A Girls Weekend- Heidelberg

After months and months, I finally was able to do my little girls’ getaway! Back in March I was supposed to go on a girl’s weekend to Prague. This was something that we had planned, booked train tickets, an Airbnb, and some things to do while we were there. Then everything shut down in Europe and we had to cancel the entire trip (and any hopes of doing any girls things at all that weekend-even locally). In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that bad, but it was definitely a bummer for us, and I’ve been waiting since then to be able to do a little get away. So, when a free weekend popped up, I took it and one of my best friends, Kim, and I headed out to Heidelberg.

Heidelberg is a university town in south-west Germany, right on the Neckar River. The city itself has been designated a “City of Literature” and has quite a scientific hub as well within the university. The city also serves as the site of the remains of the earliest signs of human life in Europe ( a jawbone was found in 1907 dating back 600,000-200,000 years ago). Heidelberg as a region dates back to the 5th century BC, with the Celtic people and then the Byzantine/Roman Emperor Valentinian building homes in the location. In the 1st century AD a Christian church was founded inside the Celtic Fortress, with a Monastery and Abbey being added in the 12th century.  The actual founding of Heidelberg is considered to be in 1196. Heidelberg then went through two changes of “rulers” first the house of Hohenstaufen, then the Duke of Bavaria, Ludwig I acquired the city. In 1386, Heidelberg University was founded and, finally, of the upmost importance to me, Heidelberg’s library was founded in 1421, making it the oldest (public library) in Germany. So, a lot happened in the town’s history, long before our more modern history.  

A couple other random facts about Heidelberg, before I get into what we did on our 24 hrs…

Heidelberg went through quite the religious battle (as did most of Europe at one point or another), concerning Lutheranism and Calvinism. In fact, it played a leading role in the conflict, hosting Martin Luther shortly after his Ninety-Five Theses. Heidelberg was also a key player in the beginning of the Thirty Years War, after Frederick V was overthrown in 1621 by the House of Habsburg. Heidelberg has seen several different countries invade, including Sweden and France. And, during World War 2, Heidelberg was a stronghold for the Nazi Party (the NSDAP-National Socialist German Workers Party). The local populace was very much on the side of the Nazi’s and the university served to build an amphitheater and hold rallies during Hitler’s rise. While Heidelberg wasn’t targeted by bombings or other air raid actions, the old treasure bridge was destroyed (3 arches) by Germans fleeing in March of 1945. One final note, Heidelberg has one of the largest American communities outside of the United States (and I can definitely see why), along with an overall large population of expats from around the world. 

Ok, so now that we’ve got the history of the city out of the way (seriously- that was much longer than I had originally intended), let’s talk about what we did. We basically spent 24 hours wandering the Altstadt (Old Town), just reveling in being in an old German Town. The fact that it’s home to so  much history gives it a certain…feel and we just wanted to soak that up. 

We started off at Heidelberg Castle. I’ll be doing a full castle post on it, but I’ll touch on some of the basic information in this post.

The castle was first mentioned in the early 2nd century when the Duke of Bavaria (Louis I) received it from the Hohenstaufen Emperor. From that point on, the castle became two castles, upper and lower. The Upper castle was destroyed by a lightning bolt in 1537. The present castle was expanded in 1650, to then be damaged by war and fires, before another lightning bolt struck in 1764. It was incredible to walk through the walls of the castle, then along the ramparts overlooking the city, and finally just outside the main walls along the side of the complex. It has a real feel of history and tells a multitude of stories. 

From the castle, we checked into our hotel, and headed to the Old Bridge. The Old Bridge is actually the Karl Theodor Bridge, an arch bridge that crosses the Neckar River.

The current bridge is actually the ninth built and is dated back to 1788. The bridge location has a storied history (it had to have been with Heidelberg being on its’ ninth bridge) of bridges being destroyed by mother nature and wars alike. The medieval bridge gate on the Old Town side of the bridge dates back to the original town wall, however the tower helmets were added with the new stone bridge in 1788.  

A fun fact, on the gate side of the bridge there is the statue of a monkey (it’s ok if you don’t see the monkey until you read that it was a monkey- we originally thought it was a cat) which has quite the story attached.

The original monkey dates back to the 15th century and was placed within the tower to represent mockery against the tower’s representation of fear and respect. The monkey had a mirror in one hand (to encourage critical self-reflection) and his other hand on his…rear end. This was turned so that his rear end was facing across the river towards Mainz; which in turn was how the people of Heidelberg told the Bishop of Mainz that he had no power in Heidelberg. The 15th century version of an…eff you. The current bronze statue was installed in 1979 and legend says that if a visitor touches the horns, they will return to Heidelberg, the mice will provide fertility, and the mirror will provide wealth or good luck.

Our hotel was right at the Altstadt side of the bridge, so we were on it…a lot. We walked across to the other side of the Neckar and wandered down the water a bit before heading back over. We got some dinner right off the bridge and then wandered down and around the main street of the Altstadt. It was fun to just wander the streets and take in everything. 

Our final stop of our trip was a stop into the Church of the Holy Spirit, a church that dominates the main square of the Altstadt (and the steeple dominates the entire city).

The first mention of a church on this site is from the 13th  century, then in the 14th century another Gothic Church, and finally this church during the 15thcentury. The construction took around 150 years to complete, however it was interrupted for a period of time, and has been rebuilt once due to being set on fire by the French. The church did have the Palatine Library; however, the collection was taken during the Thirty Years War to the Pope and are now, on the whole (only about 885 manuscripts were returned) in a dedicated section at the Vatican Library. 

One of the things that I really liked about the church was how there was a little market set up on the direct outer walls of the church. Market stalls were set up within the walls of all different varieties, which reminded me of something straight out of a Ken Follett novel. The church itself was incredible and not what we were expecting at all. The walls and ceiling had a pink hue to them and the church itself had a simple elegance to it. 

The only thing that we did not get to do, but wanted to was walk up the Philosophers Walk. This is a walk (or hike) that offers scenic views of the old town from the opposite side of the river. It was a tradition of the philosophers and professors at the university to walk and talk along the path. If you hike a bit farther up you can see the ruins of the Monastery, the amphitheater, and the Celtic fort.

Overall though, we had such a wonderful time and I really recommend a trip over to Heidelberg. It, once again, reminded me just how much I love Germany and the German Old Towns. There is not a bad choice to make anywhere within the Altstadt and even just sitting along the river is incredibly peaceful. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Normandy, 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.

All the Castles: United Kingdom Edition

Today we are heading back to the United Kingdom for our All the Castles blog post. I loved almost all of the castles that we visited during our Summer Holiday to London and Scotland, with one exception (more on that later). I am bending my own “only castle” rule with including Holyrood House in Edinburgh and Balmoral (although technically that is Balmoral Castle). 

Dover Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Known as the “Key to England” Dover Castle dates back to William the Conqueror and the 11th Century. The current castle was rebuilt by Henry II in the late 12th century and has withstood two sieges (1216 & 1265). In the 18th Century a network of tunnels dug into the castle and those tunnels became most famous in World War Two during Operation Dynamo. Dover Castle also became the Regional Seat of Government during the Cold War and was garrisoned up until 1958. 

Dover Castle was really cool because not only does it have the long history, but it has still played a large role in our more recent history (like many of the castles in the United Kingdom). I really enjoyed wandering the courtyard, the main tower (which was a signature of William the Conqueror) as well as the various outlying embankments. You are able to wander the tunnels; however, you will want to do that at the beginning of your trip, otherwise you will be standing in line for quite a while (it’s one of the most popular attractions within the castle). 

The Tower London (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

The Tower dates back to William the Conqueror as he set out to build a might stone tower at the center of his fortress in London. The Tower is the most secure castle in the United Kingdom and is the largest & strongest concentric castle. Its defenses have only fallen once, in the 14th century during the Peasants Revolt. The Tower has had several different uses throughout its time from a prison (800 years), to Luxurious apartments for Royals, to housing a menagerie of wild animals, to an execution ground. It is most known for being a prison and for the executions of three queens, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey. Now The Tower is home to the Yeoman Warders (they’ve lived in The Tower since Henry VIII decreed they stay there) and their families, a Resident Governor, a garrison of soldiers, a doctor, chaplain, and a small pub. It is also home to the closely guarded Crown Jewels. 

Probably one of the most talked about, most popular, most famous and infamous castles in our history, The Tower of London is incredible. There is just so much to see and do within the walls! We ended up spending almost half a day between the Yeoman Warder tour (which I highly recommend), the changing of the guard, and just wandering all of the various spots. You can see so much and such a wide variety of stuff and time periods.  

Edinburgh Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Edinburgh Castle has noted human occupation since around the 2nd century, with the castle dating the 12thcentury. Even though its location was prime for a fortress of defensive castle, it did not become a primary military garrison until the 17th century. It is the most besieged castle in Great Britain, topping out at 26 sieges, and is the most attacked castle in the world. In the 15th century a large canon called the Mons Meg was delivered and set up on the rampart, and you can still see that today. You are also able to walk through St. Margaret’s Chapel which is the oldest chapel in Edinburgh (12th century). Finally, Edinburgh Castle is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels which have quite the history themselves (amongst other things, they were hidden in a bathroom during World War II!). Finally, Edinburgh Castle did not actually house many royals for long periods, it was a very cold, very damp castle and most royals preferred the comfort of Holyrood House located at the other end of the Royal Mile and Arthur’s Seat. 

I LOVED Edinburgh Castle, the history, the brooding castle on the hill overlooking the city, the just darker, grimmer defenses, the history, it’s just one of my favorites. I really enjoyed our time there, walking the castle ramparts, through the church, and listening to the audio guide. We did get to see the canon get fired during our time there, which I would recommend (it’s just a fun thing to do).

Balmoral Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Balmoral Castle is actually a family home, tucked in the Scottish Highlands, for the British Royal Family. It came into the family’s possession in 1848 (first leased then purchased) and they promptly built a new home on the property. The foundation stone was laid in 1853 and it was completed in 1856. This particular castle is a favorite of the Royal Family and I can see why!

The grounds themselves are incredible (you are only able to walk the grounds and see the ballroom, nothing else), not to mention the way the house is just tucked into the beautiful Scottish scenery. It was incredible and, like I’ve said, I can see why the Royal Family loves it so much. 

Urquhart Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Urquhart Castle is a ruined castle on Loch Ness in the highlands of Scotland. It dates the 13th-16th century, with an intentional destruction by the owners in 1692 to prevent Jacobite use. Its major note was playing a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. These days the castle is mostly noted as a romantic ruin, hosting visitors and events every day. 

I think, on the whole, this is probably my least favorite of the castles that we saw. While it was cool to see and walk through and provided some really beautiful pictures, I don’t think that it was really worth the cost. It’s definitely overcrowded at times as well. There are other spots to see the castle from that might be better. 

Palace of Holyrood House (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

The final spot on this All The Castle’s edition is not a castle, but the royal home of Holyrood House. Holyrood House is the official residence of the Royal Family in Scotland. The abbey was founded in the 12th century and James IV built the first palace on the property in the 16th century. On the tour you are able to see various works of art, but the real draw is Queen Mary of Scotland’s royal rooms. These rooms have been at the heart of intrigue and assassination and are a real treat into the history of the area.

I really loved seeing and wandering Holyrood House. The rooms are beautiful with a lot of historical information and artwork, the rooms of Mary Queen of Scots are incredible to walk through (along with the staircase), and the gardens are beautiful. We were also able to see the wedding display from Meghan and Harry’s wedding (including the outfits they wore!) which was really cool. 

And that wraps up this edition of All The Castle’s! Have you been to any? Which is your favorite? Which would you most like to visit?

All the Castles – Germany Edition!

While we still are in a “safer at home” state, the world is slowly starting to open back up again (in fact, while finalizing some of my research for this post I’ve learned that Lichtenstein is in fact open with restrictions!). I’m still over here dreaming about all of the places we can visit and the countries we plan on going to over the next bit of 2020 (once the borders open of course), but I figured today I would do a fun little round up on the blog and start talking about some of the castles we’ve been to.

In compiling this list, I’ve realized that we’ve been to more castles than I had originally realized, so, as the title suggests, this will be full construction German Castles. I will do a separate post for the United Kingdom (which will include palaces as well!), other European Countries, as well as the ruins that we’ve explored. I will also include at the end of each blog post any Castles that are still on our “to go to” list for each region (so at the end of this post I’ll have a list of the castles I would still like to go to in Germany). Once we go to a few more, I’ll do another round up of those as well.

As always, I’ll link to full blog posts where applicable, but I am going to include pictures, a little history, and my own thoughts as we go along.

It seems like people who go to castles fall into two categories, the “you’ve been to one you’ve been to them all” or “they are all different and we should see them all”. If anything, I fall into that second category as not only do I LOVE castles and see differences in each one, but I also LOVE the history of each castle. In most cases these houses are beyond our comprehension in terms of age and what actually went into the planning and construction of these castles is incredible (and yes, some have a dark history as well). I’m just a bit of a history nerd over it all.

So, with all of that blabbering out of the way, let’s get into the castles…

Hohenschwangau Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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We are going to start our post with the little sister to Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau. Nestled in the Alps at the German Austrian border, this castle is absolutely stunning. It is first mentioned in the 12th Century and was owned by the Knights of Schwangau until the 16th century. Eventually in the early 19th century King Maximillian took ownership, and had it rebuilt per its original plans. It was used by the royal family as a summer and hunting residence up until King Ludwig II decided to build his private residence of Neuschwanstein.

Hohenschwangau is a beautiful castle to see. It’s one that I feel like sometimes gets a bit neglected with Neuschwanstein being right next to it, but it is gorgeous, mixing the perfect location with the perfect interiors. In fact, you actually get to see more of the interior of Hohenschwangau than you get to of Neuschwanstein. The gardens have some stunning views of the lakes and alps and the castle itself has a fuller story to tell (you’ll see why when you read on). I actually initially ranked Hohenschwangau higher on my list of castles because of this.

Neuschwanstein Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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Ah, one of the most famous castles. The inspiration for Disney Castles. The most picturesque of all the castles, Neuschwanstein. It’s only when you learn the history of the castle and its King that it becomes a bit different looking. Neuschwanstein Castle was built for King Ludwig II as a private residence; a refuge from the public. It was intended as a sort of rebuild of Hohenschwangau, but bigger and better. The construction began in 1868 with completion in 1892. It was at the forefront of technology both in the construction of the castle and the methods used, to the interior of the castle. The large windows were unusual for the time as was the heating and serving methods within the castle. However, King Ludwig only spent 11 nights in his dream castle before his death (this is an interesting story- it was claimed that he had gone mad and he was found drowned alongside his psychiatrist. There are different stories claiming whether he was or was not mad, what role his mistress played in the entire affair, and how he actually died).

As picturesque as Neuschwanstein is (and IT IS picturesque), I found it to be a bit…dark and small when compared to Hohenschwangua. This could be because you don’t see nearly as much of the castle (part of this was due to the reconstruction that was going on while we were there). It wasn’t my favorite, even though I still absolutely loved it. It was a good look see for the pictures and views. Looking back now, knowing the full history of the castle it definitely holds a little bit more of an air of mystery and intrigue.

Hohenzollern Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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At this time, I think this is my favorite German Castle. It is just…foreboding but quaint, set high on a hilltop with stunning views and yet so warm and home-y. It also has quite the history and, unlike the above two, was never built to be a residence. First mentioned directly in 1267, this is the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House and of the Hohenzollern Princes. It was rebuilt in the mid 15th century to become a bigger/better house and then became a fortress in the 17th century during the 30 Years War. After the war it fell into a bit of disrepair until the 19th century when Frederik of Prussia decided to reconstruct and turn it into a bit of a showpiece for the public. What we currently see of Hohenzollern dates back to 1850 and is considered an acclaimed masterpiece of military architecture. The only time that the castle was used as an actual temporary residence was during World War II.

I know I’ve already said it, but Hohenzollern is my favorite as it stands now. I loved our time wandering the battlements, walking the entry gate, seeing the various artworks detailing Prussian history (placed starting in the 1950s), and the courtyard…the courtyard made me swoon. This castle just had it all that you would want in a castle. In fact, I would like to go back for a Christmas Market (or really any market) if possible before our time in Europe is done.

Lichtenstein Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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Lichtenstein Castle is one of those castles that you just marvel at from start to finish. It seems to defy the rules of gravity, of building, of everything and is just a place to be experienced. First built in 1100 it went through a very destructive history of being built and destroyed several times. Despite that cycle, it withstood every attack and was considered the best fortified fortress of the middle ages (which it doesn’t take a military strategist to see why). In the second half of the 16th century it lost its ducal seat (and therefore lost its “castle” status) and started to deteriorate. In 1802 it was dismantled entirely to the bones and turned into a hunting lodge. Finally, in 1840 it was rebuilt for the final time into the castle we see today. Count Wilhelm was inspired by a novel called Lichtenstein by Wilhelm Hauffhe and decided to build a German Medieval Knights Castle. It is now privately owned and certain areas of the castle and courtyard are available for rental for performances or weddings!

Lichtenstein is just one of those castles you have to see. Perched right on the edge of a cliff you not only get the thrill from just feeling on the edge of the world, but this history of building, tearing down, and rebuilding is just incredible. It also has the only visible damage from World War 2 that we saw in all the castles (a bullet hole in a mirror that was fired during the war). What made our particular trip a bit cooler (in my opinion) was that it was rainy and foggy, so you could not only get the eerie feeling of being up on the mountains and this incredible castle looming over everything, but also just get a real taste of the history. However, as someone who is afraid of heights (or rather falling from a height), being there was a bit terrifying as well (walking across that bridge?!).

I want to do one Honorable mention of Dresden Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION). We haven’t actually been properly to the castle itself, however we have walked the Procession of Princes, seen/walked the Zwinger Palace Courtyards, and seen the exterior of the castle.

The Dresden Castle was originally built around the beginning of the 13th century and (after a fire and rebuild in the early 18th century) has been home to Electors, Kings of Saxony, and Kings of Poland. It was fully destroyed in the bombing of Dresden in February of 1945 and the restoration didn’t start until the 1960’s. Overall, Dresden is a really neat city with a lot to see, learn, and explore, BUT the most incredible part of the city is that it was almost fully destroyed in that bombing and yet you wouldn’t know it by visiting it now. Save for the memorials and museums explaining what happened, the city itself doesn’t show the destruction that occurred in its architecture or buildings.

Finally, a list of the castles that we would still like to visit while we are here:

Burg Eltz

Heidelberg Castle

Schwerin Castle

Cochem Imperial Castle

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

I hope you enjoyed this first Castle Round Up! What was your favorite? Which would you most like to visit?

Two of My Favorite Places

Today I am going to continue on with my daydreaming of travel posts and talk about a couple of places that are very near and dear to my heart.

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You know when you go somewhere, or experience something, and it just sits on your heart? It awakens your soul and just changes you? It may take you by surprise or be something you expect, but it changes you irrevocably. Today I am talking about two places we’ve traveled to that have changed me. They resonated in my soul and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. One place is one that I knew would feel this way, but the other took me by surprise in a way.

Of course, I’ll link the applicable blog posts in each spot so that you can take a look to see exactly where we went and what we did.

The Highlands, Scotland (INVERNESS, EDINBURGH)

Scotland was a place that I had been dreaming of visiting for as long as I could remember. I had actually been as a baby (as my mother continues to remind me of), but I didn’t remember anything from that trip. There is so much I love about Scotland, that I had loved about it before even stepping foot in the country. The people, the culture, the history, the weather, the landscape; Scotland has so much to offer. But getting to experience that firsthand? It just solidified that this was a place my heart called to and yearns for.

While in Scotland, we divided our time between the southern portion and Edinburgh, and the far Northern reaches of the Highlands and Inverness. I loved both places, but the Highlands is just where my soul lives and breathes. Something about being up in the mountains, in the valleys, in the raw beauty of the wilderness just really lit something deep inside me. Much of our time in Scotland just seems like a blur of contentment. It was funny because in the Highlands we saw a couple of spots (Culloden & Loch Ness being the two big ones), but a good amount of our time was just spent in the little barn cabin we stayed up, watching the storms battle in and out, the grass wave in the wind, and feeling that sense of peace around us. We didn’t have a lot of cellphone service, TV and Internet were limited, and it was incredible.

There are few places that I really want to get back to before our time in Europe comes to an end (and by that I mean, will fight tooth and nail to go back) and this is one of those, possibly the highest on the list. To maybe make it clearer, if I could live anywhere, anywhere in the world, I would choose to live in one of the small villages in the Highlands of Scotland (actually a town similar to where we stayed at on this trip, up in the Black Isle’s/Fortrose area).

Rome, Italy (EARLY DAYS, ANCIENT ROME, VATICAN, LAST DAYS)

I’ve always loved the idea of Italy. Italian food, Italian culture, the history of the country; Italy always just seemed like a warm, welcoming home for the weary traveler. Just like with Scotland, I had dreamed of visiting Italy. Dreamed of driving along the Tuscan hills, seeing the beauty of the Amalfi Coast, hearing the history of Rome and Pompeii. I expected to fall in love. What I didn’t expect was that now, nearly 4 months after our first trip to Italy, that I would still be dreaming, reminiscing, on our time walking through the streets of Rome. But, this trip has had a longer lasting impact on me than just that. It has called me back to some aspects of my life that I had turned away from and it has reignited a love and passion that I had only been nurturing, not following.

There are so many things to talk about with Rome, but I think the biggest thing that has just stayed with me is the history. You are walking amongst buildings and places that are beyond our comprehension of age. Buildings that are beyond our comprehension of size. People who had larger than life dreams and ideas and made them happen. I mean, to walk the streets of Ancient Rome, the same paths that the warriors would take, to see the tunnels of the Coliseum, the baths of Caracalla, The Pantheon, it’s just…breathtaking. There were so many moments where I just didn’t have the words to describe how I was feeling. I had never felt smaller and yet so filled with knowledge.

A couple more things that I didn’t realize would affect me as much as they did…

The people. Rome is FULL OF PEOPLE. Both locals and tourists and we didn’t have one negative moment while we were there. Obviously with the number of tourists it can be hard to see things at times (The Trevi Fountain is insane), but overall it was just one of the warmest most welcoming places we’ve visited. It was so full of life, of passion, of love. The food was incredible as well (which, as a lifelong Italian food eater I expected) and we definitely indulged during our week there. Finally, something else about Rome that I didn’t know I was going to be so affected by was the religion. I’ll be touching more on this in an upcoming blog post, but I came back to some of my roots while we were there and it’s something that has been sticking with me.

So, two very different spots that we’ve traveled to, but two very soul changing experiences. I love that we are getting the chance to experience all that we can while we are here, and I am looking forward to the day that we do get to travel to far off places again.

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019- Ancient Rome

I’ve decided to do another split in the Holiday posts and give Ancient Rome the post that it truly deserves. To be fair, when I planned out the original posts, I didn’t really know how it would shake out at the end. I mean, I should have known because I just tend to overshare the information anyways, but I wanted to try and condense it down as best as I could. Just the portion that covered Ancient Rome was almost 2000 words. Instead of giving you an almost 4000-word blog post, I just decided to do two separate posts.

So, today it’s all about Ancient Rome. Next it’ll be our last couple days in Rome (which was a fairly decent size too). Finally, I’ll have some tips and recommendations coming your way later on (probably in February).

So, on to the good stuff…

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday - Ancient Rome

We started our 5th day out bright and early in Ancient Rome. So early in fact, we got to see the Sun breaking through the remains of the Colosseum.

What a way to start the day, huh?!

We booked another tour with Through Eternity Tours to see the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and The Colosseum. Once again, as with The Vatican, this was most definitely the right way to go about seeing these spots. Our tour guide was John and he was incredible. He shared information not only about the time, the people, and the places (aka the history of Ancient Rome), but he also clued us in on excavation projects including the first one we walked past, which was the most recent excavation to be done. The tour was the best way to get a somewhat in depth look at the history of Ancient Rome, the history of the location and different landmarks within the Forum and a history of the Colosseum. It was also great because we were able to bypass a lot of the lines that very quickly build up to get into these spots. I would highly recommend doing a tour (especially through this company) as it gives you a good overview of these spots and then once you are finished with the tour, you can then double back to the spots that you want to see more of (we went and walked through some other parts of The Coliseum). You know it’s a good choice if we are recommending it as we are not tour people at all.

IMG_4659.jpgSo, our tour started at the entrance of the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum was the heart of Ancient Rome, the heart of the empire, and the starting point of so much of our Western Culture/Civilization. Before I get too much into the history, let me start by saying how absolutely incredible, breathtaking, overwhelming it was to be walking these Ancient Streets. It is an experience that I am never going to forget. My history loving heart was just exploding with happiness, but it was also a bit overwhelming at times to think of just how old, how ancient these places are. It’s hard to wrap your mind around while you are standing there in the moment. To give an idea to this, many historians believe that people first starting meeting in the forum around 500 B.C., even though the “city” wasn’t founded until 753 B.B. (by Romulus and Remus). The Forum has served many uses under many rulers, from a marketplace, to a religious spot full of temples, to a circus/gladiator ring (pre-Colosseum) to a public affairs location where soldiers would march the streets after their victories. In fact, there are a few arches within the forum that were made in honor of the rulers’ military victories. When the Roman Empire started to decline, the Roman Forum went along with it and during the Middle Ages it was completely destroyed to make room for farms and animals to graze. In the very early 1800’s excavations began to uncover the Forum and are even continuing on today (the most recent excavations were “completed” about 5 years ago, I think?). Fun fact/super neat fact: Every time something would get ruined (due to the fact that the Forum was actually located in a swamp/flood area), the Romans would just build over it. So, there are actually several different “eras” to the forum.

A couple of the really cool bits that we got to see (I mean the whole area is incredible) was the old Senate House building. A lot of Roman history focuses on the Senate- it was one of their proudest bits of government, and you are still able to see the exterior of the Senate building. They were in the process of cleaning and restoring when we were there, so we were not able to see the specifics, but still a really awesome site to see. With the restoration in process, we were only able to see bits of the Temple of Saturn, the front columns to be exact. The Temple of Saturn was, what is thought, one of the first temples in the Forum. These specific ruins date back to around 42 B.C. We were also able to glimpse the Arch of Septimus Severus, one of a few arches still surviving, the few columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux dated in the 480’s B.C., AND the Ara di Cesare which is the spot where Caesar was burned after his death (this is one of those things that just still boggles my mind, that we were standing there). We walked past the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, which was probably the most intact and preserved I’ve seen in the Forum, around the Arch of Titus which was dated the 1st century A.D. and built to honor Domitian after successfully winning the Siege of Jerusalem. The level of detail on this arch is incredible (that is THE menorah).

From there we started to walk up towards Palatine Hill and the Palazzo.

Palatine Hill is the center hill of the Seven Hills of Rome and was the actual heart of Rome. It has long been used (dating back to around 10thcentury B.C.) and became a spot for ruler’s palaces and the place to live for the affluent Romans. It overlooks both the Forum and Circus Maximus. Wandering through the rooms you can see just how the wealthy and ruling class of Ancient Rome truly lived. We looked at the “back windows” of the hill towards Circus Maxima and peaked into Palatine Hill’s own Stadium, where the wealthy would work out, have “baths” and various other spa treatments.

From Palatine Hill we walked down the hill, passed some of the last aqueducts
(outside of Aqueduct Park), past the Arch of Constantine and over to The Colosseum.

Commissioned in the 70’s A.D. and later opened 80 A.D.;  the colosseum was originally given the name: Flavian Amphitheater. Since this massive amphitheater (since that was it actually is) was completed under different rulers and there are no documents recording anything that have survived, we don’t know who the architect or builders were. The Colosseum was unique for its time in several ways; first, it was the largest of its time and second it was freestanding, rather than dug in. Each story had a different variety of columns, with seating for 50,000 (seated by class of course). There were also awnings built into the top in case the sun became too bright during the fights. Within the Colosseum there would be gladiator fights against other gladiators or animals. Despite what you see on TV or in movies, these fights would be massive theatrical productions. This was a source of entertainment (in as much as tv and movies are for us today) and so, to keep people interested elaborate storylines would be developed. This lasted 400 years and then the struggling Empire and a decline in attendance caused the fights to come to an end. Not only did the Colosseum struggle against Mother Nature with lightning, earthquakes, and such, but it also struggled from its own people. A large amount of the marble that was used in The Colosseum was “relocated” to St. Peter’s, Palazzo Venezia and other places around Rome. Finally, in the 18th century it has been conserved and listed as a sacred Christian site.

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I was truly amazed at the Colosseum. It’s a place that still very much sticks in my head as I think back to our trip (all of Ancient Rome does). To think about just how big these places and monuments truly are. The amount of work and engineering that went into each of these buildings is just incredible to think of. Then on top of that, the sheer age of the places just completely boggles my mind. In specifics to The Colosseum, aside from the size, the actual logistics of these tournaments, the truly theatrical experience was incredible to hear about it. You can see into the depths, where they would have platforms, levers, pully, whole systems that were so forward thinking for the time. It’s just absolutely incredible to think about and then to be there, standing right in the arena, seeing it all right in front of your face…no words.

Our Ancient Rome tour lasted about 4 ½ hours or so. It finished at The Colosseum and our tour guide finished up the tour with some recommendations on other places to check out. We spent the rest of our afternoon going to two of those spots: The Baths of Caracalla and the Santa Maria Maggiore Church.

Our first stop, The Baths of Caracalla, was not too far from where we were and was a spot that I truly just felt quite…small compared to what was around us. This was kind of a running theme for most of the day, but this just really compounded that in my head.

These baths are the second largest of the public baths (a 62-acre complex with columns reaching close to 40 feet tall) and date back to somewhere in the early 200’s. They were open for about 300 years before falling into ruin. While functioning, these particular baths were listed as one of the wonders of Rome and hosted a number of around 7,000 bathers a day. Something unique to these bath’s was the on-site public library. The library had two rooms, one for Greek texts and one for Latin, and each wall had niches built in to hold books. There was also a “frigidarium” (cold room), caldarium (hot room), a double pool, Olympic size pool, and two gym rooms to wrestle or box. One of the key parts to look at were the mosaics completed in marbled tile. You are able to see quite a bit of the mosaics as you walk along the complex. There were quite a few statues at one point in time, but those were either ruined or have been moved to other museums within Italy.

Our final stop of the day was a church. The Santa Maria Maggiore church is the most important church for the adoration of Mary.

This particular church was granted a Papal Major Basilica status, which is a really big deal (it’s one of four to have this title). Dating back to the early 5th century this church is incredible. Not only are the mosaics amazing, all in tribute to Mary, but it also contains some important things. Under the high alter is the Crypt of the Nativity, or a crypt that is said to contain the wood from Christ’s crib (as in- THE crib). It is also the home to Bernini’s steps AND at the time that we went, had the first nativity set on display. These figures are said to be from the 13th century made for Pope Nicholas IV. The church itself is beautiful, as is the nativity scene. We weren’t able to head up to the alter as a service was beginning.

That was the end of our day heading back farther into time than we could have ever imagined. Ancient Rome is probably one of my top places of our trips and this day was easily one of my favorites of our entire trip. I hope you enjoyed it too and that I did the history, information, and photo’s justice for you.

Kehlsteinhaus – A Day Trip

Over Labor Day Weekend we decided that instead of doing a long weekend away, that we would stick close to home and take a day trip or two. Now, we’ve been to Berchtesgaden before. We went on a long weekend back in May, but we were not able to do Kehlsteinhaus, The Eagle’s Nest, due to weather. It was on our list to go back to go see the area, but it’s a trip that you really have to monitor the weather for and be willing to just up and go when the window is right.

So, Labor Day Weekend became our weekend to see The Eagle’s Nest. The weather was supposed to be sunny and warm, clear skies except for maybe an hour or two for a storm. Since most of the day would be clear, we just decided to get up super early and make an attempt to do it. For us, it is about a 3-hour drive to get there, so totally doable for a day trip AND the Eagle’s Nest itself is a shorter visit, depending on you of course, so easy enough to fit into a day trip.

Some information about The Eagles’s Nest before we get into our trip.

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The Eagle’s Nest was built as a symbol of power and was a location where decisions were made in regard to Hitler’s plans for destruction. The house itself was built at the top of a mountain right over a sheer rock wall. The mountain was in some ways destroyed during the building of this house, having to cut through the terrain for a road and then equipping the mountain with an elevator to get up to the house. Where the house is actually located was known at the time as “the summit of all power”.

The Eagle’s Nest is one of the few buildings that WAS NOT destroyed post war which may lead to its popularity, along with it playing a prominent part in many US War Films (Band of Brothers anyone?). For all of its popularity, Hitler rarely actually visited the house, they only have 17 verifiable accounts of him being there.

These days,  The Eagle’s Nest is a restaurant that you can eat in on your lovely day their, which I actually recommend doing!

We arrived at The Eagle’s Nest around 9:15-9:30AM and I would recommend the same. You’ll want to get their early not only because the views and it being so clear, but also because of parking. Parking goes fast and, while you can park on the road (there is a lot of parking), the lower parking lot is definitely the better spot to be at.

You can purchase your ticket ahead of time or on site, we chose on site, so we had a little more freedom with our time in the morning (traffic, construction, etc.), and we had no problems getting a time close after purchase. To get to the elevator you can hike or ride the bus up. We have two young kids, so chose to do the bus. It was about a 20-minute ride and was absolutely beautiful. You get a good chance to see the entire area from different elevations.

Once you get to the tunnel and elevator entrance you need to give your return time to the bus organizer. Now, we planned for a total of 2 hours and that was more than enough time. That gave us time to leisurely look around the different overlooks and have a little lunch before needing to head back down. Depending on what you want to do (spend time sitting up there taking the beauty in, eat a longer meal, whatever) I think 2 hours is more than enough. If you do come down a little earlier than you expected you can speak with the bus drivers about taking an earlier bus.

Now, you get to go to the house, turned restaurant.

There are a couple of items of note within the house ( a fireplace, the sunroom, and a timeline of the build and who has been there), but the real beauty lays in what you see outside. The views from the mountain side are incredible. On a clear day you can see through to Salzburg (and they have the binocular bits set up so you can pay to really see it), you can see through the valleys of the Alps, and you can see Konigsee and the lake system nearby.

While we were there I was taken aback by just how, once again, stunning the views and beauty of this particular spot were and how this was also the spot where decisions were made that caused unspeakable hurt and terror. It’s such a hard idea to come to grips with and while doing a little extra research, I learned that in the case of The Eagle’s Nest, that was the point. The beautiful setting was intended to shadow all of the horrible actus. It was to give a pretty face at a time when many were starting to question as the war intensified.

IMG_9120We had a lovely little lunch on the restaurant terrace and then made our way back down to the Dokumentation Obersalzberg. This is what we would call a museum that talks about National Socialism, the major players in Hitler’s regime as well as the Obersalzberg area. Something I didn’t know is that The Eagle’s Nest and the Obersalzberg area was much more than just The Eagle’s Nest. There was an entire network of “high players” that had buildings or homes in the region. This center talks through the image that they tried to portray in the Obersalzberg and Berchtesgaden area along with history of the NS and World War 2 history and relics. As part of the entrance you are able to go down into the Bunker, which not only contains information about the bunker itself, but also has graffiti from the Soldiers who came through the area in WW2.

 

Overall, I would highly recommend a visit to the area in general and would recommend a stop at The Eagle’s Nest. You don’t need a full day set aside, just a few hours and it is well worth it.

Friday Morning Cups – Thoughts on History

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“Each of us today is shaping the background history of tomorrow”.

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I don’t really talk politics on here (and I’m not about to start so don’t worry), but I felt that this was too important not to share. I saw this quote at Dachau Concentration Camp and it just really…said something that I’ve wanted to say for a while, in fact tried to say for a while, but much better than I can. 

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This was placed at the start of the exhibit. The exhibit, of course, details the rise of Nazism, Hitler, hysteria, etc, but it also goes a little further back than that. It goes back far enough to give you a much clearer view of what ACTUALLY happened. Not just the xyz gloss over that we all know. This quote was placed at the very beginning. 

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“Each of us today is shaping the background history of tomorrow”. Repeat that. Over and over and over again. 

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This should not just be applied on a global scale, but on a community one, a familial one, an individual one. Take this- recognize these words, understand the meaning and connotation that they carry. ▫️

We can ALL do better. What background history are you shaping?

Friday Morning Cups

5198051616_IMG_3835.JPGSo, I’ve never posted a picture like this. It’s not in my comfort range of things to share. My body isn’t perfect (hello DR stomach that will never be normal again), but I’m OK with it. I’ve had two sweet babies and my body has proved itself again and again.

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I’m constantly told that I’m so lucky to be the size that I am. That folks would love to be my size. If I could profit off of everybody that told me how lucky I am, how they wished for my size, what am I doing, how do I eat, and the worst- I must not eat anything at all (which as a recovering anorexic is just lovely to hear 🙄), I would be a rich person. I hear constantly that I shouldn’t complain about this or that because overall I’m petite.

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Let me tell you something- just because I’m a smaller size doesn’t mean anything. I’m a fairly confident person and don’t often have moments of insecurity, but there are times that I feel iffy about my body. I work out regularly, I make sure that I fuel my body appropriately (and that doesn’t mean I don’t eat popcorn or candy every once in a while), and I have been blessed with some good genes. I am well aware of my size and how that is viewed, but newsflash, I still have my moments.

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Body confidence, body positivity, body issues are across the board. It doesn’t matter what your size or shape is, everyone is entitled to (and will probably at some point) feel insecure. And when someone is feeling insecure, we shouldn’t invalidate their feelings by telling them they shouldn’t feel that way because guess what…insecurity hits everyone. We are all beautiful, but we all have our moments. Let’s recognize that, cut the crap comments, and be supportive.

A Peak Into My Past

I have never shared this story publicly. I have never talked about this part of my past with anyone, outside of a couple of close friends and family. All of my healing has been done privately, in and out of therapy. Figuring out what works for me and how I would even begin to piece my life back together after the rug was pulled out from under me almost 16 years ago. I’ve finally reached a peaceful place in my life, partly due to finding love in someone else, partly finding the ability to love myself. The biggest part of my peace being the forgiveness I have given. 

Finding the peace within myself has allowed me to reach a point where I want to talk with and help others. When I first entered therapy I had sworn that once I had made my own peace, I would help others in any way that I could. I thought it would be something that I could do within a little bit of time and then I could get to helping others and speaking about this trauma that simply isn’t spoken about. Here I am 12 years later, only just now feeling like I can share this story. Only just now feeling that peace, that urge to share, and finally being comfortable enough to share. Finally at the point where I really feel like I can help others. Help them find their healing, help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. To be that person that I needed.

I’ll get into more of that at another time, but I want to give you my story. I want to publicly share the part of my past that I’ve never shared before. You may have read this already, if you read the linked article in Friday’s post, but I wanted to address it here. Directly on my blog. So, here we go…IMG_4702

I was emotionally abused for 10+ Years and physically abused everyday for 7 of those years (everyday for 5, off and on for 2) by a parent. The person who was supposed to be my guide, my champion, supposed to be everything, was instead my tormentor. I went through my childhood with the expectation of perfection placed on me (and criticized, put down, insulted if not) and my adolescent years with an unthinkable amount of fear. Child abuse is not just being scared, it is a traumatic event that changes everything. Everything about you, everything about your life, and everything about everyone you come into contact with. 

Before I even had the opportunity to have a voice, it was taken away from me. Before I could even understand what was truly right and wrong, what I wanted to be or do, what true happiness could be, I knew what fear was. Not just being scared of something, but true fear. True terror. In some ways I can’t put to words what I was feeling, but in other ways it is crystal clear. 

As I said to start this post, I have reached a good space. A space where I can handle the tough moments, when all of those emotions, fears, and moments come back. I feel like I am at that light at the end of the tunnel, when you know that the tunnel is coming to an end, but there is still a bit of darkness. It has been a long and tough road to get here, and it is a road that will continue for the rest of my life. I have also recognized that having gone through this, having worked through it, and having come out on the other side, I am a better person for that. I am a better wife, mom, a better person all together. 

I want to end this by saying that I will be starting to talk more about trauma, child abuse, and dealing with both of these factors a little more frequently on my blog. There will still be plenty of my usual happy go lucky content (as I am that happy go lucky, keep all things cosy, find the silver lining kinda girl), but I want to start sharing more of my story. I find that Childhood Trauma and Abuse is a topic that doesn’t seem to get enough attention (unless it is a major event) and it is something that is more common than we think.