A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Paris pt. 1

It is time for the second stop on our Summer Holiday, the much-anticipated Paris- city of love. I am going to divide our time in Paris up into two different posts (this has been determined after editing this together- it’s simply too much for one) and I am going to be splitting them by day for Paris (the rest should be fine simply by location). 

So, Paris, the city of Love. This was just a short few hours’ drive from Luxembourg City, so we looked around to see if there was anything on our route that we wanted to see. We had planned on 3 nights in Paris (giving us 2 full days, plus some, to see Paris). My husband managed to find a World War 1 battleground and memorial that he wanted to check out, so we decided to make a little lunchtime stop. 

Our first stop on this section of our holiday was Fort Douaumont. This fort is the largest and highest of the ring of positions that protected Verdun France. This particular fort has quite the history of capture and re capture in 1916 after being determined ineffective. The fort itself dates back to the late 19th century and a lot of the fort is actually tunnels and an underground network. During a tour you are able to walk through the hallways and listen to the history of the fort, how it was used by both the French and the Germans, as well as see some of the actual fire power that was used at that time. You can then walk above the fort and see the ramparts and exterior gun positions. 

While at Fort Douaumont, you are able to do a couple other things as well, such as walk the trenches and see one of the battle positions (which now serves as a memorial). You are also a very short drive (like a couple minutes max) from the Douauomont Ossuary, which is a war memorial from the Battle of Verdun in World War 1.

A rather large monument, legend says that it was designed to appear as a sword being shoved into the ground and you are able to climb the tower and see a panoramic view of the cemetery and grounds. The small windows on the exterior contain alcoves that hold skeletons of unidentified soldiers from both sides of the war. The cemetery is the largest of the first World War in France.  

We spent several hours in the area exploring and learning before hitting the road again and heading to Paris. We did not actually make it into the city until well into the evening, so we chose to simply check in and have an easy evening in the hotel unpacking and resting. 

We divided Paris up into two different sections, with an invisible line drawn somewhere in the vicinity of the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral. So, that first day was full of metro rides and “exterior” sight-seeing (Covid-19). While the second day was a more walking locations that were closer to each other. 

We started off at the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in the Montmartre area. This is the second most visited monument in Paris, a Roman Catholic church that stands at the summit of the highest point in the city. Built at the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th century with the beginning of perpetual adoration in August of 1885. It boasts a dome of 83.33 meters, a bell tower of 84 meters, and an annual visitor/pilgrimage of 11 million.

I have to say, this basilica was incredible, not just from an architectural exterior, but also its interior manages to take your breath away. Inside, there is a mosaic of Christ in Glory which is one of the largest in the world. It is truly amazing to see. We did climb the dome and were treated to an incredible view of the entire city. You are able to see everything, and it was a real treat to feel like an eagle at the top. 

From the Montmartre area we started to work our way back into the city hitting some of the hotspots that we wanted to see. I will make a note, we did not hit Moulin Rouge as it was closed due to Covid-19. We knew we were somewhat “short” on our time, so rather than hop the metro, just to hop the metro again, we decided to skim a few things. However, we did hit the Palais Garnier. 

The Palais Garnier or Opera Garnier is THE Paris Opera house (think like Phantom of the Opera). Seating just under 2000 it was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III in the late 19th century. This is one of the mast famous (if not the) Opera houses and has inspired so many other Opera Houses and buildings (including the Thomas Jefferson building at the Library of Congress!). Of the era it was the most expensive as well as a masterpiece of the time. Now, if I thought I cried/got emotional at the Globe Theatre in London, it was nothing compared to how I felt at the Opera house. The Palais Garnier is easily the most beautiful, incredible, ostentatious, singularly “French” thing I’ve ever seen. It’s just mind blowing. From the Grand Staircase of white marble and painted ceilings, to the auditorium and the bronze and crystal chandelier, to the Grand Foyer with its gold and yellow opulence, there is not a single place that doesn’t just amaze and leave one breathless. 

If those things weren’t enough, I wandered down a quiet corridor and came upon something even more incredible. The Paris Opera House is also home to the Bibliotheque-Musee de L’Opera de Paris, or the Paris Opera Library-Museum and oh my goodness, was it heaven to walk through the walls and walls of books. Of course, most of these items are archival items including books, music scores, autographed items, photographs, and other “paper” items (a total of 600,000 documents!). There is also a museum attached to this section that displays paintings, costumes, scenery and scale models of sets. It is incredible (and it was like a little quiet slice of heaven in heaven). 

From the Opera House we took a quick metro bus over to The Louvre Museum. Now, The Louvre was not in fact open, it was scheduled to re-open (post Covid-19) the Monday that we were leaving so we didn’t get a chance to go inside. Instead we were able to see the pyramid, and the square without the crowds of people, which was pretty cool anyways.

I won’t hark on about this stop too much as we weren’t really able to visit the museum, but I will say that the controversy that surrounded building the pyramid entrance is actually quite interesting. Those who were against it had varied arguments from aesthetic reasons to being against the President at the time (along with the more important of the history of the Pyramid itself- not this glass design). Regardless, it was commissioned, and it provides a striking entrance and separates the Louvre from being “just another museum in another ‘old’ building” (besides the fact that some of the famous pieces of artwork reside there). 

This stop also gave us another glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as well as a smaller version of the Arc de Triumph, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.  From there we decided to walk over the Notre Dame. I will say, obviously, we didn’t get to go inside. However, it was still important to me to see it as this is a historic moment for the cathedral. 

The Notre Dame de Paris is a cathedral dating back to construction in the 12th century. It has gone through quite the long and storied history, but has only been desecrated once in the 1790’s during the French Revolution. One of the early restorations projects occurred in the 1800’s shortly after the Hunchback of Notre Dame was published. It was cleaned of soot and grim from the world wars in the 1960’s and then again in the 1990’s. During the most recent restoration in 2019 the roof caught fire and burned for 15-16 hours causing major damage. The Notre Dame is the Archdiocese of Paris, has an honorary title of minor basilica, and is the most visited monument in Paris.

When we visited we could see not only where the destruction occurred, but you are also able to see quite a lot of the restoration/rebuilding part of it. It’s almost like watching a surgery in action as you can see inside a lot of the vaulting and wooden roofing. The fencing all around the Cathedral itself depicts the fire, the damage (both internal and external), plans for rebuilding and what the rebuild looks like. So, even though we weren’t able to go in and revel in the beauty, I still felt like it was incredible to see. 

After the cathedral, we walked across the river to go to Shakespeare and Company. If you are a book lover (and a traveler) you probably have heard of Shakespeare and Company in some form.

It is an English bookstore on the Left Bank of Paris, right across from the Notre Dame. Opened in 1951 its location originally was home to a monastery. In 1964 the owner, George Whitman changed the name to Shakespeare and Company (on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth) after another bookseller that he admired, Sylvia Beach- owner of the original Shakespeare and Company. Not only is the store and incredible independent bookstore (which you can shop online at HERE), but it is also a community. Tens of Thousands (the website quotes 30,000, but I’m sure it’s grown in size) of writers and artists have stayed in the shop and worked. Called Tumbleweeds, they are asked to do several simple things: read one book a day, help out in the shop, and write a one-page autobiography. These are collected and then placed in the shops’ archive. These days the shop has grown from its humble beginnings and hosts the Paris Literary Prize, a literary festival, as well as weekly literary events. It was a dream come true to walk through the store, admiring all of the books on the shelves (and buying a few of them…) and just take in the atmosphere. 

From Shakespeare and Company, we simply wandered the streets of Paris for a little bit longer. We were able to view the Place Sainte-Genevieve, The Pantheon, and the Eglise Sainte-Etienne-du-Mont.

Then it was off to dinner and back to the hotel to rest up for Day 2.  

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Luxembourg City

I’ll start our Summer Holiday posts by saying, our ultimate destination we had in mind with this trip was the Normandy Region of France. My husband is a massive War History person, with an emphasis on World War 2. He had his heart set on visiting the beaches, the cemetery, and a couple other spots and I was interested in seeing them to. As opposed to last summer, this year we decided to stop for multiple nights at each location (a minimum of 2 nights a place). Spreading out our trip a bit more made it much easier for us pace wise (one of my biggest complaints from last year was by the time that we arrived at our last destination, we were so worn out from the pace of the first chunk that while we enjoyed it, it was a different enjoyment). 

So, in keeping this in mind, our first stop on our Summer Holiday was Luxembourg City. Luxembourg is a smaller country bordering France, Germany, and Belgium. It was a good first stop to have as there wasn’t a lot, a lot to do, but it was somewhere that we wanted to see. We visited the capital, Luxembourg City, which also happens to be one of the European Union Capitals. Luxembourg itself has quite a long, hard fought history that has formed it into the independent country it is today. The city of Luxembourg is actually listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site and on the whole, we spent a lovely time there. 

We arrived in the afternoon on Wednesday and checked in to our hotel. We stayed at an Ibis outside of the center of town (actually at the airport), but public transportation was very easy and there was a bus stop right at the hotel. The hotel itself was nice and clean and had plenty of modern amenities. The boys loved staying in the bunk beds and it’s a chain that I wouldn’t mind staying in again (and we did later in the trip).

After getting settled we headed out to start wandering around. We didn’t have any major plans for that first night as we wanted to do the city offered “Wenzel Circular Tour” which would be a full day long event. So, instead of doing much planning, we hopped on a bus and just headed for an overlook. 

Our first “view” of Luxembourg City was Le Chemin de la Corniche, one of the “most beautiful” balconies in Europe (claimed by a Luxembourg writer- so maybe a little bias? Ha-ha).

Between the overlook and the walk leading up to it, you can get a fairly good look at Luxembourg City and its history (you can see the Grund and the Casemates). This spot was built by both the French and the Spanish in the 17th century and, once the fortress was dismantled, was levelled off. I will say- it was a beautiful look out point and it was really nice to see the river cut between the houses and roads.  

We headed away from the balcony as a good amount of the spots over there we were planning on seeing the next day, and headed into the old town area of the city. We made a quick stop into Saint Michael Church.

This is the oldest church in Luxembourg and its location has been mentioned back to the 10th century. This particular church area has, similar to the city itself, had quite a turbulent history with the current standing church dating to the 17th century. You can see from the interior that the church itself is on the smaller side (in comparison to other churches and cathedrals), but still grand and incredible in its own way. You are also able to see areas that showed some of the previous structures that have been destroyed and rebuilt. From the church we wandered towards the main square and towards some dinner. We ate dinner at a restaurant called La Boucherie (Colton’s pick because they had a cow statue…) where we dined on meats and beers. 

After dinner we decided to walk over to the Adolphe Bridge.

One of the more well-known bridges in Luxembourg this is a double deck arch bridge (with the lower suspension bridge opening in 2018 for pedestrian and bike traffic). Originally built in the early (very early) 1900’s this bridge is known to the people as the New Bridge and has stood as a symbol of Luxembourg independence. The lower deck has become a large tourist attraction and we decided to take our chance and walk across (this was before I realized that it was basically just another lower road, rather than any form of “scarier” bridge). It did provide a unique view of some of the lower walkways and was a fun experience. 

Our full day in Luxembourg City was the day that we had planned to see it all. Luxembourg City Tourism offers a free, self-paced and guided walking tour called the Wenzel Circular Walk. It covers the history as well as the modern touches to give you a full picture. It also takes you through some of the nature walks. We knew that Luxembourg City wasn’t big, and we figured this was our best way to “see it all” (as tourist offices tend to be good places to start in these cases). You can start at the tourism office by picking up your guide pamphlet, which is also offered in a kid’s version with activities, and head out on your way. 

***A Quick Interjection here- if you don’t check my Tips & Tricks post coming on Wednesday (which will have A LOT more details about this walking tour and my full thoughts on how best to see the city) I would recommend stopping at the tourist office, but also making sure that you have downloaded into your phone the pamphlet from the website. The tourist office gave out a City Promenade guide, which will guide you to most of the same sites, but the signs and guide can conflict with each other, so having both options is better. The two pamphlets have different stopping points (mostly because I think they are actually different) and they cover different spots.  We ended up following signs at some of the points and putting the pamphlet aside- especially around the casemates area.***

I’m not going to go through every single stop on the tour, but will give a general overview and highlights of some of the big ones. The tour starts in William Square (which is kind of tucked almost “above”/”parallel” the new square that holds more restaurants and other spots) and covers the town hall, statues, and the Grand Ducal Palace. From there we walked through to the Cercle Cite and the other squares, and then over to the Bibliotheque Nationale (The National Library- we found two libraries by happenstance in Luxembourg City) and the Cathedral to the Blessed Virgin. 

Also known as the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Luxembourg this is the largest church (and only Cathedral in the country) in Luxembourg. Dating back to the early 17th century, this was originally a Jesuit church that was then consecrated and elevated to a cathedral in the late 1800’s. Something interesting I learned was that this cathedral had a fire as well (thinking along the lines of Notre Dame in Paris). In the 1980’s (on Good Friday actually) there was a fire in the towers that destroyed the church bells, the west tower collapsed, and the roof was partly damaged. This cathedral was incredible with all of the artwork and stained glass, it was just a special place. 

From the cathedral we stopped at a couple more monuments, but mostly made our way over to the Bock Promontory and Casemates.

At the Promontory you are able to see several things, the original, uncovered foundation walls of the very first stronghold, the original castle bridge,  and the Bock Casemates right below the street. These are the longest casemates of the world and are able to be walked through during certain times of year (unfortunately not for us due to Covid-19). However, we were still able to walk along the wall, the defenses, see the holes in the wall where canons would go, and much more. 

***This is where we started following the signs for Wenzel Walk, as opposed to the City Promenade map that we were given at the Tourist Office. The signs are placed at various spots that allow you to get the most out of the “lower” portion of Luxembourg City.***

Heading downwards, we walked through the Grund Gate and along the wall of the Promontory towards the Wenzel Wall.

We crossed the water at the Stierchen, which was really cool, then walked down the stairs and along the water. This was probably my favorite part of our entire day as it was basically (at this point) a nature walk. It was beautiful. If you would like, you are able to walk through “Neimenster”, which is now just a social cultural center, but has quite the history as an abbey, a prison, and a military hospital. We chose to head up the stairs to see some more of the tower and lookout points from the original fortifications. 

The signs then gently nudge and directly back around towards Adolphe Bridge through a series of walled pathways (original fortifications) before dropping you at the base of the Bridge. 

And that pretty much concluded both our walking tour of Luxembourg City. It also concluded our time in Luxembourg as we ate some dinner, headed back to the hotel to get ready to leave early the next day. Which concludes this first post of our Summer Holiday.  

All the Castles – Germany Edition!

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

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

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

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

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

Hohenschwangau Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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

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

Neuschwanstein Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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

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

Hohenzollern Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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

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

Lichtenstein Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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

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

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

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

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

Burg Eltz

Heidelberg Castle

Schwerin Castle

Cochem Imperial Castle

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

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

Two of My Favorite Places

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

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

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

The Highlands, Scotland (INVERNESS, EDINBURGH)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Rome The Final Days

And so, we come to our final “what we did” post of our Winter Holiday. Our trip was jam packed from start to finish, although there was a definite difference to the second half of our trip. Vatican City was a nice way to “break up” the week we were there as that trip was about halfway through. We’d covered most of the Tourist Spots in our first few days in Rome (read that HERE), we covered Vatican City at that halfway mark (you can read that HERE), then Ancient Rome (one of my absolute FAVORITES read HERE)and now all we had left was New Year’s Day and then some.

So, a quick brief breakdown, Day 1 was spent at Castel Sant’Angelo, checking into our Bed & Breakfast, The Spanish Steps and The Trevi Fountain. Day 2 was spent at Piazza Navona, The Pantheon, and Piazza del Popolo. Day 3 was spent at Santa Maria in Aracoeli, The Alter of the Fatherland, and Quirinale Palace. Each day also consisted of a lot of just walking the streets of Rome- you see so much more by just walking around and you get such a great feel of the place. Day 4 was spent at Vatican City walking the halls of Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Day 5 was spent going back in time to Ancient Rome and discovering what life was like in a vastly different era. So, that brings us to New Year’s Day and Day 6 of our trip…

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday - The Final Days

Day 6: New Year’s Day

Oh, New Years in Europe. New Years in Europe is like nothing I’ve experienced before. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that big of a New Years party goer, but saw the Times Square parties on TV and have heard enough to stories to have what I think is a good idea and I can tell you… the United States doesn’t have much on Europe. And most of the celebrations continue through to the next day. The streets on New Year’s Day are full of celebration, most places are closed, and the atmosphere just feels fun!

We started off the New Year with a breakfast at The Loft, where we had previously eaten. Ate some delicious food, drank some delicious coffee, and then headed out to a very exciting event. We were able to attend the Pope’s New Years Day Prayer. IMG_5054Now, the prayer is actually the Angelus and he will also give a reflection on the Gospel of the day, and on the day that we were there, some additional commentary. Here’s a secret, you can go to this most Sunday’s at noon and participate in this very special moment. I have included a link to the commentary that he gave on New Year’s Day (HERE), and you can view his “schedule” HERE to check if he will be doing the prayer while you are there (if this is something you are interested in). The entire prayer and comments lasts about 15-20 minutes and he speaks into a microphone from the window to the right of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was an incredible moment, so moving and you could feel everyone around you just being swept away by his words and his speaking. It’s something to be experienced, whether you are religious or not.

After the address we decided to further our religious experiences and head over to the Great Synagogue of Rome.

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This Jewish Quarter is one of the oldest, most intact in the world and the Roman Synagogue and Museum reflect both the community and the history. There has been a Jewish presence in Rome since at least the 2nd Century B.C and the museum, located in the basement of the synagogue, displays the history of the community, several artifacts through the history, and is a wealth of information about the traditions and rights of passage of the religion. For me personally, having grown up in a Jewish family, I found it really welcoming and heartwarming to see so much of what I know in such a positive, beautiful light. It was neat to learn some facts about the history of the Jews in Rome and how they were saved during World War 2. Before we get into that, first you need to know that Rome is the ONLY city in Europe to never expel it’s Jews. Did it try to convert them? Yes, there was even a Jewish Ghetto in the 16th century, but it never expelled them (and the Ghetto was abolished in the 19th century- the last in Europe to do so). When the Germans occupied Rome in 1943 the Jewish Community was told it could be saved by giving 50kg of gold. The was given to the Germans and included contributions by non-Jews as well, but the agreement never ended up being upheld. About 2000 Jews were still sent to concentration camps.

Admission to the Museum includes admission and a short tour of the Synagogue.

The Synagogue itself is incredible, dating back to the 19th century and  featuring several different styles which you can see simply by looking from the ground up to the ceiling. You can see the various cultural and design elements (including Spanish, Egyptian, & Roman) and it feels like a good representation of what the community is now. After all, it is an eclectic meld of a wide variety of people from all around Europe. It also features a square aluminum dome which causes it to stand out amongst the other dome’s and, as such, is easily identifiable.  The Synagogue has been visited by 3 different Pope’s, the first of which being a surprise visit in the 1980’s (and marked the first visit since the early history of the Catholic Church).

Finally, we spent our first night of 2020 watching the Sunset over the Roman Forum.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it for a really long time, Roman Sunsets are incredible. I’ve always just really been a Sunrise fan, but this trip in particular reminded me just how beautiful a sunset can be.

Day 7:

Our final day in Rome was one that we weren’t really sure what to do with. We had almost the entire day to explore and weren’t quite sure what else to really do. Most of our “big ticket” items that we wanted to see we had seen, so we decided to just jump on the subway, pick a random spot and explore from there. Lucky for us the “stars aligned” and we wound up at Villa Borghese Gardens.

Listed as the third largest public park in the city, it’s a little haven of beauty in the city. Dating back to the early 17th century, when Cardinal Borghese decided to turn his vineyard into an extensive set of gardens. Within the gardens there is The Temple of Aesculapius, which has a beautiful lake around it and a Piazza that has been turned into a dog park, but was previously used as an equestrian track. There is also the famous Galleria Borghese (that you need to purchase tickets in advance to see) and its garden, the Villa Medici, which now houses a French Academy, a replica of the Globe Theatre, and a Zoo.

We wandered through the Gardens, which was a really nice little nature break, saw the Water Clock and Temple, stopped by the Borghese Gallery, and then headed to the Zoo. This is the Exposition Zoo, which features minimal caging and contains a little museum. I was really surprised by this zoo, the number of animals it contained, and how well cared for they were. Some of the things that I am normally concerned with in terms of zoo’s, were handled well at this particular one. The boys really enjoyed their time there, noting the Elephant, Snakes, and Crocodile as their best and worst animals (the crocodile because it was “scary”).

These couple spots seemed to be the perfect way to end our trip, which worked out well because shortly after our Zoo visit we headed to the train station and made our way back home.

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The entire trip still feels so incredibly surreal and one that I really loved. In my first post, I talked about how we handled this holiday a little bit differently than our Summer one and I can definitely see the benefits to both ways of traveling (the go, go, go vs. take it easy and truly vacationing). We just had such a lovely time and, yet again, a dream trip come true.

I hope that you enjoyed coming along with us! I hope I’ve done it just a little bit of justice for you.

Dresden – An Overnight Trip

The weekend before Christmas we spent a very magical 24 hours in Dresden exploring Christmas Markets and landmarks alike. You can see my post on the Christmas Markets HERE, but today I am going to talk about some of the sights and my favorites about Dresden.

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Dresden is the state capital of Saxony and it is the 12th most populated city in Germany, the second largest city on the River Elbe. The city itself is relatively “recent” in comparison to the history of Germany, dating to around the 12th century. It has served as the seat of the state since it’s settlement and has also always been a center of culture, education, and politics in Germany. The most incredible thing about Dresden is that the entire city center was destroyed, along with 25,000 people killed, during the bombing of the city by Americans and British towards the end of World War 2. Certain parts of the inner city were completely reconstructed after the war including the Zwinger (the royal castle/palace).

I will be completely honest- a lot of my time in Dresden was taken up by either Christmas Markets or in awe of the architecture and landscape of the city itself. I’m looking back through my pictures and thinking “oh I loved that spot” and “that was pretty cool”, but not remember a lot of the details about the trip itself. Partially my fault for waiting this long to actually write this post (it’s now after New Year’s), but also Dresden was the second city that I really just let my “amateur photographer” heart fly free. I just took pictures (so many pictures) and wandered around. There wasn’t a lot of “specifics” to our trip. So, forgive me if this post is a little vague or different from previous posts. I’m still figuring out how to merge a couple different passions to put together the best posts that I can for you.

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So, since this post has already derailed into something very different than I anticipated, I’m just going to continue that trend…

While in Dresden we went square hopping pretty much. Each square has a “focal point” of sorts, whether it’s a palace, a statue, or a church. Each square also had a Christmas market, so we would start at the Christmas Market and then walk in to whatever the nearby attractions are. In our minds we had two or three “must see’s” on our list, but otherwise we just wandered around.

IMG_3137The first square is the main square and right off the main square is the Church of the Cross. This is actually the main church and the seat of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Saxony. It is also the largest church building in the state. The church itself has been through quite the history, but its current state retains the look of the church post Dresden bombing. It was decided to keep it in that state, rather than refurbish it to prewar designs.

 

 

Speaking of churches, we also went to The Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony (also known as Dresden Cathedral/Katholische Hofkirche) and the Church of Our Lady (also known as Frauenkirche).

These were both absolutely incredible churches in full painted and designed glory. An interesting fact about Dresden (back in the day)- at the time the rulers were Catholic, BUT most of the residents were actually protestant. The Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony is one of the foremost landmarks of Dresden. In fact, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen a picture of it, it’s incredible. The original church actually had a private high-level walkway from the Dresden Castle to the church for the rulers and other high-ranking officials to use. Of course, like much of Dresden, the bombing heavily damaged the church and it was fully restored following the reunification (including the private walkway between the castle and the church). The church does not only hold mass and services, but also (like many of the churches in Dresden) concerts throughout the year. In a slightly different tone, the Church of Our Lady was left in ruins after the bombing of Dresden to serve as a war memorial (for 50 years!). Originally built as a way for Dresden citizens to assert their will (by remaining protestant in the 18th century), the church was not rebuilt until the 1990’s-the early 2000’s.

Something that we had on our list and did see was the Procession of Princes or Furstenzung.

This is a 101-meter-long mural that shows the ruling family as a procession of various riders. It shows the Wettins’ family lineage through the years. Originally painted in the 19th century, it was replaced by porcelain tiles in the early (early- very early) 20th century due to the elements fading the paint. It is now known as the largest porcelain artwork in the world and is absolutely incredible to stand in front of. The members of the family are accompanied by various other “common folk”, scientists, children, and such.

We also managed to make a stop at The Zwinger, which was on our list.

The Zwinger has a long history, but I’ll be completely honest- I don’t quite understand it. So, I’m not going to try and talk about the things that I don’t know about it (as that would be wrong), but my basic understanding was that Augustus the Strong (who was recently made King of Poland and Elector of Saxony) wanted to have something similar to Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles. It ended up getting changed around several times, halted, and finally completed at a much smaller scale. It was destroyed during the bombing, but was fairly quickly rebuilt (in the grand scheme of the other buildings listing within this post). You can walk the main garden levels, and then up higher in the ramparts. Within the buildings are museums containing artwork, porcelain, and jewelry.

Recommendations:

Honestly I would recommend just walking around Dresden.

Obviously going to the Zwinger, the museums, the Procession of Princes are all great places to start, but really I would recommend just walking around the city. The city (as many in Europe) is divided between “Old Town” and “New Town” by the river and it’s really neat to see both sides. By walking around you’ll see most of everything the city has to offer and then some. I would recommend separating your time by Old Town and New Town (whether you’re doing an overnight or day trip). If you are only going for a single day, I would stay with Old Town.

As for Parking, there are several parking lots within the city, both indoor and outdoor, with reasonable pricing. I would honestly go a bit further to go to one of the outdoor lots as people often times won’t go a little bit further, so there is a higher chance of them having open spots. Once you find a spot, I would just stick with it (some lots have the 24hr tickets) unless where you are staying is across town or you have a large amount of luggage. There is a large Galleria/Mall parking garage, however this is one of the first places that will fill up during the busy/Christmas season, so keep that in mind.

Depending on your travel plans (where you’re coming from, where you’re going, what you want to do), I don’t think that you realistically need more than the 24 hours to really get a good idea of the city. I felt like we got to see everything we wanted to and then some during our time there. You can definitely make it a longer trip, but I didn’t feel like it was super necessary to do so.

Overall we had a lot of fun on our little overnight get away and I really loved Dresden. It has elements similar to Prague, so if you loved Prague, you will probably love Dresden.

 

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.

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.

Schloss Lichtenstein – A Day Trip

The final castle we went to to round out our weekend away was Schloss Lichtenstein. One of the more popular and breathtaking castles, this one did not disappoint in any way. We even had the perfect weather to set the scene- fog all through the valley, swirling amongst the rockface where the castle comes out. Talk about perfection!

The original site (premodern day castle) dates back to 1100, although the structure that exists now does not hold much in common with the house that existed back then. Originally owned by ministerial it has passed many hands, although the one thing they all have in common is that the castle was frequently under attack. In the early early 1800’s (think 1802), after being in disrepair, the castle was dismantled, and a hunting lodge was erected in its place. This then fell into disrepair as well. Eventually the Duke Wilhelm von Urach purchased the estate and decided to turn it into a medieval castle that he could live in. He was very much inspired by the book Lichtenstein (Wilhelm Hauff- I now kind of want to read it out of curiosity) and the castle was able to be lived in in 1842 (with it becoming the official residence in 1869). This particular sustained damage during World War 2, of which you can see while on a tour inside, but this damage was repaired immediately after the war concluded. It is still currently in use as a part time/temporary residence.

Lichtenstein is one of the more popular castles’ in Germany due to its incredibly dramatic location. Set on the top of a rocky embankment looking precariously balanced, it gives any visitor a breathtaking look.

You have two options when visiting Lichtenstein, just walk the castle grounds or get a full tour of the interior. Each has a cost (although a difference of about 6 Euro) and honestly, if you’re already at the grounds, you might as well head inside too. The tour is given entirely in German, although they do give a pamphlet that has the English Translation and you see a fair amount of rooms that depict both the Hunting Lodge AND the actual castle life. There is still one spot where you can see the damage that was done during WW2, a bullet hole in a shattered mirror and that was pretty cool to see as most castles have either been repaired or were not affected during the war.

I think this was the perfect castle to round out our trip as it isn’t a super long tour or visit, but is still an incredible stop. I would definitely say you should go and visit Lichtenstein Castle, but know that it isn’t as big or as grandiose as some of the other castles you will see in Germany.