A Morning in Salem

It’s officially October, officially the Spooky Month, and officially time for me to talk about our stop during our Summer Holiday (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE) that I haven’t yet. I’ve been waiting, because to me, Salem is the heart of October, and while we went during the middle of Summer, I held on to that spooky feeling the entire time. We only stopped for a few hours, for several reasons, and didn’t do much, but it was a really exciting stop. 

With all of that, it’s definitely time for me to level with you…I went to Salem mostly for Hocus Pocus. I wanted to see the history, pay homage to those who were killed during the Witch Trials and learn their stories, but I also very much wanted to stop at certain points for filming purposes to see them for myself. There was A LOT more that we could have done, but after leaving Boston, the boys were tired, it was sunny and hot, and so we tried to limit our stops. 

So, a little recap on Salem history…

Salem was founded in 1626 by a group of immigrants from Cape Ann, with the Massachusetts Bay Company arriving two years later in 1628 to settle it for the Puritans. Over the following decades the town grows, militia is established (Salem would later be recognized as the birthplace of the National Guard), trade is established, a cemetery is created (“Old Burying Ground” or Charter Street Cemetery), a custom house is built to deal with taxes, and so on. In 1668 the House of Seven Gables is built, known later as a home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and in 1675 the Witch House is completed, which played a large role in the Salem Witch Trials as one of the presiding judges lived there and some cases were heard in the home.  Finally, in 1692 the Salem Witch Trials, what would bring this little town to the history books, began. I think we all have a fairly good idea of what the Salem Witch Trials were, but you can read through HERE to get a good look into that history. The trials concluded (after a whopping 3 months and an accusation levered at the governor’s wife) with at least 20 dead by ruling and many others dying in prison. 

After the trials, life in Salem quieted down for a time until 1775 when Salem conducted the first armed resistance of the Revolution. The British were attempting to collect ammunition that had been stored in the town, but the militia of Salem successfully blocked them. The town of Salem continues to grow and expand and in 1799 a group of Sea Captains worked together to found the Peabody Essex Museum, the oldest continuously operating museum in the country. It features culture from the New England area, as well as around the world. 

Once again, a period of time passes; Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes a Salem local book (Fanshawe in 1828 and in 1836 Salem is incorporated as an actual City.  Then, thanks to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Salem comes back in the spotlight with the publishing of The Scarlet Letter in 1850. The residents were not a fan as they felt it mis portrayed the residents. However, Hawthorne followed up with The House of the Seven Gables, which turned the house into one of the most famous historic houses in the country. In 1866 Salem held the first public demonstration of a long-distance phone call. 

After a massive and devastating fire in 1914, and a National Historic Site designation in 1938, Salem becomes part of pop culture when the seventh season of the show Bewitched is filmed in town. This reignites interest in the city and the city starts to lean a bit more into its…darker past. In 1982 it hosted a one-day Haunted Happenings Festival, which still continues to this day (every October for the entire month now) and offers a variety of spooky and historical events to attend. You can see the site HERE if you’re interested! 

In 1992 they added the Witch Trials Memorial, which is simple, but contains stone benches around the perimeter with the names of every accused witch along with the execution date.  Finally, in 1993 Hocus Pocus is released into theatres and catapults Salem not only from the history books, but into a constant pop culture sphere (in my opinion). Fun fact, the very very opening scenes (think like opening credits) were actually filmed overhead the Plymouth Patuxet that we visited in Plymouth (you can follow the first link in my vacation above or HERE). 

So, what did we actually manage to see on our quick morning? Well, first I could not help myself but see the house from Hocus Pocus. It’s privately owned and while they don’t mind folks taking photos of the front, be courteous. Don’t leave your trash, don’t block traffic, don’t blast their personal information (such as cars, license plates, etc.) into the online world. We literally pulled over long enough for me to take a couple photos and then we left- a total of maybe 5 minutes. Then, we parked at the downtown mall, paid for two hours parking, and trekked through main street. 

We stopped to pay our respect to the accused Witches at the Memorial, we wandered over to Town Hall, to the Witch House, and stopped at the Ropes Mansion. The main street is absolutely delightful and the perfect spot to buy all your souvenirs, take in the sights, grab a bite to eat and just enjoy the small-town vibes. It was all in all, a delightful stop and I would definitely recommend making a least half a day to a full day to learn the history and take a step into both real life history and a world of pop culture.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2021 – Portland ME

It’s time for our final stop on our Summer Holiday, a couple of nights up in Portland, Maine (you can see our other stops by clicking the following links: PLYMOUTH, BOSTON 1, BOSTON 2). We did make a stop in Salem on our way up from Boston, but I’m gonna save that post for a little bit closer to Halloween time ;). Anyways, I’m a big fan of Maine. This was our second time in the state, with the first being a cabin in the Rangely Lake are and this second one in Portland. I swear, I don’t know many prettier spots than upstate North East and Maine is certainly a dreamy spot no matter where you look. 

I”m going to start this post out by saying, that I think a trip to Portland can have a lot gained by simply going child free. Portland is the home of a lot of breweries and such and we could have done some tastings, hopping around from place to place had we gone without our children, but alas, we still had a fun time. The main shopping district is brimming with people and music and cute, quaint little shops, you are able to do just about anything you’d like on a boat, and you can get some incredibly fresh (and delicious) seafood. 

Portland is the biggest city in Maine (or the most populated at least). It has a good mixture of the older district and modern convenience. The region was originally called Machigonne by the local Native American tribes, however in 1623 the English moved in to settle the land. The first settlement attempt ended in failure and dissapearences of all those that went. In 1632 a fishing and trading village was settled called Casco, then it was “re settled” with the name of Falmouth, before finally being named Portland in 1786.  Historically, Portland has served as a…port city a hub for transportation and shipping. Nowadays it still serves that shipping and transport purpose, BUT it also is home to a thriving community. 

So, two things to note about our time in Portland…1) It was HOT. Like I think probably the hottest temps we had our entire trip. Not only hot, but sunny clear blue skies too. So no relief. 2) This was our last stop, so we were a bit tired, the kids were tired, and Portland is much…further spread apart than the previous stops we had made (and parking is a bit more expensive). Also, we had our kids, and this is very much a hipster town with breweries and nightlife, more so, so there was that to take into account. 

So, we got to Portland kind of mid day to early afternoon, We checked into our hotel and then headed in to town. We mostly spent that first chunk of time just walking through Old Port and the main streets of the “downtown district”. We got some dinner, local seafood, right on the water and then just walked up and down the streets. We also were able to watch the evening fog start to come in, as well as a couple of shipping boats and tug boats navigate the canal space. It was a relaxing nice way to spend the afternoon/evening.

The next morning we were up early (ish) and out the door to go explore some of the sights. We had started with a plan of seeing some trains for the kids, a mansion and lookout for us, and then a couple lighthouses to finish out the day. This quickly changed as we realized the weather and distances between attractions was going to make it a bit difficult for us to see everything we wanted. 

We started off the day at Hifi Donuts for a little donut and coffee moment. From their we headed over to the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co & Museum. When Maine started its rail travel, they not only implemented regular railways, they also implemented what is known as a narrow gauge railroad. The rails on a narrow gauge are only 2 feet apart, as opposed to almost 5 feet apart. In its’ height there were a total of 5 narrow gauge railways that transported both freight and passengers. The benefit of narrow gauge is since it’s narrower than standard rail tracks, you are able to lay tracks in a wider amount of places, connecting rural spots that wouldn’t have been able to utilize a standard railway. 

When visiting, you are able to choose from a variety of seat options, we decided on first class just due to the outdoor seating options. I will say, that we visited this attraction mostly for the children and if they (or perhaps your own) were not as interested in trains, then I would honestly pass this along. The train ride is a total of about 40 minutes long, just taking you along the waterfront. Halfway through the train stops for a break and kids are allowed to go up to the engine and pull the whistle. Our train obsessed boys loved it, BUT if you/you’re kids are not as obsessed or interested in trains, I would give it a miss. 

From there we ended up deciding to skip on the two other sites that we had picked out for within Portland proper. We had intended on going to Victoria Mansion and the Overlook (as well as maybe the Botanical Gardens of the Longfellow House), but the heat and sun were very quickly getting to both kids, as well as us, so we did a quick pivot in our plans and headed straight for some lighthouses. 

Lighthouses are one of those things that I feel like the Maine Coastline is really known for and they are beatiful and well worthy of that. The first lighthouse we visited was the Spring Point Ledge Light. This is what’s known as a caisson-style lighthouse located on the grounds of Fort Preble, right next to the community college. The lighthouse itself sits at the end of a 950 foot breakwater (what the rock outcroppings are called- which I JUST learned). You are able to walk out on the breakwater over to the lighthouse and even tour the interior on certain weekends. Dating back to 1898, this lighthouse is still functioning and has become a landmark in its own right. 

The second lighthouse we went to is probably the most photographed lighthouse in Maine, definitely in Portland (whcih- rightfully so, there are just some spots that lend themselves to that). That would be the Portland Head Light. This is Maine’s oldest lighthouse, built in 1791, it is located right along Fort Williams Park and is still in use today (we heard the bell/horn), as it sits right at the entrance of the shipping channel into the bay. It was incredible, easily one of the highlights of our entire trip, just to stand there and listen to the sounds of the water and the punctuations of the lighthouse horn. 

And that pretty much sums up our time in Portland. In so many ways I wish that we had done more with our time in this gorgeous place, but I also recognize that there is usually one spot on our “multi city” trips that ends up being a bit less than the others and this just happened to be that spot on this trip. We still loved it (and it settled my love of the state of Maine) and I still think it’s a great spot to visit. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2021 – Boston, MA Pt. 1

The second stop on our Summer Holiday was undoubtedly our favorite and that was Boston. I think this is going to have to be divided up into two posts just due to the amount that I will actually blabber during this post. Again, I know that a good amount of people know a good amount of American History, so I’m just going to touch on basics or little tidbits as I talk about what we did/saw, but I really just love learning about the history and interesting facts about places we visit. Boston is the center of A LOT of the United States of America’s history and it has done a really good job and transitioning through history and coming into a more modern era, without losing any of the historic sites or feel to the city. So, a post today and a post on Friday (woop- a bonus post!) to cover everything I want to share and not overwhelm or bore you.

Before we start, I also want to note that for a “big city” Boston felt quite relaxed. In a lot of the “big cities” you get that big city rush feeling, where everyone is just go, go, go as fast as you can. Boston was refreshingly relaxed (or at least from what we saw and experienced). It was something that we actually really enjoyed about our time there. I’m not sure if this was a covid specific instance or if it’s always this way. Regardless Boston has definitely become a highlight for us. 

So, our time in Boston started where much of the history started (or at least the history of the start of the revolution), at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. I think a good amount of us know the history of the Boston Tea Party. In December 1773, disguised men from the “Sons of Liberty”, after immense planning, quietly boarded the Beaver Dartmouth, and Eleanor with the intention of destroying the tea. They destroyed 92,000 pounds of tea (in 340 chests), but only the tea. They did not steal tea, they did not steel or even so much as touch anything else aboard the ship. The statement they wanted to make was abundantly clear, which was “we will not take your leadership any longer”. The British Tea Party was but one step in a much larger fight, which was against the crown and the ability for someone so far away to hold governance in the colonies. Of course after the destruction the “Sons of Liberty” who participated had to flee Boston, and those who stayed would go out in boats to the harbor to continue to ensure that any tea or tea chests in the harbor were not able to be rescued or used. The Boston Tea Party was an incredible success, but it created hardship for the colonists as well, sparking more and more “rebellious talk” and ultimately (after several more edicts and back and forth with the King of England) sparked the American Revolution in April of 1775.

At The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, they do an excellent job of utilizing first person interpreters to put you right in the action of that fateful night in December. You are given character cards that tell you about a single person who lived in Boston at the time- these are then yours to keep as you continue along your tour. You start in the “state hall” with two actors taking you right up to those destructive lines uttered. Then you follow over to the boat where you can see what the Sons of Liberty would have seen, and throw your own tea overboard into the harbor. From there, you walk through the museum that talks about (with actual talking projectors and portraits) what followed the tea party. There is an original chest to see, along with a small vial of the tea that was tossed overboard (who rescued it remains a mystery). Finally, you can finish up at Abigail’s Tea Room, where you can sample the 5 tea blends that would have been on board the ship in the harbor (and subsequently enjoyed). It was the perfect start to our time in Boston and really put us in the revolutionary spirit. 

From there we mostly meandered around the area, letting the boys play at a playground (after being cooped up in a car and then on best behavior at the museum they were due to expend some energy) and trying to decide what we wanted to do. It was a bit later in the day, so we couldn’t do much more in terms of touristy bits. We ended up wandering over to Quincy Market (in a bid to see a museum which ended up being closed on that day anyways) and grabbing dinner at the food stalls located inside. I really loved Quincy Market. It reminded me of being at a farmers market of sorts and I had some of the best pizza since returning from Europe.

Quincy Market has quite the history. Dating back to 1826, the idea for the market came from Mayor Josiah Quincy. Shortly after being elected, Josiah realized just how much he disliked the chaotic, noisy, dirty view from his office in Faneuil Hall. This view was mostly due to the fact that the large marketplace was bursting at its’ seams. There was simply not enough space to cater the amount of stalls and sheds and the overall needs the city required. Not pleased with any ideas, he came up with his own development for a new marketplace. The only “thorn” in his side for this new market place was a landowner by the name of Nathan Spear, who refused to negotiate in regards to the property lines and deeds. No matter though, the construction went ahead with Josiah Quincy laying the first stone in April, 1825, with the market completed and opened in August of 1826. Officially named Faneuil Hall Market, it is more commonly known as Quincy Market. The market was enlarged throughout the following years (as it reached its initial capacity in 1850) and the market continued to serve the community. A restoration project was started in the 1970’s that not only including restoring parts of the market, but also additions to the rotunda and new dining areas. 

The next morning we were up bright and early to embark on one of my husbands most anticipated stops, Fenway Park (ok the kids and I were also very excited about this too). Where do I even begin with the history? I’m not going to go into the history of baseball (because oof), or of the actual Boston Red Sox (because, again oof), but rather the history of this particular ballpark. 

Some quick facts, Fenway Park is the oldest active ballpark in the MLB (109 years this year), it was actually rebuilt in 1934, and the location (within tight busy streets of Boston) lends itself to a unique set of features, the most popular being The Green Monster. It is the fifth smallest stadium within the MLB, only able to seat a little under 38,000. Finally, the first game ( a win for the Red Sox played in 11 innings) was actually overshadowed by the continued coverage of the tragic Titanic sinking. 

The Red Sox had been playing at the Huntington Avenue Grounds for 10 years, but Red Sox Owner John I. Taylor was looking for something different, something that would make a splash, something in Boston. He was also looking at potentially selling the team to a new owner, which played a massive role in the relocation. February of 1911 brought a group of real estate entrepreneurs together to become the “Fenway Improvement Association”. Subsequently one of the leaders, General Charles H. Taylor (yep- John’s father), acquired a large amount of land which the young John Taylor then announced his intention to use it to build a new home for the Red Sox. Ground broke for the ballpark, without the proper permits approved or assurances that they would be approved, on September 25, 1911 and by he end of the calendar year the foundations were in place, the roof framed, and plans in place to continue. Fenway Park hosted its first game April 9, 1912, with the first official game occurring 11 days later. Construction continued during Away Games, with the left and right field bleachers completed in time for the World Series. There were several renovations and additions given to the park over its long history, too many for me to actually get into and list, you can read the full history HERE, but it’s safe to say that this is a true landmark of the city and of the sport. 

The park has also been used for other sporting events, being home to matches of boxing, soccer, American football, Hurling, Gaelic Football, Hockey, Ice Skating, and Ski and Snowboard events. It also has hosted Concerts and Rallies/Public Addresses. 

There was one instance where the ballpark was in jeopardy, in 1999 the Red Sox CEO announced plans for a new Fenway Park. This, understandably, came under a lot of fire from all around, and led to a long round of talks, negotiations, and different plans. At the end of it all there was no resolution to be found and in 2005 it was announced that the Red Sox would stay at the current Fenway Park. This then led to a 10 year significant renovation of the park led by Janet Marie Smith (who is wholeheartedly credited with saving the park). 

One final note, which is the lone red seat. The lone red seat signifies the spot of the longest home run ever hit at Fenway Park. Ted Williams hit a home run June 9, 1946, which hit Joseph A Boucher right in the head (through his straw hat), then bounced several rows above. If it hadn’t hit Boucher, it could have reached a length of 520-535 feet, but rather it hit 502 feet. 

As part of the tour you are able to see the interior of the park (where two movies have been shot- including THAT scene from The Town), sit in the old wooden seats in the Grandstand section, head through the museum which contains collections of bats, balls, seating, jerseys, and more throughout the Red Sox history, head up to the top of the upper seating, go through the Press Box, and over to the Green Monster (which only added seats added to it in 2003 and they are the most expensive and contested seats in the park). All while being told the history of the stadium, a couple of dad jokes (maybe you want to hear one now? “The distance between all the bases is equal, however why does it take a runner longer to get from second to third? Because there’s a short stop” Ahahahahahaha- ok done now), and seeing some epic views from every spot in the park. It truly was an incredible tour and very well worth our time. If you are even the slightest baseball fan, this is a definite go to (but if you’re a baseball fan it’s probably already on your list to visit). 

And that wraps up this first part of my two part Boston posts. The second part (coming out this Friday!) will be focused exclusively on the Freedom Trail and the sights we saw as part of that. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2021 – Plymouth MA

It is time to talk about our annual summer holiday and travels! This year we decided to do a “USA history” tour of sorts, starting in Plymouth Massachusetts, then heading up to Boston, MA, a quick stop in Salem, MA and ending in Portland ME. Honestly, the trip was overall so relaxing and enjoyable. I don’t know if it was the amount of time in each stop, or if it was just the fact that the boys are older, we are more “travel experienced”, and that we haven’t traveled (thus the excitement is greater), whatever it was, this really worked for us. A quick overview of our trip, we did two nights in Plymouth, three in Boston, two in Portland. 

We arrived mid afternoon in Plymouth on our first day, prior to the check in time at our hotel, so we decided to just head over to a first stop. We started at Plimouth Patuxet. 

The Plimouth Patuxet or Plimouth Plantation (the original name) is what’s known as a living museum. Started in 1947 it features two central locations, plus the Mayflower II and the Grist Mill (in separate locations), one a replica of the village of Plymouth from 1627 with first person historical “actors” and the second is a replica of the Wampanoag village as it would have stood in the 17th century along with guides to help visitors understand life for them. It gives visitors an insight into not only what life would look like and be like, but a chance to learn about some of the people who would have lived in the Plymouth Colony.

Most of us know the history of America, the Colonies, etc., so I’m not going to focus too much on it, but I will say that there is a big difference between the colonies of Jamestown (the first) and Plymouth. Jamestown was founded by entrepreneurs who were seeking new land to develop, live and to expand fortunes. Plymouth was founded by a sect of Puritans (later as we all know as Pilgrims) who were fleeing religious persecution. They did not actually sale directly to the “America’s” though, they first went to The Netherlands to avoid the persecution. That didn’t end up working and they ended up making the journey towards the “America’s”. 

The Patuxet was really neat to walk through and I found it to actually be quite respectful to both the Wampanoag, the Patuxet, and the Colonists. The boys really appreciated the first person actors and being able to be involved in this living history (even though they truly couldn’t comprehend the entire grasp of it). 

We spent a couple hours at the Patuxet, then headed over to check in to our hotel. We stayed at the John Carver Inn for two reasons, one being its location right off the main street of town, and the other being the very cool pool that it offered. I will say, that while we loved the pool (which has a makeshift Plymouth rock holding the hot tub, and a slide within the “mayflower”), the hotel rooms were a bit dated. There isn’t anything wrong with that and we enjoyed our stay, just something to note. After checking in, we decided to just go venture out on the town.

Wandering along the main streets of downtown Plymouth offered a variety of breweries, small boutiques, and tourist shops. We ended up stopping at Tavern on the Wharf for dinner that first night, watching the sun light up the water as it started to set. From dinner, we continued to walk along the bay, watching the sun set slowly over the bay. Walking along the bay puts you right at the Plymouth Rock. This is when I would recommend seeing because a) you get to see the sunset on the water, and b) it tends to not be as crowded. 

So, Plymouth Rock. I want to start with the fact that there is no writing from the Pilgrims in regards to Plymouth Rock. It wasn’t recorded until ~1715 when it was used as part of the town boundaries and was simply a “great rock” and there wasn’t even a claim to it being the landing place until 1741 (~120 years later). Second, the rock itself (as it stands today) is quite small. It is not even the full size of the “original Plymouth Rock” due to its being moved around and pieces being taken, bought, and sold. Today it stands at about 1/3 of the size that it actually was. There is also a crack in the rock where it was broken in an attempt to place it in the town square, the two portions were put back together and the date was stamped in the 1770’s. So, it’s cool to see, but also a bit anticlimactic in a way. 

We finished out the evening with a  stop at Burial Hill, which was located right behind the John Carver Inn. Since there was still daylight (this cemetery sits much higher than the bay), we decided to take a little wander through the cemetery and see some of the oldest gravesites in our country (documented- there are much much older sites obviously from the indigenous peoples). Burial Hill was originally the site of the Pilgrims first meeting house and was first used as a burial spot in the 1620’s. There are Pilgrims and Mayflower passengers buried in the cemetery, as well as various revolutionaries and soldiers. Any person that has a history tied to a battle/war, the Mayflower, or the colonists has a medallion placed next to the grave marker (some of these still stand, some have been destroyed over time by the elements). 

The next morning we started out somewhat early, to get some breakfast from Munchies & Milkshakes. Robert had found this spot and read reviews about donuts and baked goodies, so we figured why not give it a try. I can tell you, it did not disappoint. We took our donuts to a bench overlooking the Mayflower II and the bay and had a lovely little picnic. Then it was off to tour the Mayflower II. 

As the same organization owns all three “Pilgrim”/Plymouth related attractions, you are able to purchase one ticket for all three locations, which is what we did. I can’t say that it was a cheaper option or a good bargain deal, but I can say that it was definitely easier when it came time to visit the other locations. We walked right into the Mayflower II and were able to get on the boat almost immediately. 

The Mayflower II is a reproduction of the original Mayflower. It was built in the 1950’s in partnership between an English builder and the Plimouth Patuxet. It was a partnership to honor the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom during World War 2. Considered a generic reproduction with modern additions (like electric lights and a ladder) it sailed from Plymouth, Devon recreating the historical journey of the Pilgrims, landing at Plymouth Massachusetts after about 2 months. It has journeyed through various ports and cities on the East Coast both for tours and for restorations, but in 2020 it made a permanent return to Plymouth in honor of the 400th anniversary (lucky for us!). 

I do think that this is a very worthwhile attraction to see. Not only does it put the voyage in perspective and the conditions and turmoil that the Pilgrims faced during their voyage, but it also is neat to check out. The “crew” on board is a mixture of modern day guides and first person interpreters and you are able to see just about every area of the ship, including the mooring boat that they would have used to send expeditions from the ship to the mainland to find a settlement space. 

From the Mayflower II we walked the opposite direction (away from Plymouth rock and towards the shipyard area) to walk the riverfront. The town has a rocky area that you are able to walk a bit out into the bay waters and see the town from the water (in a way). Now, you are walking on rocks that have been piled up and around coming out of the water to form a walkway. It’s not a “sidewalk” or anything of that nature, just a man made path. We walked about halfway out and decided to turn back (as it’s just an outcropping to see the view). 

At that point in the day we were reaching the peak of the sun and heat, so we decided to head back to the hotel and spend a bit of time at the pool. This is something we don’t often do, but we had partly booked this hotel for the pool, so we figured we should take advantage of it. It was a lot of fun and allowed some of that sun and heat to pass over us. 

After a brief lull, we headed back out, this time to the Plymouth Grist Mill. This Grist Mill is a working mill recreated on the site (and similar to) the Jenney Grist Mill, which was one of the first operating mills from the Pilgrims in Plymouth (built and operated by John Jenney who came over on the Little James in 1623). The Mill was originally built in 1636 and remained in operation, though passing through different hands as owners passed away or sold, until it burned down in 1840’s. The property stood as it was until the town went through some re devolopment and mill was rebuilt/reproduced in 1969. It is a fully functioning mill processing what, rye, barley, and corn (which is ground on the primary millstones). You are able to watch the mill at work if it is the time of year for it to run, otherwise you are able to tour the mill and the workers will show you how everything operates. A Very kind tour guide turned on the outside portion for the boys to watch. 

I will say, this was another neat stop to make, BUT if you can’t fit it in or you are wondering which of the three attractions you don’t need to visit- this can be cut from your itinerary. It’s a short visit (which worked out really well for us), but I wouldn’t say it provided much “first hand” insight. Cool to see, but not necessary.

The final stop we made in Plymouth was the National Monument to the Forefathers. Originally known as the Pilgrim Monument, this is thought to be the worlds largest solid granite monument standing at 81 feet tall. It is dedicated to and commemorates the Mayflower Pilgrims and their ideals. The idea dates back to 1820, but the cornerstone was not laid until 1859 (after plans started almost 10 years earlier). It opened in 1889 and features a total of 5 figures. The top one is known as “Faith”, with the four buttresses featuring “Morality”, “Law”, “Education”, and “Liberty”. These are then broken down further on each buttress to give more ideals for each overarching concept. The front and rear panels both have quotes engraved, with the side panels containing the names of those on the original Mayflower. 

We wandered from the monument, which is tucked up on a hill back in a neighborhood, back down to the main street and stopped for dinner at the Waterfront Bar & Grill before heading back to the hotel to pack and leave the next morning. 

And that wraps up the first stop in our 2021 Summer Holiday. I will say, I’ve only ever been mildly interested in the Pilgrims tale (more so in a respectful manner of history), so while this was a cool spot and town was pretty, this wasn’t a highlight for me. It also wasn’t for the kids (minus the pool), but that’s because they much preferred the next stop on our destination…

Burg Eltz

Ah, Burg Eltz. It’s one of the most photographed castles and takes its place as a top castle to visit with Neuschwanstein Castle, Lichtenstein Castle, and others. During our Summer Holiday, we made a stop at Burg Eltz to see what it was like. Burg Eltz is one of only three castles in the Rhine region that have never been destroyed and so, it was incredible to see how the different eras of the castle and families had left their own imprints. The house is joint owned by three families, Rubenach, Rodendorf, and Kempenich. You are able to tour two of the portions (Rubenach and Rodendorf), while the third is currently occupied by the family.

The oldest part of the castle is a Roman style keep that was initially built in the 9th century. It was intended to be a simple manor, but by the 12th century it became an incredibly important Roman Empire fortress. Built on top of a rock, the castle doesn’t quite stand perfectly upright, rather following the shape of the rock as it juts upward (similar to Mont Saint Michel in a way). In the mid 13th century (not long after the initial castle was completed) the three brothers of the Eltz family had a bit of a dispute which ended up leading to the castle and estate being split into three. The tower keep in the north was the beginning of the Rodendorf portion (which dates back to 1300) and the Rubenach house had its start in 1311. 

The only military conflicts to occur in the Eltz castle occurred in the 1330’s when the lords of Eltzer opposed the territorial policy of the Archbishop of Trier. This led to a siege of the castle, which led to another smaller siege castle on the northern side (the remains of which you can still see today). The siege ended two years later (when the “free” imperial knights gave up their “freedom”) and with it, along with clever politics and support from its neighbors, the castle did not see any other battle action.

In 1472 the Rubenach house was completed (as part of the Greater Rodendorf House) after being commissioned by Philipp zu Eltz. Then the Kempenich house replaced the original hall in 1615. Eltz castle was one of the few castles lucky enough to come through the Palatine Wars of Succession (leading to the French rule) unscathed as many others were destroyed. This was due to a high-ranking officer in the French Army, Hans Anton zu Eltz-Uttingen, who saved the castle. However, Eltz Castle still came into the French possession after Count Hugo Phillipp zu Eltz fled during the French rule of the Rhine region. He was then treated as an emigrant and all of the properties owned by the Eltz family, even those beyond the castle, were confiscated. These only came back into his possession in 1815 when he was able to purchase it (if you’re curious- during the French rule Count Hugo hid out in Mainz, Germany). Finally, in the 19th century the Count Karl zu Eltz decided to restore the castle and commissioned extensive work to preserve the existing castle. 

I’ve got to say- this castle really lives up to the expectation. You’ve got the perfect fairytale location, literally nestled right into the trees and valley between hills. You’ve got the picture-perfect bridge leading up to the castle itself, where you can marvel at this towering not quite straight towers looming above you. And you’ve got the visual history right in front of you. You are able to literally walk-through different eras of time and see how they lived in these different houses in the same castle. 

As I said, this castle was occupied by several families and each lived differently, both in station, in time, and in family structure. This meant that each has its own little differences and while each room has all of the crests and you can see some of the commonalities, they are also unique to their family. The interior was as I had expected in a way, overstated but also warm and welcoming. Rich tones and lots of wood, but also little hide away rooms and staircases. 

If you’re visiting, I would recommend getting there right when they open to avoid the lines for tours. The tour, which starts in the courtyard at the center of the complex, takes you through two portions of the house, as well as the treasury and armory (which are self-guided portions). There is a little bit of a walk from the parking lot to the castle itself (or alternatively you can hike the trails to get to the castle if you’d like), but there is also a small shuttle that you can choose to take. 

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 – Belgium

Ah, Belgium. This was our second time in Belgium and I’m putting that very lightly as we visited a museum in Bastogne before heading to Luxembourg last year (we also went to Luxembourg this year). This year we wanted to not only stop in Bastogne again to see a couple more stops, but also to see Brussels, Belgium. There are a couple of really pretty cities in Belgium (Utrecht and Brugge are the tops), but we decided on Brussels.

Before we get into Brussels though, I want to talk about our stops on the way to Belgium. Our first stop was the Bayeux Cathedral. The Bayeux Cathedral is easily one of the coolest and most unique cathedrals I think I have yet to see. Consecrated in the late 11th century, this church is not only neat on both the exterior and interior, but also was the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry.

Our second stop was in Bastogne. After leaving Bayeux, we headed to Bastogne to look at the Foxholes and stop at the Airborne Museum in Bastogne. The Foxholes are exactly what you think they would be, but something about it just felt like walking on sacred ground. I think because we all know the story, we’ve heard the names, there is a bit more of a personal note, that walking the forest just felt…different to walking other places.

From the foxholes we went over to the 101 Airborne Museum. The museum is located in the former officer’s mess building of the Belgian Army, which was also used by the German Army during the occupation. Once the war ended, it was used as a Red Cross Hospital. It has been transformed into a museum that displays a collection of items from the fighting as well as a basement that has been transformed into a bomb shelter.

The museum is incredible, BUT fair warning on going down to the basement area. I would not say that it is…kid friendly, but it is important to experience. Walking down the stairs you are taken to a small dark room where you experience what it would be like to live during the battle for Bastogne and that was just…something that was hard to do. I don’t even have the words for that experience, just that I cannot imagine. From there you then walk along hallways that show various scenes (recreated…with mannequins- again not necessarily suitable for kids, depending on your children’s level of coping and understanding) from the battle. This includes the men fighting through crevices in the defenses of the building, to surgery scenes, to items that were found in the nearby forests and on the streets above. It was something to see and experience and something I will not forget for a long time.

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Brussels has long been a settlement, but it became fully known in the late 600’s when a chapel was built on the banks of the Senne River. The city was then officially founded about 300 years later and has been a place of rebellions, battles, and economic development. We spent most of our day in Brussels walking around the old town area, snacking on waffles, and absorbing the sights. Brussels was a really cool mix of old world and modern, with a hint of opulence and we enjoyed our day exploring. We stayed in a hotel called Hotel Noga and were very pleased with our room and the service.

IMG_6854We started off with a breakfast of…(drumroll please)…waffles. I mean, we couldn’t go all the way to Belgium and not have some waffles. We stopped at a spot in the National Galerie called Mokafe and had some delicious waffles, Strawberry for myself, chocolate for the boys, and berry variety for my husband. Absolutely delicious. Fun fact about the waffles, there are actually two varieties: Brussels and Liege. Brussels are hard rectangle and topped with powdered sugar and some variety of berry or chocolate. Liege waffles are more oval and tend to be more of your…grab and go waffle. The sugar in Liege waffles is also baked directly into the waffle.

After filling up on the delicious waffle and cappuccino breakfast, we headed out to wander. We started our day at the Church of St. Michael and St. Gudula.

This is a relatively “modern” cathedral and church, having only gained cathedral status in the early 1960’s. The church itself dates back to the 11th century, with completion in the 16th, and is currently used for ceremonies of national interest (it is host to royal family events). It was stunning, one of those churches you can’t help but admire.

From there we headed through more of the Altstadt and over to the Grand-Place of Brussels. This seemed to be a common stop for us throughout the day as we gravitated back here several times- which makes sense as it is the central square of Brussels.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most important tourist destination of Brussels, with guildhalls, Museum of the City of Brussels, and the Town Hall rising up around the square itself. The buildings are displays of opulence with gold touches and gothic architecture. It was voted (at one point) the most beautiful square in Europe and I think I would agree. The square is opulent, but not overbearingly so. It’s definitely the heart and was full of life each time we were there.

We also managed to see Manneken Pis. Yep, you read that right. Manneken Pis is a fountain sculpture of a little boy peeing into the fountain. The first mention of the fountain was from the 15th century when it is mentioned about drinking water for the residents. The first bronze statue was placed in the 17th century, with the current statue replacing it in the mid 20th century. The Mannekin Pis has been the subject of several thefts (of which the punishment was severe) and several legends (which are all quite…interesting to read about). One of the Mannekin Pis traditions is to be dressed up in a variety of different costumes. These can range from famous individuals, to sport options, to holiday attire. Overall though, the Mannekin Pis is a symbol to the people of Brussels; a symbol of the sense of humor that they share and their independence of mind.

The final thing we attraction we saw in Brussels was The Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

First commissioned by Leopold II in the early part of the 20th century after being fascinated by Paris. His original intent was to model his church off of the Sacre Coeur in Parish (HERE) with a street similar to Champs Elysees (HERE) connecting it to the main city center. The Church was consecrate in 1951, awarded the designation of “Basilica Minor” in 1952, completed in 1969, and is now the 5th largest church in the world. This church also holds two museums, The Black Sisters Museum and the Museum of Modern Religious Art. You are also able to go up to a balcony right under the dome to get a bird’s eye view of Brussels.

Once again, this was incredible due to the sheer size. You can definitely feel the more sleek, modern (almost non frivolous, sparse look), art deco style of the church throughout, but the size is just a site to behold.

After finishing up with the Basilica, we wandered back towards the main center square, did a little shopping and picked up some dinner before heading to our hotel. We definitely did not see everything that Brussels has to offer, not even close, but I feel like we got a good amount in our one day there, and were able to get the “feel” of the city.

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 – Normandy, France

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

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

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

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

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

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

We went to Omaha Beach first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

In terms of Covid and general tips…

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