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.

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.

Tübingen – A Day Trip

On our weekend away we had a free day in between the castle’s we had planned on seeing. We decided to spend this free Saturday in nearby (to where we were staying) Tübingen. Tübingen is a university town in Baden- Württemberg that is full of old-world charm. My favorite bits happen to be what it’s known for: cobblestone streets (full crooked, tight, bumpy cobblestone) and the traditional timber homes that line the streets.

Tübingen has a very long history (dating back to the 6thor 7thcentury), although the first time there is any official notice of the town involves the town’s castle: Hohentübingen (this is Germany after all – and everything involves castles). Tübingen formally became a city in the 1200’s and “shortly” after that (about 30 years) a monastery was established by the Pope. In the 1400’s the Collegiate church was built AND the Eberhard Karls University was founded. This particular university is one of the oldest universities in Central Europe. The university continues to make a name for itself as one of the biggest universities in Germany and the biggest source of income for the city’s residents. Tübingen has also been a spot for quite the political history being involved in The Thirty Years War, Kristallnacht during WW2, being a center of the German Student Movement, being a part of Protests of 1968, and having student ties to a terrorist group (The Rote Armee Fraktion).

A quick fun fact for you: Tübingen’s Altstadte is one of the few completely intact Altstadte’s in Germany. It was not destroyed during WW2, which allows a visitor to get a real glimpse into what the city would have looked like throughout the years.

We visited Tübingen on a grey rainy day, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We started out our day walking through the Market Square (Marktplatz). This market square also holds the Town Hall (Rathaus). The day that we went happened to be the day they were holding their Regional Market, so we got to sample a wide variety of goods, including a home made from scratch fresh pizza and Birnensecco ( a locally made pear prosecco). Both were delicious. We also got to peak around the stalls for local handcrafted goods including floral, produce, clothes/crochet/knitted goods, and different salami and cheese products. It was a fun little start to our day (and provided us lunch). This to me was just the European/German experience.

From the market square we wandered up to Hohentübingen to peak around the castle.

By best guesses the castle was originally marked in the 11thcentury, but was completely demolished and rebuilt in the 1500’s. In current day the castle holds the Museum Alte Kulturen, which was opened in 1997 to the public. There is also a section in the castle covering the advances that were made in the realm of sciences- this castle held one of the first biochemical lab worldwide, and talks about DNA. The rooms cover both modern-day sciences, as well as artifacts and the discoveries made at this particular location.

4FF8A7E4-9755-4D36-A77A-DF1F69F12EB0.JPGFrom the castle we wandered back down the street to stop once again at the market to pick up some food/drink and take a little break. Once refreshed (see above for what we ate) we headed over the St. George’s Collegiate Church (also referred to as Stiftskirche).

Dating back to the 15thCentury, this is one hell of a church. Fun fact: this church was one of the first to convert to Martin Luther’s Protestantism, although it still has several Roman Catholic features. We wandered through the main church, then paid a slight fee to head up the church tower. In this particular church, as long as the bells aren’t actively ringing, you are able to walk up the numerous stair steps to get an “eagle eye” view from the tower.

Not only is that an incredible view, but you get to see how the bells actually work from the bells themselves, the weights at the bottom, and the gears that make them ring. Looking at the bells it is actually incredible to think that a long time ago, people actually rang the bells themselves without the benefit of the gears.

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The view from the top really can’t be beat as you get a great 360 view of Tübingen and beyond. You can see the Marktplatz, the Altstadt, the river, the Schloss and so much more. It was worth the very slight fee to pay to be able to see the red roofs, the people milling about, walking along the cobblestone. We made it down the stairs just in time to hear the bells sing in the afternoon. They played beautifully and rang through the entire city.

Finally, we headed down to the Necker River. Crossing the bridge, you can get a view of the brightly colored historic homes and businesses, along with Holderlin’s Tower.

Holderlin’s Tower was the home to poet Frederich Holderlin and is a popular museum and destination. We took a little stroll on part of the Neckar Island (Neckarinsel). On the day that we went they were having their Rubber Duck Race (which we missed by about 30 minutes), so the little Island was packed with various exciting activities.

And with that final stroll our day in Tübingen came to an end! I think this little town might top my list of favorite towns in Germany so far. It is very close with Fussen (which I loved) and may edge it out of that top spot.

I hope you enjoyed seeing Tübingen though our eyes! Honestly, I hadn’t really heard too much about this town until we were in the area, but I feel like it should be on a travel list if you are wanting that German town experience.

 

Recommendations and Tips for – A Stay in Inverness

Well, we’ve come to the final recommendations and tips (and just overall final) post regarding our Summer Holiday. It’s been so much fun sharing “all of the things” with you and being able to relive some of our favorite spots. I left this one for last because Inverness just holds such a special place in my heart, in fact the entire Highlands does. It is so incredibly peaceful there and it just has a certain…way of life that really appeals to me. I definitely plan on going back one day. You can take a look at all of the things that we did while we were in Inverness HERE.

I’m actually going to start backwards and mention the one thing that we wished we could have done, visit the city of Inverness. By the time we got to this destination we were experiencing some travel fatigue, the boys were definitely exhausted, and we honestly just had a couple of light easy days. This meant that we missed out on a couple of things that we would normally have liked to do. I think if we had had one extra day or if we had started our Scotland time in Inverness it would have been a little different. So, the city of Inverness was one spot that we wished we could have gone. It’s always fun to see other cities and spots and experience the local charm of a place.

Recommendations:

Don’t stay in the city. Honestly, get out of the city and into the proper highlands. You can do this by jumping on AirBnB or looking up cottage sites in some of the smaller little towns. Not only is the area just gorgeous, but this gives you the option to actually experience the Highlands, it’s beauty and its people. We stayed at a place called Taffs Barn (which you can find on AirBnB HERE and we absolutely loved it. It was the perfect spot and if it fits your needs, I would recommend staying here. The owner is an England transplant and was so incredibly nice and welcoming to us.

Culloden Battlefield. This is such a big part of the Highlands and their history, so I would definitely recommend a stop. The exhibit is very well laid out, although you definitely are forced to pick a side and stick with it (as would the clans and people of the area when the rebellion was occurring) and it contains a lot of interesting history. Walking the battlefield is an eerie experience, but you can take a look at the stones laid out for the different clans that died at Culloden.

Loch Ness Visitor Center. I would also really highly recommend a stop here as well. There is so much more to Loch Ness than the superstition of a monster in its waters. I wasn’t aware of all the facts about the Loch and all of the different things that have actually happened there. The exhibit does a really good job of melding the mystery with the real-life events and has a really neat video exhibition as you walk the different rooms. There is no need to pre book tickets for this spot, just be prepared to potentially way depending on what time you get there.

Finally, Urquahart Castle. I’ll be blunt, I don’t know that this was really worth the entrance fee. It was really neat (you know how I feel about castles), and while I felt like the views were incredible, they were marred by the shear amount of people that come through. The views are almost better on the hike to get into the castle (pre parking lot and entrance) than at the actual castle itself. The castle has some history to it, but mostly just a couple different Lairds (Lords) and then they blew it up themselves. Also, parking is very limited, both up at the entrance and down where they re direct you to park. If you are going to go, make it early (earliest possible) and you may get lucky with light crowds and easy parking.

Tips:

I don’t have too many tips for Inverness that I haven’t said already for Edinburgh.

You’ll definitely want a car while you are in The Highlands as things are a little bit more laid out (aka it took us 30-40 minutes to get to Loch Ness from our AirBnB) and you’ll definitely want a rain jacket and slightly warmer clothing.

And that is it! That’s the end of our Summer Travels. I’m a bit bummed to have come to the end, but I’m also glad I got to share it all with you. What was your favorite stop? What will you be adding to your travel bucket list?

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019 – Bastogne, Luxembourg, and Heading Home

Once we finished our blissful few days in Inverness, it was time to make the trek back home to Germany. When we were planning our trip, we decided to split our return trip into three different days. This gave us a chance to somewhat take our time. It also made sense because we were coming back from the furthest part of our travel and we didn’t want to push too hard.

We spent our first night back from Inverness in Cambridge. This was the hardest day of travel as we were already pretty worn out from the 11 days of nonstop going and this was our “long haul” drive. I had a couple things picked out to look at in Cambridge if we had time, but we ended up getting to the hotel that evening and just crashing in our hotel room. We had a quick dinner at the hotel restaurant and all quickly fell asleep.

Our second day of travel on the way home was probably the most stressful. Our goal was to stop in Bastogne in the afternoon and we had specifically planned all of our times out for us to have a few hours to spend walking through the museum, seeing the town, and enjoying a little break from the car. HOWEVER, this did not end up being the case. We rose early to make it to our tunnel time at Dover, only to find out that one train had been canceled and the other trains had then been delayed about an hour to accommodate the overage from the cancelled train. We got a break from the car a bit earlier than we expected, and we spent time browsing the duty free shops, letting the boys go crazy in the kids area, and trying not to think about how much we were going to have to “book it” to get to Bastogne.

Somehow we made it to Bastogne with exactly 10 minutes to spare (last entrance was at 4:30PM, we pulled in at 4:20PM), so thankfully we were able to at least take a look at the Bastogne War Museum. I would highly recommend stopping in this museum. Not only does it have a lot of artifacts from the Battle of the Bulge, The Band of Brothers, and the Germans, but it also has some really interactive demonstrations.

There were three theatres placed throughout the museum that put you “right in the action”. Make sure that you get the audio guides from the entrance desk as that is your tour guide and be ready to devote at the very least an hour and a half to the museum. We also took a look around the memorial that is just outside and the art display right outside (I think that display changes throughout the year).

 

IMG_2870 2.jpgWe ended up getting to do a little drive through the actual town of Bastogne, including seeing an Umbrella Ceiling, which was really cool, before heading to our hotel in nearby Luxembourg. Belgium is a country that is still on our list to visit, and I definitely want to come back to Bastogne to have a little bit more time to look around.

 

 

 

We stayed the night in Luxembourg as a)it was on our route and b) we wanted to stop at the American Military Cemetery that is located in Luxembourg.

This is the cemetery that General Patton is buried in, along with several Band of Brothers and a single Female Nurse. With my husband being in the military and a major history/WW2 buff, he was determined to see the graves and cemetery while we were in the area. This also marked the last stop on our Summer Holiday.

To be honest, the three days of traveling home consisted of us being in a general state of exhaustion and desire to just be home. I think that that definitely played a role in what we did and did not end up doing, as well as the lack of “stuff” in this particular blog post. We definitely have learned that our travel limit is 10 days for this season of life and while we loved every minute of this holiday, we also learned a couple of things to implement on future trips.

So, there you have it…our Summer 2019 Holiday. Did you enjoy reading about our travels? Did you learn anything new or add any new destinations to your list of trips to take? What was your favorite part or destination? Let me know in the comments below!