A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Paris Tips & Recommendations

Ah, Paris; the metropolitan city of love (and light). We spent two full days in the city and I still feel like we only scratched the surface. You can read about our Day 1 and Day 2, but today I am going to be touching a little bit on my tips and tricks for the city. I’ll be honest, I’m struggling a bit with this post for a couple different reasons. I feel like we didn’t get to see as much because we are traveling with our two young boys (so no museums, save for the one military one) and we traveled during the downside of a Global Pandemic (so closures and distancing measures were in place). So, I don’t know that I can give you ALL the details of what to see/do, but I can touch on what we did do. 

I will also say, (!!!UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT!!!) Paris wasn’t our favorite of everywhere we’ve been. There were certain parts that we enjoyed, and we thought were cool, but it wasn’t a top spot. 

As I’ve been doing, I am going to touch on Public Transport as the first thing. We always utilize public transport when we travel as it’s easier (especially here in Europe) and it tends to be cheaper once we add all the costs up. Paris, like many other metropolitan cities in Europe, has an excellent metro system. The trains are fast, and the schedule/routes are fairly straightforward (even if the actual stations aren’t always). I will say, I have yet to run into a “bad” public transport option. 

Paris is a city that you’ll have to look up things (I know, a massive help here). If you are interested in certain art forms or artists, there is probably a museum devoted just to them. I would have liked to visit Monet’s studio or seen the Louvre Museum. I would say, my biggest recommendation for a trip to Paris is to plan it out a bit more. You can idly stroll the streets (which is completely fine and very Parisian), but it’s not as easy to see all the things by doing that. 

If you want to see the height of Parisian opulence and grandeur, go to the Opera House. If you have no interest in seeing that, go to the Opera House. If you only see one thing in Paris, go to the Opera House. Can you tell that I loved the Opera house? Unfortunately, we did not get to see the Louvre, so I can’t attest to it, but it’s obviously a hot spot. For an Eagle Eye view of the city, opt for the Dome of the Sacre-Coeur Basilica over the Eiffel Tower. You’ll see much more of the city. Make sure to snack on some Crepe’s and Macaroons (obviously), and try some of the local wines. 

Parisians are not rude. I don’t know if it was our timing (with tourism being down) or that we learn some basic words in the language, but we didn’t face any of the “rudeness” that everyone talks about. I’ve actually just found this to be a great thing to do anywhere you travel- learn a few common phrases or words (we usually try to learn hello, goodbye, thank you, please, good, do you speak English, and bathroom). It just goes a long way. 

Otherwise, I don’t have too much more to say about Paris. Of course, if you have any questions I can certainly try my best to answer them, so leave those below. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Luxembourg Tips & Tricks

On Monday I shared the first stop of our Summer Holiday 2020, which was Luxembourg City. You can read about everything we did on our ~36 hours in the city HERE and today I am going to continue on with the theme of Luxembourg and talk about my Tips and Recommendations for Luxembourg City. 

This particular post is going to be a bit different from my typical “Tips & Recommendations” posts as I don’t really have a lot of either category. To be completely, bluntly, honest…there isn’t A LOT to Luxembourg City. I don’t think you need more than a day to see everything you’d like (we definitely did what we wanted in a day and could have stopped at a couple more places – aka museums and such- if we wanted to) and it is relatively “central” in the fact that you can just walk the entire city and see everything there is to see. 

Honestly, that is what I would recommend that you do- walk the city. As I mentioned, we did the Wenzel and City Promenade Walking Tour. If you stop of the tourism office, you can get a guide pamphlet and map that takes you along the bigger sites in the city and the important monuments. You are also able to kind of tailor this to what you want to see. For instance, we wanted to see the main squares and monuments, but mostly had our sights set on seeing the Casemates and Old Fortifications, so we spent most of our day in that area, with shorter stops at the beginning. 

If you do get the pamphlet from the tourist office, then I would start with the tour they outline, but once you get to the Casemates, I would head down towards the Grund Gate and across the road to walk through the walls (in the direction of the Neimenster area. This gives you the chance to see quite a bit more of the older fortifications as well as a really nice walk along the river. The signs will directly you back towards the bridge and then you can continue the City Promenade tour if you would like. At the simplest, these are two “separate” tours, but between the two of them you can see the most of Luxembourg City. Just note, that they are separate so to see everything, you’ll need to combine them. 

Public Transport

I think I am going to make public transport its own category in these posts as it seems to be something I talk about at every location we travel to. So, Luxembourg City public transport is free within the country. Let me repeat, FREE within the country. You can just hop on a bus and go from (for example) the airport to the center of town, free of charge. This is a recent change, but one I am totally on board with. Trams and such within the city are free as well. The only time that you have to pay for public transportation is if you are crossing the border or outside the city (I believe- check the tourism website HERE for all of the details). 

I think that pretty much covers my opinions and tips as far as Luxembourg is concerned. Since visiting, I’ve come to realize that a lot of Luxembourg is inspired by the French (and a bit of Spanish as well). Most of the city seems to be made up of a cultural meld of visitors and immigrants from the surrounding country. While we enjoyed our time there, we don’t plan on going back, nor would we recommend a trip solely to see the city (just as a stop if you are maybe already traveling through). I didn’t hate it and actually found it pretty cool in spots, but I wasn’t overly in love either. 

If you want to know the Covid-19 specifics (do you?) I found Luxembourg City to be the strictest of all the places that we’ve visited, and they’ve actually recently gone “red” again with visitors and numbers (and we are no longer allowed to travel there due to personal work restrictions). Masks were required in stores, restaurants (unless you were seated at your table), physical distancing was enforced, and their law enforcement was on alert reminding those who weren’t abiding by the rules. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Luxembourg City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Rome The First Days

For our winter holiday this past year we decided (somewhat last minute- have to get a bit better about that) to start knocking some of our Italy spots off our bucket list. We started with the big one, Rome.

We did things a little bit differently with this holiday, deciding to devote our entire week to only Rome, to an overnight train as our form of travel, staying in a Bed & Breakfast style hotel, and doing a couple guided tours during our holiday. Honestly, our holiday couldn’t have been more perfect in any other way.

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This morning starts the full holiday blog posts except rather than breaking them down by location (as I did for our Summer Holiday), I’ll be breaking them down in chunks of time. Today’s post will cover our first few days, then we will talk about our day at The Vatican in another post, then conclude things with our last few days. As always, I will also have a separate post detailing out my recommendations and tips at the end of the “series”.

***I want to make a note that I am not going to be detailing every single place we ate/drank/food related. You may think that that is crazy- oh but it’s Italy how can you not talk about the food?. I’ll be talking about the food, but honestly we ate at so many spots that I don’t remember every single one, AND there are very few spots that you can really go wrong food wise in Italy. It’s delicious just about anywhere. I’ll name the spots that stuck out to me that I remember and were above delicious, but overall you can’t go wrong with food in Italy.***

So, as I’ve already mentioned we decided to train over to Rome for this trip. There were several reasons behind this decision, BUT ultimately it came down to price and ease.Let’s be honest, as much as we like driving, it’s not always the easiest or fastest option. Driving would have allowed us to maybe make a stop or two on the way there/the way back, BUT driving IN Italy is a bit tricky (and there are tolls) and we definitely didn’t want to drive in the city. This meant that we would have to find parking for the car, and figure out what tolls we would hit on the way down. It also just meant a long drive (13 or so hrs.) and when the train option presented itself, we figured we might as well give it a shot.

We picked an overnight train which was about 13-14 hours long, leaving around dinner time/late evening and arriving the next morning. Overnight meant that most of our travel the boys were sleeping (and we could try and catch some z’s too), so less of an issue of keeping them occupied. We booked a standard (nonsleeping) compartment that came with six seats, so two additional passengers could be in our compartment, but a sliding door to shut and the seats themselves folded down for comfort during the trip. It was a super easy trip (once the boys calmed down from the train excitement) and definitely an option that we will keep in mind for future travels.

Rome Day 1:

When we arrived in Rome we basically hit the ground running. After a stop to drop our luggage off at our Bed & Breakfast (I’ll touch on this in a bit), we headed straight out for food, coffee, and a wander. We started our tourist exploring at Castel Sant’Angelo (actually called Mausoleum of Hadrian) right on the Tiber River. There was a small line to get in, but it moved quickly and the castle itself wasn’t crowded once you got in. This particular castle is actually a mausoleum (now) and has previously been used as a fortress for both Emperors and Popes alike.

Construction on the castle started in 135, finished 4 years later, became a military fortress in the 5th century, and then around the 13th century, a corridor was added connecting it to Vatican City in case of danger to the Pope (this corridor did end up getting used in the 16th century!). While walking through the castle you are able to see exactly how and what the castle was used for. Both the military fortress aspects and mausoleum parts have been very well preserved AND you get an excellent view of this side of the city from above (including a clear shot towards Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica).

It was probably one of the best clearest viewpoints we got, aside from Alter of the Fatherland. We spent a good hour or so here wandering the corridors, ramparts, and park.

Once done there, we were able to go back to our Bed & Breakfast and properly check in. We stayed at Tibullo Guesthouse Rome and it was a great spot for us. We chose a larger room that contained one double bed and two singles as well as a separate, but private, bathroom. It was reasonably priced and is not 10 minutes away from the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo. The hosts were incredible, so incredibly warm and welcoming, and made sure that we had everything that we needed (and then some!). The actual guesthouse is quite small, and breakfast is offered and is served in the comfort of your own room should you choose to do that.

After settling into our rooms and freshening up, we decided to head out again. This time heading into the heart of Rome and the most touristy/heavily populated spots. We hopped the metro and headed into the heart of the city. We started at the Piazza di Spagna, home of the Spanish Steps.

Dating back to the 18th century, The Spanish Steps are one of the most famous spots (although could be arguable). They’ve been home to poets, authors, painters, a very special tearoom and, most importantly, connect the church at the top of the hill to the square at the bottom. These famous steps are quite incredible to look at and we definitely had a lovely time climbing them, stopping for a little Audrey Hepburn moment, and then watching a Roman Sunset to end our first day. I think this might have been one of the most surreal moments (up until going to Ancient Rome and the Vatican).

After the sun set we got to see the city come alive (all over again) and headed over to Trevi Fountain.

Trevi Fountain. Where are the words? The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque Fountain within Rome and easily one of the most talked about in the world. Built in the 18th Century and centered at the cross of three roads, which also marks three points of aqueducts. It is absolutely incredible, a true feat of architecture, and at night it is completely lit up. Absolutely gorgeous. A fun thing to do (if you want to fight the crowds), is to actually toss a coin in the fountain. You are allowed to do this, and by tossing it behind your back it is said that you will return to Rome. The city actually collects the coins and donates them to a charity so your money will not be wasted if you choose to do this. We had a quick stop at the fountain as it was packed to the brim and we had a sleepy toddler (napping on my hip), but it was truly incredible to see.

We did quickly stop in Oratorio di Santa Maria in Trivio, a church across from the fountain before heading away to dinner and then the Bed & Breakfast for sleep.

Rome Day 2:

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For our second day in Rome we had a bit of a sleep in. After being exhausted from all our travels the day before and hitting the ground running, we took it easy first thing in the morning. When we finally emerged from our room, it was to head out for brunch and then exploring. We stopped at The Loft for brunch and this was a great stop (we liked it so much we actually came back a second time and probably would have more if we had the time). After a breakfast of waffles and cappuccino’s and fresh squeezed orange juice, we hit the metro to head to our first stop.

 

 

We started our day at Piazza Navona.

This is a public square that was originally intended as a stadium which dates back to the 1st century. This was changed around the 15th century when it was turned in the city marketplace, Piazza Navona is now a square that holds markets, fountains, and a slew of restaurants and stores. There is also a very small Gladiator Museum on one entrance side to the square, which we did visit. If you are interested in Gladiators and replica’s then it is a neat visit. If it isn’t something that you are interested in, or you want something much more in depth, then give it a miss. There are a couple other stores of note, a toy store in one of the main entryways provides a bit of delight for adults and children and there are two “Made in Italy” shops that have some of my favorite leather-bound journals that I’ve ever seen. When we visited the Piazza, they had a little Christmas Market going on. Christmas is a bit different in Italy, celebrated on January 6 (Three Kings Day/Epiphany- long story which I can talk about on a different post), so they still had this little market going. It’s geared mostly towards children with games and such, only a couple booths have items to purchase or food.

From there we headed over to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon was originally used as a temple dating back to around the 2nd century (it might even be a little older than that as the current Pantheon was built on the remains of another temple). It’s most striking feature (because 12 columns and sheer size isn’t enough) is the opening in the ceiling that looks out to the sky above. There is what we would call a hole in the ceiling, not only that but the dome is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. This is also known for being one of the best preserved Ancient Roman Buildings. After being used as a temple, it was transformed into a church and is still in use today. It was absolutely incredible to walk through and in this building.

From the Pantheon we just headed out to walk the streets. Honestly, that was a lot of our following days, just walking the streets of Rome.

No matter when or where, you can always find anything just by walking the streets. We wandered the streets finding hidden columns, little squares, and paths upwards. Our general goal was to make it over to Villa de Medici, but when we arrived our boys were in no mood to join in on a guided tour. We cut our losses on that, rather walking the gardens right next to the villa (somewhat near Borghese) and seeing the start of the sunset at the top of Piazza del Popolo.

This was one of the coolest squares that we saw, at one end was the Porto del Popolo, a massive arched entryway to the square. At the opposite end are two churches. Right in the center of the square is the Fontana dell’Obelisco; a massive fountain with lions on each corner and an obelisk rising from the center.

We ended up having dinner at a restaurant called Don Chisciotte and feasted on delicious homemade pasta & sauce, wines, tiramisu and cheesecake.

The perfect end to our day!

Rome Day 3:

We started our 3rd day with breakfast at a little café, Café MeMe. After a delicious heaping of eggs, bagels, pancakes, cappuccino’s, and smoothies (I promise you- this was spread across the 4 of us), we decided to hit one of the biggest monuments that we were seeing from every vantage point of the city…The Alter of the Fatherland. Before actually going to the monument we stopped at the church right behind it, Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

I don’t have any pictures to post from the inside, but I promise you- you MUST go to this church. It is absolutely incredible, just achingly beautiful. This may have been one of our favorite churches EVER and we’ve been to a lot so far. It is literally right next to the monument and so easy to just stop in to. And now, The Alter of the Fatherland.

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That name is actually not the correct name, although it is referred by that name regularly. This monument is the Victor Emmanuel II Monument and it is a masterpiece. Before we get into the history, let me just say that this structure with all its steps, individual monuments and sections, the museum within, and the view from the top is absolutely incredible. It sits in between Ancient Rome (right next to the Forum and atop Capitoline Hill- the center of Ancient Rome) and the more modern city of Rome via the Piazza Venezia. Work started in the late 19th century being completed in the very early 20th century and since then, this building more than anything else is seen as the “symbol of Italy”.

Not only do you have the steps leading up to the first landing, at that first landing is their Italian Unknown Soldier tomb (which is guarded), then there is a second landing which is the Portico, and then a third landing which you can walk around towards the back for the elevator to the top. Honestly, this is a most stop spot. Climb the steps, pay homage, and see the view of the city from above. I think this might have been my favorite “view from above” of Rome as you can see EVERYTHING.

It’s a great overlook of Ancient Rome, a great look of the modern city, and you see the domes of the churches and basilicas stacked up.

From there we stopped for a late lunch at Ristorante Il Miraggio which was a restaurant that we found randomly, looking for bathrooms, but it was one of the best random finds we had. It was down a side street and we had the best waiter I think we’ve ever had. It was so much fun to just watch him work, greet and entertain everyone from the paying diners to the random people walking down the street.

The food was delicious (as I said earlier- you can’t really go wrong wherever you go), and I had one of the best cups of standard black tea that I’ve had in a long time. It was the perfect stop and felt like such a good little spot.

After feeling refreshed from lunch, we started walking down the road once again. We headed up to Quirinale Palace.

This was a last minute, half hazard decision, and one of the few that worked out for us, but also didn’t work out. We headed up to the palace to go see it, but it was starting to get a bit later in the day and on the way up I ended up pinching a nerve in my back. So, we pretty much got to the actual palace (which wasn’t too bad) and then turned around to head back to the Tiber River. This was kind of a bummer as I would have liked to actually go in and experience it, but it wasn’t in the cards. This is the reality of traveling sometimes.

After a little rest, and some medication for my back, we just wandered along the Tiber River, crossing over at the pedestrian bridge and just wandering the neighborhoods. Which is such a nice perfect way to end this first post about our Winter Holiday. It was a long one and if you made it to the end…thank you. What was your favorite spot that we went to in these first couple days?

Recommendations and Tips for: A Weekend in Prague

Untitled Design 19We recently spent a couple days wandering the streets in Prague and I fully fell in love with the city. It has the perfect balance of history, culture, art, and music. It is a city that is full of life and love (seriously- my husband got all sorts of romantic during our short time there). It also happens to be a city that we fully plan on re visiting as there is so much to do and see. Today I am going to share some of the things that I think you should definitely see along with some tips about navigating the city. If you’d like a catch up on what we did you can see my post HERE. If you’d like tips specific to Christmas Markets in Prague, click HERE.

Recommendations

Prague Castle- It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I am recommending a trip to the castle. I love visiting castles as they usually are not only the focal point of a city/town, but also have such a rich, often turbulent history. Prague Castle is no different, plus it has the added bonus of being currently in use and it’s cathedral having been recently finished. I would head up towards the afternoon/evening so you can watch the sun set on the city. Then, for an added bonus, walk across Charles Bridge and see how the castle lights up across the water.

Old Town Square- I would recommend a morning wandering around Old Town Square. At the heart of Prague, this square offers churches, history, and shopping nearby (if that’s your thing). Make sure you pay attention to the ground as there are a couple special tiles on the ground in the square marking spots. There are two churches right around this square to go in as well and they both should be visited.

Charles Bridge – This is the pedestrian Bridge that connects Old Town Square to Lesser Town and Prague Castle and is a fun walking path to go between. There are quite a few monuments and statues on the bridge, as well as a couple to touch for good luck. If they are open, you are able to climb up into the towers and see a “birds eye” view. As I stated earlier, I would recommend walking the bridge in the evening so you can see the city light up and the castle across the river.

Jewish Quarter—This is a must see and is quite easy to navigate through. The important thing to know is that the entire Quarter is closed on Saturday and you will not be able to visit anything during that time. Otherwise, the synagogues typically open around 9AM for visitors and you need tickets to get into both the synagogue, the museum, and the old cemetery. You can stop at any of the souvenir or gift shops that are labeled to purchase tickets for the entire quarter. There are a couple different ticket options and I believe Audio Guides are included in most of them. I would definitely recommend stopping into as many of the synagogues as you can during your visit, as well as the Old Cemetery.

Prague Astronomical Clock – This one, quite honestly, is a miss. I wouldn’t go out of your way to watch the glockenspiel as it really isn’t worth fighting the crowds. If you happen to already be there, then go ahead and watch, but don’t make a special trip.

Honorable mention to Lesser Quarter if you have the time as well as Wenceslas Square. There are a couple of spots that I wish we would have gone and look forward to going back to see those spots (up in the all the towers and churches and some other food spots). When we go back, I’ll do another couple of posts giving more details.

Tips

Tip #1: Crowds. Prague is a very popular tourist destination and that leads to crowds. Honestly, I knew there would be crowds, but I didn’t feel like it was overwhelming (like Amsterdam was). To me, the crowds were just…the crowds. I would recommend to just keep moving with the crowd.

Tip #2: Use public transportation! I’m a huge proponent of using the local methods of transportation and Prague has a really great system. It is really easy to navigate, relatively inexpensive, with great options for ticket timelines (i.e 90 minute, 24 hr, 72 hr, etc.). I was very impressed with it while we were there.

Tip #3: Parking. Since you’ll be walking or using public transport during your time in Prague, you’ll need to find parking for your car. Parking in Prague is definitely a struggle. So many spots are reserved or not able to have parking, or are just too compact to comfortably park in. There are a couple spots to park in that you can pay for, The Palladium (which has convenience for Old Town Square), the main Train Station, OR you can use an app called Mr. Parkit which has spots that you can reserve all over town. They have both indoor and outdoor options and they all come with reviews and information. The benefit to using Mr. Parkit is that you reserve a spot, so you can come and go as needed (if you are staying to night or a couple nights this is helpful). The app itself is easy to use and once you’ve reserved a spot it’s easy to get in and out.

And that wraps up my recommendations and tips for Prague! I know I’ve said it a million times, but I loved Prague and I cannot wait to go back! Have you been to Prague? Any additional tips or spots to go?

Prague – A Long Weekend Away

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

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

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

Afternoon Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2:

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

Morning Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lidice – An Important {1/2} Day Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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The barn where the men were executed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karlovy Vary – A Day Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 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.

Burg Hohenzollern – A Day Trip

Full disclaimer- this was supposed to be one post on our full weekend away, HOWEVER I just had so much I wanted to share about each place we visited that I just couldn’t justify having yall read one super long post. Instead, I am going to break this up into three posts over the next couple of weeks covering each outing we did. We only had 3 days over the weekend, so we decided to knock out a couple of the castles that we’ve been wanting to check out. There are two castles that are within an hour (or so) of each other, so we decided to book an Airbnb somewhat in between the two and just go from there.

So, Friday morning we headed out and over to Burg Hohenzollern.

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Hohenzollern is possibly one of the most popular, but quietly popular castles in the region. It sits high on top of the hill, with views around all sides. It has quite the history of owners and destruction/reconstruction. To start with, Hohenzollern is the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House and references to this spot date back to the 1000’s. The house was reconstructed in the 1400’s to make it bigger and more formidable. It became a fortress, but after the war turned into ruins. In the 1800’s is was reconstructed and became the castle that we see today. It is heralded as “one of the most imposing Castle complexes in a neo-Gothic style” (via the website: https://burg-hohenzollern.com/castle-history.html).

Hohenzollern was very well worth the drive. Incredible from the moment you lay your eyes on it driving into the region, it definitely gives off all the castle on a hill vibes. We parked on the property and did a short hike to get to the entrance. There are two hike options, one where you can park at a lower level and hike through (this is the free parking I believe) or the one that we did, a shorter hike with paid parking (2 Euro for a car for parking). You are also able to take a shuttle bus from the paid parking area to the castle itself (the cost varies depending on what ride option you choose and how many are in your party). The hike is actually quite pretty, but steep and quite a few stairs.

This particular castle is one with two entrance areas. There are two large gates, one to simply “get into the property” and the second to get into the main courtyard. Before you pass the second gate you are treated to an interior garden lining the round walls, as well as some stunning views from the first lookout. This area is lined with various paths and the views of the town and valley below are stunning. You can walk all along the exterior to see the 360 views, but if you head inside and follow the tour, you will get this chance anyways.

When we went, there was a display at the second gate to see all of the coocoo clocks from area makers (this castle is quite near the Black Forest area- which is known for its coocoo clocks and woodworking). There are also festivals at different times of the year (A spring festival, Mother’s Day event, several performances/open air cinema days, an Autumn festival mid-October and then a Christmas Market in December).

IMG_9935.jpgAfter the second gate, you are able to look right into the heart of the castle with the central courtyard. This particular courtyard is one of my favorites, just due to the look and views of it. I love the bench, the ivy, the brick. On your right is the chapel and church with stained glass windows dating back to the 1300’s. Then you see the “main event”, the castle itself.

There are two options to see the castle, a guided tour or a “casual stroll”. The only real difference between the two is what you would assume, the guided tour gives you intimate details on the history of the castle and family, while the casual stroll only allows you in the castle. They do have a brochure that details out the information of the castle and its rooms if you want a little bit of both. Typically, the guided tour is given in German, but they do offer other languages on certain days and times.

We did the casual stroll and I don’t feel like we missed much by doing that. It allowed us to meander through the rooms how we wanted, and I felt like I got the chance to actually look around (although that might also be because I wasn’t spending the whole time trying to shush a toddler during a presentation). We saw several rooms, each more incredible than the last (my favorite was the Count’s Hall and The Blue Room). In order to preserve the interior, you are not allowed to take photos and you must wear the slippers they provide.

In addition to the interior rooms of the castle, you are also able to see the cellar, which has all the silver stores, and the casemates. These spots have their own special history and charm to them, and once finished you climb the steps to the outer embankment. This stroll gives you a chance to see just about everything the castle has to offer. I do want to note that there is also a café to eat at and a gift shop to get a little souvenir.

IMG_9992.jpgOverall Hohenzollern is 100% worth the trip and I think it should definitely go on your list of castles to see if you get the chance. We loved our time there and the views are quite gorgeous. You can definitely make this a good mid drive stop (as you only need a couple hours tops to visit and explore) or combine it with a couple other stops in the area as we did.