2020 – A Year in Review

2020. What a year. Where do I even begin?

We all know the big moments of 2020. The Pandemic. The Murders, Uprise, and Unrest (I really hate calling it that though- this is simple human rights). The Election. The unprecedented highs and lows that this year has brought have been like we haven’t seen. And, I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of tired of talking about them. I feel like so much of our lives this year have been focused so heavily on these few moments, which while are drastic and life altering, are not the entire story of our year. They have shaped the year, shaped our experiences, shaped how we cope and handle things, but there are also a million other smaller moments that are overlooked as well. So, I’m going to focus on those little moments. Sure, I’ll cover the things that I have learned about myself, the things that have been shaped by those bigger things, but there not the sole focus of this post. 

Gosh, so a year in review…

Well, our year started by getting blessed by the Pope at St. Peter’s square and then visiting the Great Roman Synagogue. A good start, no? We started our year off in Rome, which was a place that I hadn’t expected to fall in love with as much as I did (you can read my blog posts HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE). If there is one place in our travels that I would say, “I thought I would love it, but I didn’t know how much I would love it”, Rome and Italy would be one of those places. The other? Switzerland. BUT, when it comes to Switzerland, I think that could be said for anyone. More on that in a minute. However, Rome wasn’t our only destination in the year 2020. We managed to squeeze in several trips this year due to a lessening of restrictions and safe traveling. We managed to hit a total of 5  additional countries, France (PARIS 1, PARIS 2, MONT SAINT MICHEL, NORMANDY), Luxembourg (HERE), Belgium (BRUSSELS), Switzerland (INTERLAKEN/LAUTERBRUNNEN), and Poland (KRAKOW, AUSCHWITZ). With Switzerland topping all of the lists. There really are no words on the beauty of that area of the world. It is beyond worth the trip and I think everyone should experience it. 

Our year abruptly changed/came to a halt when we got the surprising news that we would be moving back to the United States quite a bit sooner than expected…a whole year sooner! We initially got the news about mid-summer, then finalized the information late Autumn, and determined that our next spot would be in New York. I talked about it briefly in my announcement post (HERE) and I’m sure I will be talking about it once again here soon as our move date approaches. I’m still fairly heartbroken about moving back, but I am trying to stay positive and see the positives (because there are some positives to this).

Once again, our boys have grown…A LOT. I think this year, more than ever, I have keenly felt the passage of time and what things look like with these two proper, independent kids. Colton started preschool (and then promptly stopped…only to start up again virtually and then finally start the new school year in school…only to go back to virtual right before Christmas break hahaha). When I say he is a completely different child from last year, I mean he is a completely different child. His progress reports have shown drastic improvement as he surpasses the goals initially set out. He’s quite the little boy. Andrew has changed quite a bit too…gone is my little angelic little boy who would occasionally get a super serious contemplative expression. He’s been replaced with a temperamental 3-year-old that loves to exploit the rules and then give you a winning sly grin to get out of trouble. He keeps me on my toes between the troublemaker antics and the never-ending stomach room ha-ha. Together they either love or hate and they definitely make life interesting. 

But, watching how much they’ve changed, how much they’ve grown, has been bittersweet. As any parent will tell you, there is a certain sadness when your children start to grow. This year has definitely brought a level of independence for our boys (they can do SO MUCH MORE without us needing to help), which in so many ways has been nice, it has me savoring the moments where they want to snuggle up on the couch or need mommy to kiss something better. 

This year hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies and rainbows. There have been low points as well. We’ve faced a global pandemic that had us here in Germany stuck in our homes. At the height of Spring, we were not allowed to leave our homes save for grocery shopping (and this was JUST groceries, any stores that sold both groceries and home goods, you could only purchase groceries), doctors’ appointments, exercise (to be done by yourself), and for essential work. No seeing friends, seeing family, popping to wander through the aisles of a store, we were all stuck at home. While this had positives, there were also negatives. This was also a time when I learned a…not so pleasant tidbit about myself (which then led to one of my lows of the year).

I love my family. I’ve loved having extra time with my husband, for us all to be together and really soak up the extra minutes we get together. BUT I don’t like noise. I don’t like constant, loud, noise. I.E. The noise that comes when your entire rambunctious family is home with loads of energy and nothing really to do to kill off that energy (sometimes even our long walks did nothing to curb it). The kind of noise that you can’t really escape from, that only ends when everyone goes to bed and you are left alone, exhausted and trying to savor the quiet while also wanting to sleep. The kind of noise that just wears on you, day after day after day. The kind of noise that, as an introvert, I HAVE to break away from just to recharge. So, that was fun to learn…NOT. I spent quite a bit of quarantine trying to figure out how to adjust my own expectations and needs with what the situation presented, so that I could be the positive, more even keeled person. It was a time and while I don’t have the entire thing figured out (I’m mostly still dragging little moments out until I can get to the next one), I do feel a bit better than I did at the beginning. 

Another low point was the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so, so many others that all deserved to have their names spoken over and over and over again. Not to mention justice. This summer was eye opening in so many ways on a civil level and one that I am making sure I continue to learn and educate myself as we move away from the initial “push” of the unrest. There was also an alarming amount of anti-Semitism that popped up in 2020 as well, which is…scary. To be honest, the sheer level of hatred in our country, in our world, is scary. 

In all honesty, I am glad to wave 2020 farewell. It’s been a year of highs and lows and draining. While I don’t think we are going to wake up in 2021 and everything will magically be good, I am kind of looking forward to a new year. To another fresh start. 

Krakow, Poland – A Long Weekend

I’ve spoken about our visit to Auschwitz (HERE), but we spent a good amount of that weekend checking out Krakow, Poland. A sprawling city development that still has the European Charm that we’ve come to expect (castle, legends, cobblestones), we found our time in Krakow (a total of 36 hours tops) to be the perfect amount of time to see what we wanted. Krakow is the second largest city in Poland and, dating back to the 7th century, one of the oldest in the country. In fact, Krakow’s Old Town was declared the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The city began with a small settlement on Wawel Hill. Legend says that Krakus built the settlement above a cave that was home to a dragon, Smok Wawelski. During the 10th century is when Krakow saw it’s first significant growth. The castle was constructed, churches and a basilica, as well as a flourishing trade center. That first city was then sacked and burned (by the Mongolians), however rebuilt identically in the following years. During the 14th century the city started to head into a Golden Age, with the construction of a university. That Golden Age continued through the 15th and 16th centuries. This was when the Jewish Quarter was created, and the Old Synagogue was built. Things came to an end though in 1572 when the last ruler, King Sigismund II passed without any children. His death was followed by many many changes in leadership as various other countries ruled. Finally, an outbreak of Bubonic Plague and a Swedish Invasion spelled the end of their Golden Age and the end of the ruling houses residence in Krakow. Things didn’t really get any better in Krakow as it continued to almost bounce between various countries rule until 1866 when Krakow started to see a degree of political freedom and, once again, became a national symbol of Poland. 

When Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany, Krakow became the capital of the German General Government. They saw Krakow as a vision of Krakow becoming completely “Germanized”. Krakow had a very large communities of Jews living in its city at this point (statistics say over 5% of the entire population of the Krakow District was Jewish). Prior to the invasion and subsequent creation of the Ghetto (and then camps) the Jews were encouraged to flee the city. Things started to go sour shortly after the invasion with the creation of the “Judenrate” or Jewish Councils. These were run by Jewish citizens for the express purpose of carrying out Nazi orders, such as tax collection, forced labor, and citizen registration. Around 4 months later the Jewish Ghetto was created in the Podgorze District. The ghetto was only in existence for 2 years, with residents really only living there for 15 months (the majority of deportations were completed by June 1942- though the final Krakow Jew deportations were until September 1943-, after the ghetto initially being “designated” in March 1941). Many people know the story of Oskar Schindler, his enamel factory, and his work to save as many as he could.     

Aside from the destruction of the German occupation and the immeasurable loss of life, Krakow remained undamaged as a whole throughout the second world war. Once the war ended the city was turned from a university to industrial with the new government. 

One final note, the Pope John Paul II was Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow. He was elevated to papacy in 1978 and was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. The same year of his election, Krakow was officially approved on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

So, we actually started our trip in the early evening with a dinner in the main Old Town Square. We were able to watch the sunset on the Town Hall Tower as well as see the what the city is like in the evening. We stayed just outside of the Old Town (we actually walked our entire time in the city- no public transport, that’s how close we were to most everything).

 

Our only full day in the city we started off at Wawel’s Castle and Wawel Hill. The castle was commissioned by King Casimir III the Great, but the current castle dates back to the 14th century. I’ve already touched on the legend of the Wawel Dragon, but it’s important to note just how deep that legend runs. Legend says that the dragon terrorized residents before being slayed by Krakus, a polish prince who then went on to found the city of Krakow and built the first royal residence on the hill above the dragon’s lair. These days, if you walk by the river you will see a metal statue of the dragon that is situated in front of the “den” and it shoots fire from time to time. The castle complex as it stands today consists of galleries, collections, and gardens. You are able to pick and choose which exhibitions you would like to visit on the castle grounds, as well as the option to visit the Cathedral once on the property. We chose the Private Apartments, Royal Chambers, the gardens, and then a walk into the Cathedral. 

I think one of the coolest bits on the interior was what was known as “Wawel’s Heads”. I don’t have any pictures (as pictures inside the castle were not allowed). In the throne room if you looked up at the ceiling there were a series of Heads that were carved out of the ceiling. In its height, there were a total of 194 heads looking down from the ceiling, overlooking the Polish King as he conducted business. Now there are only about 30 of the original heads left hanging. They depicted citizens from every walk of life that lived in the 16th century. There aren’t any true explanations as to why this was done, or how the people were selected, but it was a really interesting decoration to see. 

The final stop at the Castle is to stop in and see the Cathedral. The Cathedral is formally known as the Royal Arch cathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill. This Roman Catholic church and cathedral is the home of the Archdiocese of Krakow and serves as the coronation site of the monarchy. The current standing cathedral is the third to have been built after the first (11th century) and second (12thcentury) were both destroyed by fire. Construction on the current cathedral began in the 14th century and is a true site to behold. Seemingly never ending with its various chapels, and little quiet spots. This cathedral is also the main burial site for the monarchy as well as national heroes, military members (generals), and other individuals important to Polish history (including two poets!). You are able to walk along the crypt to see the all the various tombs (although there are several on the main floor of the church as well). 

From visiting the castle, we headed back towards the main old town, wandering through cobblestoned side streets, stopping in to purchase some Polish pottery, lunch on the opposite side of the square as our dinner the night before, and then a walk through the Krakow Cloth Hall. 

The Krakow Cloth Hall is one of the most recognizable features of Krakow and Krakow Old Town. Situated at the center of the Main Market Square, it dates back to the Polish Renaissance (that Golden Age in the 15th& 16th centuries). The interior of the hall contains shopping stalls which once held the bulk of the textile industry in Krakow. Buyers and Sellers would flock to the covered shopping center. It now not only serves as a shopping market, but also has an Upper floor museum that contains the largest collection of Polish painting and sculpture, and hosts monarchs and politicians from other countries (Prince Charles and Emperor Akihito visited in 2002). We did a little shopping within the hall and enjoyed seeing the variety of items offered, from tourist tchotchkes to hand crafted designs.

We also stopped in to see Saint Mary’s Basilica. With the foundations dating back to the 13th century (completion in the 14th century), this church is a great look into the Gothic Architecture of Poland. The current standing church is the third one, as the original (from the 1200’s) was destroyed by the Mongolians, and then the second was rebuilt under Casimir III’s rule. The interior is, one again, incredible. There are two main “focal” points of the Basilica. The first is the interior altarpiece. This was undergoing some restoration work, so we weren’t able to get a good view, but what we did see was stunning. The second point is the trumpeter of the basilica. A trumpet signal (the Hejnal Mariacki) is given at the top of every hour from the top of the taller tower. An interesting note while you listen- the song seems to end rather abruptly; this is to commemorate the trumpeter who used the signal to warn the city of the Mongolian Attack. During the signal he was shot in the throat. The signal is rumored to have been initially used to signify the open and close of the city gates (this was done across Europe), but there is no concrete evidence as to where this specific signal originated. 

We started off our Sunday morning with a visit to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. I’ve done a separate, dedicated blog post on this concentration camp, which you can find here. 

On Sunday afternoon we headed over to  the Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz. We visited during the High Holiday, Sukkot, so we were not able to go into any of the synagogues or such, but we still were able to see quite a bit walking around and get an idea of the history of the area. A Jewish community focus in Kazimierz came about in the 1400’s when anti-Semitism started to run rampant through Krakow. When a fire burned down a large part of Krakow in 1494, the Polish King transferred the Jews from the Old Town to the Bawol District of Kazimierz. The Jews then petitioned for rights to build its own defensive walls. The area within the walls was known as the Oppidum Judaeorum and was, geographically, only 1/5th of the size of Kazimierz, but held nearly half of the people of the city. The oldest Synagogue in Kazimierz was built in the early 1400’s (the actual year/date is disputed) and was an Orthodox fortress synagogue (known in Yiddish as Alta Shul). The initial golden age for the Jewish Quarter came to an end in the 18th century when the Austrian Emperor disbanded the area and tore down the walls. Not long after that, Kazimierz lost its city status and was brought into the newly formed district of Krakow. Kazimierz kept the “Jewish District” status due to the fact that the majority of the Jews stayed close and within the limits of the city. 

Up until the invasion of Poland by the Nazi’s, this was the most important synagogue in the city and the main center of the Jewish community (beyond just religion- it also was a social and organizational center). During the Nazi’s reign, the synagogue was ransacked, destroyed, and used as a warehouse. It also has one (at least) instance of the defensive wall being used as an execution site for Polish hostages by the Nazi’s. Kazimierz was not the location of the crowded ghetto of Krakow though, most of the Jews of Krakow were transferred to a ghetto location in Podgorze (another heavily Jewish area across the river in Krakow) and then either killed in the ghetto or at the death camps. After World War 2, the Jewish District was largely neglected, but starting in the 1980’s started to see growth and a resurgence of Jewish Culture. It now has quite a community built to celebrate. 

Once we finished up in the Jewish District, we headed back over to Wawel’s Castle to visit the dragon and walk along the river. I’ve already talked about the legend of Wawel’s Dragon, but we wanted to see the statue for ourselves. The boys also got to pick up a couple of stuffed small dragons to take home as a little souvenir. We didn’t stay out too long as the temperature very quickly started dropping and we had had quite the long day. One final dinner in the main market square and back to the hotel we went. 

And just like that, our weekend in Krakow came to an end. 

Auschwitz I & Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camps

***Disclaimer at the beginning of this post , there may be content in here that is painful to view . Please be cautioned***

We recently spent a morning visiting Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau in Poland. This was our third concentration camp (fourth overall site as we also visited Lidice), we had done Dachau Concentration Camp and Kaufering VII, a Dachau subcamp. Visiting Auschwitz was different from the first due to its history and the information we learned after the liberation. Similar to my previous Concentration Camp posts, I don’t truly have the words for what this experience was like. There is nothing to truly do it justice, so instead of writing a whole bunch of words that will not come close, I am going to let the pictures tell the story. Maybe I’ll share my personal thoughts/experiences/tips in a later post. 

A quick note on our visit before anything else. We went early Sunday morning (an 8:30AM tour time) and took a guided tour. While I would recommend visiting in the early hours, as it is emptier and quieter, whether you take a tour or not is completely your choice. As someone who is Jewish, was raised in the faith and still maintains the faith (to an extent and for another post entirely), I am incredibly familiar with The Holocaust and the concentration camp history. My husband is familiar with the history as well. I don’t know that I learned any new information, BUT the guide helped put things into perspective and really walked you through the barracks and locations. The tour guides (at least ours) do not mince words. Everything is in exacting detail, which can be something to take note of. We did take our boys (aged 4 &3) and they were incredibly respectful throughout our entire visit (I don’t know that I am really going to talk about this decision- to each their own in this instance). 

If you do choose to visit, please note that the two camps are not truly within walking distance of each other. Auschwitz I does have a bus that runs between the camps OR you can drive. If you take a tour, you will start at Auschwitz I and then take the bus over to Auschwitz II-Birkenau to continue. Both are necessary to visit. 

I’m going to start with some brief history of the camps before I get into the photos. This will brief, if you are wanting a full breakdown, I would suggest any of the many books and survivors’ experiences (I find that a combination of both will be best). You can also see the Auschwitz website here for an introduction, however I would highly encourage you to do some reading in addition. It will allow you to get a true feeling for the time, the life, the camp. 

Auschwitz was established in 1940 (the first transport to arrive was actually mid Jan 1940) in the suburbs of a small city called Oswiecim. This city was annexed to the Nazi’s (The Third Reich) and later the residents and city was relocated as a way to hide what was happening within the camp. The original reason the camp was created was to house the Polish prisoners who were being arrested in large numbers. It was initially intended to simply serve a similar purpose to those the Nazi’s had already been setting up since the 1930’s (such as Dachau). True to its’ initial plan, Auschwitz did remain in this function of prison camp, even with the addition of the extermination centers. Auschwitz is actually 3 different camps. Auschwitz I was the “main camp” and held around 15,000-20,000 prisoners. The second was Birkenau, later known as Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which was the largest part of the complex and the main center of the Jewish population of the area, as well as the main extermination camp. The Nazi’s built up this second camp in 1941 (and this was when the residents were relocated) and, in 1944, it held over 90,000 prisoners.  The final camp was created from the largest sub camp (of which there were 40), Buna with 10,000 prisoners. It opened in 1942 and is not able to be visited (I believe it no longer exists).

In total, 1.3 million were sent to Auschwitz (across the board), within 1.1 million of those people dying. While the majority of the deaths were Jews (of the 960,000 that died, 865,000 died upon arrival), there were also Poles (non-Jewish), Roma, Soviet POW’s, and others. If the prisoners were not sent to the gas chambers, they died of starvation, disease, medical experiments, or from many other causes to include individual executions. The camp was liberated January 27, 1945, a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, by the Soviet Red Army.  Auschwitz has become a symbol of the Holocaust and all of its atrocities and the location was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. 

Most people know about Auschwitz and Dachau (and Treblinka or Bergen-Belson or some of the other known, but smaller camps). As I said with visiting Dachau, it is one thing to read/hear/talk about these places and the atrocities that occurred, but it is something wholly different to walk them. To walk these paths. To see the tons of shoes, or suitcases, or hair (so much hair) taken from the victims. To walk from the rail car to the chambers. To feel the weight of those who came and died before you. I am not going to mince words; you don’t need words. You need images. So, I’ll be giving you the general gist at the start of pictures (and you can hopefully see the captions under the pictures to tell you what’s what), but nothing more than that. 

***PLEASE NOTE THERE WILL BE IMAGES THAT ARE DISTURBING TO VIEW. PLEASE BE CAUTIONED***

So, as I’ve already mentioned, we started our tour at Auschwitz I. It’s important to note that this particular camp was for polish prisoners, military/command barracks, and was used for Nazi propaganda. This is not a camp that the Jews or…well anyone who wasn’t a polish prisoner, or a consumer of the propaganda would see. 

Within Auschwitz I there are displays set up to show not only how certain aspects of the camp were run, but also in memorial of the victims who were murdered. 

You are also able to walk through the gas chamber and crematorium of Auschwitz I. These were not the main locations of the mass extermination, just temporary. These are the only chambers and crematoria that you are able to see as the Nazi’s destroyed the main complexes. 

From Auschwitz I, we headed over to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This was the main camp for the Jews, Roma, and anyone deemed “undesirable”. This was where they were brought (again, they didn’t see Auschwitz I, just this). Those that lived through transport were then selected for either the gas chambers, hard labor, or medical experiments.

The two main gas chamber and crematoria complexes were exploded by the Nazi’s as they attempted to hide these atrocities, but the remains are here (and you are able to see how they were operated above).  

Finally, at Auschwitz II-Birkenau we were able to walk into one of the barracks that would have been used during the camps operation.

The one that we walked in was actually used for isolation of women prisoners who were selected as unfit and were to be sent to the gas chambers. If this barrack was full, they would be placed in the yard and the gate was locked until they were taken to the gas chambers. 

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness” – Elie Wiesel

A Long Weekend in Garmisch – Partenkirchen

We recently took a little trip “to the mountains”. The Garmisch- Partenkirchen area is an area on the Austrian border in the Bavarian Alps. This area is a great one for hiking, mountain climbing, skiing, and just feeling right in the heart of the alps and nature. It has something for everyone. We took a quick weekend getaway and explored some of the top sites. 

Garmisch and Partenkirchen were two separate cities for quite a long time, up until 1935 when they were forced to “merge” for the Winter Olympics in 1936. Partenkirchen is the older of the two as it dates back to Roman times and A.D. 15. Garmisch was not mentioned until 800 years later. The two cities have quite the history between the land, the plague, and the witch trials. Not to mention, the Winter Olympics of 1936 (the first year Alpine Skiing was competed) and then World War II when the town held a major hospital for the German military. The towns have distinct differences, with Garmisch being more “modern” of the two and the area is now referred to as Garmish-Partenkirchen OR GAP (although many people try to simply say Garmisch).

So, upon our arrival to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, we decided to start with a trip up the mountain, to the highest peak in Germany, Zugspitze.

The highest peak of the Wetterstein Mountains, this is one of the most incredible viewpoints in the region. The German/Austrian Border runs right through the peak, so you can head for lunch at the peak in Austria (or Germany) and see the beauty all around. The peak was first reached in 1820 by Josef Naus, Maier, and Johann George Tauschl. If you choose to climb, you have three routes to take, however if you’re like us, you can also choose from three different cable cars to “ride” up to the top. We took the Seilbahn Zugspitze up which provided us with some incredible views both on the way up and down. 

Once we came down, we walked down to Lake Eibsee. Lake Eibsee is one of those lakes that I feel like are beyond words. Created by a rock fall, the water is crystal clear, the deepest, prettiest shade of blues and greens that you could dream of, and provides the peace and clarity that only being by the water can provide. It is actually considered one of the purest lakes in the Alps. Similar to Alpsee at Hohenschwangau/Neuschwanstein or Forggensee in Fussen, this is a level of beauty that just seems to need to be seen (and then can’t be captured perfectly because you need to see it in person) and just held in your soul. We walked around a bit of the lake and found another little “hide away” lakes that was also incredibly gorgeous.

From there we headed in to town and over to our Hotel. We stayed at Reindl’s Partenkirchner Hof and I would highly recommend a stay here. The hotel was beautiful, and the room was incredible. They had offerings throughout the day, could arrange several activities for guests, and the location was great. From check in, we wandered over to the site of the Winter Olympics Ice Rink. Fun fact about me, I was a competitive figure skater for about 12 years. Seeing the history of the ice rink was awesome and seeing the location was really cool. We headed more into the Altstadt side of town and found a little restaurant to eat some dinner. We ate at a restaurant called Zum Wildfchutz and the food was delicious. I got a bread/pizza concoction and my husband got a meat dish. We also sampled the 2020 Oktoberfest beer from the Hacker-Pschorr brewery, which was also delicious (I think I’ve just decided that German beer is the only beer for me- especially the Oktoberfest brews). 

After the massive meal, we felt like walking a little bit longer (to walk off a bit of that delicious meal) and found ourselves in a church, Pfarrkirch St. Martin. This is one of those gems that you could very easily miss just by not walking in. I find churches to be some of the most incredible stops to make when traveling as they are all different in unique ways. Yes, the structure and such can be similar, but each church is still incredibly unique. And this church was breathtaking.

This particular church is first referenced (and an initial church was built) in the 18th century, with mentions going back to around 750. The current church was renovated starting in 2007 to repair the entire building (from the roof to the flooring). The ceiling paintings were painted by Matthaus Gunther. When we walked through an organist was playing the organ, which only added to the special feeling that we were experiencing. That was the perfect end to our day. 

The next day we spent our entire day in the Partnach Gorge area. In its most basic (read: I am not a geologists and I don’t understand a vast majority of that) sense, the Partnach Gorge is a 702-meter-deep gorge that has been incised by a mountain stream. In some places the gorge is over 80 meters deep. The gorge was initially used by locals in the 18th century as a way to transport firewood, as well as a rafting stream (until the 1960’s). In 1912 the gorge started to be developed for tourists to visit and has undergone changes as the landscape changes (there was a rockfall in 1991 that changed the path), and the walk is…incredible. 

Sometimes we experience, or visit somewhere that we cannot put into words. Somewhere that just connects with every fiber of our being, and the experience of visiting that place just transcends everything else. That was Partnach Gorge for me. It was just incredible. The rush of the stream, the rockwall all around, it was an experience that I will never forget. Not to mention, the actual water itself was a gorgeous blue/green that you think only exists in highly edited photos. 

However, to back up for a minute (I got a little excited and ahead of myself), we started the day at the Olympic Ski Park. We didn’t climb the stairs to the top of the jump, but rather stopped on our way to the gorge (as you have to pass through to get to the walking path for the gorge). So, the Olympic Ski Stadium.

The 1936 Winter Olympics were only the fourth Winter Olympic Games and set quite a bit of records and history. You are able to climb to the top (although we did not do this) and you are also able to see what the skiers would have seen (and still do- there are two annual competitions held in this stadium). If you are into the Olympic sites and history, you are also able to visit the bobsled track which held the “most dangerous track” title for quite a long time. 

Now, after the Stadium and after you walk through the gorge, there are two different routes to get back to the gorge entrance (I’m actually pretty sure there are more than two, we just chose between two that we mapped out). We let our older son Colton choose the route, and he chose the “road less traveled”.

This path meant climbing partially up the side, then back down, and back up again. It was quite the hike, but so well worth it as the scenery of the Alps is unparalleled. Not only do you get the views within the Alps, but you are also able to see the gorge from above (though you can see this whichever path you choose- there are definitely easier paths to take). It was quite the way to spend our day and I loved every minute of it. 

Our final day on our weekend was our “head home” day, but we incorporated one final stop on our way home to Schloss Linderhof (or Linderhof Palace). Now, I’ll devote an entire post to Linderhof (just like I will for Heidelberg Castle, Cochem Castle, Burg Eltz, and all the rest- they ARE coming I promise), but I’ll give some bare bones here to hold you over till that post.

So, Linderhof. Ludwig II was quite the dreamer and builder. He commissioned a lot of different monuments and statues (Walhalla, Liberation Hall, Neuschwanstein, and many, many, more) and he turned these ideas into realities fairly quickly. Not long after redesigning rooms in his Munich residence and laying the foundation stone for Neuschwanstein, he started plans for Linderhof (all of this took place 4 years after he crowned King). His initial plans didn’t come to fruition, however what did was incredible. The original building was the Foresters house, which was used when the King (Ludwig’s Father, Maximilian) and Crown Prince would go on hunting trips. The palace was remodeled and rebuilt in various stages, but ended up being the only palace Ludwig II saw completed in his lifetime. 

This palace easily jumped to almost the top of my favorite castle list (it’s battling up against Hohenzollern Castle if you’re wondering) as both the building itself and the location is perfect. Ludwig II loved the concept of the French palaces (and Versailles in particular) and this most definitely reflected that love. It’s ornate, it’s incredible, and the attention to detail, to making smaller rooms appear larger, while still trying to keep them “cozy” is just wonderful. Not to mention the garden and the exterior and something to behold as well. What a way to end our weekend. 

Bamberg – A Day Trip

Recently my friend Kim and I went for a little day trip to the nearby city of Bamberg, Germany. Bamberg had been a city I had set my sites on for quite a while, not only for the fact that it’s your typical old-world German town, but also because of its history. We spent a day walking along the streets, seeing the Altstadt Rathaus, the bridges, a never-ending antiquary (old, used books- seriously the coolest), and the churches. We didn’t do everything we could have done, but we had a lovely casual day wandering around.

A little bit of history on Bamberg…

The first mention of Bamberg dates 902 as a mostly Slavic settlement. In the early 11th century, the Holy Roman Emperor (Henry II) made it a family inheritance and a separate diocese from Wurzburg. Once all the border details were sorted out, Henry II ordered the building of a new cathedral AND a Benedictine abbey for the training of clergy. With their involvement, Bamberg became a center point for the Holy Roman Empire; the Pope had visited several times, consecrated some of the churches, and thus, both Henry and his wife, Kunigunde, are buried in the Bamberg Cathedral. 

Through the centuries, the city started to expand and change, going through the reformation and land changes. In the 17th century, the witch trials came to Bamberg and claimed around 1,000 victims. The 17thcentury also ushered in the University of Bamberg. Finally, it 1803 Bamberg became part of Bavaria after losing its independence the year prior. Bamberg has also played a role in the political landscape of Bavaria- being a safe place for the state government in World War 1 (after a communist uprising), the location of the passing of the first republican constitution of Bavaria, and then the venue for the Bamberg Conference, a conference convened by Hitler to stifle dissent within a young Nazi Party. 

In 1993 Bamberg became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its authentic medieval appearance. 

One final fun fact: Bamberg is known in some places as a “Franconian Rome” as its geography extends over seven hills. Each hill has its own church at the top, overlooking the city. 

We started our day off walking the Obere Brucke, which is one of the bridges connecting the lower town to the hills. Halfway across this bridge is the Rathaus (town hall). The legend of the town hall is quite typical of the time period: the bishop did not grant the citizens approval to build a town hall, so they took matters into their own hands and rammed stakes into the river and create an “island” on which they built their town hall. The frescoes painted on the town hall are quite incredible, giving it a 3-D appearance- although there are a couple spots where it isn’t just an appearance.  

From the bridge we wandered through the streets, stopping in the Antiquariate Lorang. I’m mentioning this mostly because it was basically a store of old books that never ended. If you’re a book or bookstore lover, it’s one of those stores that you dream of going to at least once a week. Filled floor to ceiling with any and all books (and some notebooks), most dating quite far back it was just a dream to walk through and look at everything. It was a great start to our day. 

We wandered the streets a little bit more, then started to climb up on of the hills towards the Church of Our Lady (Obere Pfarre). This church is Bamberg’s only purely Gothic church.

Planning of the church started at the end of the 13th century, with construction starting at the beginning of the 14th (the foundations date 1375). There were quite a few additions and rebuilds to the church, including damage done by an aerial bomb during World War 2. Walking inside the church was breathtaking. I don’t know if I have the words to truly do this one justice, so the pictures will have to speak for me. A few bits- the paintings are from the 19thcentury by Adolf Riedhammer, with some repainted in the 1930’s by Hans Bayerlein. There is a walnut portrait of Mary with Child which was from a school in Cologne dating around 1250. There is an incredible painting of The Ascension of Mary by Tintoretto that you can view as well. Overall, this was one of those churches that you really just have to walk through. 

From the church we headed over to the New Residence. To get to the New Residence you go through the Old Court. The Old Court was originally the Castrum Babenberg and then the palace of Henry II. It then became the Bishop’s residence and it features an incredible gateway from the square to the inner square. Now, the Old Court is a historical museum and a small chapel for civil wedding ceremonies. It was really neat to see (I love Timber Frame anything ha-ha) and there was actually a wedding reception while we were there!

We walked through the gate and on to the main square of the New Residence and Bamberg Cathedral. The Cathedral Square is at the top of one of the seven hills and is the heart of the city. Before we went into the Cathedral, we went over towards the Library, Residence, and Rose Garden. The New Residence served as the seat of Bamber’s prince bishops. There are 40 magnificent rooms filled with artwork and lavish furniture. You are able to tour the inside of the residence which not only takes you through a few of the rooms, but shows you a large Bavarian State art collection. We elected to head over to the Rose Garden in the inner courtyard and take a little rest and relaxation moment. 

Designed by Friedrich Karl von Schonborn, the Rose Garden contains around 4500 roses, along with several sculptures, a fountain at the center, and an absolutely incredible view of Bamberg. We stopped at the café in the garden pavilion and had a lovely treat of a pear/mint lemonade and light food. In the summers there are musical performances in the garden and the entire area is so enchanting.

After a refreshing pick me up, we started to head out, first stopping real quick at the State Library. 

Let me tell you, some of our American libraries can learn a thing or two. The little glimpse we got to see inside was just incredible. The vaulted, painted ceilings, the quiet peace that comes from the library, the pristine collections, it was incredible. Not only that, but the library contains quite a few manuscripts dating from 1000, as well as 3 Reichenau manuscripts that are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage documents. We only got a glimpse, but it was a pretty neat spot. 

Finally, it was time to make our way to the Cathedral. St. Peter’s and St. George’s Imperial Cathedral is the legacy of Henry II.

The cathedral was completed in 1012 (after only 10 years of being built!), however it took 3 different constructions to get the current cathedral due to fires. Now, when we visited there was quite a bit of restoration and reconstruction being done, so we weren’t able to see the Bamberg Horseman and the alter and such were tucked back in the construction. We were able to see the tombs and the overall look of the cathedral. The thing that makes cathedrals so special in ways, is not how incredible they are on the interior (though they can be) is just the sheer craftmanship it takes to craft and build a cathedral (and most built before our modern engineering and technological advances. 

Our last stop of the day was to head down to Little Venice.

This is a former fish district of the Island City. The river way is lined by half-timbered buildings that date back to the Middle Ages and each has a little tiny garden. The homes are right next to each other, holding each other up in some cases, and sets quite the little backdrop. It is absolutely adorable and was the perfect picture of Bamberg to end our day with. 

The only thing that we missed that I wanted to do would have been St. Michael’s Monastery. This is the home of the abbey that Henry II commissioned. I would have loved to see the monastery and walk its walls and church buildings (and garden), however it is currently closed due to restoration work. If you do get the chance to see it, do!

And that was our day in Bamberg! It was the perfect little outing and day trip for us. 

A Girls Weekend- Heidelberg

After months and months, I finally was able to do my little girls’ getaway! Back in March I was supposed to go on a girl’s weekend to Prague. This was something that we had planned, booked train tickets, an Airbnb, and some things to do while we were there. Then everything shut down in Europe and we had to cancel the entire trip (and any hopes of doing any girls things at all that weekend-even locally). In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that bad, but it was definitely a bummer for us, and I’ve been waiting since then to be able to do a little get away. So, when a free weekend popped up, I took it and one of my best friends, Kim, and I headed out to Heidelberg.

Heidelberg is a university town in south-west Germany, right on the Neckar River. The city itself has been designated a “City of Literature” and has quite a scientific hub as well within the university. The city also serves as the site of the remains of the earliest signs of human life in Europe ( a jawbone was found in 1907 dating back 600,000-200,000 years ago). Heidelberg as a region dates back to the 5th century BC, with the Celtic people and then the Byzantine/Roman Emperor Valentinian building homes in the location. In the 1st century AD a Christian church was founded inside the Celtic Fortress, with a Monastery and Abbey being added in the 12th century.  The actual founding of Heidelberg is considered to be in 1196. Heidelberg then went through two changes of “rulers” first the house of Hohenstaufen, then the Duke of Bavaria, Ludwig I acquired the city. In 1386, Heidelberg University was founded and, finally, of the upmost importance to me, Heidelberg’s library was founded in 1421, making it the oldest (public library) in Germany. So, a lot happened in the town’s history, long before our more modern history.  

A couple other random facts about Heidelberg, before I get into what we did on our 24 hrs…

Heidelberg went through quite the religious battle (as did most of Europe at one point or another), concerning Lutheranism and Calvinism. In fact, it played a leading role in the conflict, hosting Martin Luther shortly after his Ninety-Five Theses. Heidelberg was also a key player in the beginning of the Thirty Years War, after Frederick V was overthrown in 1621 by the House of Habsburg. Heidelberg has seen several different countries invade, including Sweden and France. And, during World War 2, Heidelberg was a stronghold for the Nazi Party (the NSDAP-National Socialist German Workers Party). The local populace was very much on the side of the Nazi’s and the university served to build an amphitheater and hold rallies during Hitler’s rise. While Heidelberg wasn’t targeted by bombings or other air raid actions, the old treasure bridge was destroyed (3 arches) by Germans fleeing in March of 1945. One final note, Heidelberg has one of the largest American communities outside of the United States (and I can definitely see why), along with an overall large population of expats from around the world. 

Ok, so now that we’ve got the history of the city out of the way (seriously- that was much longer than I had originally intended), let’s talk about what we did. We basically spent 24 hours wandering the Altstadt (Old Town), just reveling in being in an old German Town. The fact that it’s home to so  much history gives it a certain…feel and we just wanted to soak that up. 

We started off at Heidelberg Castle. I’ll be doing a full castle post on it, but I’ll touch on some of the basic information in this post.

The castle was first mentioned in the early 2nd century when the Duke of Bavaria (Louis I) received it from the Hohenstaufen Emperor. From that point on, the castle became two castles, upper and lower. The Upper castle was destroyed by a lightning bolt in 1537. The present castle was expanded in 1650, to then be damaged by war and fires, before another lightning bolt struck in 1764. It was incredible to walk through the walls of the castle, then along the ramparts overlooking the city, and finally just outside the main walls along the side of the complex. It has a real feel of history and tells a multitude of stories. 

From the castle, we checked into our hotel, and headed to the Old Bridge. The Old Bridge is actually the Karl Theodor Bridge, an arch bridge that crosses the Neckar River.

The current bridge is actually the ninth built and is dated back to 1788. The bridge location has a storied history (it had to have been with Heidelberg being on its’ ninth bridge) of bridges being destroyed by mother nature and wars alike. The medieval bridge gate on the Old Town side of the bridge dates back to the original town wall, however the tower helmets were added with the new stone bridge in 1788.  

A fun fact, on the gate side of the bridge there is the statue of a monkey (it’s ok if you don’t see the monkey until you read that it was a monkey- we originally thought it was a cat) which has quite the story attached.

The original monkey dates back to the 15th century and was placed within the tower to represent mockery against the tower’s representation of fear and respect. The monkey had a mirror in one hand (to encourage critical self-reflection) and his other hand on his…rear end. This was turned so that his rear end was facing across the river towards Mainz; which in turn was how the people of Heidelberg told the Bishop of Mainz that he had no power in Heidelberg. The 15th century version of an…eff you. The current bronze statue was installed in 1979 and legend says that if a visitor touches the horns, they will return to Heidelberg, the mice will provide fertility, and the mirror will provide wealth or good luck.

Our hotel was right at the Altstadt side of the bridge, so we were on it…a lot. We walked across to the other side of the Neckar and wandered down the water a bit before heading back over. We got some dinner right off the bridge and then wandered down and around the main street of the Altstadt. It was fun to just wander the streets and take in everything. 

Our final stop of our trip was a stop into the Church of the Holy Spirit, a church that dominates the main square of the Altstadt (and the steeple dominates the entire city).

The first mention of a church on this site is from the 13th  century, then in the 14th century another Gothic Church, and finally this church during the 15thcentury. The construction took around 150 years to complete, however it was interrupted for a period of time, and has been rebuilt once due to being set on fire by the French. The church did have the Palatine Library; however, the collection was taken during the Thirty Years War to the Pope and are now, on the whole (only about 885 manuscripts were returned) in a dedicated section at the Vatican Library. 

One of the things that I really liked about the church was how there was a little market set up on the direct outer walls of the church. Market stalls were set up within the walls of all different varieties, which reminded me of something straight out of a Ken Follett novel. The church itself was incredible and not what we were expecting at all. The walls and ceiling had a pink hue to them and the church itself had a simple elegance to it. 

The only thing that we did not get to do, but wanted to was walk up the Philosophers Walk. This is a walk (or hike) that offers scenic views of the old town from the opposite side of the river. It was a tradition of the philosophers and professors at the university to walk and talk along the path. If you hike a bit farther up you can see the ruins of the Monastery, the amphitheater, and the Celtic fort.

Overall though, we had such a wonderful time and I really recommend a trip over to Heidelberg. It, once again, reminded me just how much I love Germany and the German Old Towns. There is not a bad choice to make anywhere within the Altstadt and even just sitting along the river is incredibly peaceful. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020- Cochem

Our last stop on our Summer Holiday was back in Germany in a small town called Cochem. This is the weird part of the blog posts as I am going to do a general blog post today on Cochem and the couple of things that we did, but one of our reasons for stopping in Cochem, was its vicinity to a couple of castles we wanted to see. I’ll be giving full details on the castle’s in separate blog posts, but wanted to get this last stop blog post out for you. We really enjoyed the time we spent in Cochem (2 nights) and it really solidified how much we’ve fallen in love with Germany (which I’ll talk about at some other time). Regardless, after leaving Belgium, we crossed the border back into Germany and headed straight over to Cochem. 

Cochem is a small town (total population ~5300) on the Moselle River.

It has had settlements from the 1stcentury onwards, was an Imperial estate in the 13th century, and was granted town rights in the early 14thcentury. It’s been under the rule of Germany, France, and Prussia. During World War 2 there was an underground subcamp of the Natzweiler Concentration Camp with 13,000 prisoners at its height. It’s important to note that Cochem is located along the Mosel River which happens to be an area of Germany that produces, and is known for, wine. German Wine is typically a Riesling wine as that is the most widely planted grape, although they do produce a variety of white wines. (Luckily for me- I love a good Riesling so I was in the very right place ha-ha). 

The first place we stopped at, the minute we arrived in Cochem, was the Reichsburg Cochem, or Cochem Imperial Castle. As I said, I’ll be doing a whole separate post on Cochem Imperial Castle, but I’ll include a brief overview here as well.

Reichsburg Cochem dates back to around the 12th century when it was occupied and declared an Imperial Castle. In the 17th century the French King Louis XIV overran it and then destroyed it. In the 19th century a businessmen from Berlin purchased in and then reconstructed it. It is now owned by the town of Cochem. After a tour of the interior, we headed to our hotel and over to dinner. We stayed at Hotel Zenthof which was another perfect spot, right off the main bridge connecting the two sides of the river, and a view of the castle out the front. We had dinner right on the waterfront and watched the sunset with a lovely glass of Riesling for myself and a beer for my husband (this is the aforementioned moment where we just realized how perfect Germany has been for us). 

The next morning, we were up and off early (only stopping at a local supermarket to pick up some pastries for breakfast) to head over to our second castle, Burg Eltz.

Again, a full dedicated blog post is coming, but this is a medieval castle located in the heart of the hills above the Moselle River.  First dating back to the 12th century, this particular castle is still owned by the same family that lived there at that time (it was actually 4 families and quite an interesting tour!). We had the dreamiest morning walking along its walls and corridors. 

From there we went to do a little…adrenaline push. In Hunsruck there is a 360-meter suspension bridge (its height is 100 meters up) that you are able to walk across. The Geierlay Suspension Bridge was first suggested in 2006 and rejected, then re suggested in 2010 for a second look.

Modeled after the Nepalese suspension bridges (which means that it is “unstiffened”), construction started in 2015 (record time as the bridge opened 130 days later), and the bridge was inaugurated at the beginning of October of the same year. The bridge itself has a layer of local Douglas fir that you are actually walking on as you walk across the bridge.  Finally, the name was picked after an open competition and refers to the land and history of the area of the bridge.  The bridge itself is center to several hiking and biking spots, so you can definitely combine a hike with crossing the bridge.

Honestly, I am terrified of heights. Well, I mean really I suppose I am more terrified of falling, rather than heights, but the two go hand in hand. So, the idea of walking across this suspension bridge that moves with every movement (even more so in some areas than others) was not…appealing. As always, while I was on it I just stepped one foot in front of the other and just focused on that. I did, from time to time, look up to take in the absolute beauty that was around me, but on the whole it was an accomplishment to make it to other side breathing normally for me. And once I got to the other side? I felt like a bad ass ha-ha.

We decided to hike our way back to the car, rather than walk back across the bridge (this would have actually been preferrable, but my older son wasn’t keen on walking back across the bridge). The hike itself is gorgeous, taking you down into the valley before up the mountain side. It’s not a terrible hike, although I would recommend wearing comfortable shoes. 

A few things to note about the bridge currently (during Covid-19)- in order to maintain the appropriate health precautions, they are restricting movement on the bridge. This means that during the heightened visitor time (11-5 I think) they only allow foot traffic one way each hour. So odd hours going from one side, even from the other. This meant that we waited in line for about 2 hours to just make one pass on the bridge. One side is easily more packed than the other (as it would be) and the line wasn’t the most socially distanced it could have been. However, they grouped people together in groups of 10 or so that they would release on the bridge at a time, so it wasn’t a massive amount of people walking through at a time.  If you are going to go, I would recommend going outside of the popular visitor hours (I would recommend this regardless though). For example, I am looking at the webcam as I am writing this (10:26AM German time on a weekday) and there is hardly anyone on the bridge at this time. No lines, no crowds. 

And that wrapped up both our time in Cochem AND our Summer Holiday! What was your favorite stop? To recap on our entire Summer Holiday (or if you missed any) you can go along with us to LUXEMBOURG, PARIS (1 & 2), MONT-SAINT-MICHEL, NORMANDY, and BELGIUM. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Belgium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Normandy Tips & Recommendations

If you missed my “what we did” post detailing all the information about Normandy, you can read that HERE. I feel like this will be the most…different of all my tips/recommendations posts. Most of Normandy is largely based on what each individual wants to do. Some people want to walk the actual path of the World War 2 Soldiers. Some people want to see every museum there is in the vicinity. Some people just want to take in the sights. I feel like we did a little bit of both.

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Honestly, my tips and recommendations for the Normandy region are quite simple…

You’ll want a car. Similar to our time in Inverness, we spent a lot of time driving from one place to another. This wasn’t a bad thing as driving through the French countryside is kind of a dream AND you can stop in whatever little town you please. Some of the towns even have pictures of what they looked like after D-Day so you can see both the destruction and the re construction. The car also gave us a little chance to have a little downtime in between stops, and gave the boys a chance to eat some snacks and such.

You are able to camp out right off the beaches, but you don’t miss out on anything by staying in one of the little towns. We stayed in a tiny little fishing town, right on the docks, and still felt centralized to everything we wanted to see. We had thought about “camping” right off the beaches, but this ended up being a better option.

In terms of what to see, I think, at minimum, you should visit one beach, Pointe du Hoc, Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and/or one additional museum. I would add Lounges Battery if you have the time to as you are able to see everything almost exactly as it was in 1944. You could, in theory, do that in one day if you wanted, but I would stretch to two days in the region just to do more. The only museum we actually walked through was the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise and that was such a good one both for us as adults, but also for our boys. There are so many museums though and each covers a different section of D-Day, Normandy, and World War 2 in France. Depending on what your specific interest is (my husband was interested in the Airborne and infantry portion), you can find a museum that will probably give you a wealth of information and artifacts to look at. In terms of beaches, I think (my opinion as a mom with two army heavy boys) that Utah Beach was a better option. They had more for the kids to see/do and really helped them gain a pretty clear idea of what D-Day was (Colton told quite a few people what happened on D-Day in the days following our trip).

Also, if you are in the Normandy region and have the time, I would highly, highly, recommend a visit over to Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey. I think I made it clear as to my thoughts in my previous blog post (HERE), but I will reiterate a smidge here. For us, staying in Port-En-Bessin-Huppain, it was about a 1 ½ drive and the drive itself was gorgeous. If you plan your time right, you can get to the abbey during the second tour, spend a few hours, and then head over to Sainte-Mere-Eglise (which is what we did), and still have time to walk the beach or enjoy an evening dinner somewhere. It is completely and totally worth it.

Finally, one thing we did notice was the hours of…well everything. Most restaurants didn’t open until well after 6 (sometimes even as late as 8) for dinner and most places (like the entirety of Sainte-Mere-Eglise) closed at 4pm. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something to keep in mind when looking for food or if you need a last-minute item. On the restaurant side of things, we weren’t sure if this was a Covid situation or if it was all the time, so I figured I would mention it here as an FYI.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for the Normandy region? There is so much to see and learn and I know we didn’t come close to doing half of what we could.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – 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.