A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Paris pt. 1

It is time for the second stop on our Summer Holiday, the much-anticipated Paris- city of love. I am going to divide our time in Paris up into two different posts (this has been determined after editing this together- it’s simply too much for one) and I am going to be splitting them by day for Paris (the rest should be fine simply by location). 

So, Paris, the city of Love. This was just a short few hours’ drive from Luxembourg City, so we looked around to see if there was anything on our route that we wanted to see. We had planned on 3 nights in Paris (giving us 2 full days, plus some, to see Paris). My husband managed to find a World War 1 battleground and memorial that he wanted to check out, so we decided to make a little lunchtime stop. 

Our first stop on this section of our holiday was Fort Douaumont. This fort is the largest and highest of the ring of positions that protected Verdun France. This particular fort has quite the history of capture and re capture in 1916 after being determined ineffective. The fort itself dates back to the late 19th century and a lot of the fort is actually tunnels and an underground network. During a tour you are able to walk through the hallways and listen to the history of the fort, how it was used by both the French and the Germans, as well as see some of the actual fire power that was used at that time. You can then walk above the fort and see the ramparts and exterior gun positions. 

While at Fort Douaumont, you are able to do a couple other things as well, such as walk the trenches and see one of the battle positions (which now serves as a memorial). You are also a very short drive (like a couple minutes max) from the Douauomont Ossuary, which is a war memorial from the Battle of Verdun in World War 1.

A rather large monument, legend says that it was designed to appear as a sword being shoved into the ground and you are able to climb the tower and see a panoramic view of the cemetery and grounds. The small windows on the exterior contain alcoves that hold skeletons of unidentified soldiers from both sides of the war. The cemetery is the largest of the first World War in France.  

We spent several hours in the area exploring and learning before hitting the road again and heading to Paris. We did not actually make it into the city until well into the evening, so we chose to simply check in and have an easy evening in the hotel unpacking and resting. 

We divided Paris up into two different sections, with an invisible line drawn somewhere in the vicinity of the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral. So, that first day was full of metro rides and “exterior” sight-seeing (Covid-19). While the second day was a more walking locations that were closer to each other. 

We started off at the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in the Montmartre area. This is the second most visited monument in Paris, a Roman Catholic church that stands at the summit of the highest point in the city. Built at the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th century with the beginning of perpetual adoration in August of 1885. It boasts a dome of 83.33 meters, a bell tower of 84 meters, and an annual visitor/pilgrimage of 11 million.

I have to say, this basilica was incredible, not just from an architectural exterior, but also its interior manages to take your breath away. Inside, there is a mosaic of Christ in Glory which is one of the largest in the world. It is truly amazing to see. We did climb the dome and were treated to an incredible view of the entire city. You are able to see everything, and it was a real treat to feel like an eagle at the top. 

From the Montmartre area we started to work our way back into the city hitting some of the hotspots that we wanted to see. I will make a note, we did not hit Moulin Rouge as it was closed due to Covid-19. We knew we were somewhat “short” on our time, so rather than hop the metro, just to hop the metro again, we decided to skim a few things. However, we did hit the Palais Garnier. 

The Palais Garnier or Opera Garnier is THE Paris Opera house (think like Phantom of the Opera). Seating just under 2000 it was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III in the late 19th century. This is one of the mast famous (if not the) Opera houses and has inspired so many other Opera Houses and buildings (including the Thomas Jefferson building at the Library of Congress!). Of the era it was the most expensive as well as a masterpiece of the time. Now, if I thought I cried/got emotional at the Globe Theatre in London, it was nothing compared to how I felt at the Opera house. The Palais Garnier is easily the most beautiful, incredible, ostentatious, singularly “French” thing I’ve ever seen. It’s just mind blowing. From the Grand Staircase of white marble and painted ceilings, to the auditorium and the bronze and crystal chandelier, to the Grand Foyer with its gold and yellow opulence, there is not a single place that doesn’t just amaze and leave one breathless. 

If those things weren’t enough, I wandered down a quiet corridor and came upon something even more incredible. The Paris Opera House is also home to the Bibliotheque-Musee de L’Opera de Paris, or the Paris Opera Library-Museum and oh my goodness, was it heaven to walk through the walls and walls of books. Of course, most of these items are archival items including books, music scores, autographed items, photographs, and other “paper” items (a total of 600,000 documents!). There is also a museum attached to this section that displays paintings, costumes, scenery and scale models of sets. It is incredible (and it was like a little quiet slice of heaven in heaven). 

From the Opera House we took a quick metro bus over to The Louvre Museum. Now, The Louvre was not in fact open, it was scheduled to re-open (post Covid-19) the Monday that we were leaving so we didn’t get a chance to go inside. Instead we were able to see the pyramid, and the square without the crowds of people, which was pretty cool anyways.

I won’t hark on about this stop too much as we weren’t really able to visit the museum, but I will say that the controversy that surrounded building the pyramid entrance is actually quite interesting. Those who were against it had varied arguments from aesthetic reasons to being against the President at the time (along with the more important of the history of the Pyramid itself- not this glass design). Regardless, it was commissioned, and it provides a striking entrance and separates the Louvre from being “just another museum in another ‘old’ building” (besides the fact that some of the famous pieces of artwork reside there). 

This stop also gave us another glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as well as a smaller version of the Arc de Triumph, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.  From there we decided to walk over the Notre Dame. I will say, obviously, we didn’t get to go inside. However, it was still important to me to see it as this is a historic moment for the cathedral. 

The Notre Dame de Paris is a cathedral dating back to construction in the 12th century. It has gone through quite the long and storied history, but has only been desecrated once in the 1790’s during the French Revolution. One of the early restorations projects occurred in the 1800’s shortly after the Hunchback of Notre Dame was published. It was cleaned of soot and grim from the world wars in the 1960’s and then again in the 1990’s. During the most recent restoration in 2019 the roof caught fire and burned for 15-16 hours causing major damage. The Notre Dame is the Archdiocese of Paris, has an honorary title of minor basilica, and is the most visited monument in Paris.

When we visited we could see not only where the destruction occurred, but you are also able to see quite a lot of the restoration/rebuilding part of it. It’s almost like watching a surgery in action as you can see inside a lot of the vaulting and wooden roofing. The fencing all around the Cathedral itself depicts the fire, the damage (both internal and external), plans for rebuilding and what the rebuild looks like. So, even though we weren’t able to go in and revel in the beauty, I still felt like it was incredible to see. 

After the cathedral, we walked across the river to go to Shakespeare and Company. If you are a book lover (and a traveler) you probably have heard of Shakespeare and Company in some form.

It is an English bookstore on the Left Bank of Paris, right across from the Notre Dame. Opened in 1951 its location originally was home to a monastery. In 1964 the owner, George Whitman changed the name to Shakespeare and Company (on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth) after another bookseller that he admired, Sylvia Beach- owner of the original Shakespeare and Company. Not only is the store and incredible independent bookstore (which you can shop online at HERE), but it is also a community. Tens of Thousands (the website quotes 30,000, but I’m sure it’s grown in size) of writers and artists have stayed in the shop and worked. Called Tumbleweeds, they are asked to do several simple things: read one book a day, help out in the shop, and write a one-page autobiography. These are collected and then placed in the shops’ archive. These days the shop has grown from its humble beginnings and hosts the Paris Literary Prize, a literary festival, as well as weekly literary events. It was a dream come true to walk through the store, admiring all of the books on the shelves (and buying a few of them…) and just take in the atmosphere. 

From Shakespeare and Company, we simply wandered the streets of Paris for a little bit longer. We were able to view the Place Sainte-Genevieve, The Pantheon, and the Eglise Sainte-Etienne-du-Mont.

Then it was off to dinner and back to the hotel to rest up for Day 2.  

Round the Kettle Ep. 26: Home Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schloss Lichtenstein – A Day Trip

The final castle we went to to round out our weekend away was Schloss Lichtenstein. One of the more popular and breathtaking castles, this one did not disappoint in any way. We even had the perfect weather to set the scene- fog all through the valley, swirling amongst the rockface where the castle comes out. Talk about perfection!

The original site (premodern day castle) dates back to 1100, although the structure that exists now does not hold much in common with the house that existed back then. Originally owned by ministerial it has passed many hands, although the one thing they all have in common is that the castle was frequently under attack. In the early early 1800’s (think 1802), after being in disrepair, the castle was dismantled, and a hunting lodge was erected in its place. This then fell into disrepair as well. Eventually the Duke Wilhelm von Urach purchased the estate and decided to turn it into a medieval castle that he could live in. He was very much inspired by the book Lichtenstein (Wilhelm Hauff- I now kind of want to read it out of curiosity) and the castle was able to be lived in in 1842 (with it becoming the official residence in 1869). This particular sustained damage during World War 2, of which you can see while on a tour inside, but this damage was repaired immediately after the war concluded. It is still currently in use as a part time/temporary residence.

Lichtenstein is one of the more popular castles’ in Germany due to its incredibly dramatic location. Set on the top of a rocky embankment looking precariously balanced, it gives any visitor a breathtaking look.

You have two options when visiting Lichtenstein, just walk the castle grounds or get a full tour of the interior. Each has a cost (although a difference of about 6 Euro) and honestly, if you’re already at the grounds, you might as well head inside too. The tour is given entirely in German, although they do give a pamphlet that has the English Translation and you see a fair amount of rooms that depict both the Hunting Lodge AND the actual castle life. There is still one spot where you can see the damage that was done during WW2, a bullet hole in a shattered mirror and that was pretty cool to see as most castles have either been repaired or were not affected during the war.

I think this was the perfect castle to round out our trip as it isn’t a super long tour or visit, but is still an incredible stop. I would definitely say you should go and visit Lichtenstein Castle, but know that it isn’t as big or as grandiose as some of the other castles you will see in Germany.

Tübingen – A Day Trip

On our weekend away we had a free day in between the castle’s we had planned on seeing. We decided to spend this free Saturday in nearby (to where we were staying) Tübingen. Tübingen is a university town in Baden- Württemberg that is full of old-world charm. My favorite bits happen to be what it’s known for: cobblestone streets (full crooked, tight, bumpy cobblestone) and the traditional timber homes that line the streets.

Tübingen has a very long history (dating back to the 6thor 7thcentury), although the first time there is any official notice of the town involves the town’s castle: Hohentübingen (this is Germany after all – and everything involves castles). Tübingen formally became a city in the 1200’s and “shortly” after that (about 30 years) a monastery was established by the Pope. In the 1400’s the Collegiate church was built AND the Eberhard Karls University was founded. This particular university is one of the oldest universities in Central Europe. The university continues to make a name for itself as one of the biggest universities in Germany and the biggest source of income for the city’s residents. Tübingen has also been a spot for quite the political history being involved in The Thirty Years War, Kristallnacht during WW2, being a center of the German Student Movement, being a part of Protests of 1968, and having student ties to a terrorist group (The Rote Armee Fraktion).

A quick fun fact for you: Tübingen’s Altstadte is one of the few completely intact Altstadte’s in Germany. It was not destroyed during WW2, which allows a visitor to get a real glimpse into what the city would have looked like throughout the years.

We visited Tübingen on a grey rainy day, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We started out our day walking through the Market Square (Marktplatz). This market square also holds the Town Hall (Rathaus). The day that we went happened to be the day they were holding their Regional Market, so we got to sample a wide variety of goods, including a home made from scratch fresh pizza and Birnensecco ( a locally made pear prosecco). Both were delicious. We also got to peak around the stalls for local handcrafted goods including floral, produce, clothes/crochet/knitted goods, and different salami and cheese products. It was a fun little start to our day (and provided us lunch). This to me was just the European/German experience.

From the market square we wandered up to Hohentübingen to peak around the castle.

By best guesses the castle was originally marked in the 11thcentury, but was completely demolished and rebuilt in the 1500’s. In current day the castle holds the Museum Alte Kulturen, which was opened in 1997 to the public. There is also a section in the castle covering the advances that were made in the realm of sciences- this castle held one of the first biochemical lab worldwide, and talks about DNA. The rooms cover both modern-day sciences, as well as artifacts and the discoveries made at this particular location.

4FF8A7E4-9755-4D36-A77A-DF1F69F12EB0.JPGFrom the castle we wandered back down the street to stop once again at the market to pick up some food/drink and take a little break. Once refreshed (see above for what we ate) we headed over the St. George’s Collegiate Church (also referred to as Stiftskirche).

Dating back to the 15thCentury, this is one hell of a church. Fun fact: this church was one of the first to convert to Martin Luther’s Protestantism, although it still has several Roman Catholic features. We wandered through the main church, then paid a slight fee to head up the church tower. In this particular church, as long as the bells aren’t actively ringing, you are able to walk up the numerous stair steps to get an “eagle eye” view from the tower.

Not only is that an incredible view, but you get to see how the bells actually work from the bells themselves, the weights at the bottom, and the gears that make them ring. Looking at the bells it is actually incredible to think that a long time ago, people actually rang the bells themselves without the benefit of the gears.

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The view from the top really can’t be beat as you get a great 360 view of Tübingen and beyond. You can see the Marktplatz, the Altstadt, the river, the Schloss and so much more. It was worth the very slight fee to pay to be able to see the red roofs, the people milling about, walking along the cobblestone. We made it down the stairs just in time to hear the bells sing in the afternoon. They played beautifully and rang through the entire city.

Finally, we headed down to the Necker River. Crossing the bridge, you can get a view of the brightly colored historic homes and businesses, along with Holderlin’s Tower.

Holderlin’s Tower was the home to poet Frederich Holderlin and is a popular museum and destination. We took a little stroll on part of the Neckar Island (Neckarinsel). On the day that we went they were having their Rubber Duck Race (which we missed by about 30 minutes), so the little Island was packed with various exciting activities.

And with that final stroll our day in Tübingen came to an end! I think this little town might top my list of favorite towns in Germany so far. It is very close with Fussen (which I loved) and may edge it out of that top spot.

I hope you enjoyed seeing Tübingen though our eyes! Honestly, I hadn’t really heard too much about this town until we were in the area, but I feel like it should be on a travel list if you are wanting that German town experience.

 

Burg Hohenzollern – A Day Trip

Full disclaimer- this was supposed to be one post on our full weekend away, HOWEVER I just had so much I wanted to share about each place we visited that I just couldn’t justify having yall read one super long post. Instead, I am going to break this up into three posts over the next couple of weeks covering each outing we did. We only had 3 days over the weekend, so we decided to knock out a couple of the castles that we’ve been wanting to check out. There are two castles that are within an hour (or so) of each other, so we decided to book an Airbnb somewhat in between the two and just go from there.

So, Friday morning we headed out and over to Burg Hohenzollern.

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Hohenzollern is possibly one of the most popular, but quietly popular castles in the region. It sits high on top of the hill, with views around all sides. It has quite the history of owners and destruction/reconstruction. To start with, Hohenzollern is the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House and references to this spot date back to the 1000’s. The house was reconstructed in the 1400’s to make it bigger and more formidable. It became a fortress, but after the war turned into ruins. In the 1800’s is was reconstructed and became the castle that we see today. It is heralded as “one of the most imposing Castle complexes in a neo-Gothic style” (via the website: https://burg-hohenzollern.com/castle-history.html).

Hohenzollern was very well worth the drive. Incredible from the moment you lay your eyes on it driving into the region, it definitely gives off all the castle on a hill vibes. We parked on the property and did a short hike to get to the entrance. There are two hike options, one where you can park at a lower level and hike through (this is the free parking I believe) or the one that we did, a shorter hike with paid parking (2 Euro for a car for parking). You are also able to take a shuttle bus from the paid parking area to the castle itself (the cost varies depending on what ride option you choose and how many are in your party). The hike is actually quite pretty, but steep and quite a few stairs.

This particular castle is one with two entrance areas. There are two large gates, one to simply “get into the property” and the second to get into the main courtyard. Before you pass the second gate you are treated to an interior garden lining the round walls, as well as some stunning views from the first lookout. This area is lined with various paths and the views of the town and valley below are stunning. You can walk all along the exterior to see the 360 views, but if you head inside and follow the tour, you will get this chance anyways.

When we went, there was a display at the second gate to see all of the coocoo clocks from area makers (this castle is quite near the Black Forest area- which is known for its coocoo clocks and woodworking). There are also festivals at different times of the year (A spring festival, Mother’s Day event, several performances/open air cinema days, an Autumn festival mid-October and then a Christmas Market in December).

IMG_9935.jpgAfter the second gate, you are able to look right into the heart of the castle with the central courtyard. This particular courtyard is one of my favorites, just due to the look and views of it. I love the bench, the ivy, the brick. On your right is the chapel and church with stained glass windows dating back to the 1300’s. Then you see the “main event”, the castle itself.

There are two options to see the castle, a guided tour or a “casual stroll”. The only real difference between the two is what you would assume, the guided tour gives you intimate details on the history of the castle and family, while the casual stroll only allows you in the castle. They do have a brochure that details out the information of the castle and its rooms if you want a little bit of both. Typically, the guided tour is given in German, but they do offer other languages on certain days and times.

We did the casual stroll and I don’t feel like we missed much by doing that. It allowed us to meander through the rooms how we wanted, and I felt like I got the chance to actually look around (although that might also be because I wasn’t spending the whole time trying to shush a toddler during a presentation). We saw several rooms, each more incredible than the last (my favorite was the Count’s Hall and The Blue Room). In order to preserve the interior, you are not allowed to take photos and you must wear the slippers they provide.

In addition to the interior rooms of the castle, you are also able to see the cellar, which has all the silver stores, and the casemates. These spots have their own special history and charm to them, and once finished you climb the steps to the outer embankment. This stroll gives you a chance to see just about everything the castle has to offer. I do want to note that there is also a café to eat at and a gift shop to get a little souvenir.

IMG_9992.jpgOverall Hohenzollern is 100% worth the trip and I think it should definitely go on your list of castles to see if you get the chance. We loved our time there and the views are quite gorgeous. You can definitely make this a good mid drive stop (as you only need a couple hours tops to visit and explore) or combine it with a couple other stops in the area as we did.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019 – Inverness

When looking at Scotland and where to travel within the country, I was torn as to where exactly to go in The Highlands. I knew that I wanted to be in The Highlands, to be near, but maybe not in, a city, and just have a couple of “slower” days to start ending our trip. Honestly I was torn between going to Inverness and going to Isle of Skye. I did a lot of map looking, a lot of price looking, and a lot of activity looking. Ultimately I settled on Inverness. I just felt like that area would be exactly what we wanted. I would like to go back and spend a little bit of time back in Scotland and not only be in the Highlands, but also go over to visit the Isle of Skye. There is just so much beauty there and I really just felt like my heart felt at home.

I’ll talk about the drive in a minute, but want to talk about this first. Our accommodation in Inverness was actually located on the Black Isle’s, about 20-30 minutes outside of Inverness city. IMG_8042We stayed in an Airbnb called the Taffs Barn and it was absolutely perfect. It is a former barn that has been renovated to fit 2 cottages (with a passage in between, so you don’t share walls or anything) and it had the dreamiest field/highland views. It felt secluded enough that we didn’t feel anything other than peace there. I highly highly recommend staying at this location if you stay in the area.

The drive from Edinburgh to Inverness is only a couple hours max, consisting of true highland country roads. We decided to make a pit stop on our way up to give us a little chance to see something that I wanted to see, as well as just stretch our legs.

 

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Our pit stop was the great Balmoral Castle. This is a favorite private residence for the Queen of England, and I can totally see why she loves it. It has never been used for formal royal functions, but rather is a country home for the Royal Family. A private estate, the tour consists of the gardens, a walk along the estate, a walk along the river, and a tour of an adjacent ballroom used by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. We may not have gotten to see a lot of the castle itself (and I wouldn’t want to as it’s a private residence), but what we did see was just beautiful.

One more thing, the weather was off and on for us while we were in Inverness. We had one day of gorgeous sunny warm weather and one day of grey, wind, and rain storms. I’m kind of glad that we got both weather options because, like I said in my Edinburgh post, I love getting that typical Scottish rain, but I’m also glad that we got some sun and warmth to go with it. It worked out really well for us, and once again, the day we left it was pouring it down rain.

Day 1:

Our Day 1 was all about battles and military force. We had decided that we would have meals at our AirBnB since we were a little further out in the countryside, so once we left the barn, we simply headed straight to our first stop, Culloden Battlefield. Now, if you watch Outlander or if you’ve read the books, you’ll know Culloden. If you don’t, Culloden Battlefield is the site of the battle of the final Jacobite Rising. There is an entire history spanning many years and many family lines in regard to the Jacobite Rising, The Stuart Family, and such, but this site is where it all came to a head in 1745. This site is where they battled, often to the death, for what they believed in. It was the last pitched battle on British Soil, lasted less than an hour, and had a death toll of around 1500. To say that the site was moving is an understatement.

I think I always have this kind of “shock” moment when I walk through some areas of history- the landscape and area is just so gorgeous here in particular with the highlands and the fog, but you have this history of such death and destruction of life. It’s something I’ve always kind of marveled and wondered at, even more so since coming to Europe. (Dachau in particular is one that really comes to mind- we had such beautiful weather and the area is gorgeous, but you have such a senseless loss of life, of the pain and torture of a large scale amount of people, and so much more that just puts you at odds with the beauty)

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They also have Highland Cattle at Culloden and I made good friends with this sweet one. 

Along with the battlefield, the visitor center has a really informative, well laid out exhibit that talks about the history and what led to the battle, along with the battle itself. There is also an immersive battle experience in one room that places you right in the center of the field. There are also speakers there to talk about the folks involved on both sides of the battle, from high up in the military, to what would have been considered royalty, to the everyday commoner. It allowed for a true experience of the battlefield and time period.

 

 

 

 

 

From there we decided to continue on the history timeline and head over to Fort George. Fort George is a military fortress from the 18thcentury. If you’re wondering on those dates and timelines, yes, Fort George was built/replaced shortly after the battle in response to the rebellion. It is still in use today and because of that certain areas of the installation are off limits. Even with those limits, there is so much to see, and this is such a cool fortress to explore. Not only is there a lot of fortress information and you can spend a couple hours wandering its rooms and battlements, but they also have a museum that breaks down the history of the unit that is stationed there. There is quite a lot of artifacts from various engagements that they’ve done (including a lot of WWII and Japanese items).

The view from the battlements is also quite gorgeous. It overlooks the Moray Firth and you can see across the water over to the little towns, not to mention on one side there is the possibility for Dolphin siting’s! We were there at the wrong time and the weather/water was too rough for us to see them, but it would be a cool spot if you could (it is regardless, but that’s an added bonus).

Our final stop on the way home was Chanonry Point.

This is a spot almost opposite of Fort George where you can look out at Moray Firth and the other water spots and potentially see Dolphins. Since it was the same day, same storm, we did not see any, but it is a simply beautiful spot to just sit and spend a little time (which we did do…).

Day 2:

We started our morning back at Chanonry Point right at the tide time to try and spot some Dolphins. This is a fairly regular occurrence and we heard it’s one of the largest most active pods, but in the time that we were there, we did not see any of the pod. This was a tiny let down, but being against such clear, calm, water on such a beautiful sunny morning was the perfect start to our day.

Since the weather was so perfect we decided that we would head over to see Loch Ness. Now, Loch Ness is basically a massive body of water that has a superstition attached to it. It is incredible in that the amount of water is astounding, so it is worth viewing and learning about even if you don’t care about the superstitious side of things. We started at the visitor center which details a lot of information about the Loch itself. It gives stats, shows movies detailing the different ways they’ve tried to survey the lake, and show various displays about different events occurring at Loch Ness (plane crashes, boat issues, world speed record attempts).

Once we finished the visitor center we headed over to Urquhart Castle.

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This was what was heralded as THE place to go to get a good view of Loch Ness. As it is also a ruined castle, we were especially interested to see it. I’ll leave most of my tips for this in my tips and recommendations post, but I found this particular spot to be OK. We got some very pretty views and a decent history of the castle, but I felt that the views were better outside the castle itself.

That wraps up our time in Inverness! Honestly, we wished that we had one more day in this area to actually go into Inverness properly and have a stroll round the city (we probably still could have done this, but we were so exhausted by this point), but overall I think we hit the nail on the head for the sights we wanted to see.

I hope that you enjoyed seeing Inverness through our eyes! Have you been? What was your favorite? What would you most like to see?

Recommendations and Tips For: Edinburgh, Scotland

We have recently come back from our Summer Holiday in England and Scotland and I’ve been recapping all of our travels for you in the past blog posts. Today I am going to share some of my tips and recommendations for a stay in Edinburgh (you can see the “what we did” post HERE).

Edinburgh is such a cool spot because it perfectly melds the old world, dark, dreary city with pops of bright colors and trendy spots. It’s quite obviously a tourist spot, but you can certainly find the little gems that are maybe off the beaten path a little bit. Even with all of the tourists, Edinburgh holds a special sort of charm in its way of life and we did love our time there.

Recommendations:

Edinburgh Castle. I think this one is a fairly obvious choice, but there is quite simply SO MUCH history here in this castle. There is A LOT to see (not as much as say The Tower, but still a fair amount). They also fire a canon from the rampart every day at 1PM, and that is something you will definitely want to see. Stop in the gift shop near the Soldier’s Memorial for a little whiskey tasting and then wander through the main square. You are also able to view the Scottish Crown Jewels, which have quite the history.

Arthurs Seat. This hike was one of the most incredible hikes. If you even have a little physical experience you could make it to the top, however there are a couple of different false peaks if you’d like to just stop and admire the beauty around you. Once you’ve finished the hike and you are on the way down, there is a little lake that has ducks and geese that would be the perfect stopping point for lunch (just be aware that there are also fearless pigeons).

Holyrood Palace. This is the official royal residence in Scotland (Balmoral is a “country home/private residence”) and it is really cool to walk through the halls where they host dinners and foreign dignitaries. What might be cooler (depending on who you are) is walking through the very rooms of Mary Queen of Scotts, and hearing about the attempt on her life by her husband- you can even walk the very staircase they did to get to her chambers!

If you had to choose between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, I would go with Edinburgh, much more/wider variety of history, but I do think it is worth it to do both.

Finally, if you are a Harry Potter fan, then you will be familiar with Victoria Street. This is the street that inspired the “look” for Diagon Alley and it is indeed one of those good spots to walk along and browse the shops. It embodies the feel of dark, old world, with the bright pops of color and shops. I would recommend walking up the street (as you will have to regardless) on your way to Edinburgh Castle or the Royal Mile.

Tips:

Walk. Honestly, Edinburgh is laid out in such a way that it lends itself to walking or riding a bike. It is such an easy way to get around and you are never super far from anywhere really (or a bus stop). We didn’t actually use any of their public transportation, but they do have buses for ease of use or if you don’t want to walk in a Scottish Downpour.

That brings me to my next tip, bring a rain jacket and some sort of water proof shoe (or at least something that won’t have water seeping in). Our rain jackets really came in handy the whole second half of this trip. Scotland is super rainy and, to be honest, it is a rain that really just soaks you. There is also no real telling when it comes in or when it will start, it just does. So, make sure you pack at the very least a rain jacket, if not an umbrella too.

Finally, check out the little café’s and diners that are in the city. For our two breakfasts, we stopped at cute little café’s that were not only the quaintest little spots, but were absolutely delicious. Our favorite dinner was at a little spot that filled up quickly. Know that these places will fill up quickly and so consider potentially eating an “early or late dinner”. I know that some of the spots would take reservations so that is something to think of too. I just find that you get such a good idea of what the local life is when you dine in their own spots, rather than sticking to the main tourist attractions.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019 – Edinburgh Scotland

Our second “long” stop on our Summer Holiday was to stop in Edinburgh Scotland. This was the one city in Scotland that I knew that we had to stop in. Edinburgh has a long history both in Scottish history and Scottish/English history. It also has a very unique feel to it (or so I thought when I talked to others/looked at pictures) of olde world meets modern times. So, when planning our summer holiday, I knew that our Scotland portion would include Edinburgh and then one area in the Highlands.

The drive from London to Edinburgh wasn’t too terribly bad. It’s a long-haul drive, but with stops and the pretty countryside it made for a very nice drive. We rented a flat in Edinburgh that was maybe a 10-minute walk from “old town” Edinburgh. It was a pretty in the middle spot for both sides of Edinburgh that we wanted to visit – the castle and the palace. The flat itself was a really cute set up with a surprising size kitchen and private entrance.

Weather wise we got exactly what I expected- rainy and grey. It was brilliant (I’m a person who loves the rain) and definitely added to our Scotland experience. We made great use of our rain jackets as we walked everywhere, even in the rain.

Day 1:

We started our day off with breakfast in a really quaint, but trendy café called Cult Espresso. We just picked up a couple of baked goods, coffee and a smoothie and were pleasantly surprised by how filling and delicious everything was! I loved the feeling of this little café and it was the perfect way to start our day off. Once we finished, we headed up to Edinburgh Castle. We had pre booked a morning at Edinburgh Castle and we still managed to spend 3-4 hours on the castle grounds looking through all of the different areas. They have their own set of Crown Jewels which were really cool and the history behind them was very interesting (lost, found, stolen, lost, found, etc.). We also managed to stay long enough to watch them do their 1pm Canon Firing, which they do at that time every day. The boys really enjoyed seeing that (after Colton got over the jolt of it) and we enjoyed doing a little whiskey trial.

Once we finished at Edinburgh Castle, we decided to just wander the streets with only vague destinations in mind. I wanted to walk down Victoria Street (which was totally worth getting us lost and having us walk all sort of back alleys to get back on track) and I wanted to try and make it to The Real Mary Kings Cross. We did not end up getting to go into that museum as the tickets were sold out until the evening time. (pre book, pre book, pre book!!!!) We stopped into the National Library and walked through the exhibit they held there (about enlightenment), as well as a couple shops along the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile refers to the mile walk and road from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.

We also stopped in to The National Museum of Scotland. First, the interior of this building is so incredibly cool. Just the architecture of it makes it worth the stop. It’s a free entrance museum and we picked two exhibits to go in to. We started in the Animal Exhibit (so proper- I don’t remember the exact name) for the kids and they loved pointing out the different animals. The displays showed quite a variety of animals and we even got to stand on a scale to see what animal we weighed the same as. It is a very interactive portion of the museum very much for children and covers other topics, such as STEM topics and space/our universe. Once the boys had a little overload from there, we wandered up to the Ancient Worlds exhibit to take a look at the Ancient Egypt artifacts. Fun fact about me: I used to be obsessed with Ancient Egypt. Not sure what triggered that interest, but it used to fascinate me. It was nice to have the interest re ignited and look through the various coffins and mummified bodies they had on display as well as the jewelry and everyday items.

We decided to have dinner at a popular local spot called Gourmet Mash Bar. They do a lot of potato (as the name would suggest) with various meat options. I got chicken, the kids got sausage, and my husband got … We also decided to have some drinks, which gave me an excuse to try some Pear Cider. The Pear Cider was actually quite nice, although I learned that I prefer to drink it out of the bottle or lukewarm, not poured over ice. It got a little too sweet and bubbly when combined with ice. After dinner we were treated to a lovely Scottish downpour as we tried to find our way back to the house which gave us a chance to really embrace the rain and our rain jackets.

Day 2:

Our second day was supposed to be a fairly clear day after some morning showers. We decided to have a bit of a later start (aka our kids slept in and we decided to just go with that) and it ended up maybe working in our favor? We started with breakfast at a little café called Consider It (Chocolate). This is a plant-based donut shop and we had some of the best donuts ever at this café. I also had a very delicious cup of tea and we had a little goof around with photo’s while we were here. It was a really nice, slow start to what would turn out to be quite the day.

There was still rain forecasted for the next hour or so, but we decided to just go ahead and leave the café and move forward with our plans. The main goal of our day was to hike Arthurs Seat and tour Holyrood Palace. Our original goal was to walk the ridgeline between the two, but as you’ll read and find out, that did not become an option. A little background first.

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Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano with an elevation of 251 Meters (823 ft) at its highest point. The Seat itself is the peak of a group of hills that make up Holyrood Park, which is what Holyrood Palace backs up to. You can hike up to the peak and get an incredible panorama of Edinburgh and it is actually a relatively easy hike. There are two options to hike up, one a “back and forth” gentle upward slope and the other being a staircase straight up the mountain. You can create a trail at just about any spot, but those are the two popular sides. Right now, climbing is not allowed due to rock slides. We decided to hike up using the stairs because that was the side that we came to, which actually worked out better overall, and we got about a quarter of the way up before we got hit with a torrential downpour.

Yep, we hiked that hill (I so want to call it a mountain) in a downpour. Honestly, it was epic, and I would not have done it any other way. It really added to the experience and the sun broke just as we reached the summit. It just made for the most incredible and empowering experience. I was a little worried doing this hike and these heights with both boys, but it was totally worth it. We hung around at the top for a little while, snapping pictures, and enjoying the view before heading back down. We decided against walking the ridgeline and instead do the gentle downward walk on the way down as the volcanic rock that you climb down had become very slick with the rain. This gave us a couple more spots to stop and admire and it also deposited us right at Holyrood Palace.

Holyrood Palace was another spot that did not disappoint us in any way. They had several exhibits about the history of the Scots Rebellion, Mary Queen of Scots, and information about the current use of the Palace. We got to walk through several bedrooms (hello Mary Queen of Scots and where the attempt was made on her life) AND they had a whole exhibition set up for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding, including the dress and everything!! I knew that there was an exhibition, but I guess forgot that it was at Holyrood. Talk about a pleasant surprise!!! We also got to hear about the disused Abbey that was/is a part of Holyrood, and walk through the gardens.

Overall an absolute gem of a day.

We stopped for a quick dinner in one of the little café’s just off the palace and then headed back to the flat for an early evening.

That rounds out our time in Edinburgh! I hope you enjoyed seeing Edinburgh through our eyes. What was your favorite thing to hear about? Have you been to Edinburgh? What was your favorite spot if you have been? What would you most like to see for yourself?

2019 Halfway Check In

Somehow we are now halfway through 2019! Where has the year gone? Have you had any exciting things happen so far? Any goals completed? Any new goals created?

This morning I am going to be doing a little “check in” post. I am going to look at what I planned and wanted for my 2019 and see where I am personally at. I think June is a really fun month, but also a good time to just take a minute and reflect on where we are at in our year. How any of the goals we’ve set are going. I would encourage you to do the same and share in the comments! We can always use a little pick me up and accountability.

So, I shared a post at the start of January all about the things that I was “Looking Forward to in 2019”, you can read that post HERE. In this post I talked about my “phrase” and my “word” of the year. I didn’t share my smaller goals for the year, but I’ll share a couple of those in this post as well.

I think overall I’ve done pretty well at sticking with the intentions that I set for myself, achieving a good number of things throughout the first half of this year, but I’ve definitely put one goal off and have kind of fallen off track in a couple other spots. I’ll get more into that a little later on, we will focus on the good first. 🙂

So, something I wanted to focus a little bit more on this year on a larger scale was to just “Be Open”. Be open to new opportunities, be open to new friendships, new experiences, to whatever the year brings our way. I feel like I’ve really done this at this point in the year. I’ve tried to throw caution to the wind in some respects and I feel like it has really worked out in our favor (specifically when it comes to our traveling, and our day to day getting out). I said that I specifically wanted to “Keep an open mind to everything and kind of just run with it”. I’m a type A, planner kind of person and so just go with it is something that I am always working on. When we are doing these quick trips, just go with it is the perfect motto to have.

The smaller intention that went along with that was “You can’t plan everything”. I’ve really been working hard at this one. I get really…”uncomfortable” if I feel like things are chaotic (that’s just a nice way of saying I go a little bonkers if I feel like I don’t have things planned properly). If I feel like I haven’t gotten things planned and in just the right order. I wanted to just let go as that was really starting to affect different areas of my mental health. I wanted to get a little looser with schedules, a little looser with timelines, just loosen up with planning. Again, I feel like I’ve really excelled at this one. First off, being in a hotel means that routines and schedules (other than bedtime) just go out the window. We just get out of the hotel and whenever things happen they happen. Not to mention we’ve been doing so much go, go , go travel that I’ve really just had to loosen all the reigns on planning. It’s been so FREEING.

I will say- at the beginning of the year I struggled a little bit. At the end of 2018 I resigned my job and for the first time in my adult life I was aimless in my time. I didn’t have a job that I had to do for so many hours a day. I was able to do what I wanted with my time and my kids. We weren’t tied down to a schedule. And that was HARD to adjust to in a way. On top of that we went from my In-Laws and vacation to a hotel. The things that I would normally do throughout the day, handling the home, tidying, writing, were now in limbo. I could write, but cleaning and everything else that I would normally do was nonexistent. I’m going to be the weird one and say that I actually quite like housework, so this was an adjustment in itself. I ended up figuring out something that worked for me, but it’ll be changing again here shortly (yay!!).

Moving forward with those two intentions I am going to try and come up with a perfect “marriage” that works for me. The ratio of rigid to flow, planning to loose, and see if I can’t find a way to bring a little bit of planning and routines (beyond bedtime) back into our lives. To become a little bit more intentional with my days that we aren’t traveling.

Now, for my word of 2019 I chose “Explore” and I feel like I’m really living that word. We’ve gone around so much just in the short months we’ve been in Germany, not just in our own little community but around Germany and Europe as well. We have plans for just about every long weekend for the rest of this year, as well as our two extended leave periods this year.

When I originally picked this word, I knew that we would be doing a lot of traveling, but I really wanted to focus on exploring with just me and the boys. We didn’t “get out” as much as I had hoped in the previous couple years and with our move I didn’t want to just get back into that “sit at home” type of living. Our boys love exploring and being outside and I want to nurture that love. This meant that I had to be comfortable leaving and going to bigger area’s with just myself and the kids. I have successfully done one market with just me and the boys and have plans for a couple other spots in the coming months to do for us. We also get out and do long walks at least once or twice a week, and one trip to the local town as well. It’s been actually really easy to do, and we’ve really enjoyed “mommy and son trips”.

Some of the other personal goals that I set for myself are one’s that I set quietly every year, eating clean and healthy options, staying in a positive mindset and spreading that positivity, not being judgmental of others and not getting caught up in the petty little problems/drama. I think I’ve done pretty well with all of those but one…

Junk food. Junk food has really crept back in to our lives and it’s not something that I am happy about. I’ve prided myself the past year or two on eating healthy options, cutting out a lot of processed food and junk food, but lately it’s found a place back in our hotel. I could give excuse after excuse of why, but honestly that’s not important. We don’t eat a lot of it, but I feel like we are at the cusp of eating more of it than we should. Chips, candy, sweets, it all needs to be taken back a couple of notches. I am already in a mindset of tailing it back and we’ve already put this in practice as of June 1, but to be completely transparent I wanted to share that.

The other goal that I had that I didn’t share is the goal of starting a podcast this year. Unfortunately, I have made the decision to postpone this goal for a little while longer. I don’t think that it will be a feasible option this year and I also don’t know that I can take on another project at this time. It’s ok to postpone or stop a goal that is doing something negative for you or is just not a possibility for you at that time. Sometimes things don’t work out and that’s ok.

So that is my look at 2019 so far. How is your year going? How are those goals going?

 

 

Austria – A Long Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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