Prague – A Long Weekend Away

IMG_1891Our final stop on our Thanksgiving Weekend Away was in Prague for ~2 days. This post is going to only focus on what we did in Prague and the history of those spots. I will be doing separate posts on the Christmas Markets and my Recommendations and Tips. I’m going to break this post down day by day as I think that is probably the best way to handle the information in a concise way. And, one final thing before we get into the post, we fully plan on going back to Prague to do a little bit more exploring. I fell in love with the city and I feel like there is so much more to see. It’s only a couple hour drive (or train ride) so it’s totally feasible for us to go back.

Prague itself dates back to around the 2nd century, but it wasn’t until Charles IV came into power that it really started to find a place on the map. Prague has been through its fair share of ups and downs, crusaders, religious upheaval, and foreign occupations. It’s seen war, nonviolent revolutions, and a modern turn towards capitalism (and a big shift in consumerism). The city itself shows all the different stages of its history and I think that makes it so interesting and easy to explore. Every corner holds a different era.

Now, onto what we did in our short amount of time in Prague…

Afternoon Day 1

We arrived about midday in Prague and decided to start our time off at Prague Castle. This was the highest and furthest point that we wanted to go on this particular trip, so it seemed like a good place to start and work our way back from. We used the public transportation system (buses, street cars, and an underground metro) to get as close as we could and then walked the final hill to the castle entrance.

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Prague Castle dates it’s foundation laying to the 9th Century, with the Cathedral not being completed until the 20th Century. The castle itself is the largest castle complex in the world. The castle itself is made up of three large courtyards with the cathedral being the most prominent. It dominates any view of Prague and for quite a while was the seat of various rulers. In modern day, it happens to be the seat of the President of the Czech Republic.

Before you even head into the castle, the views overlooking Prague are incredible. Within the castle walls, you walk up the street and see St. George’s Basilica. This is the oldest preserved church. Originally built in the 10thcentury, it was rebuilt in the 12th and then “updated” in the 17th century. It is very impressive and certainly dominates the main first courtyard.

Going around the lane a bit further and you come to the incredible Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert.  This is the spiritual symbol of the state, building began in the 14th century, but took almost 600 years to complete (with the final touches being completed in 1929). The interior of the cathedral is equally impressive and contains the crypt where the kings were buried, and the crown jewels are housed. It was absolutely gorgeous on the inside (although we didn’t make our way through the entire cathedral). You are able to walk through the rest of the complex and the buildings throughout the complex. We headed out right around sunset and got to watch the sun set on the city, and then see the city start to come to life in the evening.

We checked into our Airbnb (which was a fun exercise) and then headed out to dinner at Restaurace U Houdků. This was a lovely local pub type restaurant and we had a lovely meal of various Czech delicacies. We made it an early night in preparation for the long day ahead.

Day 2:

Saturday was our walking day. I love to walk a city (especially one that is so easily walkable to see so much) and Prague was perfect for that. We woke early, stopped for a quick coffee, and then headed out to be tourists for the day. We started our stroll at the IMG_1969.jpgPrašná brána (Powder Tower). Dating back to the 15th century, this was the entrance that all the kings would use to enter The Old Town. It was a gunpowder store in the 18th century, today it serves as not only a viewing gallery to see over the city, but still is the entrance for a royal route to Prague Castle. It certainly was an impressive sight to see and is a good start to your morning/day out in Prague Old Town.

 

 

 

From there it is a quick stroll down the streets to reach Old Town Square. This main square holds not only the markets, but has been restored throughout the years. The Old Town square is circled by several prominent buildings, the first of which being the Church of Our Lady before Týn. This is easily one of the most impressive buildings you will see during your visit to Prague, aside from the Cathedral at the Castle. This particular church also contains the oldest organ in Prague, dating to the 17th century. The church itself dates back to the 14thcentury.

In the square itself there are several things to see before moving on in another direction. There are various steps on the ground itself marking where executions would take place and other little tidbits of what life was like. There is the Jan Hus Memorial in the central. You can walk off to the side a little bit and go to the St. Nicholas Church. This church was completed in the early 18th century and is absolutely incredible. When we went in they had the organ music playing and the grand chandelier was a sight to see. It not only serves as a church, but is also a classical music concert hall. Before leaving the square, do a quick look see at The Prague Astronomical Clock. It isn’t necessary to stick around for the performance (it’s really not anything to write home about0, but it’s definitely something to peak at before leaving the square.

From the square we walked the side streets up to Wenceslas square. It’s not a far walk and by walking we not only got to see a couple more markets, we also got to see a wide variety of the architecture of the city.

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Wenceslas square is at the heart of “New Town” and is full of shopping and commercial life. New Town was commissioned by Charles IV in the 14th century. New Town was intended to be the center of Prague and with this new square under construction Prague became the third largest city in Europe (at that time). While New Town may not be very new by age standards, it certainly is the heart of the modern shopping era. Wenceslas Square is set up as a boulevard or (as its original layout and time period would entail) a horse market. Wenceslas Square has served as a parade ground of sorts, seeing everything from celebrations to uprisings. The square backs up into the National Museum and the Opera House, as well as a statue of St. Wenceslas riding his horse.

From Wenceslas Square we decided to hop on the metro and head over to the Charles Bridge Area.

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Charles Bridge is the main pedestrian bridge used to cross from one side of the Vitava River to the other. Charles IV commissioned the bridge and even laid the first foundation stone of the bridge in 1357 (there is a marking for it). This was originally intended for tournaments, but has since evolved into the bridge it is now. It is adorned with a total of 75 statues throughout the bridge and is a great option to walk from Old Town to Lesser Town.

On the Old Town side of Charles Bridge, you enter under the Old Town Bridge Tower. This is an incredible tower that continued the path of royalty through the Old Town and up to The Castle. You can climb inside the tower and see opposite the tower and bridge. On the Lesser Town side there is the Lesser Town Bridge Tower. This was built in the 15th century and was modeled off of the Old Town Bridge Tower. The smaller tower that is connected is Judith’s Tower; the only remaining part of the original bridge crossing. You are also able to climb up inside the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and see opposite.

Once in Lesser Town we did a couple of stops, the first of which being a bookstore. Massive thanks to my friend Hannah (who happened to be in Prague at the same time we were), who enlightened me to the existence of Shakespeare and Sons. IMG_2288Shakespeare and Sons is a {big} little almost hole in the wall bookstore in a corner of Lesser Town. Situated near Kafka’s house and museum it is the perfect little stop. It has the used and new book atmosphere that I love, with book stacked high along the walls, piled on the floor and behind the cash register. I didn’t have nearly all the time I wanted to browse (thanks to two very active toddlers and one husband who couldn’t believe we were at a bookstore in a foreign country…again), but I did manage to snag a couple books. I got each book stamped with the bookseller’s mark, a reusable book bag, and a bookmark. Such a perfect little stop!

 

After our stop, we knew we needed a little breather from walking and exploring and a little chance to just relax and take it easy. We were right near the sight-seeing boat docks, so we decided to take a little boat tour of the river. Stay tuned for my full thoughts on this in my tips/recommendations, BUT it did what it intended- gave our boys a chance to rest and eat and us a chance to sit for a bit.

IMG_2407.jpgWe headed back to Old Town Square for the Christmas Tree Lighting and the official opening of the Prague Christmas Markets. More on this in the Prague Christmas Market post.

 

 

 

 

Morning Day 3

On our last morning in Prague we spent a little time in the Jewish Quarter (Josefov). The Jewish Quarter (originally the Jewish Ghetto) originates from around the 10th century, however it’s history really begins around the 13th century when the Jews were ordered to leave their homes behind wherever they were, and were banished to this Quarter. The first pogrom occurred Easter of 1389 and it has had a turbulent history since then. The quarter has gone through radical changes, with its people living at the whim of whomever was in charge at the time and at one point was overcrowded. There is a total of six synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, a Ceremonial Hall, and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Ironically enough, the Jewish Quarter was one of the few Jewish spots that survived World War 2 in the area as Hitler decided it could be a “Museum of an Extinct Race”. There is so much history to the Jewish Quarter, that I know I’ll be learning about everything for a long time to come.

We started with breakfast at this cute little café called Mansson The Danish Bakery. We munched on coffee’s, pastries, and meats before heading into the proper quarter.

We didn’t have a long time in the morning to see all of the synagogues and sights, but we tried to make the most of our time to see the absolute must see. We wandered the streets and admired the architecture of the Jewish Quarter before stopping into our first synagogue, Maisel Synagogue.

The Maisel Synagogue was originally built in the late 16th century and founded by its namesake, Mordechai Maisel. After a fire destroyed the original synagogue, the current synagogue dates back to the 19/20th century. This is an incredible synagogue to stop in and details out what life was like in the Jewish Quarter and a bit of the history around the early years of the Quarter. My personal favorite was hearing details about the book and scholarly life.

The second synagogue that we stopped in was the Pinkas Synagogue.

This was built, again, in the 16thcentury. It originally served as a private family oratory by the wealthy family that commissioned it, but later was adapted to add a women’s gallery and new décor for the Torah Ark. This synagogue was reconstructed and turned into a Memorial. The names of the victims of the Shoah are painted on the walls, arranged alphabetically by residence. It’s the oldest monument of its kind and bares 80,000 names on its walls. This was an incredibly moving memorial and absolutely heartbreaking to see. To have all these names laid out in front of you, all around you on the walls, it’s breathtaking.

Our final stop was the Old Jewish Cemetery, which can be accessed through either the Pinkas Synagogue or next to the Klausen Synagogue. The Old Jewish Cemetery is one of the oldest in the world, having been founded early in the 15th century. The Cemetery contains burials from before 1440 until 1787, when a decree came down prohibiting active burial grounds within inhabited areas of the city. There are around 12,000 tombstones, but even more graves as some of collapsed into the ground and others have been destroyed by the elements. Now, if you’re wondering how the dead are actually buried in this manner (with the tombstones being the way they are), don’t worry, we were too. The community actually would add new soil to the ground when they needed more room, so there are several layers of graves in the cemetery, one above the other. The gravestones became crowded as each site holds multiple graves. Both Rabbi Low and Mordecai Meisel, two big names who helped build the Quarter up, are buried here.

Words can’t even begin to describe this sight. It was incredible not only with the overcrowding of the tombstones and the idea of how old the graves were and how many people were actually there, but just the sheer size. At some points it seemed never ending. The amount of history in this relatively small area of Prague is incredible to think of.

We wanted to see both the Old-New Synagogue (the oldest preserved synagogue in Central Europe) and the Spanish Synagogue (the most beautiful in Europe), but both were not open when we were there.

And that ended our short little weekend in Prague! We are definitely making plans to go back and see more of the city, and have already added a couple of spots to our must-see list. Have you been to Prague? What was your favorite spot? If you haven’t, what would you like to go see the most?

Lidice – An Important {1/2} Day Trip

On our way from the beautiful, quaint, relaxing Karlovy Vary to the full of life, architecture, and history Prague, we made a very important stop. We stopped at a little town called Lidice. Never heard of it? You probably haven’t as it was completely wiped out, silently, during World War 2. The survivors of the town and their families, along with others, have worked hard to create a memorial and share the story of this unjust act. There isn’t much to see, as everything was wiped out, BUT it is an important stop, the memorials are incredible, and the history is so important.

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To know the town of Lidice, you need to know a little bit about Operation Anthropoid as everything stems from this operation. I am going to make the information about the Operation as brief as possible, but just know that I am summarizing A LOT. As with any war, battle, or really any major history, there is A LOT more that is going on. If there is anything I have learned about this particular spot is just how interconnected everything can really be.

So, Operation Anthropoid was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. Reinhard Heydrich was an incredibly high-ranking Nazi Official, instrumental in Hitler’s rise, was in charge of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”, and was given the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. At the time of his assassination he was living just outside of central Prague. The Czechoslovakians took charge of the operation with the approval of their own government. This assassination is the only government approved high ranking Nazi assassination in World War 2. The assassination occurred on May 27, 1942 in Prague, with Reinhard Heydrich dying from his injuries in early June.

So, how does the above lead to an entire village being wiped away? Well, after Reinhard Heydrich died there were reprisals. False Intelligence linked the two assassins to hiding out in Lidice as well as the town hiding resistance officers in general. Hitler and Heimler met and determined the way forward to make those who may have helped Reinhard Heydrich’s killers pay: The men would be executed immediately, the women would be sent away immediately to a concentration camp, the children would be divided up into those who could pass as German and those who could not (with those who could not being sent away- the words used are “bring the rest of the children up in other ways”), and the village would be burned to the ground, completely leveled.

The Nazi’s surrounded the village so no one could escape, and the massacre began. As in the proclamation, the men were rounded up and shot early in the morning at one of the barns. The Nazi’s had collected mattresses from the houses near the barn to place against the barn to prevent ricochets.

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The barn where the men were executed

173 men dead. The 11 men who were not in the village at that time were sought out, arrested and executed. Only 3 men survived and of the 3, only 1 was actually in Czechoslovakia at the time of the massacre. He was in prison at the time of the massacre for something completely unrelated and didn’t hear about it until after he had been released (after hearing about it, he tried to turn himself in out of sheer heartbreak, but the SS did nothing and he survived the rest of the war).

The women, 203, and children, 105, were held in the village school and then to another nearby school for 3 days. The pregnant women were taken to hospital and forced to have abortions and then went on to concentration camps. 184 women were loaded on to trucks to go to Ravensbruck. Some of the women survived the war (I am not sure the exact number). 88 children were sent to a former textile factory where they received minimal care and were looked over to determine which would pass for German. 7 children were chosen to be fostered into German SS families. The rest were sent to Chelmno extermination camp. Out of the 105 children, 17 returned home.

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Any animals in the village were killed prior to the destruction of the village itself. Before setting the village on fire and using explosives to further destroy any buildings, the Germans looted everything. They went through the houses and dug up the dead to search for anything of value. After the village was destroyed, the Germans sent in workers to do a final removal of any signs that the village was in fact there, which included re-routing the stream and roads and planting crops.

This was not the only village, another nearby village, Ležáky, was given the same treatment after a radio transmitter was found there.

While the Nazi’s extolled the great destruction, the rest of the world started raising funds to rebuild the village and some cities renamed to include Lidice in their names. Movies, books, poems, and artwork were all created out of the response to the massacre and a new village was created overlooking the destroyed one. The two villages are connected by a street lined with trees. There have been various memorials added throughout the years, including the incredible children’s sculpture.

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Up until this point I have tried to give just the facts and the photo’s (similar to my post on Dachau Concentration Camp) as I believe those two items speak for themselves. But, the more I’ve been visiting these spots, the more I’ve been doing research into these spots, the more I’ve been learning, the more I’ve realized just HOW MUCH there was to World War 2 that we just don’t know or talk about, the more I don’t think I can keep my opinions out of these posts. My mind just goes racing with all these random thoughts, my heart breaks for the heaviness, the loss of life, and that’s not even mentioning what it feels like to walk through these spaces. Dachau Concentration Camp was incredibly difficult, Nuremberg Courthouse was incredibly difficult, Lidice was incredibly difficult. These are important, heartbreaking, impactful spots and I can’t even begin to articulate what visiting them feels like. Those are big feelings that don’t really have words.

What I will share are some of the things that just stick in my mind. That flabbergast me. That break my heart. That make me just stop. That make me go “WTF”. If you want to stick with the facts and such, I completely understand. If I ever insert these bits into a post, they will always be at the end, with some sort of warning ahead of time. Feel free to stop reading at that point, BUT please read up until that point. These are important places and important moments for all of us to learn about.

So…

The first bit I want to touch on is the wording that was used in the proclamation about making all those who were guilty pay in regard to the children. Here’s the specific wording:

Gather the children suitable for Germanisation, then place them in SS families in the Reich and bring the rest of the children up in other ways

“Bring the rest of the children up in other ways” is a very coded way of saying- execute them. This wording that is used just sticks in my mind. What a pretty way of conveying something so beyond horrific. I cannot get passed it. And that’s not even getting into the whole concept of them picking and choosing children who would live and die. I cannot even fathom, let alone discuss.

The second bit that I want to touch on is the lengths that they want to to ensure that everything and everyone was dead or gone. No survivors. To seek out those who weren’t even in the village at the time, who were away for whatever reason and kill them too…again, my mind can’t process that. All, except the one survivor who was in prison on something unrelated. They went to such lengths to prove some point? Again, not even getting into the fact that this was unverified intelligence. It’s just…

There is so much more I could touch on, the abortions, the separating moms and children, the murdering of the children, the digging up of bodies to loot, the killing of the animals, THE IDEA THAT AFTER EVERYTHING, THEY NEEDED TO JUST TRIPLE MAKE SURE IT WAS GONE SO THEY PLANTED CROPS OVER EVERYTHING AND RE ROUTED ROADS AND STREAMS. I mean, I keep saying my mind cannot process this, but it’s true…I cannot wrap my mind around this.

That was our stop in Lidice. Lidice was a place that I didn’t know much about going into World War 2 and it has definitely taught me a couple lessons.

Karlovy Vary – A Day Trip

IMG_1651This year we decided to go away for our Thanksgiving Weekend and do a trip to the Czech Republic. We stopped at a total of three locations and I’ll be doing a blog post on each location and a Recommendations/Tips post for Prague. With that little tidbit of business out of the way, let’s get into our first stop!

We spent Thanksgiving Day in a small little town called Karlovy Vary. Karlovy Vary is the most visited spa town in the Czech Republic containing 13 main springs and 300 smaller springs coming from the Teplá River. Charles IV founded the city in the late 1300’s and quickly shared high praises to the “healing powers” of the hot springs. This led to Karlovy Vary becoming incredibly popular and growing in size.

There isn’t a lot to the history of Karlovy Vary as it seems to have stayed out of all the major conflicts and just been a little escape area, so I’ll share some fun facts that I’ve learned…

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Karlovy Vary is home to two funiculars; the Imperial Funicular which is the oldest in Europe and one of the steepest in the Czech Republic and the funicular to Diana’s Tower.

Karlovy Vary is also quite popular in the film industry with several movies having been filmed there OR being the inspiration for backdrops/sets. They also host the Karlovy Vary Film Festival which is one of the oldest film festivals in the world and one of the more popular ones in Europe.

Karlovy Vary also boasts of some famous residents and visitors over the years. Apparently both Beethoven and Goethe visited frequently and would take walks along the colonnades and rivers. Fryderyk Chopin vacationed with his parents in Karlovy Vary (then Karlsbad). Princess Michael of Kent lived there for a time, as well as various sports and fashion persons.

Finally, Karlovy Vary was actually a mostly German Speaking, German populated city UNTIL 1945 when they expelled all the German Residents.

So, with the history bits out of the way, let’s talk about our visit and any tips that I have for YOUR visit.

To start with, we spent about 24 hours or so in Karlovy Vary and I think that that is probably about the perfect amount of time. You can “add it on” to a trip that you are already planning to the Czech Republic (granted it isn’t too far out of your way) and just spend a day or so wandering the streets and seeing the sights. We stayed the night at the Krasna Kralovna Hotel (Hotel Renaissance Krasna Kralovna), which is a very nice hotel right on Stará Louka. I would definitely recommend checking the hotels out on this street as you are right in the main town area and within walking distance to most of the sites.

After checking in, we started off just walking down the streets. The sites that you’ll want to see, including the various bath buildings, the river, and then the churches and statues, will be found just by walking around. We didn’t really have a plan of anything that we HAD TO see (save for one church and a memorial), but more just decided to walk around and see whatever came across our path. I honestly think this is the best approach to a town like Karlovy Vary. In Karlovy Vary specifically there are hiking/walking trails and the funicular, but again, you’ll find those by walking around the town.

The first “site we saw” was the famous Hot Spring. IMG_1674The Hot Spring was the first hot spring to be discovered around the 16th Century. The geyser of the Hot Spring is a natural phenomenon gushing to ~12 meters high and giving ~2,000 liters of mineral water in a minute. It was absolutely incredible to see, and it is almost completely continuous day and night.

We also got to see two churches while we were in Karlovy Vary, the first being the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. This is a catholic church originally dating back to the 14th Century. The current church on sight dates back to the 1730’s. The second church we got to see was the Orthodox Church of Saint Peter and Paul. This is an incredible Russian Orthodox church (modeled after a church near Moscow- very obviously) that dates back to the very {very} late 1800’s. This particular church was paid for by money contributed from the wealthy and aristocratic Serbian and Russian patrons.

We were able to stop at both the Mill and Market Colonnade’s. The Market Colonnade was originally a wooden colonnade and is in the location of the oldest baths in Karlovy Vary. The present-day Colonnade dates back to the late 1800’s and is the largest colonnade in the city. It seeps five of the mineral springs and is where we decided to test out the waters healing powers.

IMG_1728We purchased a little souvenir cup and decided to go for a cup from the Libuse Spring. This spring was discovered while they were rebuilding the colonnade in the 1800’s. I will say, I don’t know that the water is healing, but it pretty much just tastes like mineral water. It was a fun little bit and the souvenir cup leads to a good memory.

We took a little mid-day break for tea/coffee and cakes at Café Franz Joseph and enjoyed a little rest with some delicious treats.

We walked along the main streets a little more before heading up the hill a little way. We made an end of the day stop at the Jean De Carro Park. This spot gave a beautiful overlook of the city (although there are several spots to do this!). IMG_1773This park was founded in the late 1850’s and contains a little fun legend. There is a sculpture of a cat sitting atop a column in the lower portion of the park. Baron Lutzow used this cat sculpture to protest the location of another statue in a neighboring park. The cat is facing away from the town hall as a way of highlighting the “good for nothing” nature of the councilors work.

We stopped for dinner at a charming little restaurant called Restaurace U KŘÍŽOVNÍKŮ near the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. The food was delicious, and they had a good variety of Czech options to choose from.

And that was our day in Karlovy Vary! I think if I had to do ONE more thing, I would have done the funicular up to Diana’s Tower. This was one of the things that was on my maybe list, but I kind of figured we wouldn’t be able to get to it due to other circumstances. So, if I had to share something that I wanted to do and think you should do, it would be that. I would also recommend doing the hike on the far side of town as there are quite a bit of rotunda look out points to see the sheer beauty of the area.

We had a lot of fun on our little day trip to Karlovy Vary and I would say that if it fits into your itinerary, you should totally go! It’s a great little town to just wander through and take in the sights (and waters ha-ha)!

A Little Insight into Travel Weariness

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Traveling is one of the best ways to spend our time, not only do you get to see new places, but you are experiencing new things, seeing new cultures, seeing different ways of life. It is so great, and I completely understand how a big chunk of advice that people give/receive when talking about life is to travel as much as possible. It is in fact a piece of advice I give out now as well. There is just so much to the world and so much to learn, see, and experience.

However, there is another aspect to traveling that we don’t talk about it: the sheer exhaustion of it all.

There are a couple of reasons as to this, one of those being that we feel as though we can’t complain. We are in an extraordinary position of being able to travel, to be able to see the world. Not many people are able to from just the standpoint of cost, let alone getting time off work, dealing with children and school schedules, and much more. It can feel even worse to be in these great opportunities and not 100% loving or enjoying them. Another reason we may not talk about it is that we don’t want to remember those moments. Nobody wants to see/hear/remember the hard times.

But, as we know, life is not sunshine and rainbows ALL the time and while traveling can be a blast and eye opening, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows either.

So, travel weariness. Beth Sandland actually speaks about this in one of her blog posts, which you can find HERE, and she does a much better job than I do at articulating this. We all hit a point, no matter what kind of traveler we are, either while we are traveling, or shortly after getting home, where we just crash. We can’t go any further, we sleep longer hours, our bodies and minds needing all the rest they can possibly get. We find our energy to be at odds with what we want to accomplish, and we end up having a day or two of just catching up with ourselves.

This is a very real feeling. It’s something that happens to me usually after a couple of weekends away. I actually try to schedule our weekends away where we have at least a week or so in between a trip that is going to be more than one night. We can do back to back to back trips, but then we need a bit of a longer home time in between. We’ve found a way to make it work for us.

All this probably sounds a bit whiny, or a bit of “you shouldn’t complain” and maybe in a way it is. We are so incredibly blessed (as is anybody who is able to travel) and we don’t turn a blind eye to that. We wholeheartedly recognize the situation we are in and are trying to make the most of our time here. But, I also don’t want to shy away from sharing some of the harder bits either.

Traveling is exhausting. Traveling with two toddlers is even more so exhausting. It’s stressful. There are so many levels to that stress and exhaustion. Trying to balance family fun, with photos, with remembering everything, with making sure our kids are behaving. (I’m well aware of how this all sounds, but it’s really fun and it’s quite easy once you fall into what works for yourself/your family. I just want you to know that it is a lot).  There is a lot of planning and organization that goes into even just the long weekends away, let alone our longer holidays. But we love it. We love every minute of it. So, we put up with the exhaustion. On our longer holidays we try to keep a day of nothing, and when planning any trips, we try to book in a day after travel to catch up on home stuff before heading back into work.

So, there you have it. My look into Travel Weariness. Have you experienced it? Let me know in the comments below.

I Didn’t Give Germany A Chance

Untitled Design 7When we first started tossing around the idea of moving to Germany it felt surreal. The concept of actually living in Europe wasn’t something I could have wrapped my head around. I had been to England and Scotland when I was a baby, but Europe was this distant dream that I dreamed for a long time, but never really thought would be able to be a reality.

When we got orders, it still felt surreal. I couldn’t believe that this dream I had would be a reality. That we would be so blessed. The concept of being able to travel Europe, to go to all these countries was just too good to be true. Incredible. I thought of all the sights we could see, all the countries we would visit.

And I’ll be honest- I treated Germany as simply a location. A central spot that we could then travel out of. Not as a place to explore beyond a few historical landmarks. I knew about Germany, knew its history, it’s big cities, some of its culture (like Oktoberfest), and that was about it. I focused solely on EVERYWHERE else we could go, all the other things that we could see, all the dreams that would no longer be just dreams.

I now realize how much of a mistake this was.

Germany is stunning. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own spots ,it doesn’t have troubles, but I definitely should have thought more about everything that we could do within its borders, rather than just looking outside the country. There is so much to see here, so many little holes in the wall spots that no one really thinks about that are just stunning. A lot of the little towns are old world quaint and each has its own history. Take Tubingen (HERE) or even Weltenburg Abbey (HERE), we had considered these both a nice little day trip, but both are so perfectly European and German, and I loved it. This was something I hadn’t really thought about when we got orders. The history here goes back much further than I had even anticipated (yep, I’m naïve) and there is a never-ending number of things to do and places to see.

And, since we can’t ignore the elephant in the room…Germany has such a way with its own history. They have quite the history here, quite the troubled past, but they’ve managed to settle with it. One of the things that has stuck with me in our time here so far is how they handle their own history. They don’t hide behind it; they don’t bring it up time and time again. They acknowledge what happened, they acknowledge the hurt and pain that was caused, they punish those responsible. They take steps to make reparations, they don’t destroy everything relating to their own history, choosing to make the most incredible memorials that I’ve seen out of the pieces. The Berlin Wall Documentation Center, The Berlin Wall, The Eastside Gallery, Dachau Concentration Camps, Nuremberg Rally Grounds, Nuremberg Court House…the list goes on. All of these places are landmarks, marking down what happened for everyone to see. They’ve made changes, they’ve learned, anyone who visits these places learns. They move forward.

We can all take a lesson from that.

Not to mention just the sheer amount of history here. In a city right near us they are excavating bodies from Roman times and have a set of Roman archways from… It’s incredible to think that some of the places that we see have that much history.

We won’t even start to get into the culture of this country. Festival season is such a fun, warm and welcoming time, not to mention the season we are about to go into…the most wonderful time of year. The way of life, the idea of a slower pace. We live in the countryside (something we’ve been wanting for a long time) and the number of animals and crops that we see daily is something else. It’s been an incredible bit of time and one that we are looking forward to continuing for the next couple of years.

I’ve found a true home in a place that I hate to admit that I discounted. I figured it would be a home base for everywhere, but we’ve really made a home here in such a short time. I won’t discount a place again.

 

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 Close to Home Autumnal Weekend

We have had another one of those weekends recently where we’ve done a couple different things, each important, but not enough to warrant individual blog posts (although this one is probably pushing it). I figured I would once again, consolidate into one “long weekend” post. This is a bit longer than I would have liked, so grab a cuppa something good and snuggle in for a read.

The second weekend in October we got the chance to have a long weekend together. My husband had both Friday and Monday off of work (due to Columbus Day), but we didn’t really want to do a lot of traveling. Look, traveling is tiring and at some point you’ve got to take a little rest. I’ve mentioned this previously and have a full blog post coming up talking about it, but we decided that it was really in all of our best interests to stay close to home. We had actually originally planned a relaxing weekend, curling up at home, handling some things and just chilling.

Apparently the weather decided differently for us.

When Sunday morning hit and we were supposed to see 70 degree’s, sunshine, and not a cloud in site we made a last-minute decision to take a little trip to the Nuremberg Zoo. I’ve been wanting to go as the kids love the zoo and it’s an excellent learning opportunity for them. We also love seeing the wide variety of animals, as well as the workout that comes with walking an entire zoo with two toddlers who like to be carried off and on. We booked train tickets as that is a feasible option, a shorter train ride (about an hour for us) works best with the boys and no parking/navigation worries. The zoo itself is quite large (we saw everything there was to see and ended up walking about 6 miles), with a spacious layout. I do tend to worry sometimes about zoo’s, but I found the animals to be well cared for and have more than enough room/things to do. For the most part they were quite active, which pleased the boys to no end.

We did end up stopping for lunch within the zoo and found several things. I want to interject to say that this is the first time that we’ve eaten at a European Zoo (this is only the second we’ve been to; Berlin was the first) and I was incredibly impressed to say the least. Here’s the thing, you can order “normal” food. There isn’t pizza and hotdogs, we got Schnitzel Sandwiches and Chicken Cordon Blue. The food was served on proper plates and if you wanted to order a coffee or beer? Well you could and it would be served with the proper coffee cup and beer glass. Everywhere you could sit was clean and well maintained and people bussed their own tables when they were done. There wasn’t any trash overflowing, no massive gathering or anything. It was really refreshing and honestly, we would probably take a trip back to this zoo (it’s the closest to us) and spend another day here.

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Monday morning, we did the one thing that we had planned for all along, a river “cruise” down the Donau River to Weltenburg Abbey. This was something that we’ve been wanting to do for a while, but we’ve been waiting for the weather to cool and the leaves to turn before doing it. And boy, we picked the PERFECT time to do it. The leaves were at the height of the coloring, right before they all truly start to fall off and in this area there is just enough of the year-round green to make the reds/oranges/yellows to really pop.

So, a little history first. Weltenburg Abbey was founded in 600 by two monks and is the oldest monastic settlement in Bavaria. The church was originally built in the early 1700’s but went through a period of being disbanded. King Ludwig reestablished the monastery and the abbey has been in use sine 1913. One of the neat things about this Abbey is that it has a brewery as well, Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei. It is one of the oldest monastic breweries, citing 1050 as the opening/starting date. It’s Dunkel beer has won several awards for being the best in the world, and there is a restaurant right in the Abbey courtyard where you can eat and drink the local dishes.

We took the first available cruise time, 9:30 AM. This provided us not only a relatively empty boat (seriously the second boat ride we saw come through was packed), but it afforded us the chance to see the sun peak over the hills and see the river under the soft dawn light (even though it was hours after daybreak). It was absolutely gorgeous. There are several sights to see throughout the cruise, as they talk about the history of the area. This area has ties to Napoleon and his reign, including a story about his suitcase being left behind. There are also quite a few folk lore style tales about river witches turning pretty maidens to stone, and three rock brothers fighting, then falling into the river. It is so much fun to hear about all the folklore and tales of the region and we really enjoyed that aspect. Plus, the fact that the area is gorgeous and the trip down the river was a nice smooth 40-minute boat ride.

Once we arrived at the abbey we headed in to see the museum, which contains relics from the abbey as well as a little kid’s room with hands on activities. You do have to pay for both the cruise down to the abbey and entrance to the little museum. The museum is entirely in Germany, although the very nice greeter told us you can request the movie to be played in English and they will try to accommodate. From there we headed into the church, which was easily one of the most gorgeous churches we have ever been in. It was absolutely incredible, both in overall looks and the minute details. The whole region that encompasses the abbey is able to be converted into one big hike and is absolutely gorgeous. We simply chose to hike up the smaller hill and get an overarching view into the abbey.

Since the abbey is still an active church, you are able to see the church being used by the monks at their prayer times.

IMG_0983.jpgWe then settled in for a little bite to eat and a beer a piece. I went with a lighter beer and Robert chose the Dunkel. Both were delicious. It was a really pleasant atmosphere, sitting right in the courtyard, with the sun shining and the leaves gently blowing in the breeze. Shortly after lunch we took the ferry back to Kelheim. We had one more stop still to make on this beautiful Monday.

Our final stop of the weekend was to visit Liberation Hall.

Liberation Hall was commission by King Ludwig as part of a “group” of several monuments. This particular one was intended as a memorial to victory against Napoleon. It is quite the masterpiece. On the exterior are 18 statues that are supposed to represent the various tribes of Germany (the number is also significant due to the date of the victory). The statues on the inside are the goddesses of victory holding hands for a ceremonial dance. Similarly, to Walhalla, you are able to walk around the exterior free of charge, but there is a cost to get inside. Unlike Walhalla, there is much more to the interior than meets the eyes.

By going inside you are able to not only go through the floor gallery, but you are able to go to the second gallery (same level as the statues), climb to two different “look out” points (one just below the dome, and one just below that), and then see the second “level” gallery. It was incredible and the climb to the top was definitely worth it for these views.

And that was our “close to home” weekend. Each of these places were well within a quick travel day (an hour or less) and are just beautiful spots. We would definitely re visit all three of these spots and I’d like to explore Kelheim a little more. I hope you enjoyed our weekend and seeing the sites through our eyes.