Oh, There’s No Place Like Rome For The Holidays…

Well Barcelona, I’ve found your competition…his (her?) name is Rome.

Italy may have won me over in the form of cozy, antiquated, charming, comfortable Rome. I’ll be honest, I was apprehensive about Rome.  It was actually one of the cities I wanted to visit the least out of Italy, as I expected it to be obnoxiously touristy, dirty, overwhelming, and underwhelming all at once.  Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised.

The pizza. The pasta. The wine. The gelato. The bread.

The cobblestones. The sweet, meandering roads. The colorful alleys.

The feeling of being completely enveloped by history at all times.

Ahh. Amore.

Okay, okay, snapping out of my euphoria cloud so I can actually tell you a little about my trip.  Thanksgiving weekend was a perfect time to visit Rome- it was the off season, so it wasn’t overly crowded, yet the weather was still pretty nice (definitely nicer than the UK!).  Our group ended up being 10 people; 5 adults, 2 kids (6 & 8), and 3 littles (2, 1, 5 months).  Our flight was at the ungodly hour of 6 something in the morning, so my family decided to stay at a hotel out by the airport so that we didn’t have to drive the hour+ in the wee hours of the morning.  We stayed at the Premier Inn Stansted, which was fantastic.  We have stayed at several Premier Inns throughout the UK and all have been absolutely wonderful!  In the morning, we just zipped on over to the airport and met with our Maple Manor Meet and Greet service.  I have used several meet and greet services before, and they are super convenient when flying early or lugging lots of stuff {which we usually are since we have two littles!}  I was disappointed this time though upon our return, which I will talk about later.  Anyway, we got all checked in and settled.  This trip, we brought our umbrella stroller, Lillebaby carrier (for Marybel), and toddler Tula (for Benjamin).  We wore Marybel in the Lillebaby for most of the trip, and used the umbrella stroller most days with Benjamin.  It’s nice now too, that Marybel is big enough that she can be in the umbrella stroller for a little bit at a time {until big brother pitches a fit about “my seat!!!!”}.  I digress.  We did use the Tula for the Colosseum tour, but I am now getting ahead of myself 😉

We arrived at Rome Ciampino airport around 10am.  We ended up taking a bus, then the train, then a cab to our hotel, which was probably not the most economical choice in terms of time or money.  [When we returned to the airport, we just took a cab straight there, which made much more sense and was way easier!]  If you do take the train, be sure to validate your ticket, it took us forever to figure that out!  The ten of us stayed at a fabulous apartment in the middle of Rome called Apartment Cynthia.  It had 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with plenty of room for all of our guests, and the host provided two cots for our littlest travelers.  There was a cozy little living room and a spacious kitchen, stocked with the basics.  The apartment was right above a bustling little street with restaurants and a grocery store, which was incredibly convenient for us.  The host met us there to give us an overview of the place, and she recommended some sights and restaurants nearby.  Despite the zillion stairs [and one tiny elevator], I would definitely recommend the place!  **Also, be sure to read correspondence from accommodation emails carefully; upon arrival, we were asked for the payment in cash, which I was not expecting.  After looking back through all of my emails, I finally noticed that on the bottom of one of my emails, it was noted that only cash would be accepted.  We got it taken care of, but it was definitely something we weren’t prepared for initially.  Anyway, we got settled and refreshed, then decided to head out to explore.

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Our first stop, of course, was food.  Our host recommended Pizzeria Da Baffetto, which was literally right downstairs from our apartment.  It was delizioso!  It was true Italian style, thin-crust pizza in the most quaint, intimate little restaurant I’ve ever been in.  I devoured my pizza while leisurely sipping wine {ahh, to finally be traveling whilst not pregnant!}

Always the planner, I created a very basic itinerary for the day based on a walk found in Rick Steves Rome 2015 Guidebook .  While I am not much of a guidebook follower, I do like to get ideas of things to do, and this walk seemed like a perfect way to see a good chunk of Rome.  The apartment was near both Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona, so we quickly popped over to Campo de’ Fiori first.  It is one of the many squares in Rome, and when we arrived, they were having a market.  We wandered and snapped some photos, but the market wasn’t as good as many I’ve seen in my travels, so we made our way back toward the next stop on our walk, Piazza Navona.

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I loved Piazza Navona.  It is a beautiful, open square with fountains, shops, cafes, restaurants, and plenty of space for the littles to chase birds and the adults to people-watch.  Street artists sell their goods here, and we ended up buying paintings from an artist there later in the weekend.

Continuing on our walk, one of the guys wanted to stop in an old church, which worked out just fine, as I wanted to check out Biblioteca Angelica, and the older kiddos needed a bathroom break.  Bibliotheca Angelica is a magnificent old library, housing ancient manuscripts.  I love books, libraries, and bookstores, so I just wanted to peek inside and take a few photos.  I was glad I did; it’s definitely a hidden little gem.  I loved that when I went in, people were there working and actually using the library.

Our next stop was the famous Trevi Fountain, arguably the most beautiful fountain in the world.  There is an interesting history to the fountain, and legend has it if you throw a coin in over your shoulder, you will return to Rome one day.  This was the first place Rome felt really crowded and touristy.  We could barely get to the rope to take photos, let alone get a good one without a million people in the background.  But it was gorgeous, and I did indeed throw a coin in, fingers crossed the legend is true!

We stopped at Il Gelato di San Crispino for our first taste of Italian gelato.  Oh man, do I love me some gelato.  Especially dark chocolate.  I could totally live in Rome, just give me some pizza, pasta, wine, and alllllll the gelato!

To finish off the walk, we trekked up to the Spanish Steps.  We somehow took a back way that ended us up at the top of the steps.  This was both a blessing and a curse.  It was a blessing because I think if we had approached it from the opposite direction, and started at the bottom of the stairs, we would’ve said no way to climbing them with the strollers, and I would’ve been super bummed to miss out on the view and photo ops from the top!  However, it was curse too because, well, we had to somehow get to the bottom in order to make our way back toward the apartment, and the only way down was to go down all the stairs with the stroller.

*As a side note…I am not particularly interested in the history of everything I see while traveling (unlike my nerdy husband); I prefer to take everything in visually and document it all with photographs.  I often go back and read about the things I see, but if you want to know details, click on the links {that’s why I include them!}

Upon reaching the bottom of the steps, we decided to make our way back toward the apartment to wrap up the long day with dinner.  We ended up walking down one of the fancy shmancy streets with all the expensive stores (Louis Vuitton, Armani, Ferragamo, etc.), which was interesting to see.

Ristorante Pasquino was right down the street from our apartment, so we had dinner there.  I devoured a delicious pesto pasta, wine, and tiramisu {because…when in Rome, right?}.  Overall, our first day left me starry-eyed for Rome.  I just loved that no matter where I was in the city, I felt surrounded by beauty, history, love, and happiness!

Friday we had booked a 3 hour Colosseum Tour through Walks of Italy [highly recommended], which included the underground arena floor and top tier of the Colosseum, as well as general access to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill, all with a tour guide.  Our tour didn’t start until 12:30, so we picked up some breakfast on the road and meandered our way toward the Colosseum throughout the morning.  As I said before, you are always surrounded by history in Rome, so we were often stopping to marvel at ruins, churches, and just the permeating beauty of the city.  We stumbled upon the Teatro Marcello, which seemed to be a kind of abandoned miniature colosseum; Capitoline Hill/Piazza del Campidoglio, where the boys ran around between massive buildings and intricate statues and provided a great view of the Roman Forum; the adjacent Santa Maria in Araceli {atop approximately 30954983274652093846572394586734 stairs 😛 ); and several of the free public water fountains.

Finally, we arrived at the Colosseum.  Nothing quite prepares you for the grandiosity of the Colosseum.  It is massive, and the fact that it used to be even bigger just blows my mind!  We still had some time before we were supposed to meet for our tour, so we had lunch across the street from the Colosseum.  It was surprisingly good for how close it was to the Colosseum.  We then met up with our tour guide and set off with our fashionable headsets.

Obviously I won’t (and cannot) describe our entire tour, as it lasted over 3 hours and covered tons of information from the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill.  The Colosseum was a place where I was especially less interested in history, as I know the basic history of it, and it’s not something that fascinates me (again, unlike my husband).  It was definitely cool to see the ancient building and experience standing in a place you read about in history books, but it’s a little creepy and depressing too, especially the underground portion.  The third tier gave some great views of the city.  We had two different tour guides, and both were super knowledgeable, but our main guide was much more friendly than the one who showed us the underground arena and third tier.

Throughout this tour, Benjamin was mostly in the Tula carrier, and Marybel was in the Lillebaby.  Benjamin is at an age that it is getting difficult to do structured days and tours, as he has a little mind of his own and wants to do what he wants to do.  Overall, he was well-behaved for the tour, but it was long, and he did get antsy!  The Colosseum was another relatively crowded site- I can’t even imagine how it would be in the summer!

The tour moved from the Colosseum to Palatine Hill, where our tour guide let us in on some of the best views of Rome and the Forum and Colosseum!  We then moved down to the Roman Forum, which was huge–like a beautiful winding maze of ruins!  It used to be the centre of Roman public life in many facets.

Overall, my opinion of the Walks of Italy tour:

Pros of the tour:

  • Tons of information!
  • Skip the line
  • Access to underground and third tier
  • Expert knowledge of history as well as places for great photo ops, etc.

Cons of the tour:

  • A bit pricey
  • Long, especially with kiddos

We were all starving after our lengthy tour, so we did an early dinner at Ristorante Gran Caffe Cavour, not far from the Colosseum.  More pizza and pasta!  We wandered our way through the city back to the apartment, stopping for gelato, of course.  The boys decided to have a few beers at the bar downstairs, Birra e Sale.  My husband said it was amazing!  [They somehow also ended up with meat and cheese, which they apparently also sell?]  Us girls stayed with the kids and shared a bottle of wine 🙂

Our Vatican City tour for Saturday morning was also booked through Walks of Italy, and included the Vatican museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.  Our walk to Vatican City was nice; we left with plenty of time to wander through the foggy streets of Rome.  We found our designated meeting place, and had some coffee while the littles ran around in the little square area.  Hubby and I decided to wear Marybel, as usual, but keep Benjamin in the stroller.  This worked out fine for the most part, even though there were quite a few stairs in the museums and we had to check the stroller for St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

At around 9:30, we headed into the Vatican Museums with our tour group.  It’s crazy that one moment you are in Rome, and the next you are officially in another country, as Vatican City is technically just that!  Other than being a bit snippy about a bathroom incident (sometimes $#!+ happens with little ones ;P), our tour guide was great-super knowledgeable and friendly.  In addition to the fact that skipping the line was the best.thing.ever. there, I feel like I would’ve been completely lost in the museums without a tour guide, so I am glad we went that route!  We started out with an overview of what we would see in the Sistine Chapel, as our tour guide wouldn’t be able to talk once inside.  They have pictures of the panels in the courtyard, so she was able to explain each panel and things to look for, which was really helpful!  We saw so much artwork from a wide range of artists, places, and cultures as we made our way through the museums.  Tons of painted ceilings, amazing sculptures, enormous tapestries!  I loved the Gallery of Maps *I have a map obsession* and they were absolutely beautiful!  Many were from years and years ago and were incredibly accurate, even though some were measured in human feet!  I was also incredibly impressed by the many Trompe-l’œil murals and paintings–I had just taught my students about this type of art, so it was cool to see and take photos of!

Finally, we made it to the big event, The Sistine Chapel.  Man was it impressive.  Some thoughts on the Sistine Chapel:

  • Obviously, absolutely amazing and overwhelming beautiful art!
  • It was much larger the I anticipated–I expected a narrow, small chapel with a lower ceiling.
  • Did not feel like a chapel at all.  Obviously, there are not any pews, etc. in there now so that was part of the reason, but also, there were SO many tourists packed shoulder to shoulder and guards were scattered throughout.  There was also a loudspeaker announcement every few minutes saying “Silence, no photos” in various languages, which took away a little bit of the peaceful serenity of the place.
  • Despite the loudspeaker warnings, there were so so so many people taking photos.  I really could care less if you take them {I didn’t}, but seriously, have a little couth; turn your camera/phone on silent and for goodness sake, TURN OFF THE FLASH!
  • Amazing to see the difference between the areas that have been cleaned and restored versus the areas that haven’t.  It literally looked like black vs. white!
  • I would really love to spend more time in there {preferably without a zillion tourists} and see each panel up close, and read/hear about each of them as I look at them!  There is just so much information in the paintings!

After the Sistine Chapel, we made our way to St. Peter’s Basilica, also part of our tour.  The entrance to St. Peter’s gave an incredible view of St. Peter’s Square

We had to check our stroller here, which was a little bit of a pain, but not terrible.  Also, we didn’t have to worry about this while we were there, since it was late fall and cool, but if you go, be sure to check the dress code and dress appropriately!  Anyway.  Holy cow.  St. Peter’s Basilica is HUGE.  Ginormous. Massive. It’s really freaking big, guys. And ornate!  Carvings, sculptures, and walls upon walls of mosaic art.  The tour guide gave us lots of good information here too, like how much of the marble came from the Roman Forum, and how you could get married here, but you basically have to get on the list to reserve it as soon as you are born, haha!

After our 3+ hour tour, we were itching to sit down and eat some yummy food, so we found a little trattoria nearby.  It was on a super touristy street, so we knew it probably wasn’t going to be top notch authentic Italian.  Everyone else was pretty disappointed with the food, but I actually had a quite delicious pasta dish!  And, since we were back in Rome, we had to do as the Romans, and get more gelato after lunch 😉

We wandered our way back toward the area of our apartment, making our way past the Castel Sant’ Angelo and across the Ponte Sant’ Angelo, both beautiful.  Eventually, we found our way back to Piazza Navona in search of some street art, as that is what we collect when we travel.  As I mentioned before, we found some gorgeous paintings done by a local artist, then sat and enjoyed a little mime show while Benjamin snoozed for a bit.

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While in Piazza Navona, we ran into another couple we knew who were in Rome for the weekend as well, so we all decided to go see the Pantheon, as none of us had seen it yet.  The sun was setting as we arrived, which was magnificent!  It was a nice little square, and while we were hanging out, who should stroll by but Stephen freaking Hawking!  Seriously, I couldn’t make this up!  We later found out that he happened to be there for a conference, and he, no joke, went right past us–in fact, we had to move Benjamin’s stroller out of the way to make room for him.  How crazy?! And awesome!?  The boys, of course, scrambled to take epic selfie while I just kind of stood in shock!

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We were leaving the following morning, and I was kind of bummed that we hadn’t gotten to see the neighborhood of Trastevere, as I had heard such great things about it!  Since we still hadn’t eaten dinner, I suggested heading over there, as I heard it was a favorite area amongst locals.  It was definitely a cute little area worth checking out- lots of shops and restaurants, and more delightful little streets and alleys to meander.  Our even-larger-than-normal group found a great little restaurant, Gino 51, where we enjoyed yet more pizza, pasta, and wine.  As it was our last night, we felt compelled to get gelato {again} before heading back to the apartment.  Del Viale was probably my favorite gelateria we went to all weekend!  It was delicious and the guy working there was fantastic!

Since the boys had had a “night out” the previous night, us girls decided to check out a little wine bar, Il Piccolo.  A bottle of wine and some girl talk sans children and hubbies was just what the doctor ordered to finish out a fantastic weekend in Italy 🙂

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The following morning we packed up and caught a cab to the airport for our late morning flight.  Ciao Italy, thanks for stealing a little piece of my heart ❤

**To follow up on my disappointment with Maple Manor meet and greet (and to end another blog post with a bummer note, sorry!)…  We arrived back in London at our scheduled time, and once through customs and passport control, we grabbed our checked bag, then called Maple Manor.  They gathered my information and told me there should be a van waiting outside in the appointed area.  We headed out {into the very cold UK air with two littles}, but there was no van to be found.  We waited around for about 10 minutes or so with no luck, so I called back.  Again, they took my information and told me that the van left because I wasn’t out yet, and that another would be coming soon.  [As an aside, I thought this was weird because I had purchased the meet and greet option, and thought that they were supposed to bring my car to me, but I let it go, not wanting to make a big deal about it].  So finally a van comes and we practically have to fight other families to get a spot (even though we were the first ones outside), and we rode back to where they park the cars.  I gave them my ticket with my information and they gave me my keys….then proceeded to say something to the effect of “you booked meet and greet, we were supposed to bring your car to you….”  I. was. fuming.  BUT. I kept my cool and just said “yep, I know, but your people just kept telling me to wait for the van.”  The guy half-heartedly apologized, but I was just ready to get in the car and head home.  Argh!  Live & learn!

P.S. I still love Italy ❤ and traveling ❤ 😉

 

 

 

Normandy, France: A Bittersweet Weekend Away

Normandy, France has been on our “must see before we leave Europe list” since we arrived in the UK in 2013.  B is a huge history buff, and being affiliated with the military, we just knew it was something we had to see.  Normandy is not actually terribly far away, so we could’ve driven if we had wanted, but I found flights on Ryanair for like $8 apiece and jumped on them right away.  This was Marybel’s first flight, so I was interested to see how traveling as a family of four would go.  Overall, I think the long weekend (Columbus Day) was incredibly meaningful and memorable, and the kiddos did amazing, especially with the amount of car travel we did.

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**I am going to admit outright that I am terrible with history/names/dates/etc., so I apologize in advance for minimal information and/or if I inadvertantly make a mistake.  I will do my best to post the most accurate information and links to more thorough details regarding everything we saw.

We flew from London Stansted to Deauville-Normandy airport, which is definitely one of the smaller airports I have ever been in!  This was our first time ever renting a car for our travels, but it was necessary in the Normandy area, as everything we planned to see was pretty spread out.  I booked the car through Ryanair when I purchased our flights, and picked up the car at the airport upon arrival.  The only downside to renting a car whilst traveling is bringing two carseats for our littles.  I have used meet and greet services before at the Stansted airport, but didn’t this time, and immediately regretted it.  It would’ve been worth it to pay the little bit extra to not have to lug our checked suitcase (we almost always check a bag nowadays with two littles, it is just easier in the airport and on the plane), diaper bag, backpack, Benjamin in the stroller, Marybel in the Lillebaby, and both carseats through parking lots, on and off the shuttle, and up to the check-in desk.

Anyway, some friends of ours were traveling in the area as well and were on the same flight, so we both picked up our cars, then headed toward the town of Caen.  One of my college roommates had been traveling around Europe for a few months, and we made plans to meet up in Normandy, so we were picking her up at the train station in Caen.  The city isn’t terribly large, but it took us a bit to find the train station [I blame this on a number of things: lack of sleep, signs being in French, driving a rental car on the opposite side of the road, etc.].  Anyway, we finally found her, got ourselves situated back in the car {it was a little like playing Tetris with our luggage, two carseats/kiddos, and three adults, but we did it!}.  B really wanted to do a cheese tour while we were in Normandy, so that was our first destination.  We headed to Camembert, an agricultural town housing a museum and gift shop/cheese tasting area for the Camembert cheeses.  It was about 45 minutes from Caen, winding through vast farmlands and cute towns.  We skipped the museum (much to the chagrin of the worker there, even though we technically paid for the museum fee so that we could do the tasting), and dove straight into the tastings.  We were each given three different cheeses, served atop bread slices.  I personally enjoyed all three varieties, as did my college roommate.  The others liked two out of the three, but were completely turned off by the very pungent smell and strong taste of the third.  I like to think that I must have an exceptionally mature palate, which is why I enjoyed all varieties 😛

Other than our cheeses, we hadn’t eaten much all day, so the next thing on our agenda was to check into our AirBnB and find some dinner.  When I first booked accommodations, I didn’t know that my roommate would be meeting up with us; luckily I had booked a place that could sleep up to four adults.  The AirBnB we booked was an adorable flat in the tiny seaside town of Langrune-Sur-Mer (sorry, no English translation).  Our host was incredible–she was very welcoming, gave us lots of suggestions and information, and the flat even had a pack and play (cot), high chair, and books and toys, which my little guy loved!  It was cozy, with a small living area and kitchen, one bedroom with a large bed, and one bedroom with bunkbeds.  I loved that it was in a secure gated area also.

Once we got settled, we decided to walk around the town to see if we could find somewhere to eat.  Our legs needed to stretch out after being in a plane and car all day.  Unfortunately we are not ‘European enough’ to eat dinner late, so we didn’t find anything in our town open for dinner yet [not that there were tons of options anyway since it was such a small town!].  We ended up back in the car, and drove to the next town over, Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer.  We ended up at a yummy pizza place, La Mama.  After dinner, we picked up some wine and headed back to the apartment so that us adults could catch up with each other and the babes could sleep.

Saturday was to be our “D-Day day”, and we had a lot we hoped to see.  The Normandy area is huge.  There is SOO much to see, from Mont St. Michel to the D-Day sights to Monet’s garden.  I knew we weren’t going to be able to see it all, so we made a plan to start with our “must-sees” and work our way back toward the AirBnB.

Our itinerary for Saturday ended up being: Saint-Mere-Elise/Airborne Museum —> Utah Beach —> American Military Cemetery —> Omaha Beach —> Pointe-du-Hoc

We started the day at Sainte-Mere-Eglise, which was one of the first towns to be liberated in the D-Day invasions.  The highlights were the church and the Airborne Museum.  The church displays a dummy of the American paratrooper John Steele, who landed on the church during the invasion, and played dead so that German troops wouldn’t shoot him.  He ended up being taken prisoner by the Germans, but later escaped and rejoined the Allies.  The Airborne Museum was really cool and interactive, I would highly recommend visiting!  There were several buildings that housed different parts of the museum.  We walked through model planes amongst life-sized soldiers, saw paraphernalia from the D-Day invasions, and even got to “feel the wind” as we were able to *experience* what it would be like to be a paratrooper during the invasions.  Benjamin wanted nothing to do with that part of the museum (and I would advise parents not to take very young children through it, as it is a bit overwhelming; our friends’ 2.5 year old did okay, but was still a little bit frightened by it), so B and I took turns.

Next, we made our way to Utah Beach, one of the American beaches.  It was, in essence, just a beach, but there were memorials, and it was surreal to be standing on the very same beaches these young men stormed so many years ago.  After taking a moment to let it all sink in, we decided to move to our next destination: the American Military Cemetery.

The cemetery makes the whole experience of Normandy incredibly real.  The sheer number of crosses and vast expanse of land dedicated to the cemetery is overwhelming and humbling.  As I write this, I find myself having a difficult time finding the words to even express the experience.  Hopefully my photos will help, otherwise, I hope you get the opportunity to visit this area one day.

Omaha Beach was next on our tour, the other American beach.  Again, it is another beach with memorials and reminders of its grim past, but being there was just so strange and trying to put into words how it felt is beyond me.

It was getting late in the day, and we had only really snacked throughout the day, so we were all getting hungry.  However, we really wanted to see Pointe-Du-Hoc, as it was highly recommended by many.  We made our way there, and I was so glad we went.  Please take some time to read about the invasions and all of the places I am mentioning, as they are all worth it.  I cannot adequately describe these places and events in a few sentences.  At Pointe-Du-Hoc, we saw the cratered cliffs and were able to go into some of the German areas of fortification.  The views were also pretty incredible.

After our long day of heavy and powerful sightseeing, we decided we would head back to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer for dinner again.  As I mentioned, the sights throughout Normandy are fairly spread out, so we had done a lot of driving, walking, and hauling the kids in and out of the car.  They did absolutely incredible…..until our drive to dinner.  We were still about 30-45 minutes away from the town when all hell broke loose in our car.  Marybel was hungry and crying, and Benjamin thought it would be funny to mimic her cries, so he was both screaming and laughing for most of the ride.  I felt awful for my college roommate, who was sitting between them in the back seat.  I’m sure I scarred her for life and provided the best birth control ever!  We finally made it back to the town, and settled on Les Gourmands Disent for dinner.  We all enjoyed both dinner crepes and dessert crepes!  Delicious!  Once again, we ended our night with some wine and good conversation.

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Sunday was another full day of sightseeing, with lots of time in the car again.  The plan was to head to Mont St. Michel in the morning, then squeeze in anything we felt we missed the previous day in the afternoon.  I had heard from friends who had visited Mont St. Michel that it was incredibly beautiful from the outside, but that the inside was nothing super special and that it was usually packed elbow to elbow, as the pathways were super narrow.  We had all decided that we would see how we were feeling when we arrive as to whether or not we would venture inside.

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The drive from Langrune-Sur-Mer to Mont St. Michel was about an hour and half.  You could start to see the island from quite a bit out, as it is set up so high.  It’s magnificent to see in real life!  I think we pulled over at least twice to take photos from afar before we even got to the parking lot.  The island is sometimes surrounded by water, other times not, depending on the tide.  We all arrived at the visitor center around 10:30am, and immediately agreed that we should definitely go inside the small village.  Luckily, the employee at the visitor center advised us not to bring our stroller, as the pathways were steep and cobblestone.  I carried Marybel in the Lillebaby, and Benjamin half walked, half rode on daddy’s shoulders.

**As a side note, we used to have an Ergo baby carrier, but sold it and bought the Lillebaby mesh once Marybel was born.  I loved my Ergo, but I like that the Lille can be used from birth (8lbs and up) without an insert, can forward face (only recommended for short periods of time), and that it is the mesh version, so it is much more breathable than the Ergo.

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Anyway, there are several ways to get from the visitor center to the island; you can walk, take a free shuttle bus, or arrive by horse and carriage for €5.30.  We chose to truly live in the moment and took a horse and carriage ride.  Not only did the kiddos love it, it gave fantastic views along the way.  Had we known French, we probably could’ve learned a whole lot along the way as well 🙂  I think if we had unlimited time and didn’t have the kids, we might have walked out there, just for the experience.  The whole area is just breathtaking.

Once inside the walled village, we mostly just wandered and took a ton of pictures.  While I could totally imagine that it could get packed in the high tourist season, I am so glad we went in for the full experience.  The town was adorable (though most of the restaurants and shops were super overpriced), and there were some really great photo ops.  Since we were kind of on the shoulder/off-season, it was busy, but not terribly packed.  Before heading out, we stopped at a little restaurant (I don’t know what it was called 😦 ), where I had the most delicious omelette!

**Here is a picture of Benjamin having one of his epic “silent tantrums” on our walk back to catch the shuttle bus to the parking lot….

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As we headed back toward the area of Langrune-Sur-Mer, we discussed what D-Day sights we felt like we missed out on from the previous day, and all agreed that we would like to see the German Military Cemetery.  My roommate had been told to go to both the American and German cemeteries, if only to compare the two.  Both the kiddos fell asleep on the drive to the cemetery, so B and I took turns checking out the grounds.  It certainly was different from the American cemetery.  While it was kept neat and nice just like the other one, the grave markers were simple, small plaques on the ground, rather than the pristine white crosses, and most of the plaques indicated two fallen soldiers, rather than just one.  I’m glad we experienced this sight, I think it was important to see the “other side”.

From there, we had absolutely no agenda, so we just sort of drove around, looking for signs for interesting D-Day sights.  We ended up at Arromanches, which was used as a portable harbour for the Allied forces.  The beach here was recently used as the location for a memorial art installation in which two British artists (along with volunteers) etched 9000 life-size silhouettes in the sand, representing those who lost their lives on D-Day.  The images from the installation are stunning!  We stopped at a lookout area, then headed town to the actual town.  The town was adorable, and the beach was beautiful, especially in the late afternoon lighting.  While many of the towns and memorials paid tribute to the United States and Allied forces, this town in particular paid a great deal of respect with lots of signs and memorabilia.  We had a yummy dinner [and dessert] at Au 6 Juin {note the reference to D-Day!} before we drove back to our apartment.

That evening was spent packing up and drinking yet more wine.  The following morning, we had to drop my roommate back off in Caen to catch the train before we headed back to the airport to go back home.

**I don’t really want to end this post on a bad note, as we had such an amazing, meaningful weekend in Normandy, but our experience at the airport heading back was less than fabulous.  First, we tried to return our rental car, but no one was at the rental place, so we couldn’t figure out how to get it back to where it belonged.  Finally, our friend found a code for the gated parking lot on the rental agreement (which we were NOT informed of when we picked up the car).  While the boys parked the cars, the girls got everything prepped for security and VISA checks with the littles.  Security was a nightmare.  As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Deauville’s airport was tiny.  The line for security was literally one teensy, tiny room with one scanner.  We thought we had everything ready (bags/coats/etc in bins, iPad out of the backpack, belts off, items out of pockets, etc.).  Marybel was in the carrier, as she was on the way through security at London Stansted, and I still had my boots on, just as I had in London.  We had Benjamin out of the stroller, as they usually have us push the stroller through, then carry him through with us.  Well, they first made us take our iPad out of the case.  No biggie.  Then, they told me I couldn’t wear Marybel through, I had to take her out of the carrier, take the carrier off and send it through the machine, and take my boots off before coming through.  Meanwhile, they made us fold up the stroller, then Benjamin had to walk through on his own {not a huge deal, as one of us was on each side, but still super annoying as he was already cranky and upset}.  They wanted to pat me down, so once the stroller was through, I unfolded it to put Marybel in it for a few minutes so that I could get patted down and put my shoes back on.  Well, while I was doing that, they took Brandon aside as well to get patted down, so Benjamin was trying to climb in “his” stroller with Marybel, and most of the workers didn’t speak English, so we struggled to ask them if one of us could go get the kiddos and then switch once the other was finished.  Finally, we were able to put all of our stuff back tougher and get Marybel back in the carrier just in time to get on the plane.  It was by far the worst experience I have had at an airport, and I have been to many, many airports in my travels!

That aside, our weekend in Normandy was fantastic, given the atmosphere of the visit.  I am so glad we were able to experience this incredibly important historical place; it is something I will never forget.

Hiking in Snowdonia

Snowdonia National Park is, by far, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  We had a three day weekend for Labor Day the first weekend in September last year, so we decided to visit the Snowdonia area and hike Mount Snowdon.  Mount Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and England, and though we didn’t hike to the very peak, we were pretty darn close!  B, Benjamin, and I went with a single guy B works with as well as another couple and their three-year-old.

So five adults, a three-year-old, and a ten-month-old made the drive in two cars Friday, September 4, 2015 in the afternoon.  It was quite the adventurous drive across England and into Wales.  We were staying in the adorable town of Betws-y-coed, about 20 minutes from Mount Snowdon.  By the time we got into Wales, the windy, narrow roads were made even more difficult to navigate by the dark and rain.  The seven of us stayed in an awesome house called Bryn Awel {only downfall was its driveway, which was quite treacherous!}.  The house was situated in a perfect location; we could walk into town for meals and exploring, and it allowed easy access to Mount Snowdon, Swallow Falls, and Conwy Castle.

So, the Welsh language is pretty insane.  Luckily, most things were in English as well, but seriously, can I buy a vowel?

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Anyway, we arrived late Friday night and pretty much just passed out immediately, as we were planning on hiking Mount Snowdon the following day.  We started our Saturday morning with a walk into Betws-y-coed town centre and had breakfast at Alpine Coffee Shop (we enjoyed it so much that we returned Sunday and Monday morning too!).  After filling our bellies we gathered some info about the mountain from a local information centre, then headed to the trailhead.

We got there around 11:30, and ended up having to park a little ways away from the actual start of the trail.  There are 6 main routes up/down Mount Snowdon with varying degrees of difficulty.  Because we had two kiddos in hiking backpacks, we decided to do a kind of middle-of-the-road difficulty trek: the Pyg Track up and the Miner’s Track down.  Including our journey from the car to the trailhead, we ended up hiking about 11 miles total.

**Sidenote:  B and I purchased a hiking backpack [similar to this one] secondhand from another military member, and it was perfect for this trip–it provided much more stability and support than our normal everyday carriers, was mostly comfortable on the hips and shoulders, and had some storage room for a few diapers, wipes, and snacks.  I carried Benjamin on the hike up, and B took over for the descent.  I didn’t like the idea of falling forward with something like 30 extra pounds on my back on the way down, so I opted for the ascent!  As you can see, Benjamin seemed to like the carrier too!    

The weather was absolutely perfect for us.  No rain and barely a cloud in the sky {practically unheard of in the UK!}, with the sun shining and temps in the 50s.  We truly couldn’t have asked for a better day!!  The scenery was seriously breathtaking.  I have never seen such green grass and turquoise, sparkling water.  I will just let some photos do the talking….

Gorgeous, right?

All of us were dog-tired after our adventure, so we got some dinner in town, then headed back to the house for some wine and beer nightcaps before bed.

Sunday, after breakfast, we headed to the town of Conwy, about 3o minutes away.  The town is pretty cool because the original town walls are still in tact in many areas, so you can climb up and walk around them.  They gave great views of the surrounding areas and the castle.

We made our way to the castle itself after a stop in a yummy bakery we stumbled upon.

The castle was pretty cool {our friends’ three-year-old especially thought so!!}.  Much of it consisted of ruins, but there were intact interior spaces and towers that we could climb, giving amazing views!

That afternoon, once we got back into Betws-y-coed, B and I (and Benjamin) headed into town to check out the stream/waterfall and bridge running through town, which was pretty.  As you can tell in the pictures, since we drove to Wales and had room in the car, we brought our Ergo and stroller in addition to the hiking backpack carrier.  We had a yummy dinner in town and spent the evening relaxing with everyone in the house.

We wanted to get on the road relatively early Monday morning, and were hoping to check out Swallow Falls, a well-known dramatic waterfall in Betws-y-coed.  We almost drove right past it, as it is fairly well hidden despite its fame.  There is a £2 fee to enter the park area, but it is well worth it!  Once you walk in, you are led to the first part of the waterfall, which is impressive in itself.  However, after many more stairs and some serious legwork, you can see the entire falls in its glory.  It was beautiful!  Definitely worth the stop and the entrance fee!  I think my favorite part was when our friend decided we should take a selfie with all of us, so we used a wallet to prop up his cell phone on the {wet from the mist of the falls} handrail and used a timer.  After a bit of finagling, we got it to work without anything falling into the water, miraculously!  I am so glad we found it and spent the little bit of time to see it!

I think we all agreed that this was a great little road trip from where we live – not too far and absolutely beautiful!  I would love to revisit Wales sometime!

 

 

Dublin, Round 2 (and Northern Ireland)

Since B was out of town for work when I visited Dublin with my sister and her hubby, we planned another visit in August (2015).  Dublin is super easy and cheap to fly to from London; I think we paid around £20 round-trip for each of us!

Benjamin joined us on this trip- he was around 9 months old.  He again did amazing on the plane, and is such a happy, content traveler!  This trip, we brought the Ergo, our lightweight stroller, and the carseat.  The only reason we brought the carseat on this trip is because we had booked a day trip up to Northern Ireland, and the company required us to have a carseat for him for the bus.  We checked the car seat (for free), and gate checked the stroller, which was nice as we could use it in the airport until we boarded.  We bought our stroller secondhand and it has been perfect for us.  There is just enough storage underneath for a few things here and there (a blanket, water bottle, etc.), it has a visor/hood, and is incredibly lightweight and small when folded up.  It has been all over the place!

Anyway, we arrived in Dublin on August 12 around 8:30am.  Luckily, our AirBnB owner was okay with us checking in early, so we took a cab directly to the apartment.  The apartment was amazing!  We actually took a little bit of a chance on this listing, as there were no reviews yet when we brooked it.  Usually I am a bit of a review nut, I search and read reviews incredibly carefully because I have heard horror stories of apartment and house rentals.  The owner, Brian, did have other listings in other cities with great reviews, so we decided to go ahead and chance it.  I am so glad we did!  The apartment was across the street from the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral and was cozy, but just perfect for our little family of 3.  Brian was kind enough to arrange a cot (pack and play) for us for little man.  He even stocked some milk, a water jug, and some snacks for us in the kitchen!

*Sidenote: we have yet to encounter a situation during our travels that a cot/pack and play has not been provided for us upon request.  We most often stay at AirBnBs, and every place has been able to secure one, and often places even provide a high chair.  We own, but do not travel with our own pack and play.  Most hotels provide cots as well.

After getting our items settled, we decided to head out toward Trinity College, meandering through St. Stephen’s Green along the way.  Dublin is a fairly stroller-friendly city, so we carted Benjamin around in that for the day.  We were hoping to go see The Book of Kells, but the line was outrageous, so we just wandered a bit, checking out the architecture and other sights.  For most of the morning, we did one of our most favorite things when traveling: letting ourselves get lost in the city.  I think we ended up walking something like 13 miles that day total!

We ended up back in the city centre for lunch, and had some delicious sandwiches {and a Guinness!} at Temple Bar.  [If you haven’t checked out my other post about Dublin, I raved about their food, especially considering my reservations regarding touristy hot spots.]  B suggested we try Trinity College again after lunch to see if the line for the Book of Kells was any shorter.  It was actually pretty short, so we decided to go for it.

Photography was not allowed in the area housing the Book of Kells, but it was pretty amazing to see!  It is an illuminated manuscript, so of course I was really fascinated by the intricate illustrations and lettering.  The history of its creation was also pretty interesting.  We then were able to go to The Old Library which is…well…an old library!  I think I found it even more fascinating than the Book of Kells.  It was gorgeous and reminded me of Beauty and the Beast!  It houses the oldest books in the Trinity College Library, as well as busts of authors and philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Newton.

On our way back to the apartment, we found some street performers–Benjamin loved watching them!

The next day we got a bit of a later start, as Benjamin didn’t sleep super well.  We had decided to get the Dublin Pass for the day, so we headed to pick it up.  We were hoping to see quite a bit that day: Kilmainham Gaol, The Dublin Zoo, Guinness Storehouse, Old Jameson Distillery, and possibly St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Well, between getting a late start and just overall travel logistics, we highly overestimated what we could do.  While I think the Dublin Pass ended up saving us a few Euro, it wasn’t as cost-effective as we had hoped.

We started out the day at theThe Dublin Zoo, which was a winner for all of us!  We took the city bus there, as it was a bit outside of the city center.  There were lots of animals to see and the zoo was clean and nice!  We spent quite a while there and didn’t even get to see the whole thing!  I definitely would recommend it and go back if we were in Dublin again!

Our plan after the zoo was to check out a tour at the Old Jameson Distillery [which I spoke about in my other Dublin post].  Unfortunately, the next tour wasn’t for another hour, which would impede upon our later plans to check out the Guinness Storehouse.  Since I had already visited Jameson, B was okay with us skipping it and going to Guinness.  I kind of wish we would’ve gotten the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus pass–while most of the sights in Dublin are centrally located, there are a few that are a bit of a walk, especially if you are on a time crunch.

We made it to The Guinness Storehouse with plenty of time to explore.  The tour is self-guided through seven floors, covering everything from history to production to  advertising to tasting.  Although I had been told that the Jameson tour was better, I actually much preferred this one, especially with a nine-month-old.  Being able to move at our own pace and read as much or as little as we wanted was ideal.  Much of the tour was interactive and filled with colors, lights, and sounds, which also kept Benjamin entertained.  B and I even did the “Guinness Academy” [on the fourth floor], where we learned how to pour a proper Guinness.  The top floor had an observation deck bar with great views of the city.

Since we spent quite a bit of time at the storehouse, we didn’t end up making it back over the Jameson, which was okay with us because we enjoyed Guinness so much.  Instead, we had just enough time to stop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I had been during my last Dublin visit, so I hung out with little man to let B wander around and read all of the history and such.

We ended our day with some delicious Irish food (approved by all three of us!), Irish beer, Irish music, and traditional Irish dancing at Fitzsimons  in the temple bar area.

The following day was our looooong day trip to Northern Ireland, so we got some rest.  The day trip was exhausting but absolutely amazing!  We booked the Giant’s Causeway day trip through Viator.  The tour included the Carrick-A-Rede bridge, Giant’s Causeway, lunch, and a quick stop in Belfast.  After getting on a coach bus at 6:30am, we made our way through the Irish countryside and along the coastal highway to the Carrick-A-Rede bridge, a rope bridge that was once used by fishermen to get to an island that was good for fishing.  We had a little bit of a walk from the parking lot to the bridge, and the landscape was beautiful.  This was what I had always thought of when I thought of Ireland!

The bridge itself didn’t look especially scary or dangerous, but was much more frightening when actually crossing it!  There were super steep steps leading to it, then it was basically just some wood planks surrounded by rope netting and handles.  The wind made the bridge sway and rock, which was then made more intense by the fact that I was wearing Benjamin on my back in the Ergo.  B and I both made it across safely to the island, where we didn’t get much time to explore, as it promptly started to mist/rain.  We pretty much headed right back across the bridge and toward the parking lot.  Luckily, we thought ahead and brought our rain jackets!

The tour stopped for a quick lunch, then headed to Giant’s Causeway, an area along the coast where volcanic lava created interlocking basalt columns {most with five sides}.  It was pretty cool to see, but I don’t know that it was as magical as I had expected.  I did enjoy seeing the waves, the varying sizes of the “stepping stones”, and areas where old coins had been lodged in between the rocks.  Luckily, it wasn’t raining in this area, and B carried Benjamin in the Ergo, so I was free to roam and take a boatload of pictures (surprise, surprise, right?).

Our final stop of the day was Belfast.  We were only there for about an hour, so we just wandered about and ate a snack.  It was a nice little break from the bus.  Our bus made it back to Dublin city centre around 8:30pm.  Overall, it was a fantastic day–the sights were amazing, our bus driver was great–he told stories and made the ride much more enjoyable, and Benjamin was such a trooper- most of the people on the tour were shocked when we carried him off the bus, as they had no idea that there was a baby traveling!

After a long day of traveling, it was nice to get some food in our bellies and head to bed!

Our last day was August 15, and we didn’t have much planned for the day since we had such a busy day the day before.  We started our morning at the yummy Queen of Tarts {also mentioned in my last Dublin post}, then found some local art to add to our growing travel art collection.  We spent some time relaxing in St. Stephen’s Green–Benjamin loved all the birds and ducks there.

Finally, we peeked inside Marsh’s Library, another old, fascinating library before heading back to pack up and head to the airport.

This trip renewed my faith in Ireland, as I was a little disappointed last go around.  I liked not being as rushed to see things for sure.  I also really, really enjoyed our day trip up to Northern Ireland–I feel like I was able to see some different types of landscapes and scenes.

Dublin, Round 2 Travel Journal

 

A Taste of Dublin, Brugge (again), and Amsterdam

I have been lucky enough to have a few visitors while living overseas, including my sister and her husband last summer.  My sister’s husband’s brother (did you follow that?) is also stationed overseas in Germany, so they made a trip to see us and then meet up with him and spend some time in Germany.  Unfortunately, B was out of town for work while they were here, so he missed out on spending time and traveling with us.

This was Shelby & Uriah’s first time meeting Benjamin as well, so they were super excited!  While in England the four of us made a day trip down to London, checking out the typical sights and doing a lot of walking.  We also rode the London Eye, a first for me.  Benjamin absolutely loved it, but I wasn’t overly impressed for the price.  It was a cool thing to experience and the views were pretty amazing, but the dang thing moves so. darn. slow.  

Anyway, I digress; this post is about Dublin, Brugge, and Amsterdam isn’t it?  After a couple of days in England, we set off.  Our plan was to fly to Dublin for two days, then fly to Brussels, where Aaron (my sister’s husband’s brother) would meet up with us driving and take us to Brugge.  We would spend a night there, then head to Amsterdam for about the same amount of time.  From there, I would head back to London, and the rest of them would make their way back to Germany and do some exploring along the way.

This was Benjamin’s first flight– he was about seven months old at the time.  For anyone interested in how I travel with my little guy, I am a babywearing mama and used a K’tan carrier when he was itty bitty (which I LOVED), then switched to an Ergo original when he had good head control and was a bit bigger.  So, for traveling, the Ergo is/was my savior–when he was little I typically didn’t even bring a stroller or carseat on trips when I didn’t have to.  This trip was a bit tricky though; I knew I would have help carrying stuff during most of the trip, but coming back to the UK was going to be difficult since I would be by myself with Benjamin.  Also, because Aaron was driving from Germany, I knew I would have to bring a carseat.  This was my packing strategy: I had Benjamin’s diaper bag (using a backpack is a thousand times easier than a traditional diaper bag for us), my carry-on (which is what I packed both Benjamin and my clothes in), Benjamin’s carseat (which was checked for free), and I carried him in the Ergo.  [On the return trip, I managed by wearing Benjamin in the Ergo on my front, wearing the backpack on my back, and carrying the carseat and my bag together.  It was a little bit of a pain, but definitely doable.]

Again, I digress.

Dublin, Ireland…. We left London the morning of June 23 and arrived in Dublin around 9:30.  Because I had the carseat, we decided it would be easiest to take a cab to our hotel.  We stayed in a triple room at the Clifden House, which was beautiful, clean, and comfortable.  It was a little bit of a walk from the centre of the city, but definitely doable!  After we dropped our bags and the carseat, we headed out to explore.  Ironically, one of my sister’s high school friends was in Dublin at the same time, so we met up with her for brunch.  She introduced us to the delicious Queen of Tarts.  {I think we ate here both mornings we were there *AND* I took B there when we went back to Dublin in August…so yummy!}

Our first tourist stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It was, like most cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe, beautiful.  I am always in awe of the architecture and stained glass windows.

After wandering the streets a bit, we rested at the apartment, then headed out again for the afternoon/evening.  We took the tram toward the Guinness Storehouse, but we had heard that the tour there wasn’t as good as the Old Jameson Distillery, so we just peeked in before moving along.

*Sidenote: After returning to Dublin with B, I wholeheartedly disagree with that opinion–I absolutely loved the Guinness Storehouse tour and would do it again in the heartbeat!  I will write about that in my next Dublin/Northern Ireland post*

Dublin is a really interesting mix of old and new, quaint and not-so-quaint, beautiful yet also kind of dirty and gross.  I liked it, but not as much as I expected to.

We ate at the famous Temple Bar for dinner, and it did not disappoint!  My sandwich was phenomenal, the Guinness was incredible (and I am not even much of a Guinness drinker), and the atmosphere was fantastic!  I am always a little bit hesitant to go to the “hot spot” touristy places, but I was really glad we went!

After a few beers a nearby pub, we called it a night.  Oh right, and some gelato.  For some reason, I just love eating gelato wherever we go 🙂

Dublin is kind of like Brugge in that you can pretty much see the main highlights in a day or two, so we decided to start the next day with a little morning trip out to Dún Laoghaire (pronounced “Dun Leery”), a nearby seaside town.  We hopped on the DART train and took a pretty 20 minute ride to the harbor area.  It was nice to get out of the city for a few hours; it was quiet and the water was beautiful.

Coming back from Dún Laoghaire, we decided to get off the train at Grand Canal Dock Station, which looked pretty trendy and cool in pictures, but was actually fairly disappointing.  We found an Irish pub for lunch {I had some traditional Irish stew; yummy but nothing to write home about} and then made our way back toward city centre.  We stopped for a beer and to listen to some live music, which was one of the things I loved most about Dublin.  I am all for a good pint and some good tunes!

Our final stop in Dublin was the The Old Jameson Distillery.  My sister and her husband are both whiskey fans, so they were especially excited about this!  While I do enjoy whiskey every now and then, I am definitely no connoisseur!  The tour was really informative and our guide was hilarious!  I felt incredibly odd bringing a 7-month-old into the distillery, but he slept in the carrier the entire time {baby carriers have magical sleepy dust, I swear!}!  The tour guided us through the different stages of Jameson production, and at the end there was a tasting that included a scotch, Jameson, and American whiskey.  Uriah was a champ and took them all; Shelby and I both took some sips but weren’t tough enough to finish them all!

Overall, I liked Dublin, but didn’t fall in love with it, like I had other places.  I think seeing places in such a short timeframe is also hard because I love to wander, explore, and get lost in cities.  Onto Brugge…

Brugge, Belgium….  Early Thursday morning (June 25), we hopped on a flight from Dublin to Brussels, Belgium.  As I said, Aaron drove from Germany to pick us up and take us to Brugge.  The drive was quite the adventure in itself.  There were lots of delays on the highway, so we ended up taking all kinds of random roads, including backroads *literally* through farms as well as crazy city streets through Ghent.  Ghent looked really cool- if I ever make it back to Belgium, I think I want to take some time to see it!

Anyway, we made it to our apartment mid-afternoon, much later than we had hoped.  The apartment was fantastic!  It was spacious, clean, and really reasonably priced.  It was located right outside of the city centre, about a 10-15 minute walk.  Our first stop, of course, was a waffle!  Then we wandered around, enjoying the beautiful summer day.  My sister, Benjamin, and I took a canal tour (the same one I had done with L on my girls day) while the boys found a pub.  Benjamin was definitely a crowd pleaser on the boat- he even got a picture with our driver!

Afterward, we joined the boys for a few beers, then headed to The Church of Our Lady (again, the same church I visited with L).  Aaron is an art history buff, so we all paid to go see the Michelangelo sculpture housed there, Madonna of Brugge.  It was pretty impressive to see something that old and well-known!  It was a long day of travel, so we made it an early night after dinner.

The next morning, we had an absolutely fabulous breakfast at Detavernier/ “Carpe Diem” tearoom.  Shelby, her hubby, and Aaron all were hoping to climb the Belfry before we headed to Amsterdam, but when we arrived, there was a huuuuuge group of kiddos on a field trip there ahead of them, which was taking foreverrrrrrr.  So they decided against the climb and we got on the road to Amsterdam around midday.

Amsterdam, Netherlands….     

The drive from Brugge to Amsterdam was about 3-3.5 hours (and much less eventful than our drive from Brussels to Brugge, thank goodness!).  The AirBnB apartment we stayed at was smack dab in the middle of the city, so we had to find a parking garage.  I would suggest to anyone visiting Amsterdam not to drive, or to find a park and ride outside of the city, as driving there is a little crazy and parking is pretty pricey.  Getting our bags to  the apartment was a bit of a hassle too; the narrow cobblestone streets and crowds did not mix well with Shelby & Uriah’s roller suitcase (they had a bigger bag since they were staying in Europe longer…).  The apartment was a bit tricky to find, as it was situated over a cute little jewelry/gifts shop.  It was adorable though–very small and cozy, but cute nonetheless.  The owners were great too!  We had a great view of the neighborhood.  **If you have big luggage and stay here, take caution, as the staircase was spiral and very narrow!  The price was a bit steep too, but from what I’ve seen and heard, Amsterdam is just a more expensive city to stay in.

Amsterdam is gorgeous.  It has a similar look to Brugge with the canals, cobblestone, architecture, and old-Europe feel, but you can tell its bigger, busier, and more culturally diverse.  It is known for its bikes- and even though I knew this before getting there, I was completely unprepared for the actual sheer volume of bikes I saw!  It seemed as if everyone was on a bike!  While we were there, we learned that there are approximately 700,000 people in Amsterdam, but over a million bikes!  and they have to fish 25,000+ out of the canals each year.  After dropping our bags off, we wandered around and just explored the sights and sounds of Amsterdam.  Dinner was okay, but nothing to write home about….HOWEVER….our dessert for the evening…OUT.OF.THIS.WORLD.  We had Poffertjes from a local little shop, and they were ah.ma.zing.  Seriously, getcha some.  We picked up some wine and beer to enjoy in the apartment and relaxed the rest of the evening.

For our second day in Amsterdam, we were planning on renting bikes and braving the crazy, narrow streets of the city.  However, I got a migraine early, so I knew I couldn’t go (so, so bummed 😦 ).  The rest of the group decided not to go either {which I still feel horrible about!}.  We ate some breakfast, then began to explore again.  The boys wanted to go to a sporting good store, so Shelby, Benjamin, and I explored a church, had a light lunch, and just relaxed by the canals for a bit.  I was finally starting to feel better, so once we reconvened, we took a canal boat tour.  It was incredibly informative {even though one of the guides was a bit of a blonde…} and, like Brugge, a great way to see the many different areas of the city.  We boated under lots and lots of bridges, alongside many houseboats, and through the famous Red Light District.  That area isn’t really my “thing”, but I think if I went back without Benjamin it would be interesting to explore.

After the tour, Benjamin snuck in a nap while we chilled out by the canals, and the other three climbed the bell tower in the church.  It was getting later in the afternoon, and I had to head to Eindhoven, where I would stay the night and fly out early the next morning, and the others had to begin their journey back toward Germany.  Aaron drove Benjamin and I to our hotel, and we all had an overpriced, unimpressive dinner at the hotel before they headed out.  It was really bittersweet saying goodbye to them, as I knew it would probably be quite awhile until I’d see them next.  It was so, so good to be able to spend time and travel with them though!

So, my overall thoughts on Amsterdam:  It’s kind of hard to say because I feel like I didn’t really get the “full experience” between the short stay, having a 7-month-old,  and my horrible migraine.  It was such a gorgeous, exciting city with so much to do, but I feel like I didn’t do a lot.  I did like the laid back vibe and thoroughly enjoyed the people watching there!  If I were to go back to the Netherlands/Amsterdam, I definitely would want to rent bikes, see the Anne Frank House (the line was outrageous when we went by; I’ve heard it’s  best to get tickets well in advance), explore the Red Light District a bit, and see the countryside some too!

Dublin/Brugge/Amsterdam Travel Journal