many in his life. Once we finished at the Oratory, we caught the metro back to the Old District to find a spot for dinner. While walking through town, we headed in to the Bonsecours Market. This is a two-story domed public market. Located on Rue St. Paul, the market originally opened in 1847. This has not only been used as a marketplace, but also a banquet hall and at one point, hosting the Canadian Parliament for a session. It reached historic site status in 1984 and was a really neat space to walk through and see some local treasures. 

We ended the day with dinner at 3 Brasseurs, which features its own brewery and beers. The food and drinks were delicious, and everyone loved their meal. A final wander through Rue St. Paul as we headed back to our hotel and our time in Montreal ended. 

Overall, I would say that Montreal is a great, culturally driven city. It’s a great spot to stop for a night or two and just enjoy the “city” life while also knowing some of the history of the area. There’s plenty to do and see AND if you’re an art and culture lover- there is an abundance of galleries to explore. 

Burg Eltz

Ah, Burg Eltz. It’s one of the most photographed castles and takes its place as a top castle to visit with Neuschwanstein Castle, Lichtenstein Castle, and others. During our Summer Holiday, we made a stop at Burg Eltz to see what it was like. Burg Eltz is one of only three castles in the Rhine region that have never been destroyed and so, it was incredible to see how the different eras of the castle and families had left their own imprints. The house is joint owned by three families, Rubenach, Rodendorf, and Kempenich. You are able to tour two of the portions (Rubenach and Rodendorf), while the third is currently occupied by the family.

The oldest part of the castle is a Roman style keep that was initially built in the 9th century. It was intended to be a simple manor, but by the 12th century it became an incredibly important Roman Empire fortress. Built on top of a rock, the castle doesn’t quite stand perfectly upright, rather following the shape of the rock as it juts upward (similar to Mont Saint Michel in a way). In the mid 13th century (not long after the initial castle was completed) the three brothers of the Eltz family had a bit of a dispute which ended up leading to the castle and estate being split into three. The tower keep in the north was the beginning of the Rodendorf portion (which dates back to 1300) and the Rubenach house had its start in 1311. 

The only military conflicts to occur in the Eltz castle occurred in the 1330’s when the lords of Eltzer opposed the territorial policy of the Archbishop of Trier. This led to a siege of the castle, which led to another smaller siege castle on the northern side (the remains of which you can still see today). The siege ended two years later (when the “free” imperial knights gave up their “freedom”) and with it, along with clever politics and support from its neighbors, the castle did not see any other battle action.

In 1472 the Rubenach house was completed (as part of the Greater Rodendorf House) after being commissioned by Philipp zu Eltz. Then the Kempenich house replaced the original hall in 1615. Eltz castle was one of the few castles lucky enough to come through the Palatine Wars of Succession (leading to the French rule) unscathed as many others were destroyed. This was due to a high-ranking officer in the French Army, Hans Anton zu Eltz-Uttingen, who saved the castle. However, Eltz Castle still came into the French possession after Count Hugo Phillipp zu Eltz fled during the French rule of the Rhine region. He was then treated as an emigrant and all of the properties owned by the Eltz family, even those beyond the castle, were confiscated. These only came back into his possession in 1815 when he was able to purchase it (if you’re curious- during the French rule Count Hugo hid out in Mainz, Germany). Finally, in the 19th century the Count Karl zu Eltz decided to restore the castle and commissioned extensive work to preserve the existing castle. 

I’ve got to say- this castle really lives up to the expectation. You’ve got the perfect fairytale location, literally nestled right into the trees and valley between hills. You’ve got the picture-perfect bridge leading up to the castle itself, where you can marvel at this towering not quite straight towers looming above you. And you’ve got the visual history right in front of you. You are able to literally walk-through different eras of time and see how they lived in these different houses in the same castle. 

As I said, this castle was occupied by several families and each lived differently, both in station, in time, and in family structure. This meant that each has its own little differences and while each room has all of the crests and you can see some of the commonalities, they are also unique to their family. The interior was as I had expected in a way, overstated but also warm and welcoming. Rich tones and lots of wood, but also little hide away rooms and staircases. 

If you’re visiting, I would recommend getting there right when they open to avoid the lines for tours. The tour, which starts in the courtyard at the center of the complex, takes you through two portions of the house, as well as the treasury and armory (which are self-guided portions). There is a little bit of a walk from the parking lot to the castle itself (or alternatively you can hike the trails to get to the castle if you’d like), but there is also a small shuttle that you can choose to take. 

Krakow, Poland – A Long Weekend

I’ve spoken about our visit to Auschwitz (HERE), but we spent a good amount of that weekend checking out Krakow, Poland. A sprawling city development that still has the European Charm that we’ve come to expect (castle, legends, cobblestones), we found our time in Krakow (a total of 36 hours tops) to be the perfect amount of time to see what we wanted. Krakow is the second largest city in Poland and, dating back to the 7th century, one of the oldest in the country. In fact, Krakow’s Old Town was declared the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The city began with a small settlement on Wawel Hill. Legend says that Krakus built the settlement above a cave that was home to a dragon, Smok Wawelski. During the 10th century is when Krakow saw it’s first significant growth. The castle was constructed, churches and a basilica, as well as a flourishing trade center. That first city was then sacked and burned (by the Mongolians), however rebuilt identically in the following years. During the 14th century the city started to head into a Golden Age, with the construction of a university. That Golden Age continued through the 15th and 16th centuries. This was when the Jewish Quarter was created, and the Old Synagogue was built. Things came to an end though in 1572 when the last ruler, King Sigismund II passed without any children. His death was followed by many many changes in leadership as various other countries ruled. Finally, an outbreak of Bubonic Plague and a Swedish Invasion spelled the end of their Golden Age and the end of the ruling houses residence in Krakow. Things didn’t really get any better in Krakow as it continued to almost bounce between various countries rule until 1866 when Krakow started to see a degree of political freedom and, once again, became a national symbol of Poland. 

When Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany, Krakow became the capital of the German General Government. They saw Krakow as a vision of Krakow becoming completely “Germanized”. Krakow had a very large communities of Jews living in its city at this point (statistics say over 5% of the entire population of the Krakow District was Jewish). Prior to the invasion and subsequent creation of the Ghetto (and then camps) the Jews were encouraged to flee the city. Things started to go sour shortly after the invasion with the creation of the “Judenrate” or Jewish Councils. These were run by Jewish citizens for the express purpose of carrying out Nazi orders, such as tax collection, forced labor, and citizen registration. Around 4 months later the Jewish Ghetto was created in the Podgorze District. The ghetto was only in existence for 2 years, with residents really only living there for 15 months (the majority of deportations were completed by June 1942- though the final Krakow Jew deportations were until September 1943-, after the ghetto initially being “designated” in March 1941). Many people know the story of Oskar Schindler, his enamel factory, and his work to save as many as he could.     

Aside from the destruction of the German occupation and the immeasurable loss of life, Krakow remained undamaged as a whole throughout the second world war. Once the war ended the city was turned from a university to industrial with the new government. 

One final note, the Pope John Paul II was Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow. He was elevated to papacy in 1978 and was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. The same year of his election, Krakow was officially approved on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

So, we actually started our trip in the early evening with a dinner in the main Old Town Square. We were able to watch the sunset on the Town Hall Tower as well as see the what the city is like in the evening. We stayed just outside of the Old Town (we actually walked our entire time in the city- no public transport, that’s how close we were to most everything).

 

Our only full day in the city we started off at Wawel’s Castle and Wawel Hill. The castle was commissioned by King Casimir III the Great, but the current castle dates back to the 14th century. I’ve already touched on the legend of the Wawel Dragon, but it’s important to note just how deep that legend runs. Legend says that the dragon terrorized residents before being slayed by Krakus, a polish prince who then went on to found the city of Krakow and built the first royal residence on the hill above the dragon’s lair. These days, if you walk by the river you will see a metal statue of the dragon that is situated in front of the “den” and it shoots fire from time to time. The castle complex as it stands today consists of galleries, collections, and gardens. You are able to pick and choose which exhibitions you would like to visit on the castle grounds, as well as the option to visit the Cathedral once on the property. We chose the Private Apartments, Royal Chambers, the gardens, and then a walk into the Cathedral. 

I think one of the coolest bits on the interior was what was known as “Wawel’s Heads”. I don’t have any pictures (as pictures inside the castle were not allowed). In the throne room if you looked up at the ceiling there were a series of Heads that were carved out of the ceiling. In its height, there were a total of 194 heads looking down from the ceiling, overlooking the Polish King as he conducted business. Now there are only about 30 of the original heads left hanging. They depicted citizens from every walk of life that lived in the 16th century. There aren’t any true explanations as to why this was done, or how the people were selected, but it was a really interesting decoration to see. 

The final stop at the Castle is to stop in and see the Cathedral. The Cathedral is formally known as the Royal Arch cathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill. This Roman Catholic church and cathedral is the home of the Archdiocese of Krakow and serves as the coronation site of the monarchy. The current standing cathedral is the third to have been built after the first (11th century) and second (12thcentury) were both destroyed by fire. Construction on the current cathedral began in the 14th century and is a true site to behold. Seemingly never ending with its various chapels, and little quiet spots. This cathedral is also the main burial site for the monarchy as well as national heroes, military members (generals), and other individuals important to Polish history (including two poets!). You are able to walk along the crypt to see the all the various tombs (although there are several on the main floor of the church as well). 

From visiting the castle, we headed back towards the main old town, wandering through cobblestoned side streets, stopping in to purchase some Polish pottery, lunch on the opposite side of the square as our dinner the night before, and then a walk through the Krakow Cloth Hall. 

The Krakow Cloth Hall is one of the most recognizable features of Krakow and Krakow Old Town. Situated at the center of the Main Market Square, it dates back to the Polish Renaissance (that Golden Age in the 15th& 16th centuries). The interior of the hall contains shopping stalls which once held the bulk of the textile industry in Krakow. Buyers and Sellers would flock to the covered shopping center. It now not only serves as a shopping market, but also has an Upper floor museum that contains the largest collection of Polish painting and sculpture, and hosts monarchs and politicians from other countries (Prince Charles and Emperor Akihito visited in 2002). We did a little shopping within the hall and enjoyed seeing the variety of items offered, from tourist tchotchkes to hand crafted designs.

We also stopped in to see Saint Mary’s Basilica. With the foundations dating back to the 13th century (completion in the 14th century), this church is a great look into the Gothic Architecture of Poland. The current standing church is the third one, as the original (from the 1200’s) was destroyed by the Mongolians, and then the second was rebuilt under Casimir III’s rule. The interior is, one again, incredible. There are two main “focal” points of the Basilica. The first is the interior altarpiece. This was undergoing some restoration work, so we weren’t able to get a good view, but what we did see was stunning. The second point is the trumpeter of the basilica. A trumpet signal (the Hejnal Mariacki) is given at the top of every hour from the top of the taller tower. An interesting note while you listen- the song seems to end rather abruptly; this is to commemorate the trumpeter who used the signal to warn the city of the Mongolian Attack. During the signal he was shot in the throat. The signal is rumored to have been initially used to signify the open and close of the city gates (this was done across Europe), but there is no concrete evidence as to where this specific signal originated. 

We started off our Sunday morning with a visit to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. I’ve done a separate, dedicated blog post on this concentration camp, which you can find here. 

On Sunday afternoon we headed over to  the Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz. We visited during the High Holiday, Sukkot, so we were not able to go into any of the synagogues or such, but we still were able to see quite a bit walking around and get an idea of the history of the area. A Jewish community focus in Kazimierz came about in the 1400’s when anti-Semitism started to run rampant through Krakow. When a fire burned down a large part of Krakow in 1494, the Polish King transferred the Jews from the Old Town to the Bawol District of Kazimierz. The Jews then petitioned for rights to build its own defensive walls. The area within the walls was known as the Oppidum Judaeorum and was, geographically, only 1/5th of the size of Kazimierz, but held nearly half of the people of the city. The oldest Synagogue in Kazimierz was built in the early 1400’s (the actual year/date is disputed) and was an Orthodox fortress synagogue (known in Yiddish as Alta Shul). The initial golden age for the Jewish Quarter came to an end in the 18th century when the Austrian Emperor disbanded the area and tore down the walls. Not long after that, Kazimierz lost its city status and was brought into the newly formed district of Krakow. Kazimierz kept the “Jewish District” status due to the fact that the majority of the Jews stayed close and within the limits of the city. 

Up until the invasion of Poland by the Nazi’s, this was the most important synagogue in the city and the main center of the Jewish community (beyond just religion- it also was a social and organizational center). During the Nazi’s reign, the synagogue was ransacked, destroyed, and used as a warehouse. It also has one (at least) instance of the defensive wall being used as an execution site for Polish hostages by the Nazi’s. Kazimierz was not the location of the crowded ghetto of Krakow though, most of the Jews of Krakow were transferred to a ghetto location in Podgorze (another heavily Jewish area across the river in Krakow) and then either killed in the ghetto or at the death camps. After World War 2, the Jewish District was largely neglected, but starting in the 1980’s started to see growth and a resurgence of Jewish Culture. It now has quite a community built to celebrate. 

Once we finished up in the Jewish District, we headed back over to Wawel’s Castle to visit the dragon and walk along the river. I’ve already talked about the legend of Wawel’s Dragon, but we wanted to see the statue for ourselves. The boys also got to pick up a couple of stuffed small dragons to take home as a little souvenir. We didn’t stay out too long as the temperature very quickly started dropping and we had had quite the long day. One final dinner in the main market square and back to the hotel we went. 

And just like that, our weekend in Krakow came to an end. 

Interlaken-Oberhasli District, Switzerland – A Long Weekend

We recently just spent a long weekend in Switzerland. Ok, I need a moment already, just from typing those words. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would utter that sentence. Never. 

Ok, shock over. We recently spent a long weekend in Switzerland, and it was glorious. Where do I even begin? My husband’s only requirements for the trip was to be able to see/be at the top of the Alps, so we picked a spot right near Interlaken, in the heart of the mountains and lakes. With COVID-19 restrictions we were restricted from traveling to some of the major cities, and we wanted to be a bit…off the way. When a local friend posted about a hotel she stayed at right on Lake Brienz, I knew that was where we needed to be. 

One little, teensy, note to make about Switzerland before we get into the meat of this post. If you know anything or have heard anything about Switzerland it is that it is an expensive place to visit. This is not an exaggeration. You will need to plan accordingly for this visit and budget if you need. There are certainly ways to make it a “cheaper” trip, but it will never be inexpensive. For us, I knew that this was going to up towards the more expensive trips we took on our time here and I was 100% ok with that. It was more important to me that we did what we wanted to do and enjoyed our time without worrying about the cost necessarily. With that being said, there were a couple of things that we DID NOT do, which I will get into later. 

Before we got to Switzerland though, we made a stop at KZ-Lager Kaufering VII. This is a European Holocaust Memorial in Landsberg Germany and is the largest remote area (sub camp) of Dachau Concentration Camp. There was a total of 11 of these sub camps of Dachau and this one has the actual remains of the tube style barracks. In total these camps saw 30,000 prisoners, with at least 14,500 prisoners dying over the time the camp was open. Exact numbers are not known as the records do not match up (one study found upwards of 44,000+). The camps were intended to put prisoners to work on an armament project, without any consideration by the guards for the health and safety of the prisoners. During the war crimes investigation, it was discovered that these sub camps were the worst in Bavaria and the prisoners came to refer to them as “cold crematorias”.     

We were not able to walk inside the camp and see the buildings and cemetery up close, but you could still get a feel from outside the fence. This is the second concentration camp we’ve been to (Dachau Concentration Camp being the first and hopefully a visit to Auschwitz soon) and I will never be able to fully verbalize the experience. So, once again, I will let pictures say what I cannot. 

After that, we headed off on our Switzerland Adventure. We stayed at the Hotel Seiler au Lac. Not only is the hotel itself incredible (you can request a lake front room, all of which have balconies looking right out to the water- swoon), but the staff were incredibly helpful and went above and beyond our needs. We opted to have breakfast at the hotel (included), which was handled excellently with COVID restrictions. We did also opt to have dinner at the hotel restaurants (one night at each- two restaurants attached to the hotel), and both meals were delicious. This particular hotel is located in Bonigen, Switzerland, a quick distance away from Interlaken (you can walk or take a bus- passes were offered by the hotel), and only a 20-30 minute drive to either Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald (Berne is about 45 minutes away if you want to go there as well). 

Our first evening was mostly spent wandering around Lake Brienz before settling into our hotel and grabbing dinner at the Pizzeria attached to the hotel. 

We set off late the next morning to head into Interlaken. 

Here is where I am going to clarify some of our choices in activities. There are a couple of things that I base “what we do” on, the biggest factor being the weather. It was a wet and rainy morning in our area of Switzerland, so we knew going to Jungfraujoch (the top of Europe- aka the highest point of Europe) was going to be hit or miss. The second factor, less so than weather, is cost. This is really only specific to Switzerland as things are, generally, more expensive in the country. We made the decision to pass on heading up to Jungfraujoch as the potential for bad weather combined with the cost was not worth it for us. Instead we chose to top some of the smaller peaks, and this was just as incredible as anywhere else we could have stopped. 

So, back to our day. Chances are, if you’ve tried to take a train or summit one (read: many) of the Swiss Alp peaks, then you’ve gone through Interlaken. Not only is Interlaken the central city between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, but it is also a main transport gateway to the Alps in the region. You’ve got the two lakes, then the River Aare which flows between them (and therefore between the city). There has been a city in this location since the 12th century, but it was originally known as Aarmuhle (changed to Interlaken in 1891). It started out as the home of a convent and monastery, but as it continued to grow, it became a large city. It started to become known as a resort town in the early 19th century, with a railway opening in the 1870’s (and more following in the next 20-30 years). 

We spent most of the rainy morning walking throughout the town seeing all the beauty that is offered in the valley. I think one of the best things to do sometimes is to just walk around the streets. We didn’t have any “set ideas” of spots to see until the weather cleared, so we just walked. We stopped in for a light lunch and during that, the weather started to clear out. Faced with breathtaking blue skies, snowcapped peaks, and a new look at Interlaken, we decided to head up to Harder Kulm. 

Harder Kulm is the top of Interlaken. Rising 1,322 meters above Sea Level you are able to get an incredible view of Interlaken, the peaks around the city (opposite), as well as the two lakes, Brienz and Thun. There is a viewing platform that you can stand on for a truly breathtaking experience. You don’t even have to worry about hiking up if you don’t want to (though you certainly can), there is a funicular that takes you to the top in just under 10 minutes. You are also able to go up top in the evening, and I believe there is a hotel located right above the restaurant if you would like to stay. 

We finished out the day at an indoor playground for the kids. Most of our travel is not necessarily based on our kids in terms of places we visit (maybe I’ll talk about different traveling styles in a blog post?), but we saw that there was a neat kids play park and we had a bit of time to kill between finishing up in the center of Interlaken and heading to dinner. So, we let the kids go a little wild and run off all the pent-up energy for a little while. They really enjoyed it and it was nice to be able to do something just for them on our trip. 

Our second day we decided to go over to Lauterbrunnen. It was a tough call as to whether we wanted to go to Grindelwald of Lauterbrunnen, you can’t really go wrong with either option, but I wanted to be able to see the waterfalls that Lauterbrunnen is known for. Honestly, I don’t think you could really go wrong with anywhere in this particular region, so explore it all if you can!

Lauterbrunnen as an area is first mentioned in the 13th century, with the name Lauterbrunnen being mentioned in the beginning of the 14th century. It has an early history of battles and rebellion between the villages and the Interlaken Monastery, ending in the 16th century. The villages that make up Lauterbrunnen were actually very poor. The area started out as a mining area, but all of the profits went to the noble families, and the working-class people remained below the poverty line. It got so bad at one point, that most villagers moved away, joining regiments and emigrating to the United States of America (settling in the Carolinas). At the end of the 18th century, Lauterbrunnen started to gain more traction when mount climbers would start expeditions in the town, and once the road was built from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, tourism exploded. Lauterbrunnen has inspired many a writer and film maker (with Goethe and Tolkien both referencing it in their own works, and the 1969 On Her Majesties Secret Service being filmed in the city). 

Lauterbrunnen is really known for its waterfalls and mountain peaks. It is one of the largest nature conservation areas in Switzerland and easily one of the prettiest spots we’ve ever visited. The valley is home to 72 waterfalls, the largest being Staubbach Falls which are one of the highest free-falling waterfalls. Another set that you can visit up close are Trummelbach Falls, which are a natural waterfall phenomena situation behind the rock face. 

We started the morning off hiking through the valley to get to Trummelbach Falls. You are able to park right at the waterfalls if you’d like. HOWEVER, I would highly recommend parking in one of the bigger “in town” parking lots and then walking through the valley to the falls. It was an incredible semi sunrise hike (it definitely wasn’t sunrise, but the light still hadn’t reached in to the valley when we started walking) and you see so many more of the waterfalls this way, as well as get the chance to see some of the local cattle life and ranchers (we got to see a minutes old baby cow on our way back from the falls as well as buy local cheese from a little self-service booth). It’s all flat ground and we really loved being able to soak in all of the natural beauty. 

So, we started at our furthest out point, Trummelbach Falls.

Trummelbach Falls are the largest subterranean water falls in Europe and can carry up to 20,000 tons of meltwater from the glaciers of Jungfrau. They are incredibly loud (thundering loud), cause the mountain to almost tremble at the power, and are the most incredible thing mother nature does. If you’ve read my Garmisch-Partenkirchen post, you’ll recognize a pattern of water going through rocks makes me just swoon and feel overwhelmed with amazement, and Trummelbach Falls was no different. We were lucky with our timing as we were able to see all 10 chutes of the falls (at a total height of 200 meters), whereas during certain times of year you are only able to see the top chutes. They do not recommend this activity for younger children (in fact they don’t typically allow children under the age of 4 in) and I would be careful walking through the paths- it can get very slippery. 

From there, we walked back towards town with a stop at Staubbach Falls.

Staubbach Falls has a height of almost 300 meters (297 to be exact) and , in addition to being the highest in Europe, are the most famous of the waterfalls in Lauterbrunnen. The waterfall inspired Goethe’s poem, Song of the Spirits over the Waters and disperses water as if it were dust. You are able to climb a portion of the rockface to be “under” the waterfall; HOWEVER, I would not recommend this for young kids. I was the only one who went up the rockface and, once I reached the end, was glad my boys did not head up. It is a really cool experience though, and if you can, I would recommend it for adults.

The entire valley is one for the nature lovers and reminded us just how incredible the world around us really is. So much beauty and a place I’m glad we spent a whole day in. 

From the falls, we decided to head up the mountain towards Murren. From the base of Lauterbrunnen you are able to take a gondola up the mountain to Schilthorn, then either hike or board a train towards Murren. We chose the train (much to the boy’s excitement) and were treated to a narrow-gauge railway and breathtaking views.

Murren is a traditional mountain village at 1,638 meters above sea level. From Murren you are able to see Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains around you. I think this is a great alternative, if you just want to get up in the mountains, but don’t necessarily want to do the Jungfraujoch. There is an element of “off the beaten path” and an actual look at what life is like up in the alps, even though during the summer this is one of the more popular alps spots.  

We finished out our day in Lauterbrunnen with a hot chocolate made in a local coffee shop before heading back to our hotel and our dinner reservation. 

And that wraps up our long weekend in Switzerland! Easily one of the most incredible places we’ve visited, and it definitely makes my top 4 places we’ve traveled. I’ve used a lot of words in this post (2319 at this point to be exact), but none really can come close to what this region was like. 

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. 

Bamberg – A Day Trip

Recently my friend Kim and I went for a little day trip to the nearby city of Bamberg, Germany. Bamberg had been a city I had set my sites on for quite a while, not only for the fact that it’s your typical old-world German town, but also because of its history. We spent a day walking along the streets, seeing the Altstadt Rathaus, the bridges, a never-ending antiquary (old, used books- seriously the coolest), and the churches. We didn’t do everything we could have done, but we had a lovely casual day wandering around.

A little bit of history on Bamberg…

The first mention of Bamberg dates 902 as a mostly Slavic settlement. In the early 11th century, the Holy Roman Emperor (Henry II) made it a family inheritance and a separate diocese from Wurzburg. Once all the border details were sorted out, Henry II ordered the building of a new cathedral AND a Benedictine abbey for the training of clergy. With their involvement, Bamberg became a center point for the Holy Roman Empire; the Pope had visited several times, consecrated some of the churches, and thus, both Henry and his wife, Kunigunde, are buried in the Bamberg Cathedral. 

Through the centuries, the city started to expand and change, going through the reformation and land changes. In the 17th century, the witch trials came to Bamberg and claimed around 1,000 victims. The 17thcentury also ushered in the University of Bamberg. Finally, it 1803 Bamberg became part of Bavaria after losing its independence the year prior. Bamberg has also played a role in the political landscape of Bavaria- being a safe place for the state government in World War 1 (after a communist uprising), the location of the passing of the first republican constitution of Bavaria, and then the venue for the Bamberg Conference, a conference convened by Hitler to stifle dissent within a young Nazi Party. 

In 1993 Bamberg became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its authentic medieval appearance. 

One final fun fact: Bamberg is known in some places as a “Franconian Rome” as its geography extends over seven hills. Each hill has its own church at the top, overlooking the city. 

We started our day off walking the Obere Brucke, which is one of the bridges connecting the lower town to the hills. Halfway across this bridge is the Rathaus (town hall). The legend of the town hall is quite typical of the time period: the bishop did not grant the citizens approval to build a town hall, so they took matters into their own hands and rammed stakes into the river and create an “island” on which they built their town hall. The frescoes painted on the town hall are quite incredible, giving it a 3-D appearance- although there are a couple spots where it isn’t just an appearance.  

From the bridge we wandered through the streets, stopping in the Antiquariate Lorang. I’m mentioning this mostly because it was basically a store of old books that never ended. If you’re a book or bookstore lover, it’s one of those stores that you dream of going to at least once a week. Filled floor to ceiling with any and all books (and some notebooks), most dating quite far back it was just a dream to walk through and look at everything. It was a great start to our day. 

We wandered the streets a little bit more, then started to climb up on of the hills towards the Church of Our Lady (Obere Pfarre). This church is Bamberg’s only purely Gothic church.

Planning of the church started at the end of the 13th century, with construction starting at the beginning of the 14th (the foundations date 1375). There were quite a few additions and rebuilds to the church, including damage done by an aerial bomb during World War 2. Walking inside the church was breathtaking. I don’t know if I have the words to truly do this one justice, so the pictures will have to speak for me. A few bits- the paintings are from the 19thcentury by Adolf Riedhammer, with some repainted in the 1930’s by Hans Bayerlein. There is a walnut portrait of Mary with Child which was from a school in Cologne dating around 1250. There is an incredible painting of The Ascension of Mary by Tintoretto that you can view as well. Overall, this was one of those churches that you really just have to walk through. 

From the church we headed over to the New Residence. To get to the New Residence you go through the Old Court. The Old Court was originally the Castrum Babenberg and then the palace of Henry II. It then became the Bishop’s residence and it features an incredible gateway from the square to the inner square. Now, the Old Court is a historical museum and a small chapel for civil wedding ceremonies. It was really neat to see (I love Timber Frame anything ha-ha) and there was actually a wedding reception while we were there!

We walked through the gate and on to the main square of the New Residence and Bamberg Cathedral. The Cathedral Square is at the top of one of the seven hills and is the heart of the city. Before we went into the Cathedral, we went over towards the Library, Residence, and Rose Garden. The New Residence served as the seat of Bamber’s prince bishops. There are 40 magnificent rooms filled with artwork and lavish furniture. You are able to tour the inside of the residence which not only takes you through a few of the rooms, but shows you a large Bavarian State art collection. We elected to head over to the Rose Garden in the inner courtyard and take a little rest and relaxation moment. 

Designed by Friedrich Karl von Schonborn, the Rose Garden contains around 4500 roses, along with several sculptures, a fountain at the center, and an absolutely incredible view of Bamberg. We stopped at the café in the garden pavilion and had a lovely treat of a pear/mint lemonade and light food. In the summers there are musical performances in the garden and the entire area is so enchanting.

After a refreshing pick me up, we started to head out, first stopping real quick at the State Library. 

Let me tell you, some of our American libraries can learn a thing or two. The little glimpse we got to see inside was just incredible. The vaulted, painted ceilings, the quiet peace that comes from the library, the pristine collections, it was incredible. Not only that, but the library contains quite a few manuscripts dating from 1000, as well as 3 Reichenau manuscripts that are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage documents. We only got a glimpse, but it was a pretty neat spot. 

Finally, it was time to make our way to the Cathedral. St. Peter’s and St. George’s Imperial Cathedral is the legacy of Henry II.

The cathedral was completed in 1012 (after only 10 years of being built!), however it took 3 different constructions to get the current cathedral due to fires. Now, when we visited there was quite a bit of restoration and reconstruction being done, so we weren’t able to see the Bamberg Horseman and the alter and such were tucked back in the construction. We were able to see the tombs and the overall look of the cathedral. The thing that makes cathedrals so special in ways, is not how incredible they are on the interior (though they can be) is just the sheer craftmanship it takes to craft and build a cathedral (and most built before our modern engineering and technological advances. 

Our last stop of the day was to head down to Little Venice.

This is a former fish district of the Island City. The river way is lined by half-timbered buildings that date back to the Middle Ages and each has a little tiny garden. The homes are right next to each other, holding each other up in some cases, and sets quite the little backdrop. It is absolutely adorable and was the perfect picture of Bamberg to end our day with. 

The only thing that we missed that I wanted to do would have been St. Michael’s Monastery. This is the home of the abbey that Henry II commissioned. I would have loved to see the monastery and walk its walls and church buildings (and garden), however it is currently closed due to restoration work. If you do get the chance to see it, do!

And that was our day in Bamberg! It was the perfect little outing and day trip for us. 

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 – Normandy Tips & Recommendations

If you missed my “what we did” post detailing all the information about Normandy, you can read that HERE. I feel like this will be the most…different of all my tips/recommendations posts. Most of Normandy is largely based on what each individual wants to do. Some people want to walk the actual path of the World War 2 Soldiers. Some people want to see every museum there is in the vicinity. Some people just want to take in the sights. I feel like we did a little bit of both.

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Honestly, my tips and recommendations for the Normandy region are quite simple…

You’ll want a car. Similar to our time in Inverness, we spent a lot of time driving from one place to another. This wasn’t a bad thing as driving through the French countryside is kind of a dream AND you can stop in whatever little town you please. Some of the towns even have pictures of what they looked like after D-Day so you can see both the destruction and the re construction. The car also gave us a little chance to have a little downtime in between stops, and gave the boys a chance to eat some snacks and such.

You are able to camp out right off the beaches, but you don’t miss out on anything by staying in one of the little towns. We stayed in a tiny little fishing town, right on the docks, and still felt centralized to everything we wanted to see. We had thought about “camping” right off the beaches, but this ended up being a better option.

In terms of what to see, I think, at minimum, you should visit one beach, Pointe du Hoc, Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and/or one additional museum. I would add Lounges Battery if you have the time to as you are able to see everything almost exactly as it was in 1944. You could, in theory, do that in one day if you wanted, but I would stretch to two days in the region just to do more. The only museum we actually walked through was the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise and that was such a good one both for us as adults, but also for our boys. There are so many museums though and each covers a different section of D-Day, Normandy, and World War 2 in France. Depending on what your specific interest is (my husband was interested in the Airborne and infantry portion), you can find a museum that will probably give you a wealth of information and artifacts to look at. In terms of beaches, I think (my opinion as a mom with two army heavy boys) that Utah Beach was a better option. They had more for the kids to see/do and really helped them gain a pretty clear idea of what D-Day was (Colton told quite a few people what happened on D-Day in the days following our trip).

Also, if you are in the Normandy region and have the time, I would highly, highly, recommend a visit over to Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey. I think I made it clear as to my thoughts in my previous blog post (HERE), but I will reiterate a smidge here. For us, staying in Port-En-Bessin-Huppain, it was about a 1 ½ drive and the drive itself was gorgeous. If you plan your time right, you can get to the abbey during the second tour, spend a few hours, and then head over to Sainte-Mere-Eglise (which is what we did), and still have time to walk the beach or enjoy an evening dinner somewhere. It is completely and totally worth it.

Finally, one thing we did notice was the hours of…well everything. Most restaurants didn’t open until well after 6 (sometimes even as late as 8) for dinner and most places (like the entirety of Sainte-Mere-Eglise) closed at 4pm. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something to keep in mind when looking for food or if you need a last-minute item. On the restaurant side of things, we weren’t sure if this was a Covid situation or if it was all the time, so I figured I would mention it here as an FYI.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for the Normandy region? There is so much to see and learn and I know we didn’t come close to doing half of what we could.

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.