2020 – A Year in Review

2020. What a year. Where do I even begin?

We all know the big moments of 2020. The Pandemic. The Murders, Uprise, and Unrest (I really hate calling it that though- this is simple human rights). The Election. The unprecedented highs and lows that this year has brought have been like we haven’t seen. And, I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of tired of talking about them. I feel like so much of our lives this year have been focused so heavily on these few moments, which while are drastic and life altering, are not the entire story of our year. They have shaped the year, shaped our experiences, shaped how we cope and handle things, but there are also a million other smaller moments that are overlooked as well. So, I’m going to focus on those little moments. Sure, I’ll cover the things that I have learned about myself, the things that have been shaped by those bigger things, but there not the sole focus of this post. 

Gosh, so a year in review…

Well, our year started by getting blessed by the Pope at St. Peter’s square and then visiting the Great Roman Synagogue. A good start, no? We started our year off in Rome, which was a place that I hadn’t expected to fall in love with as much as I did (you can read my blog posts HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE). If there is one place in our travels that I would say, “I thought I would love it, but I didn’t know how much I would love it”, Rome and Italy would be one of those places. The other? Switzerland. BUT, when it comes to Switzerland, I think that could be said for anyone. More on that in a minute. However, Rome wasn’t our only destination in the year 2020. We managed to squeeze in several trips this year due to a lessening of restrictions and safe traveling. We managed to hit a total of 5  additional countries, France (PARIS 1, PARIS 2, MONT SAINT MICHEL, NORMANDY), Luxembourg (HERE), Belgium (BRUSSELS), Switzerland (INTERLAKEN/LAUTERBRUNNEN), and Poland (KRAKOW, AUSCHWITZ). With Switzerland topping all of the lists. There really are no words on the beauty of that area of the world. It is beyond worth the trip and I think everyone should experience it. 

Our year abruptly changed/came to a halt when we got the surprising news that we would be moving back to the United States quite a bit sooner than expected…a whole year sooner! We initially got the news about mid-summer, then finalized the information late Autumn, and determined that our next spot would be in New York. I talked about it briefly in my announcement post (HERE) and I’m sure I will be talking about it once again here soon as our move date approaches. I’m still fairly heartbroken about moving back, but I am trying to stay positive and see the positives (because there are some positives to this).

Once again, our boys have grown…A LOT. I think this year, more than ever, I have keenly felt the passage of time and what things look like with these two proper, independent kids. Colton started preschool (and then promptly stopped…only to start up again virtually and then finally start the new school year in school…only to go back to virtual right before Christmas break hahaha). When I say he is a completely different child from last year, I mean he is a completely different child. His progress reports have shown drastic improvement as he surpasses the goals initially set out. He’s quite the little boy. Andrew has changed quite a bit too…gone is my little angelic little boy who would occasionally get a super serious contemplative expression. He’s been replaced with a temperamental 3-year-old that loves to exploit the rules and then give you a winning sly grin to get out of trouble. He keeps me on my toes between the troublemaker antics and the never-ending stomach room ha-ha. Together they either love or hate and they definitely make life interesting. 

But, watching how much they’ve changed, how much they’ve grown, has been bittersweet. As any parent will tell you, there is a certain sadness when your children start to grow. This year has definitely brought a level of independence for our boys (they can do SO MUCH MORE without us needing to help), which in so many ways has been nice, it has me savoring the moments where they want to snuggle up on the couch or need mommy to kiss something better. 

This year hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies and rainbows. There have been low points as well. We’ve faced a global pandemic that had us here in Germany stuck in our homes. At the height of Spring, we were not allowed to leave our homes save for grocery shopping (and this was JUST groceries, any stores that sold both groceries and home goods, you could only purchase groceries), doctors’ appointments, exercise (to be done by yourself), and for essential work. No seeing friends, seeing family, popping to wander through the aisles of a store, we were all stuck at home. While this had positives, there were also negatives. This was also a time when I learned a…not so pleasant tidbit about myself (which then led to one of my lows of the year).

I love my family. I’ve loved having extra time with my husband, for us all to be together and really soak up the extra minutes we get together. BUT I don’t like noise. I don’t like constant, loud, noise. I.E. The noise that comes when your entire rambunctious family is home with loads of energy and nothing really to do to kill off that energy (sometimes even our long walks did nothing to curb it). The kind of noise that you can’t really escape from, that only ends when everyone goes to bed and you are left alone, exhausted and trying to savor the quiet while also wanting to sleep. The kind of noise that just wears on you, day after day after day. The kind of noise that, as an introvert, I HAVE to break away from just to recharge. So, that was fun to learn…NOT. I spent quite a bit of quarantine trying to figure out how to adjust my own expectations and needs with what the situation presented, so that I could be the positive, more even keeled person. It was a time and while I don’t have the entire thing figured out (I’m mostly still dragging little moments out until I can get to the next one), I do feel a bit better than I did at the beginning. 

Another low point was the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so, so many others that all deserved to have their names spoken over and over and over again. Not to mention justice. This summer was eye opening in so many ways on a civil level and one that I am making sure I continue to learn and educate myself as we move away from the initial “push” of the unrest. There was also an alarming amount of anti-Semitism that popped up in 2020 as well, which is…scary. To be honest, the sheer level of hatred in our country, in our world, is scary. 

In all honesty, I am glad to wave 2020 farewell. It’s been a year of highs and lows and draining. While I don’t think we are going to wake up in 2021 and everything will magically be good, I am kind of looking forward to a new year. To another fresh start. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Normandy, France

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

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

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

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

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

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

We went to Omaha Beach first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

In terms of Covid and general tips…

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

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Paris Tips & Recommendations

Ah, Paris; the metropolitan city of love (and light). We spent two full days in the city and I still feel like we only scratched the surface. You can read about our Day 1 and Day 2, but today I am going to be touching a little bit on my tips and tricks for the city. I’ll be honest, I’m struggling a bit with this post for a couple different reasons. I feel like we didn’t get to see as much because we are traveling with our two young boys (so no museums, save for the one military one) and we traveled during the downside of a Global Pandemic (so closures and distancing measures were in place). So, I don’t know that I can give you ALL the details of what to see/do, but I can touch on what we did do. 

I will also say, (!!!UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT!!!) Paris wasn’t our favorite of everywhere we’ve been. There were certain parts that we enjoyed, and we thought were cool, but it wasn’t a top spot. 

As I’ve been doing, I am going to touch on Public Transport as the first thing. We always utilize public transport when we travel as it’s easier (especially here in Europe) and it tends to be cheaper once we add all the costs up. Paris, like many other metropolitan cities in Europe, has an excellent metro system. The trains are fast, and the schedule/routes are fairly straightforward (even if the actual stations aren’t always). I will say, I have yet to run into a “bad” public transport option. 

Paris is a city that you’ll have to look up things (I know, a massive help here). If you are interested in certain art forms or artists, there is probably a museum devoted just to them. I would have liked to visit Monet’s studio or seen the Louvre Museum. I would say, my biggest recommendation for a trip to Paris is to plan it out a bit more. You can idly stroll the streets (which is completely fine and very Parisian), but it’s not as easy to see all the things by doing that. 

If you want to see the height of Parisian opulence and grandeur, go to the Opera House. If you have no interest in seeing that, go to the Opera House. If you only see one thing in Paris, go to the Opera House. Can you tell that I loved the Opera house? Unfortunately, we did not get to see the Louvre, so I can’t attest to it, but it’s obviously a hot spot. For an Eagle Eye view of the city, opt for the Dome of the Sacre-Coeur Basilica over the Eiffel Tower. You’ll see much more of the city. Make sure to snack on some Crepe’s and Macaroons (obviously), and try some of the local wines. 

Parisians are not rude. I don’t know if it was our timing (with tourism being down) or that we learn some basic words in the language, but we didn’t face any of the “rudeness” that everyone talks about. I’ve actually just found this to be a great thing to do anywhere you travel- learn a few common phrases or words (we usually try to learn hello, goodbye, thank you, please, good, do you speak English, and bathroom). It just goes a long way. 

Otherwise, I don’t have too much more to say about Paris. Of course, if you have any questions I can certainly try my best to answer them, so leave those below. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Paris pt. 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that concludes our time in Paris!  

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Luxembourg Tips & Tricks

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

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

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

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

Public Transport

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

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

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

Travel & Covid-19: My Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts/Feelings

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

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

Round the Kettle Ep. 26: Home Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life in Europe – 1 Year In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Rome The Final Days

And so, we come to our final “what we did” post of our Winter Holiday. Our trip was jam packed from start to finish, although there was a definite difference to the second half of our trip. Vatican City was a nice way to “break up” the week we were there as that trip was about halfway through. We’d covered most of the Tourist Spots in our first few days in Rome (read that HERE), we covered Vatican City at that halfway mark (you can read that HERE), then Ancient Rome (one of my absolute FAVORITES read HERE)and now all we had left was New Year’s Day and then some.

So, a quick brief breakdown, Day 1 was spent at Castel Sant’Angelo, checking into our Bed & Breakfast, The Spanish Steps and The Trevi Fountain. Day 2 was spent at Piazza Navona, The Pantheon, and Piazza del Popolo. Day 3 was spent at Santa Maria in Aracoeli, The Alter of the Fatherland, and Quirinale Palace. Each day also consisted of a lot of just walking the streets of Rome- you see so much more by just walking around and you get such a great feel of the place. Day 4 was spent at Vatican City walking the halls of Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Day 5 was spent going back in time to Ancient Rome and discovering what life was like in a vastly different era. So, that brings us to New Year’s Day and Day 6 of our trip…

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday - The Final Days

Day 6: New Year’s Day

Oh, New Years in Europe. New Years in Europe is like nothing I’ve experienced before. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that big of a New Years party goer, but saw the Times Square parties on TV and have heard enough to stories to have what I think is a good idea and I can tell you… the United States doesn’t have much on Europe. And most of the celebrations continue through to the next day. The streets on New Year’s Day are full of celebration, most places are closed, and the atmosphere just feels fun!

We started off the New Year with a breakfast at The Loft, where we had previously eaten. Ate some delicious food, drank some delicious coffee, and then headed out to a very exciting event. We were able to attend the Pope’s New Years Day Prayer. IMG_5054Now, the prayer is actually the Angelus and he will also give a reflection on the Gospel of the day, and on the day that we were there, some additional commentary. Here’s a secret, you can go to this most Sunday’s at noon and participate in this very special moment. I have included a link to the commentary that he gave on New Year’s Day (HERE), and you can view his “schedule” HERE to check if he will be doing the prayer while you are there (if this is something you are interested in). The entire prayer and comments lasts about 15-20 minutes and he speaks into a microphone from the window to the right of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was an incredible moment, so moving and you could feel everyone around you just being swept away by his words and his speaking. It’s something to be experienced, whether you are religious or not.

After the address we decided to further our religious experiences and head over to the Great Synagogue of Rome.

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This Jewish Quarter is one of the oldest, most intact in the world and the Roman Synagogue and Museum reflect both the community and the history. There has been a Jewish presence in Rome since at least the 2nd Century B.C and the museum, located in the basement of the synagogue, displays the history of the community, several artifacts through the history, and is a wealth of information about the traditions and rights of passage of the religion. For me personally, having grown up in a Jewish family, I found it really welcoming and heartwarming to see so much of what I know in such a positive, beautiful light. It was neat to learn some facts about the history of the Jews in Rome and how they were saved during World War 2. Before we get into that, first you need to know that Rome is the ONLY city in Europe to never expel it’s Jews. Did it try to convert them? Yes, there was even a Jewish Ghetto in the 16th century, but it never expelled them (and the Ghetto was abolished in the 19th century- the last in Europe to do so). When the Germans occupied Rome in 1943 the Jewish Community was told it could be saved by giving 50kg of gold. The was given to the Germans and included contributions by non-Jews as well, but the agreement never ended up being upheld. About 2000 Jews were still sent to concentration camps.

Admission to the Museum includes admission and a short tour of the Synagogue.

The Synagogue itself is incredible, dating back to the 19th century and  featuring several different styles which you can see simply by looking from the ground up to the ceiling. You can see the various cultural and design elements (including Spanish, Egyptian, & Roman) and it feels like a good representation of what the community is now. After all, it is an eclectic meld of a wide variety of people from all around Europe. It also features a square aluminum dome which causes it to stand out amongst the other dome’s and, as such, is easily identifiable.  The Synagogue has been visited by 3 different Pope’s, the first of which being a surprise visit in the 1980’s (and marked the first visit since the early history of the Catholic Church).

Finally, we spent our first night of 2020 watching the Sunset over the Roman Forum.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it for a really long time, Roman Sunsets are incredible. I’ve always just really been a Sunrise fan, but this trip in particular reminded me just how beautiful a sunset can be.

Day 7:

Our final day in Rome was one that we weren’t really sure what to do with. We had almost the entire day to explore and weren’t quite sure what else to really do. Most of our “big ticket” items that we wanted to see we had seen, so we decided to just jump on the subway, pick a random spot and explore from there. Lucky for us the “stars aligned” and we wound up at Villa Borghese Gardens.

Listed as the third largest public park in the city, it’s a little haven of beauty in the city. Dating back to the early 17th century, when Cardinal Borghese decided to turn his vineyard into an extensive set of gardens. Within the gardens there is The Temple of Aesculapius, which has a beautiful lake around it and a Piazza that has been turned into a dog park, but was previously used as an equestrian track. There is also the famous Galleria Borghese (that you need to purchase tickets in advance to see) and its garden, the Villa Medici, which now houses a French Academy, a replica of the Globe Theatre, and a Zoo.

We wandered through the Gardens, which was a really nice little nature break, saw the Water Clock and Temple, stopped by the Borghese Gallery, and then headed to the Zoo. This is the Exposition Zoo, which features minimal caging and contains a little museum. I was really surprised by this zoo, the number of animals it contained, and how well cared for they were. Some of the things that I am normally concerned with in terms of zoo’s, were handled well at this particular one. The boys really enjoyed their time there, noting the Elephant, Snakes, and Crocodile as their best and worst animals (the crocodile because it was “scary”).

These couple spots seemed to be the perfect way to end our trip, which worked out well because shortly after our Zoo visit we headed to the train station and made our way back home.

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The entire trip still feels so incredibly surreal and one that I really loved. In my first post, I talked about how we handled this holiday a little bit differently than our Summer one and I can definitely see the benefits to both ways of traveling (the go, go, go vs. take it easy and truly vacationing). We just had such a lovely time and, yet again, a dream trip come true.

I hope that you enjoyed coming along with us! I hope I’ve done it just a little bit of justice for you.