Round the Kettle Ep. 22- Entering February (finally!)

Oh hi. It’s been a while since I’ve done a Round the Kettle chatty post. They are still happening (as if you were really worried ha-ha), but I really felt the “workload” of the Christmas Season at the end of November and through December. I didn’t want to inundate your feed and email boxes with a ridiculous amount of posts, so I let them go until after the New Year past. This is probably going to be a “thing” that I do every year while we are in Europe. There is just so much to do and see around Christmas Season that I want to share, that they just aren’t possible.

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Let’s start with a little catch up…how are you doing?

So, a brief catch up…as you will now know we spent our New Years in Rome on a weeklong holiday that still seems just so surreal in my mind. I can’t believe that I can say that I’ve been to Rome…just like I can say I’ve been to Scotland, London, Dover, The Netherlands…I mean the list goes on. It’s even more surreal and reflective as we are starting to come up on our one-year mark of living in Germany (that post is coming up this coming week). It’s funny because we are just living our normal lives, day to day, and then going on these incredible adventures that we only dreamed about.

I digress…

January passed by as January always seems to, dragging by, giving all of us that New Year’s funk at the end and making us wonder…will February ever come?! Don’t worry, February is here, and we’ve all survived. In a way January wasn’t too bad for me this year, a couple rough spots here and there, but overall pretty good. But February? I anticipate February being a rough one. We’ve got quite a few changes coming our way starting on Monday and I just feel like settling into a new groove is going to be…interesting. Our oldest is starting his preschool program, my husband has been much busier with work in January and into February, and I’m trying to figure out what our “normal” is going to be moving forward once again. It’s all good things, but it just means we’ve got a bit of a transition to make.

With that being said, I am going to be taking a little step back from the blog for a couple weeks in February. This week there will be posts as normal, and then there will be two weeks where I am not going to have any blog posts going up. I will be active as normal on IG/FB, but in terms of blog content, it’ll be quiet. I really try to take a week or two weeks “off” a couple times of year as I find that it helps me quiet my mind and refresh my brain. I’ve been writing pretty consistently for a few months now without a break (I posted a 14 posts in December where I normally average 9-11 posts a month) and I really just need to take a minute, not stare at a blank word document, and just breathe. February tends to actually be a pretty good time to do this as it is slow and quiet as it is (we aren’t traveling at all this month) and with these couple things changing at home, I need to just be able to focus on life.

How was your January? Did you have a good month or are you just ready for February?

 

2019 – A Year in Review

How have we already reached the 30th of December? It seems like the year was just starting yesterday. And we aren’t even going to get into the fact that this is the end of a decade…what?! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one.

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2019 was quite the year over here at A Cuppa Cosy. We did an international move, lived out of a hotel and 6 suitcases for 5 ½ months, visited (as of the date of this post) 10 new to us countries, and experienced new highs and lows with two very rambunctious and active {not so} little boys. Looking back on our year for this post it’s hard to believe that this is our life now (we are going to be visiting The Vatican…what?!), but here we are.

In terms of highs, our move tops the list. In February we moved to a little spot in the German state of Bavaria. We left behind hectic, heavily populated D.C. for the rural countryside life. It was an absolute dream come true and we have well and truly made a home here. The people have been incredibly welcoming as we struggle to learn the language (German is no joke) and I feel like we have overall adjusted really well. For all the good that moving to Germany has done, living in a hotel for 5 ½ months was really hard at times. It’s tough not having your own belongings, having two boys who are used to a certain amount of space and who have a never-ending amount of energy, as well as not being able to have things as we like them.

Another high point of 2019 is the sheer amount of traveling that we have done. As I said, we visited 10 new countries and have really learned the art of short weekend trips (but we’ve also mastered long term travel too). My top place that we’ve visited is Scotland (is anyone surprised? Blog posts are HERE and HERE), followed very closely by Austria, which I’ve now visited twice (HERE and HERE). London was a dream come true (blog post HERE) as was seeing the Tulip Fields at Keukenhof (HERE). So far we haven’t been anywhere that we’ve not liked, although I wasn’t the biggest fan of Amsterdam (still enjoyed my time, just not the top of the list, blog post HERE). I’m definitely looking forward to more travel over the next two years.

We have experienced countless cultural events here in Germany including both Oktoberfest (HERE) and a Krampus show (blog post to come), but also the little festivals in between for random celebrations and Christmas Markets (you’ve seen all of these, but my top two are Gutenek and Dresden).

The boys grew…A LOT over the past year. Colton has really come into his own with his words, his likes/dislikes, and his energy level. He went to his first couple days of preschool (getting evaluated to determine if he needs/could use preschool due to speech) and he loved them. He handled drop off’s like a champ and looks forward to going every time we go. He has really started speaking properly and we are loving seeing his little personality shine (although sometimes he is a LITTLE too much like his father haha). Andrew has really started to come into his own too. He has a voice and definitely knows how to use it, as well as learning how to wrestle with big brother (and win). He has been loving going to our local playgroup and has become such a chatty social little boy. He still has a really sweet and soft side that comes out every time he comes up to give hugs or tries to help with everything. The time is passing all too quickly.

We had one really low point in the year, that I have kind of talked about, but also kind of haven’t. I had one month that I just struggled, that I just broke down. We were still adjusting to the schedule, had just come off of our long Summer Holiday, and I just really struggled the entire month. I had a couple of low days where I was incredibly low energy, crying, and in a dark place for a bit. Thankfully things balanced out and the rest of the year has been great. I say this to show that while our life is incredible here and we are so grateful, it hasn’t been a year of sunshine and daisies.

One of my intentions for 2019 was to be open. Be open to new opportunities, new adventures and to say yes more. I think that I’ve actually really accomplished that. I’ve tried to be more spontaneous this year, and just go with whatever happens as it happens. My word was Adventure and we have most definitely had some of those. Overall, I think this was one of our best years and I know that we are in store for so many more.

So, that was basically our 2019 in a nutshell. A move, lots of traveling, a very happy couple and two wild boys. Our not-so-perfect perfect life.

Planning Big Trips

Untitled Design 5Today I am going to talking about something that we have done and will be doing in the next month and that is planning big trips. We have taken summer vacations for three years in a row now with our little family to all different destinations (Maine, Canada/New York, United Kingdom) and are planning a Christmas/Winter getaway over the next few years too. There is a definite difference in planning between planning these bigger travel events than with planning Weekend Getaways. Not only are these usually further distances away, but they are usually intended to be to see more and do more. I have talked about long weekends (HERE) so today, I’m going to talk just a little bit about how we plan our longer trips.

I’m going to be using our Summer Holiday as an example as I work through this post which you can read about in these posts: Calais and Dover, London, Edinburgh, Inverness, Bastogne, Luxembourg, and Heading Home.

The first step is determining where we want to go. This is actually one of the most overwhelming bits as there are a lot of travel options. We have a very large list of places we want to go while we are over here in Germany, and are adding more to that list every day, and we split that into two categories. These two categories are places that we want more than a day or two and places that we don’t need much time in. So, we knew that we wanted to have a decent amount of time to explore London and Scotland, and since those are neighboring countries and it made sense to take one longer trip to visit both, than two or three “shorter” trips. The same will be for our future trip to Italy. Italy is a country that we want to spend a longer amount of time in to see more to the country, rather than taking a few 4-day weekend trips to. If we can combine spots, we will combine spots, but more on that later.

So, we know where we want to go. The next step is deciding how to get there. Here in Europe there are a couple different options: driving, flying, or train. There are pros and cons to each option, and we tend to weigh kids, luggage, timeframe, and cost into our decision. Flying is something that we will probably be doing more in the winter months as it starts to snow, and the roads get a little more treacherous. Trains are something that we are having to hold off until the boys get a smidge older, Andrew is just a little bit too young to really understand. Driving usually seems to be a…”dull” and longer option (although we like it), but you also can control your timeline a little bit more as well as your luggage situation. The other benefit of driving or taking a train is the ability to add more stops to your itinerary which may change your mode of transportation.

Perfect Segway into our third step, which is mapping a route. This goes hand in hand in some ways with how to get there. This also happens to be one of my favorite parts of the planning process. There are two ways to do this, depending on what you prefer: electronically or physically. What you will want to do is map out your trip. We start with our main points. For our Summer Holiday we knew we wanted to go to London, Edinburgh and Inverness. Those were our main spots. We also leaned towards driving due to cost, ability to control our schedule a little more, and the ability to see a little more. So, we pulled out a map and started to look at different options. You are actually able to do this electronically on Google Maps (plan a trip) which we have done, but you can also do this on a physical map, which I prefer. Looking at a map we kind of eye balled our distances and eye balled what countries we would be traveling through or bordering up against in this travel. We knew that we would probably have to stay a night in Calais and potentially somewhere between Inverness and Dover and then again Calais and home. We also tried to look if there was anywhere that we wanted to stop on our route, which was how we managed to visit the American Cemetery at Luxembourg and the War Museum in Bastogne (also Dover, but that would have been too obvious not to miss). Look at your destinations and if you are driving or taking a plane is there anywhere on your route that you want to stop? How much time do you want to spend in this location? How feasible is this?

So, we know where we are going, how we are getting there, and what stops we want to make roundtrip, it’s time to find a place to stay. This is more my husband’s forte than mine and he typically handles all of our accommodation. I’ll give you an idea though from what we’ve talked about and the little bit that I have seen/tried to do. Depending on where we go we will either book a hotel or an Airbnb. We prefer Airbnb’s as we can typically get a little more bang for our book, a little more space to stretch out, and some version of a kitchen for us to put all of our snacks and such. The only time we really stay in hotels is in bigger cities where it just makes more sense (London and Berlin). We filter our searches on Airbnb based on location and just map where the locations are to where the things are that we want to see. We like to use Public Transportation as much as we can when we travel to new spots, so somewhere nearby either a station OR walking distance to what we want to see is perfect. I wish I had more to say on this one, but I really don’t. We just hunt through Airbnb, our Credit Card company, and then Trivago and sites like that.

Finally, the optional fifth step: planning activities while you are there. This is completely dependent on what kind of traveler you are. When it comes to big trips I have a little bit of an itinerary problem in that I like to have at least one or two ideas for each day. I don’t plan to the last minute, but I do like to have a bit of a plan going into these longer trips. For London, we had planned on one day of just walking London seeing all the sights, one day at The Tower, and one day at the Globe and any last-minute idea’s that we had. This allowed us to have a little structure, a list of things we wanted to do, but still have a little flexibility with the kids. At the very least I would suggest just looking into and maybe making a list of different things to do, you don’t have to come up with any schedules or anything like that, but at least an idea of what to do and when is best to do it ahead of time will be a help.

And that is it! That’s how we plan our longer trips. Do you have any tips for planning long holidays? Let me know down below 🙂

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday – London, England

Our first “long” stop on our summer holiday was to spend 4 days in London England. I’m a massive Anglophile and have pins all across England of places that I’d like to visit. In fact, I’ve said in the past that I’d love to just take a few months and work my way through England and Scotland. HOWEVER, I have a husband who is interested, but not that interested in England and two children who don’t understand, so we had to make some priorities with our trips. So, we decided to give it our all in London for a few days and see/do as much as we could.

I want to preface this by saying I don’t think you could ever “run out” of things to do in London. There is just so much and, honestly, I feel like we didn’t even scratch the surface in that general area. There was a lot more on my list that I would love to see, but, again, husband and children so we tried to stick to the popular things for this visit. Who knows, I may go back sometime soon…

First and foremost- we decided to do a hotel stay while we were in London. Here’s the thing, for us we love staying in little flats or cottages booked through AirBnB. It’s what works well for our family and having the little separate spaces for us and the boys really just helps keep everything cohesive. BUT London is a very expensive place to stay and Summer is a very popular travel season. This leads to prices going up and we simply struggled to find a flat that would fit our needs, but also be budget friendly and ended up deciding that a hotel would be the better fit for us. We picked another Holiday Inn, this time the Brent’s Cross location and we were very pleased both with the staff, the room, the breakfast, and the shuttle taking us to and from the Tube Station. Highly recommend them if you are needing a hotel there and don’t’ want to necessarily be in the hustle and bustle of central central London.

We only book two tour times for our time in London as we wanted to have a little bit of leisure time/didn’t really want to be bogged down by having to be at certain places at certain times our whole trip. We like to have a semi structured travel plan to our travels (picking what we want to do, but sticking to a fluid timeline to do it) so I tried to keep booking times to either earlier mornings and only do one per day. This gave us a chance to have one “free” day in London as well as a full afternoon to just wander as we pleased and see whatever sights we wanted to see, while still getting a chance to do some of the things that were better to have scheduled.

*I do want to say- there are a couple different reasons to choose to book ahead online, some places it is cheaper, some places sell out of time slots, some places require it.*

I also want to say, real quick, that we got very lucky with our weather while we were there. Most days were sunny all day, warm temperatures (think 80’s at the height of the day), and no rain in sight. The day we left started a few days of straight rain (typical London weather), so we did really get lucky!

Day 1:

Our first day in London was the day that we had nothing scheduled so we decided to just…walk the streets. We had gotten a lot of tips about what the best way was to do touristy things in London, all of which I’ll talk about in my Tips/Tricks, but we ultimately decided that walking was the best for us. This gave us the freedom to pick and choose what we actually wanted to see and to explore as we wanted to. Plus we like walking and I feel like you can get a really good feel for a place simply by walking through its spaces.

Anyways, we did a walking trip through what I guess would be central London, as well as hopped on the Tube to get to a couple other spots that were a little far for us to walk. We hit up the following spots: Parliament, Big Ben (under construction currently), The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park (stopped for a little picnic lunch), St. James Palace, Downing Street (walked past), Piccadilly Circus, Hatchards (did a little shopping), Platform 9 ¾ and Kings Cross Station (they were filming there!), Trafalgar Square, and the Marble Arch.

 

Whew. It sounds like a lot just typing it. I can remember the exhaustion in our hotel room now haha. Seriously though, we had so much fun just having a wander through the streets, admiring the different architecture from the everyday buildings to the ornate hotels to the palace’s and beautiful parks in between.  Our day ended at The Marble Arch, which is right near Hyde Park and we decided to eat dinner in this area as well before heading back to our hotel. We chose to go to Cote Brasserie for dinner and had quite a lovely meal outside on the terrace (which is actually set in the front, on a little cobblestone street filled with art and jewelry shops).

Day 2:

We slowed down only ever so slightly on Day 2 in London by taking a trip to The Tower.

Known mostly for it’s illustrious execution and torture history, there is actually quite a bit longer more in depth story to the Tower. Known as “London’s Castle” it has had numerous uses in the past, but is currently a historic spot for tours, viewing of the Crown Jewels, and a way to have a great day out. It’s a landmark that I have always wanted to tour and I would say it might have been one of the true highlights of our time in London. We started with the Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeaters) tour, which gave my husband a good background on the history of the Tower and was a good refresher for myself. The Beefeaters are highly knowledgable and provide little gems of information both about The Tower and their roles within the Tower.

The tour lasted approximately an hour and we immediately turned our sights to The Crown Jewels. This meant standing outside in a queue for quite a bit of time (not a horrible amount, it gave the kids a chance to nap in the stroller/on our shoulders) waiting for our chance to take a little peak. The Jewels are, of course, absolutely incredible. You’ll see several different crowns, the scepter, and much more. The really nice thing is that you are viewing the jewels on a moving walkway so there is no extra standing and gawking or not being able to see things due to other people. Thankfully when we went, most of the items were not in use, so we got to see everything that they would put out for display.

IMG_6739 2.jpgWe then headed over to the White Tower, which is an internal tower within the gates and holds a lot of exhibits detailing the fighting and knighthood of the time. There were exhibits on the different King’s and their metal wear, the horse sizes as well as war tactics, and defense strategies.

The White Tower itself also has a full floor dedicated for kids (and adults) to explore in their own way. There is a canon they can practice firing, an arrow practice stand, an artifact exhibit with buttons showing where different bits were found on the ground, and a knights stand that had helmets and chain metal to touch.

The boys loved having some items geared more towards there age and spent a good bit of time running to each thing over and over again.

From the White Tower we wandered over to the different prison and torture chambers, learning the history of Richard III and the little boys of The Tower, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the many wives of Henry VIII. We also wandered through the turrets and towers on the outer wall. This gives a glimpse into the actual battlements of the Tower and how it was used as a fortress, as well as a pretty good view of Thames River and London across.

The final thing we got to see while we were at the Tower was a changing of the Guards.

This was quite a sight to see as the march along the front entrance path, then up to the Crown Jewels tower, yelling commands, before the actual changing of the guard. We got incredibly lucky to be in the places we were at the times that we were to see the entire process. It was definitely a cool experience to see how another country handles these changes.

All in all we spent a total of 5 hours at The Tower. Yep, 5 hours. To say we were spent at the end of it would be pretty accurate. We wanted to do something else, but didn’t want to travel far, so we decided to head over the Tower Bridge.

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This was something that my husband had seen on a London Documentary of some sort (a tourist one of like things to do or something along those lines) and he picked it out based on one thing. Not only is Tower Bridge just a sight to behold, but you can actually go up into the towers and walk across a clear portion of the floor, looking at the road and water beneath you. Insert freaked out face here…

IMG_6797.jpgI will say, as someone who is terrified of heights, this wasn’t that bad. It didn’t freak me out near as much as it probably should have or could have. Andrew absolutely loved running across the clear portion (he loves those things) while Colton was a little bit more apprehensive about the whole thing. You can look at the sides and see a really dramatic view of London and the Thames, which was just beautiful.

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As part of admission, you are also able to go down to the engine room and get some information and insight on how the bridge operates and how that operation has changed throughout the years. I will say- if they are in the process of raising or lowering, you are not actually able to go in, but they do have the times posted while you are purchasing tickets so you’ll know ahead of time.

We decided to stay in the area and had a lovely dinner at Vapiano’s. This is a chain restaurant that we actually quite enjoy, it’s one where they make your food right in front of you and we had a lovely time eating and people watching.

Day 3:

Our final day came with an early start, the earliest of our holiday (aside from the first day driving) in order to make our ticket time. Now, when I was picking out things that I wanted to do on this trip I tried to keep my husband and children in mind. There are so many things that I would want to do, but they are just not interested, so this particular experience was my one thing that I think I was the only one truly interested bit and I didn’t want to miss it.

IMG_6867.jpgThat one thing was getting a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and let me tell you, it was entirely worth it. I love Shakespeare’s works and while this isn’t the original (or even the second, this is the third rendition), the impact was still the same. It was breathtaking to walk along what was the best recreation they could do and what was even better was they were having an active rehearsal while we were there and the show that the stage was set for was a personal favorite of mine, A Midsummer Nights Dream! We were very lucky to even be able to take pictures inside the theatre as that is typically not allowed while there is a rehearsal. It just added to the entire experience and I just feel so blessed to have been able to do that. It was just so cool.

Once we finished that tour we headed back towards Buckingham Palace (thank the lord for the Tube!) and to Churchill’s War Rooms.

This was my husbands “one thing” for us to do. We waited in line for a little while to get in, but used the time to do snacks and naps. The museum itself is actually a really cool stop. Nothing has truly been touched in the rooms themselves, except to add manicans at certain points and before you get into the full rooms, you can walk through an exhibit talking about Winston Churchill’s life. I found the most interesting part being listening to the secretaries that worked for/with him. Such a good insight into who he was and what he was like.

Our last London stop was to visit/ride The London Eye. We purchased tickets the day of for a late in the day time (wait for my tips post for more information on my thoughts for this attraction) and were able to see the Mounted Guard and the retiring of the Mounted Guard (for the evening), which was an interesting sight to watch.

The London Eye itself is quite a marvel. It’s basically a large Ferris Wheel with enclosed carraiges that take you up quite high to give you a birds eye view of the city. You can see almost all of the landmarks of central London and you get pictures galore throughout the experience. You can also participate in the 3D experience (included with a Standard ticket), which just takes you into what you see and the various celebrations.

We had dinner at Steak & Co with an old friend of mine whose trip just happened to overlap with ours in London for a night. It was such a lovely way to end our few days in London!

That wraps up the first full section of our Summer Holiday 2019. I hope you enjoyed seeing London through our eyes! Have you been to London? How do you feel our trip compared to yours? Did you have a favorite of your trip? I think my favorite was probably The Globe if I’m being totally honest or walking through St. James Park. What would you want to do if you could do a trip to London?