A Day in Alexandria Bay

We recently spent a day exploring a little bit of Alexandria Bay and the Thousand Islands Region. The entire Thousand Island Region is absolutely gorgeous, and we really wanted the chance to explore it a bit more (we recently took a weekend to see Sackett’s Harbor and Wellesley Island which you can read about HERE), so we decided that a boat tour was the best way to go. Not only did this give us a chance to see the waterways, the summer vacation homes that most of us dream of, we also were able to stop at Boldt Castle, a well-known spot in the region. *A note that you can visit Boldt Castle and Singer Castle by personal boat if you have your own- they have docking options. *

Let’s back up a bit and touch a little on Alexandria Bay. Alexandria Bay was originally home to the Iroquois & Algonquin tribes, who would use the area as a Summer Hunting and Fishing spot. During the American Revolution (and shortly after) the land was purchased, then it passed hands after the War of 1812, the continued to be passed around for some time. Eventually the goal was to bring the Islands and Alexandria Bay to become a premier Sumer destination and, after the Civil War and a visit by Ulysses S. Grant, it did. Another period of time that did the region a lot of good was Prohibition when the narrow river ways would allow alcohol to be covertly brought into New York from Canada. To this day you can still find bottles at the bottom of the water from when they were tossed over as law enforcement approached. 

While we were in the area our main focus was the boat tour and Boldt Castle, but we did wander up through James St (and pick up a wine slushie- delicious) and a little bit along the river walk. There is plenty for us to go back and wander through and I can totally see the allure of this area as a summer hotspot. It brings all the charm of a “Bay Town” with just enough history and a variety of things to do. It’s also close to the Canadian Border (when it opens) if you want to pop over. 

Now, on to our main events, Uncle Sams Boat Tour and Boldt Castle.

Uncle Sam’s Boat Tour is one of the companies that operates tours throughout the water ways of the St. Lawrence River. They have several different tour options for you to choose from, each a variety of sites to see and costs. You can also choose to simply take their ferry over to the castle if that’s all you want to see. I personally would recommend taking one of the full tours so you can see the area a bit more in depth. We chose to do the American Narrows Tour (link) which gave us a good variety of the Islands, a stop at Boldt Castle, and was a good amount of time for our children too. Each tour comes with a tour guide on hand that takes you through this history and current information for the area AND a snack/drink bar. At some point I would like to do the tour that takes you out to Singer Castle as well. 

A couple of tour highlights for us were the Skull & Bones Society clubhouse. Story goes that the original owner of the Island was a part of the Skull & Bones Society at Yale and upon graduation (club rule) willed the entire Island to the club. There was also an island that had a partially sunken boat where the captain decided that steering the boat as it was out of the narrows was not worth it, so he simply left it on the side. Another interesting spot that gained some fame? An island that was owned by The Claudia Family that has both a home and an old monastery. Not only the monastery claimed to be haunted, but the island also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The TAPS team from Ghost Hunters and Meatloaf came out to film an episode of the show and feature the “haunted island”. One final fun story (or rather not fun for the people involved) was our tour was about a man-made island. Story goes a man wanted to buy an island and summer home for his wife, so he sent her up to the region to search for the one she wanted. She searched and searched and didn’t find one she liked, so he purchased some of the underwater ground and BUILT an island for her. He then built the house on it and presented it to her. But, as you may see where this is going, she didn’t like it, and ultimately decided she didn’t like him. The island and home still stand today, presumably with a happier family in residence. 

The last, well only, stop on the tour is at the famed Boldt Castle. 

George Boldt immigrated from Prussia to America in 1864 at age 13. He started at the bottom as a kitchen worker before climbing up the chain of the hotel industry. At 30 he purchased his own hotel (The Bellevue) and thus continued his rise. Ultimately, he would become the proprietor of the merged Waldorf Astoria (after mediating a feud between William and Jacob Astor). He is also the very man who made the Thousand Island Dressing so famous, having his maître-d include it on the menu of his hotel restaurant. 

In the beginning of 1900, he purchased Heart Island with the sole purpose of building a Rhineland Castle as a symbol of the love he had for his wife, Louise. The plan for the castle was a 6-story building with 120 rooms, along with tunnels a powerhouse, Italian Gardens, a Children’s playhouse, drawbridge and more. It was to be a massive castle. Work had been underway on the home for a few years before Louise suddenly died from pneumonia, at which point George, in his grief, ordered all work to be stopped and never stepped foot on the island for the rest of his life. 

An ultimate symbol of love (if you ask me). 

As the home and island fell into disrepair, it was eventually purchased by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority to restore and open the home/grounds. You are able to tour both the home (both the completed and incomplete areas) and the grounds and all proceeds from shop and ticket sales go directly back into the restoration. 

Now, let me say this straight away, the home and grounds are IMPRESSIVE. We loved our day there and I’ll share all the things about it, BUT I don’t know if I would classify it as a castle, more so as an estate. Semantics, I know, but that’s just my thoughts. 

So, some of the highlights for us…

The Entry Arch. Modeled off of the Roman Arches and maybe a little inspiration from the Arc De Triumphe, this was supposed to serve as the formal entry point to the island. It is topped with 3 Stag Deer (a theme throughout).

The Power House and Clock Tower. This is the most photographed spot on the property (and probably one of my favorite little nooks) and served as the home to the 2 generators that would have been used to power the home and island. It was designed to appear like a medieval tower rising directly from the water and features a beautiful bridge across the water for access. The clock tower was modeled and formed off of the chime tower at Westminster in London. 

The interior of the home was where I really saw the more modern (or rather of the time) American inspiration. Yes, we feature the massive fireplaces and the brick/stonework that you could find in other European Castles, but the marble flooring, the grand staircase, and the overall look of the interior was much more of its time and place. You can see both the hotel and concern for guests in the home, as well as the fact that he wanted to make it homelike for his family. The library and kitchen were personal favorites of mine, but I also wouldn’t have minded one of the open windowed natural light bedrooms on the second floor (I believe it was intended to be Louise’s). 

Of course, one cannot forget the Mother in Law suite that we learned about while on the boat. Allegedly the little house directly to the side of the main Island, accessible only by boat, was intended for George Boldt’s Mother-in-Law. There was a long funny story that was told to go along with this information, but I don’t know how factual any of it was, so I won’t share it here. It was funny though. 

Finally, we stopped over to the Yacht House across the river from the main house. The Yacht house served as the lodge for the Boldt’s houseboat and various yachts and speed or race boats they owned. There is a free shuttle from Heart Island that takes you over and you can either purchase tickets at Boldt Castle (a combined ticket) OR at the boathouse. The Yacht house currently holds a collection of antique boats on display, as well as a steam engine, and a steam Yacht that is on loan, but would have been similar to what the Boldt’s would have owned. The building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Overall, we had such a beautiful day exploring the Islands, the Castle, and a little bit of Alexandria Bay. I can see this being a spot we come back to again. 

COCHEM IMPERIAL CASTLE

We went to Cochem Imperial Castle as part of our time in Cochem on our Summer Holiday (COCHEM). This was the first place we went when we arrived in Cochem and while it may not be one of the top castles, it was so cool to explore its courtyards and rooms and hear its extensive history. 

The first written mention of Reichsburg Cochem is in 1051, however it is assumed that the castle was built around 1000. Built by Palatinate Count Ezzo, the castle was given to count Henry I in 1051 ( by Richeza, former Queen of Poland). In the 12th century King Konrad III took control of the region and castle, turning it into an imperial fiefdom. The castle then became an imperial castle. It was pawned to Austria to pay for a coronation (King Adolf of Nassau), but the debt was never able to be collected. During the Nine Years War, Louis XIV invaded Cochem and the Imperial Castle before destroying it by fire (and then an explosion which almost took out the entire town of Cochem). The ruined castle wasn’t touched again until it was purchased in 1868 by Louis Frederic Jacques Ravene  who rebuilt the castle into the Neo Gothic style you see today. The castle was transferred to Cochem’s ownership in 1978 and is now able to be toured by the general public. 

The best part of this castle is, hands down, the view. Situated high above the Moselle River, you are able to see Cochem, the river, the wineries, and much more. It is a stunning view from almost anywhere within the castle. The courtyard is incredible too, with a well in the center as it would have been in early times to collect rainwater. You are also able to see the round tower, which somehow survived the destruction by Louis XIV. It was a guard tower during the castle’s time and if you follow it around, you are able to see a large mosaic of St. Christopher. 

I know this wasn’t as long as my normal Castle Post, but this is a pretty straightforward castle. It is definitely one I recommend touring if you are in Cochem as it is really interesting to see how they would have lived in the castle, as well as all of the defensive measures that were set up. 

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. 

Krakow, Poland – A Long Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interlaken-Oberhasli District, Switzerland – A Long Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020- Cochem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Normandy Tips & Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

In terms of Covid and general tips…

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

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Paris pt. 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.  

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.