A Weekend Near Dieppe, France

My family and I recently spent a long weekend at an Airbnb located on the top of a cliff with a view of the French coast near Dieppe.  It was by far the most relaxing vacation we’ve taken since moving to Europe.  It was a simple weekend of simple pleasures.

I won’t write much in this post because the pictures express it far better than my words.

We walked along the shore each day in search of sea glass and shells and dipped our toes in the cool waters of the English Channel.  My daughter and I even ventured into the water up to our waist…well…my daughter stumbled a bit when a wave hit her and was soaked from head to toe, but it was purely accidental.   

We witnessed the setting of the sun each day from the cliff top.  These were some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Beautiful sunset, cliffs and beach near Dieppe, France.

We grilled out each evening and ate at a makeshift table in the garden.  My husband prepared steaks that we brought from home and fresh seafood from a market in Dieppe. I worked on the sides of pasta salad and veggies.  While we waited for the steaks to cook, we played soccer or bean bag tic tac toe with our daughter in the yard.  We ate at sunset and asked each other trivia questions while sipping on wine and munching on brownies.

We spent a day walking through the historic streets of Dieppe, France. My husband’s mother vacationed here as a teenager…so we spent some time trying to figure out the exact house.  We toured the castle art museum and walked along the pebbled shore where we bought a kite, a slushie and pomme frites. We stumbled upon a farmer’s market selling fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, plants and seafood.  We bought seafood from a market to grill for dinner. We ventured down to the historic harbor and our daughter rode the carousel.  We marveled at the historic architecture and the city’s historical importance.

People dining at an outdoor cafe in Dieppe, France.

We flew a kite for hours and picnicked on the cliff.  We took turns flying the kite and munching on snacks.  The black cat from next door ventured down to us for some snuggles. We are cat lovers…so…she was a welcomed addition to the afternoon.

We hiked. There was a nearby cliff that was higher than ours.  So, we hiked up it to see the view from the top.  It was worth it.

We played Uno as a family after dinner.  Each night we sat around the coffee table listening to music and playing Uno.  Our daughter dominated the first night and I was able to squeak out a win on the second.

The weekend was beautiful and simple.  It was perfect in its simplicity. 

The Five Villages of Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages on the north west shore of Italy along the Ligurian Riviera offering stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and a perfect place to unwind and enjoy an Aperol Spritz.

My favorite part about Cinque Terre is how difficult it is to access.  It is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site because its inaccessibility has left the area untouched by modern department stores and mega builds and allows for a step back into a more peaceful time.

The five villages of Cinque Terre date back to the Middle Ages and are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. My family and I recently had the opportunity to explore these beautiful villages.

*Quick Tip: It’s pronounced (Cheen Kwah Terra) and literally translates to Five Lands.

Monterosso

Beach of Monterosso in Cinque Terre, Italy. Orange and green striped umbrellas line the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

Monterosso is the northern-most village of Cinque Terre and where we rented a hotel room. It boasts relaxing beaches, a historic city center with narrow alleyways, a robust nightlife and plenty of excellent restaurants.  Speaking of restaurants, Monterosso has many delicious seafront options. Every morning we enjoyed cappuccino and pastries at Bar Gio’ with a view of the Mediterranean.

Monterosso is perfect for the traditional, relaxing beach day.  You can rent an umbrella/chair combination at one of the cabanas and spend the day laying along the shore, swimming, and enjoying snacks and beverages at the café. 

*Quick tip: Arrive early.  The private beaches, which are the nicer ones with the most amenities, open at 8:30 and the umbrellas and chairs usually sell out by 10:00 each day during the peak season of June-August.

I don’t have a favorite place to eat in Monterosso because everything we had was delicious.  We usually chose to have dinner along the shore in this village because there were many options with great views and the sunset here is beautiful.  My favorite dishes in this area are the seafood pasta and the caprese salad.

*Quick tip: Make a reservation.  Because of Covid-19, seating was limited.  So, if there is a specific restaurant you really want to try, then make a reservation.

Vernazza

The village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, Italy.  People play in the water and along the shore surrounded by colorful architecture from the Middle Ages.

Vernazza is a beauty with great energy. Its protected cove offers the perfect spot to swim surrounded by historic seaside architecture. More confident swimmers can jump off rocks from this village into the open sea. Many people sunbath and relax on the half-moon shaped rock structure that protects the cove. 

A tower on the cliff provides stunning elevated views of the Mediterranean Sea and a different perspective of the village.

All the villages are pretty, but to me this is the prettiest village of the five.  We spent the morning of the first full day of our trip in Vernazza, swimming and exploring its narrow alleyways built in the Middle Ages.

Corniglia

A town square in the village of Corniglia in Cinque Terre, Italy.  A church from the Middle Ages is central to the square.

Corniglia is a charming clifftop village with narrow alleyways and some of the best gelato I have ever eaten. It’s not easily accessible, but worth the trek to explore. From the train station, you have to walk about a quarter of a mile and then climb 377 steps to get to it.  Not the most fun experience on a sunny day in late July, but well worth it.

Because of its elevated position, the views from this village are stunning. 

Back to the gelato…Corniglia is home to the best gelato I have ever tasted…Alberto Gelateria.  Try the basil flavored gelato topped with olive oil.  I know, it sounds strange, but your taste buds will thank you.  My daughter enjoyed the Nutella flavored gelato.

Manarola

The village of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy on a sunny day.  The colorful architecture climbs the side of the mountain and people splash in the swimming lagoon and jump from rocks.

Manarola boasts beautiful and colorful architecture. Its main attraction for the adventure seeker is the cliff jumping opportunities for all skill levels.  The swimming options in this village are picturesque and consist mainly of lagoons and protected coves.

We swam in Manarola for hours.  Jumping off the rocks into the lagoon was my daughter’s favorite part of the whole vacation.  My husband jumped from the highest rock, which is estimated at being as high as a three-story building. 

Best food in Manarola is hidden gem of Cappun Magru.  The flavors were so well balanced and the dishes are traditional Genoa recipes.

Riomaggiore

Colorful boats are tied to the shore of Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Riomaggiore is the southern-most village of Cinque Terre and offers great swimming for adults. This picturesque village is steep and the colorful houses slope up the side of the mountain wasting no real estate.

A steep, protected trail along the edge of the cliffs offers picturesque views of the sea and the colorful buildings of the village.   

This village seemed quieter and less crowded than the other villages, but it may have just been our timing.

I hope this post helps you better understand the differences between the five villages of Cinque Terre, Italy.  Each has its own unique beauty and is worth exploring.  My top three were Vernazza, Monterosso and Manarola, but you may enjoy one of the others more. 

Happy travels!

The Aperol Spritz

One late afternoon as my family and I dined on seafood pasta watching the sunset in Monterosso in Cinque Terre with salt and sunblock still coating our skin, a waiter brought the four people at the table behind us each this strange looking bright, orange-colored drink served over ice in a wine glass. 

This was not the first time we had seen this drink during our Italian vacation.

The tan woman in the light blue sundress excitedly proclaimed, “It’s not summer until you have one of these.” All at the tabled nodded their heads in agreement, clinked their glasses together and drank.

My curiosity, love of tasty alcoholic beverages, and the realization that the group of people at this table spoke English – my Italian is ‘rusty’…and…by ‘rusty’ I mean never fully acquired – finally won out and I leaned back just a bit to ask the woman closest to me, “What is it you’re drinking?”

“Oh, it’s an Aperol Spritz!  You must get one!  It’s amazing!”

Who was I to argue with such a rave review? So, my husband and I ordered one each.  It was refreshing…not my favorite drink in the world, but definitely summery. 

Here is the official recipe of the Aperol Spritz for the International Bartenders Association.

Aperol Spritz:

  • Combine 6cl Prosecco
  • Followed by 4cl Aperol
  • Build into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice
  • Top with a splash of soda water
  • Garnish with half orange slices

Enjoy!

Okay.  So, what is Aperol?

Aperol was created in Italy in 1919 and according to Aperol.com, “Aperol is the perfect aperitif. It’s unique bittersweet taste and bright orange color derive from a secret and original recipe, that has remained unchanged over time.  An infusion of ingredients including oranges, herbs and roots which make a perfectly balanced combination.”  

Overall, it’s a light, tasty summer drink to enjoy.

What to do in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy is a charming collection of five villages along the Mediterranean Sea.  Its kaleidoscope of colorful architecture from the Middle Ages, access to beautiful beaches, delicious dining and hiking trails make it a popular Italian vacation destination.

Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national park.  The villages of Cinque Terre are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. 

My family and I had an amazing time in Cinque Terre. It was so great that we are already planning our next trip.

*Quick tips: Cinque Terre’s season is March to November. It’s pronounced (Cheen Kwah Terra) and literally translates to Five Lands

Below are some of the things we think you should do and see in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Cliff Jump in Manarola

Manarola offers swimming options for all ages and thrill-seeking levels.  It is not a traditional beach.  It’s more like a collection of lagoons with large, natural rock structures rising upward from the water. 

Two guys stand on the rock cliffs in the village of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy at sunset.

The most popular of these is located right in the center.  It offers jump ledges for every skill and nerve level from one foot from the water to the height of a three-story building.  The water is deep enough, but only barely.  Many of the people who jumped from the highest ledge spoke of skimming the bottom. 

My daughter jumped from the two-foot height, I chose the four-foot ledge and of course my husband chose the highest.  It looked thrilling.  I was just nervous about the potential of skimming the bottom. 

We stayed here swimming and cliff jumping for hours…no exaggeration. This is not a relaxing swimming area, but it is definitely exciting and worth a visit.

Travel by Train or Boat

If you drive to Cinque Terre, park your car at your hotel and do not get back into it until it’s time to leave.  The roads connecting the villages are narrow and not easy to navigate. 

When we were driving down to Monterosso to our hotel, there were actually parts of the road that had eroded off the side of the cliff, making a nerve wrecking experience even worse. 

Trust me.  Use the train or a boat. 

The Cinque Terre Express connects the five villages, is easy and affordable to use and offers consistent and reliable schedules.  We bought a two-day pass for my husband and I.  They do not offer a two-day pass for children.  So, we just purchased two of the one day passes for my daughter.

The Cinque Terre Ferry has stops at Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  It is a beautiful way to see the villages from the sea.  We chose to take the ferry all the way from Monterosso and departing in Riomaggiore on our second morning.  We then used the train on our way back to Monterosso stopping along the villages we wanted to revisit. There is not a stop in Corniglia.  If you choose to use the ferry the whole day, be aware of the time because the last ferry pickup in some villages is 5:00 p.m., which in the summer, seems a bit early since there is so much daylight remaining.   

The large white ferry boat in Cinque Terre, Italy docked at the shore in Monterosso.

You can also book private boat tours.

Explore the Five Villages

Each of the five villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore) is charming with plenty of amazing photo opportunities, swimming options, historic architecture, and food.  Stroll through the narrow alleyways and, as hokey as it may sound, observe their stories. 

View of the village of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Because Cinque Terre is difficult to access by a major road, it has been left remarkably untouched.  Colorful fishing villages rising up from the Mediterranean Sea, perched precariously along the sloping edges of mountains.

Eat, Drink and Eat some more

If you leave Cinque Terre without eating seafood pasta, were you ever really there?  Obviously, I’m joking, but it’s delicious and a staple of every menu.  I mean it’s Italy…and you’re by the water. I think we had it three times. 

My next advice is super specific.  In Manarola, after exiting the train tunnel take a right and follow the main road up the mountain, keep going.  You will come to a small, non-descript restaurant…it is the epitome of “hidden gem.” It was one of the BEST places we ate at in all of Italy.  It’s called Cappun Magru and offers traditional Genoa recipes. 

Food from Cappun Magru.

The chef makes a limited number of each recipe per day and when the item is sold out, it is not replaced.  So, arrive early.  The recipes are perfectly flavored.  The restaurant is tiny – three tables inside with three high top tables on the patio.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Last food advice.  In Corniglia, up the main alley is the Alberto Gelateria, home to the most unique and delicious gelato flavors.  My husband and I had the Basil flavored gelato topped with olive oil.  Sounds weird, right?  But it tastes delicious.  My daughter had the Nutella gelato.  Getting to Corniglia by train is a beast because once you depart from the train station you must climb 377 steps to reach the city.  I would make the trek again and again just for the gelato…and the views.

Basil flavored gelato from Alberto Gelateria.

Hike from Village to Village

While I didn’t personally hike from village to village because it was July and the sea was calling to us, I wanted to let you know about the beautiful hiking opportunities in Cinque Terre.  If you want to check out hiking specifics, view Wandering Wanda’s hike.

Experience the Beaches

Beach at Monterosso in Cinque Terre, Italy.  Colorful umbrellas and beach chairs are lined up in symmetrical rows.

Each village in Cinque Terre has its own unique beach.  Here is a quick description of each.

  • Monterosso – Traditional beach, rent umbrella and chairs, easy access to refreshments, panoramic views.
  • Vernazza – Surrounded by beautiful architecture, safe bay for young children, open sea swimming and rock jumping for a thrill.
  • Corniglia, – No convenient beach access from village.
  • Manarola – Protected lagoons for swimming and plenty of rock jumping opportunities for thrill seekers.
  • Riomaggiore – Difficult spot for children, nice for adults, requires climbing onto rocks to lounge.

If you want more details about the beaches, visit my previous post: Best Beaches in Cinque Terre, Italy.

I love Cinque Terre, Italy.  It is a stunning, relaxing destination with so much character and history combined with delicious food, wine and fun.  I hope this post inspires you to plan your own trip to Cinque Terre. 

Best Beaches in Cinque Terre, Italy

In honor of National Beach Day, I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a brief description of the beaches of Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages on the north west shore of Italy along the Ligurian Riviera.  It is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and a perfect place to unwind and enjoy a swim in the salty water.

The five villages of Cinque Terre date back to the Middle Ages and are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Each village has its unique waterfront and swimming options.  In this blog, are the details of each village’s “beach.”

*Quick Tip: It’s pronounced (Cheen Kwah Terra) and literally translates to Five Lands.

Monterosso

Orange and green striped umbrellas symmetrically line the beach near Monterosso in Cinque Terre, Italy

Monterosso is the northern-most village of Cinque Terre and is perfect for the traditional, relaxing beach day.  You can rent an umbrella/chair combination at one of the cabanas and spend the day laying along the shore, swimming, and enjoying snacks and beverages at the café. 

The water is not very deep and there are rocks about 20 yards from the shore.  So, if you swim out a bit, be careful where you step.

*Quick tip: Arrive early.  The private beaches, which are the nicer ones with the most amenities, open at 8:30 and the umbrellas and chairs usually sell out by 10:00 each day during the peak season of June-August.

Vernazza

The beautiful cove of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Vernazza is a beauty. There are two swimming options in this charming village.  The first is the protected cove encircled by historic seaside architecture, which is great for children.  Adults interested in wading in and relaxing might enjoy this option as well. 

The other option is on the opposite side of the rocks protecting the cove.  More confident swimmers can jump off the rocks into the open sea.  The rocks also provide a great spot for sunbathing or relaxing with a book. 

*Quick tip: Do not be surprised if you encounter women sunbathing topless from the rocks. Welcome to Europe!

Corniglia

Corniglia is a charming clifftop village with narrow alleyways and some of the best gelato I have ever eaten. It is not easily accessible, but worth the trek to explore. No real beach option for the average visitor.

Manarola

Swimming lagoons and cliff jumps in Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Manarola boasts beautiful and colorful architecture. Its main attraction for the adventure seeker is the cliff jumping opportunities for all skill levels and swimming in picturesque lagoons.  This “beach” is atypical, and is not the best for relaxing, but it is exciting and offers thrill seekers a great opportunity for an adrenaline rush. 

It is still a great spot for children because they can jump off some of the smaller rocks into the lagoon fairly safely and grow their confidence.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is the southern-most village of Cinque Terre and offers great swimming for adults. It is not an area I recommend taking your children to swim, but if your party only consists of adults, then there are some opportunities to swim from rock outcroppings.

I hope this blog inspires you to visit the beaches of Cinque Terre and or spend some time at your own favorite beach. If you want to know more about Cinque Terre, Italy visit my website.

Happy National Beach Day!

In the comments below, tell me about your favorite beach.

Why Visit Burg Eltz in Gemany?

The idyllic river flows gently around the castle mound.  It’s cool, shallow waters and smooth stones are perfect for a barefoot walk. 

As my daughter and I stacked pebbles and stones into precarious pillars in the middle of the river the hem of her cotton dress skimming the water’s surface, small children splashed and giggled in their underwear a bit downstream.  

Cyclists dismounted from their bikes for the opportunity to dip their hands in the chilly waters refreshing after a long ride. Families lounged along the shore with picnic baskets heavy with homemade lunches and a time-worn couple relaxed in the shade on a paint chipped bench reminiscing about their youth. 

From its hilltop perch, Burg Eltz elegantly reigned over the valley observing another generation enjoying a beautiful, sunny day by the river.

My family and I recently had the opportunity to visit the medieval Burg Eltz in the Rhineland-Palatinate state of Germany.  Built in 1157 along the lower Eltz River, which serves as a tributary to the Mosel River, this castle was once situated along a popular trade route, which has since been abandoned leaving this regal beauty nestled within the German wilderness.

Here are some reasons why I think you should visit Burg Eltz.

Burg Eltz has never been destroyed.

Unfortunately, many castles in Germany have been destroyed as a result of conflicts, or due simply to neglect.  While beautiful, it’s expensive to maintain a castle and in modern times is not considered a comfortable place to call home. Therefore, most castles in Germany are ruins, or have been rebuilt and lack originality.  I’m not a castle snob, but I prefer the original builds and even the ruins to a reconstruction.

In this regard, Burg Eltz is a gem.  It is a time capsule, a walkthrough museum to explore.  Taking photos is forbidden within the castle.  As a result, the only way to see what lies beyond the gate is to actually experience it.

Burg Eltz has been owned by the Eltz family for its entire 853-year existence.  A family, which held extensive political power at its prime and still occasionally occupies the castle, when in the area.  If walls could talk, I think Burg Eltz would have many stories to tell.

Great place to hike.

As I mentioned, Burg Eltz is surrounded by wilderness making it a great place for hiking.  There are well-shaded, clearly-marked hiking trails at varying skill levels that offer scenic wilderness views as well as different perspectives of Burg Eltz.  This castle is beautiful from every angle.  So, be sure to wear your hiking boots and bring a camera/phone. You’ll be tempted to take many pictures. Most of the hiking trails can be managed by families with children and some people brought dogs with them, but note that your pup will not be allowed inside the castle grounds.

Eltz River

The Eltz River that runs next to Burg Eltz was an unexpected highlight of the trip.  It was fun to play in the cool water with my daughter and was a great place to people watch and enjoy the view of the castle from a lower elevation.  I recommend bringing a lunch and having a picnic in the shade next to the river.  If possible, try to stake a claim on the central island next to the old bridge.  Great spot.

Quick Tips:

  • Arrive early in the morning to try to avoid a line.  We arrived in the early afternoon and easily waited an hour to enter because there is a limited number of guests allowed within the castle grounds at one time due to Covid-19.
  • You will not be permitted inside without a mask.
  • Bring sunblock.  There’s no shade while standing in line. 
  • Use the bathroom before you arrive.  Like I previously mentioned, the wait can be long and there are no restrooms until you enter the castle grounds.
  • They accept euros and credit cards.

I hope this post inspires you to add Burg Eltz to your destination list.  It was a wonderful way to spend a day in Germany. 

Happy travels!

Geierlay and Erbeskopf Day Trip – Germany

The last weekend before social distancing was enacted in Germany as a result of the Coronavirus, my family and I decided to visit the longest suspension bridge in Germany, Geierlay and the highest mountain in the German state of Rhineland-Pfalz, Erbeskopf.  This decision was made as we sat around the table drinking the last of the coffee in our mugs and polishing off the remaining morsels of our Saturday morning breakfast of pancakes and bacon.  Fully caffeinated and fed, we were ready to explore. Many times, these spontaneous trips result in some of our favorite experiences.

Geierlay Bridge

My stomach lurched as the bridge swayed slightly below me.  I’ve never been afraid of heights, however, the 100-meter drop to the valley below is daunting when standing in the center of the 360-meter suspension bridge known as Hängeseilbrücke Geierlay. 

Geierlay Bridge in Germany

Built in 2015, it is Germany’s longest suspension bridge.  This bridge is an experience, but was built with the intent of becoming a tourist attraction and is truly a bridge to nowhere. Other than being included in a hike, it isn’t a structure that has a utilitarian purpose of transporting goods and services, just hikers and sightseers.

It hangs over a valley in the Hunsrück low mountain range that is part of the Rhineland plateau region and is between the towns of Mörsdorf and Sosberg.  We parked in Mörsdorf and paid a small fee of four euro.  Other than the parking fee, there were no other costs associated with hiking to and crossing the bridge.

Geierlay Suspension Bridge in Germany

There are three options to get to the bridge; a short hike a little more than a kilometer through the woods, a medium hike approximate four kilometers through the woods and countryside, and a walk along a paved route on the outskirts of Mörsdorf.  We wanted to hike the shorter path through the woods, but it was closed.  So, we chose the paved path behind the village because with my daughter, we weren’t prepared for the longer hike.

Once we arrived, it was fun to watch my daughter cross the bridge.  She was a bit nervous at first.  As I mentioned before, the swaying is a bit unsettling, but by the time we were crossing back over the bridge heading to our side of origin, my daughter was lost in her imagination humming and doing a little dance. 

People-watching on the bridge was entertaining.  Lovers kissed at the center, sealing their love with a lock clasped tightly to the structure’s side.  Numerous individuals struggled to get the perfect selfie at the exact angle to avoid any awkward happenings in the background.  Most dogs crossed the bridge vastly better than their human companions.  The group was a mixture of avid hikers and Saturday sightseers.

The village of Mörsdorf has some charming features and a few dining options if you want to make this a full day trip in the area. 

Erbeskopf

Our second excursion of the day was to Erbeskopf, which is the highest mountain in the German state of Rhineland-Pfalz. It was nearing sunset as the car made the final turn up the narrow road leading to the peak where the snow-covered view opened up before us. 

Erbeskopf in Rhineland Pfalz, Germany

When my daughter saw the snow, her excitement level skyrocketed.  My little, warm-blooded, beach babe has been obsessed with snow since we moved to Europe.  We thought we had seen our last snow of the season, but due to the elevation, there was still about three to six inches of snow on the top of Erbeskopf.  There was enough snow for a snowball fight, but not enough powder to please skiers.  So, we pretty much had it all to ourselves.

Our spontaneous itinerary for the top of Erbeskopf was as follows. First, we walked the boardwalk out to the observation deck to see the panoramic view. Then we climbed the lookout tower for an even more elevated perspective. Finally, we commenced pegging each other for twenty to thirty-minute in a energetic snowball fight. It was definitely time well spent.

Though this day trip was a last-minute decision, my family and I enjoyed the experience and memories we made exploring.  It was also one of the least expensive day trips we’ve had so far in Germany.  Since we packed a picnic lunch, the total cost was four euro, plus the cost of gas.  Not bad.

Happy travels (once we all can again)! For now, stay safe!

Two Days in the Austrian Alps

Kitzbühel with a Kid

“Last one down the mountain is a rotten egg!”  Why did I say that?  What was I thinking?  Surely, my intent was to ignite my daughter’s competitive spirit, for my odds of a victory against the tandem toboggan team of her and my husband were low…almost nil.    

However, with a quick start, I had a slight lead heading into the first turn. The third of a mile, natural toboggan trail of Gaisberg snaked down the mountain ahead of me, a combination of snow, ice and slush. The tight turns and extreme drop-offs charged my adrenaline.  Left hand down…turn…straighten.  Right hand and down…turn…straighten.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The sounds of taunting and snow crushing under toboggan tracks increased as the distance between us shortened.  Before long, my husband and daughter were right behind me.  In a last-ditch effort, I scooped up some snow and launched it over my head in an attempt at distraction.  

I missed. 

On the next turn, my toboggan hit a patch of slush, diminishing my speed.  A second later, they passed me on the outside.  My daughter squealed with delight and yelled, “See you at the bottom!” They sped down the mountain quickly increasing the gap between us and most likely securing their victory. 

But I wasn’t going to quit. 

I decided to let the toboggan run fairly free…minimal braking.  This was a bit difficult since my toboggan was naturally veering slightly to the right.  Despite the veering, I was gaining ground on them…until IT happened.

I followed the trail around a sharp left turn that opened up to a steep incline that ended in a sharp right turn.  No problem. This should be fun, I thought.  Unfortunately, the incline was no longer snow.  It was ice.  My toboggan slid over the ice, gaining speed.  The sharp right turn at the bottom was approaching.  I fought to slow it down to make the turn.  I dragged my right hand and foot.  When this didn’t work, I began to lean to the right.

This was a mistake.  I leaned just a bit too far over to the right, unbalancing the toboggan.  I rolled off the side of it as it shot out from under me, over the embankment and down a short slope where it was snagged by a safety net affixed into the mountain.  Apparently, this was a common crash site. 

Once I checked to make sure there were no witnesses, I took inventory of my body.  Did I break or bruise anything, other than my pride?  I definitely had snow and ice in places it had no business being, but overall I was fine.   

I retrieved my toboggan and completed the course.  When I arrived at the bottom, my daughter and husband were there waiting.  A group of skiers was also close by waiting to board the ski lift.  My daughter began to chant, “You’re a rotten egg! You’re a rotten egg!” That little stinker.

This event took place during my recent trip to Kitzbühel, Austria with my husband and eight year old daughter. 

My daughter has been begging us to go to Austria since we moved to Europe back in July.  Our beach babe wanted to play in the snow.  Side note, during the entire time we were in Austria in February the temperature never dropped below freezing and we didn’t see a single snowflake. [sigh] Anyway, we planned this trip around things she would like to do in Austria. 

Toboggan

Clearly, my daughter enjoyed tobogganing.  This was her first time in the Alps and really her first experience with any type of snow sport.  This is why we opted for tobogganing as opposed to skiing.  She also rode with my husband because she did not feel comfortable driving it alone.  We thought she would change her mind after the first couple of rides down the mountain, but she didn’t.  I don’t blame her.  Because the temperature was warm and there was no fresh snow fall, the course was a bit rough with very few barriers to protect one from steering right off the trail. 

We used Kitzski to toboggan down Gaisberg and enjoyed it.  The ski lift up the mountain was peaceful and offered great views.  The kid’s playground at the top was unique.  There were also two options to relax and eat at cozy mountain restaurants.  The first is immediately after exiting the ski lift and the other is about two-third of the way down the trail.  We stopped at the lower one for lunch, beer and hot chocolate. 

The toboggan trail is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day.  We arrived at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t leave the mountain until 3:45 p.m.  Night time tobogganing is available Tuesday through Saturday from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.  We were only in town on Sunday and Monday night so we didn’t get the opportunity to try it in the evening.

Ice Skating

By the second day, the toboggan trail was not available because of the warm conditions and lack of snow made it impossible to navigate.  So we opted for ice skating at Sports Park Kitzbühel.  This is your typical indoor hockey/ice skating rink.  My daughter enjoyed it and gained confidence with each circling of the rink.  There were some kids there who appeared to be trained ice skaters doing spins and tricks. They were fun to watch skillfully glide across the ice.  Then there’s always that one adult who gets a bit too confident and takes a painful spill.  When kids fall ice skating, they bounce right back up.  This is not true of adults.  The rink is open for public skating from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily.  It’s a nice alternative to the slopes when the toboggan trail is closed, while still keeping with the wintery theme.  

Kitzbühel

Also on the second day, we strolled through the picturesque, medieval town of Kitzbühel.  The town is nestled in the beautiful Austrian Alps with stunning views of the snow-capped mountains.  It was so colorful and gorgeous.  The restaurants and cafés were abundant and the quaint shops were enticing entrance.  A historic church perches on a hill encircled on three sides by ornate tombstones.  Some are quite old and help tell the history of those who called this village home. 

Swimming

That’s right, swimming.  We used some of our Hilton Honors points and stayed at the Grand Tirolia.  This hotel has an amazing swimming pool and spa area. The pool is heated and offers an indoor and outdoor option.  It was an interesting experience to swim outside in the cold weather. The mist that rose from the surface of the heated water created a haze around the swimmers and the stars shone brightly overhead.  So, we swam every night.

Skiing

As I mentioned before, we didn’t ski during this trip.  However, if you want to see some of the beautiful ski slopes in Austria, blogger paintdigi has some great photos.   

We had an amazing trip to Kitzbühel, Austria complete with tobogganing, ice skating, swimming, strolling, snowball fights and snow angels.  There are many other great towns like this nestled in the Alps worth visiting.  I hope this inspires you to hit the slopes. 

Happy travels!

Cat Café: Awesome or Awful?

His iridescent, yellow eyes locked on my panini, licking his lips, he gracefully stretched then leaped down from his sun-soaked window ledge and stalked closer to my table, prowling for his lunch.  His graceful body weaved between worn chair legs, dodged adoring customers and ducked under tables as he traversed the expanse that connected his ledge to my meal.  In one swift movement, he jumped up onto the wooden chair across from me, placing his paws on the edge of my table as he lifted his rust-colored head to better sniff the scent coming from my plate of ham and cheese on crunchy, white bread.

There was a momentary standoff as we each sized up the other.  Would his hunter instinct and appetite dominate his brain and motivate him to attack my innocent panini? Or would his experience with discipline motivate him to resist? 

His appetite won. 

He reached his fluffy, white mitten across the table in an attempt to paw at my lunch.  I quickly covered my panini as a waitress scooped him up under the pits of his two front legs. He dangled there for a moment like a ragdoll before she flipped him into a cradle position and said, “Oh Chlupáček!  Are you being a naughty cat?”  She playfully rubbed his head and then deposited him into the lap of a lunch-less customer at a nearby table, where he was greeted with cuddles, strokes and adoration.

Reach. Cover. Scoop. Cradle. Deposit.  It felt like well-rehearsed choreography. Chlupáček must be consistently naughty.  I like his tenacity.

This experience took place in the Kočiči Kavárna in Prague, Czech Republic.  The name translates to Cats Café. 

Before continuing, I feel like I should let you know that I love cats.  Always have, always will.  I can’t remember a time that I didn’t have at least one furry family member living with me.  With that being said, here are my thoughts about the cats, atmosphere, cleanliness and food at Kočiči Kavárna in Prague.

Cats

Let’s begin with the main attraction…the cats!  The Kočiči Kavárna is the fulltime home to ten cats. Three are Maine Coons.  If you are a cat lover and have not seen and/or felt a Maine Coon, you are missing out.  Their size alone is amazing! Couple that with their unique facial features and soft fur and it’s truly a memorable experience.  Naughty Chlupáček is a rust-colored Maine Coon.  He was one of my favorites because I have an affinity for tenacious, orange felines.

The remaining seven cats were a mixture of long and shorthair domestics of various colors and sizes.  Many were sleeping in the cat beds nestled throughout the café and a few were lounging in the windows and chairs.  The ones that were awake could easily be enticed to play with the provided cat toys of strings, sticks, feathers and poofs.

All the cats were clean, beautiful, and well-tempered.  They welcomed affection and were quite playful.  It is evident that they are cared for well.

Atmosphere

The aroma of fresh coffee filled the air as I entered the café and a “hello” was directed my way from a young lady behind the food counter.  Desserts of chocolate and pies and other colorful sweets decorated the display case.  Several cats lounged lazily on cat beds and window sills.  I wanted to pet them all.  A mural of the house cats adorned the wall and a large circular table engulfed the front room.  A single lady sat in a chair by the window, her coffee rested precariously on the ledge. She was entranced by the book she held in her left hand and slowly stroked a long-haired cat lounged in a nearby cat bed with her right.  The lighting was warm and welcoming in the front room and the two employees chatted happily behind the counter. 

Through a narrow passage was the back room, which was a bit more dark, calm and quiet.  It was also where the majority of the seating was located.  An enormous homemade cat tree dominated the room.  It looked like an actual tree spreading its limbs, interrupted at intervals by wooden ledges for the cats to lounge.  A boy giggled as a cat pawed at the stringed feather he dangled above the feline’s striped head.  Cats lazily lounged on cushioned chairs and in cat beds and welcomed adoration even while napping.

There was a faint smell of urine toward the extreme end of the back room.  I think the litter boxes were housed behind this walled-in area that looked like a house or shed inside of the room. We chose to sit at the front area of the back room at a narrow table with cushioned chairs and a bench where a gray Maine Coon was taking his afternoon nap. 

Cleanliness

Overall, the Kočiči Kavárna in Prague was clean, especially considering it served as the fulltime home to ten cats.  I didn’t see any obvious signs of cat litter on the floor or even fur build up on cushions.  As mentioned before, there was the slight scent of urine in the far back area of the back room.  There was only one real aspect that bothered me.  Several of the table tops that were intended to be utilized for dining featured cat beds currently in use.  I have cats, but I don’t let them on the table, especially ones used for eating.  I guess it makes it easier for people to pet the cats, but I found it odd.  

Food

When planning this excursion to Kočiči Kavárna, I never intended to eat at the café.  I had imagined having a coffee and then moving on to another spot.  However, by the time we arrived, my family and I were starving.  So, we opted to order from the limited lunch menu.  We all ordered tomato soup that came with a side of toast.  My husband and I each opted for a panini as well.  The food we had, was just okay, however, the cappuccino was delicious!  Surprisingly, only the adorably naughty Chlupáček made an attempt at our lunch. I think if I go back to this café, I will only get coffee and possibly a dessert. 

Awesome or Awful

So, back to the question.  Cat café, awesome or awful?  In my opinion, the experience was awesome!  I love cats and my expectations were met.  As expected, the cats were adorable, sweet, beautiful and playful.  My daughter laughed and had fun playing with the fur babies.  I enjoyed spending time in the cozy and comfortable atmosphere with them and the employees were kind and attentive to the needs of the humans as well as the felines.  I didn’t expect the food to be amazing and I was not surprised by the faint scent coming from the litter box.  The only aspects that were unexpected were the cat beds on the tables that people dine. 

Brief History

Cat cafés are now becoming more popular, but the first truly successful one opened in Osaka, Japan in 2004.  It is named “Neko no Jikan (Cat’s Time).

Would you visit a cat café?  Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Happy travels!

Day Trip to Annecy, France

My family and I had the opportunity to travel to Annecy, France at the end of summer and spend a day in the historic, medieval section of the city.  From the canals, to the chateaus and amazing views, this lakeside hamlet nestled in the French Alps is so beautiful.  We had an amazing day exploring, eating crepes, feeding swans and making memories.  Here are a few things we recommend. 

Stroll along the Canal

Some of the most recognizable and beautiful views of Annecy, France are along the canal.  So, take the time to stroll along it and soak in the atmosphere.  If you decide to eat at one of the restaurants along the canal, be prepared to pay tourist attraction prices, however, there is a place on the corner near the main square by the canal that has the best crepes with both sweet and savory options…worth it!  In the spring and summer, the flowers hanging from the rails add an extra touch of charm to the already beautiful views.  

Within the medieval old town section of Annecy, there are 21 historic monuments to discover. You could turn your relaxing stroll into a scavenger hunt.

Feed the Swans

Within the canal in the Old Town section of Annecy, lives the most beautiful swans.  It’s obvious they are fed quite often by people strolling along the canal because they were quite comfortable swimming close to us while we leaned over the railing for a better view and a more accurate bread toss.  

The Bubble Man

At the main square in the old town, there is a bubble man. A busker, who entertains the children by creating a magnificent amount of bubbles with a rope, soap, water and a bucket. I’m certain he does it for the tips, but the happiness he creates is contagious. A symphony of delighted giggles and playful squeals filled the square as the children followed closely behind the bubble man. They twirled and leaped into the air in their efforts to pop the bubbles. The onlookers, mostly comprised of the creators of said poppers, smiled on with delight taking in the simple beauty of the moment.

Chateau d’Annecy

The Chateau d’Annecy, like many castles and chateaus in Europe, perches on the highest point in the city.  The elevated views from its exterior walls of the alps, lake and village receding below are impressive.  The interior is comprised of an art gallery and a museum of local history.  There are still some architectural details to enjoy, but it is not decorated in a particular time period or style. 

Gardens of Europe

On the shores of Le lac d’Annecy (Lake Annecy), is the Jardins de l’Europe.  The views of the French Alps from across the lake in this garden are breathtaking.  There are several large grassy areas for a picnic or sport.  Two playgrounds for younger kids and great sculptures.  My daughter and I played tag in this park until we were both out of breath and a little sweaty.  People of every age were out enjoying the weather and views.

Chateau de Menthon

This chateau is a short drive from Annecy, but it’s definitely worth the trip to see this beauty.  Speaking of beauty, it was the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  It has been inhabited by the Counts of Menthon for more than 1000 years, which is quite an accomplishment.  It was the home to St. Bernard – patron saint of all mountaineers and protector of travelers.  The panoramic view from its upper terrace is gorgeous.  Some of the most amazing views I have seen throughout my travels in Europe.  The interior is decorated with heirloom pieces from the Menthon family. 

If you’re looking to plan an outing with a bit more adventure, this area offers paragliding, sailing and nautical experiences on the lake, hiking the nearby mountain trails, and biking around Lake Annecy.

My family and I enjoyed our day in Annecy, France and hope this blog inspires you to plan your own trip to this beautiful, lakeside, medieval city nestled in the French Alps.

Happy travels!

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