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!

Must See in Prague, Czech Republic

Prague – Praha, the Heart of Europe, the Golden City, the Mother of Cities, the City of a Hundred Spires.  The nicknames it has acquired since its founding in the 9th century are vast, like the cobblestones that pave its historic center.  Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic and is home to some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen.

My family and I recently seized the opportunity to travel to and spend a few days in Prague.  In our opinion, the people are friendly, the history of the city is vast, the food is amazing, and the beer is cheaper than water.  The last one is not an opinion…It’s true, at restaurants the beer is cheaper than water.  “Na zdraví!” That means “cheers!” in Czech.

Below are some sights my family and I think you must see while in Prague.  This list is not an example of everything to do in Prague because…well…we were only there for two and a half days…and this list isn’t even everything we saw and experienced.  It’s just what my family and I believe are the must sees.  Honestly, we could go back and still fill up a week’s itinerary.  These are just the sights that were at the top of our list.

The Charles Bridge

I think it’s impossible to go to Prague and not see the Charles Bridge.  Not only because it is such a historic landmark, but because it is quite central to many of the sights. I think we crossed it at least six times and saw it from many vantage points as we traversed Prague. 

The Charles Bridge was commissioned by Emperor Charles IV after the Judith Bridge was damaged by a flood in 1352.  The foundation stone was laid at exactly 5:31 a.m. on July 9, 1357.  Gothic in style, this pedestrian-only bridge spans 520 meters over the Vltava River and connects the two main historic sections of Prague.  It is adorned with 30 statues featuring saints and important Czech historic figures.  Each statue has a story and is significant to the history of Prague. The bridge towers that anchor each entry point to the bridge are stunning and once served as fortifications.

You could spend a lot of time just learning about the Charles Bridge.  There’s a Charles Bridge museum and boat tour that details the construction and history of the bridge.  There’s also the opportunity to go inside each bridge tower and explore, as well as, get a unique elevated perspective.

One of my favorite memories of our trip to Prague is my daughter on the Charles Bridge at sunrise skipping along the cobblestones lost in her own daydream.  

  • TIP: Arrive at dawn if your goal is to get a picture of the Charles Bridge without a crowd of people on it.  It gets packed throughout the day and evening. 

Old Town Square

The Old Town Square in Prague is beautiful and lively.  It is a mixture of Renaissance, Baroque, Rocco, Classicists and Gothic architecture…maybe more styles.  Key buildings within the Old Town Square include: Old Town Hall, Church of St. Nicholas, Church of Our Lady Before Týn, Palace Goltz-Kinski.  This square is great for photos and night is my favorite time to visit because it is so beautiful with the buildings illuminated. 

Town Hall Clock Tower

The Town Hall Clock Tower is a beautiful combination of art and function.  The sculptures surrounding the façade are detailed and symbolic and the artwork and engineering of the clocks are amazing.  The two clocks show the time, sun position, moon phases, date, month, and astrological sign among other things. An added benefit is that a bit of theatre ensues every hour as the skeleton sculpture turns over the hourglass and rings the bell, cueing the 12 Apostles to begin their promenade in front of the windows of the upper section.  Tourist gather around shoulder-to-shoulder, camera phones focused on the scene.  Without looking at the clock, one can almost predict the time based on the amount of people gathered around the tower.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle is more of a castle complex than the traditional castle most people imagine.  It occupies a quite a bit of land and according to the Guinness Book of World Records is the largest ancient castle in the world.  It is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic and once was the seat of power for kings and emperors. 

My family and I toured the interior of the Old Royal Palace section.  If you go, you must visit the Vladislav Hall and look up.  The helical star-like vault is stunning.  It’s worth touring the Old Royal Palace just to view the ceiling in this room.

Guards are situated on either side of the main gate.  When we were approaching them on our first morning in Prague, a tourist was trying her best…yet fruitlessly….to get a reaction out of one of the guards.  If your lucky enough to be around during a changing of the guards, it is quite a large production and well worth seeing.  We accidently timed it just right.  Love it when that happens.

Prague Castle during the beginning of the changing of the guards.

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral is located within the Prague Castle complex.  It is home to some of the most beautiful stained-glass windows I have ever seen; the pieces are so intricate and the colors of the glass are clear and vibrant.  It is definitely worth a visit because stained-glass windows can only truly be appreciated in person.  Entombed in St. Vitus Cathedral are the remains of Czech kings, emperors and members of their families to include Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Roman Emperor.  He established Prague as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire during his reign in the 1300’s and he an advocate of art and culture.

  • TIP:  Arrive early.  This sight gets extremely crowded throughout the day with tour groups.
Exterior view of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic.

Golden Lane

This section within the Prague Castle complex is quite interesting.  The top section was the ramparts and defense walls where the weapons were kept and from where soldiers took up arms to protect the castle.  The lower section is comprised of small dwellings where villagers lived. When I write small, I mean three rooms if they were lucky.  Several of them are set up to portray what life was like on this lane in the past. At the end of this lane is a house that Franz Kafka, the famous German author of The Metamorphosis lived for a bit. I read this book about a year ago.  So, I thought it was interesting. 

Just outside the Golden Lane and down a steep staircase is a dungeon, rather authentic and untouched where prisoners were shackled and tortured.  It was eerie.  I can only imagine the horrible things that happened in that room.

Petřín Tower

Petřín Tower, sometimes referred to as the little Eiffel Tower, sits on top of Petřín Hill in the center of Prague.  It is surrounded by a beautiful park.  To get the to Petřín Tower, I recommend walking up through the park.  It is lovely and the views of Prague improve the higher you climb up the hill. I bet the park is beautiful in the Fall.  Once, you arrive at Petřín Tower, climb the 299 steps to the top for a beautiful panoramic view of Prague.  I actually think that the view from the middle balcony is better than the view from the top because you don’t have interference from the windows.  There’s not an outdoor balcony at the very top. 

Once you complete the climb and make your way back down, I suggest relaxing at the café at the bottom of the tower with a Czech beer.  Remember what I wrote earlier…beer is cheaper than water…and tastes better in my opinion.

Other Notable Sights

Prague truly is quite beautiful and interesting.  It is also extremely walkable.  We actually walked 26 miles throughout Prague during our two-and-a-half-day trip because the short distances to each sight added up and we sometimes just like to stroll through a city and discover things along the way.  Some other sights my family and I recommend are the National Museum, John Lennon Wall, Dancing Building, Penguins, Swans/Muskrats, Statue of Franz Kafka, Powder Tower, Obecni Dum, Jewish Quarter and National Theatre.

Overall, I can honestly say I really love Prague. The people, energy of the city, art, architecture, and culture are inspiring. I hope this blog inspires you to plan your own trip to Prague…the Heart of Europe.

Happy travels!

Lex

How to get a Traffic Ticket in Germany

Moving to Germany has been amazing!  My family and I have enjoyed living in Europe and adapting to our life in another country.  However, my husband, who never gets traffic tickets back in the states, has become a professional at getting traffic tickets in Germany. 

An interesting detail is that police officers in Germany don’t issue tickets for speeding.  They focus on larger scale issues and keeping the peace.  It’s true.  Instead, there are speed cameras set up in prime locations. One would think that it would make it less likely for traffic violations since everyone knows where the cameras are located, however, this is not the case.  It’s almost unheard of for someone not to have received a ticket.  These cameras have a 5 kph tolerance, which means if an individual is driving 5 kph (3 mph) over the speed limit, then a picture gets taken and that individual gets a nice present in the mail. 

In our first six months living in Germany, my husband has received six speeding tickets.  Mostly within the first two months, but we still occasionally receive one in the mail.  I’m pretty sure I have one for myself on the way.

My husband also received a ticket for parking illegally in front of someone’s garage door in a city.  A police officer showed up at our temporary apartment one morning banging on the door.  The police officer asked my husband to follow him.  So, of course my husband followed him down the stairs and was asked to move the car out of the ‘parking’ spot while a group of neighbors gathered around to watch the commotion. The police officer was not happy.  He asked my husband, “Were you drunk when you parked?”  My husband sad, “No, I thought it was decorative.”  In his defense, it was a pretty garage door and it was quite dark when he parked.  We still joke about this interaction.   

I’m not innocent in all this ticket business.  I have received one for parking in an electric car only parking spot.  You know, the spots that have the charging poles in front of them.  I should take time to read the parking signs more carefully.

I have also managed to blow out a tire on two separate occasions.  One was my fault.  I was busy looking at the pretty houses in a neighboring village.  Before I knew it, the street narrowed, and a car was coming toward me.  I over compensated and hit the curb, shredding the tire immediately. 

That was a stressful day because I was brand new to Germany.  I only knew two people.  My husband was on a work trip.  It was my daughter’s first day of school. My cat was in surgery at the vet.  And I had just ruined our only vehicle.  Oh, and my phone battery was on 22% and I did not have my charger.  It all worked out but was incredibly stressful at the time.  Several Germans, who were complete strangers showed me such kindness that day and if it wasn’t for them the situation might have gone quite differently.     

The second time was not my fault, but I was prepared having already dealt with a similar situation in Germany.  I now have my insurance company and the car towing company in my list of contacts on my phone.  Plus, I now have a larger support network of friends to rally in those types of situations.

As you can see, adjusting has been interesting, but we are enjoying time in Europe.  Adapting to life here has forced each of us to grow and watch out for speed cameras, curbs, parking signs and garage doors.

Travel Presently

It happened on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic at sunset – one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.  The silhouettes of saints and Gothic towers along the bridge. The Prague Castle and spires of St. Vitus Cathedral peaking the hill.  The sun’s fluid waves in its reflection off the Vltava River.  And that’s when it happened.  My smart phone battery died.  Of course, it died.  I’d been using it all day to record and photograph pretty much everything as we traversed Prague.  Now what? 

In that moment, when I was forced to just be present and not distracted by the ‘need’ to record and photograph everything, I was able to be mindful and completely experience the beauty of the sunset with my family.  I chatted with my daughter, who was entranced by the way the setting sun glittered off the river.  As I looked at her in this moment, I noticed how her eyes reflected the setting sun.   It was so beautiful.

One of the few pictures I took before my phone died. It’s even out of focus.

This unplugged moment also allowed me to look around and notice that there were many people with their phones glued to their faces as I had been.  They were taking picture after picture and editing on the spot.  Selfie after selfie until they got it ‘right.’  They now had proof that they had been in Prague on the Charles Bridge, but I wonder if they were actually experiencing the moment.  Would they have vivid memories to look back on, or just photographic proof?  I’m not judging, just observing.

This experience has ignited a new determination inside me to live in the moment, not just on my travels, but also in everyday life.  Of course, I’m still going to take pictures, but I’m going to limit the number of pictures I take at ‘must see’ tourist spots and never do on the spot editing.  Then I will put my phone away and enjoy the moment with my family and live presently. 

Have you noticed this as well?  That the moments and experiences you can actually remember and recall in vivid detail are the moments that you put your phone/camera away?

16 Things to do in Southern Ireland with your Child

My husband and I love bringing our daughter along on our adventures.  In fact, there’s never even a question on whether or not she will come with us.  We love to explore as a family and think that it is beneficial for her to have these experiences in her life.  Plus, she’s actually a lot of fun and it’s interesting to see her reaction to events and certain aspects of history. 

It’s not always the easiest and requires compromise.  Traveling with your children or child in my case means balancing adult interests with your child’s interests.  It’s amazing when there’s an overlap, but it’s important to make time for both. 

Below are some of the experiences that my 8-year-old daughter enjoyed the most while touring Southern Ireland

DubliniaDublin

Dublinia is an interactive exhibit/museum that allows the visitor to travel through Dublin’s colorful history from the Vikings to Medieval times.  The information is creatively presented through interactive displays and settings.  There were a few sections that my daughter found a bit “creepy,” but overall, she enjoyed it.  Dublinia is next to Christ’s Church Cathedral. So, you could do both quite easily.  It is also part of the Dublin Pass, which is what we used to enter.  According to the Dublinia website hours of operation are: Monday to Sunday from 10:00 A.M. – 6:30 P.M. March to September and 10:00 A.M. – 5:30 P.M. October to February.  Give yourself at least an hour and a half to explore.

Dublin CastleDublin

My daughter was super excited to explore Dublin Castle. The part that truly piqued her curiosity was the archeological site of one of the original towers.  To see this section of the castle, you must be on one of the tours.  It is rather fascinating.  Also, inside the more modern section of the castle is an activity page for children to complete.  My Daughter always loves these types of scavenger hunts.  Plus, it’s educational and is a part of the Dublin Pass. 

Celtic PerformanceDublin

Dublin has many Celtic performances throughout the city.  We opted for a dinner one close to our hotel.  My daughter really enjoyed the energy of the Irish dancing and the bodhran drum, which is now one of my favorite instruments. It has this almost tribal sound and the energy that resonates from it is intoxicating.  I digress.  It is definitely worth attending one of the many Celtic performances in Dublin to experience traditional Irish music and dance. 

Kilkenny CastleKilkenny

The picturesque Kilkenny Castle was built in 1195 and is situated along the River Nore.  Daily guided tours are available, or you can branch out on your own.  The castle was the official seat of the Butler family and has been refurbished to its Victorian era grandeur.  I recommend taking in the view to the NW from the upper bedroom.  It’s fantastic.  Also, if you have children, there is a nice playground on the castle grounds just NE of the castle.  My daughter thought it was amazing.  It’s a great place for a picnic.

Medieval Mile MuseumKilkenny

The Medieval Mile Museum was interesting and showcased the struggles of life in Kilkenny during medieval times.  Guided tours are available, but we opted for the headset, which my daughter thought was great because she could tour at her own pace.  Don’t skip the graveyard section.  It was a bit eerie, but also a time trip.  A great activity for kids is the Lego figurine scavenger hunt throughout the museum.  If your child finds all of them, he or she will get a small prize.  It kept my daughter entertained.  The figures are well-hidden.

Kiss the Blarney StoneBlarney Castle & Gardens

Go ahead.  Do it!  It is the castle’s claim to fame.  Legend says that by kissing the Blarney Stone the individual will be blessed with the gift of gab…eloquence of conversation.  There are some things to consider.  First, if you don’t arrive early, you will be waiting a long time.  Second, if you are afraid of heights, this may not be for you because you are backwards, upside down and head first leaning over the edge.  It is relatively safe though.  There are bars and there is someone there holding you, however, if you’re not comfortable with heights, you may struggle a bit.  This seems like a good place to admit that my daughter would not kiss the Blarney Stone.  The height made her extremely nervous.  The attendant that was helping did point to a closer, smaller stone that he said is a special one that only works for kids.  It would’ve been an easier reach, but she still didn’t go for it. Third, the Blarney stone is at the top of the castle and the climb up is steep and narrow.  All that being said, I think it’s worth it. My daughter enjoyed the view from the Blarney Stone.

Explore the CastleBlarney Castle & Gardens

The Blarney Castle has its charm with its picturesque, sturdy exterior and interior spaces that feel authentic. My daughter enjoyed exploring all the different areas.  I could tell that it made her daydream a bit.  The thick stone walls and narrow steep stone staircases and corridors show today’s tourist a glimpse of what it must have been like to live in and defend this great castle.  You will see the great hall, bedrooms, “bathrooms”, towers, the murder hole, and many other rooms.  There are no furnishings, but that really didn’t bother us.

Blarney Castle - Ireland

Creep through the CavesBlarney Castle & Gardens

Beneath the Blarney Castle lies a series of caves.  These are fun to explore, but can be a bit muddy after rain and some are a tight squeeze.  My daughter thought it was the best!  These caves once connected to the main castle and were used as exit and entry points.  Now, they’re just really interesting to explore.

Visit the Witch’s TreeBlarney Castle & Gardens

In the gardens of the Blarney Castle stands an amazing tree with wide-spreading branches.  Below the tree is a shallow cave…just a small room really. It has a fireplace with a chimney protruding from the ground on the opposite side of the tree and cave entrance.  The tree is rumored to once be home to a witch.  It is perfect for a child’s imagination to take flight. It’s outward appearance and lower cave enclosure is reminiscent of a fairy tale setting.  Nearby is a similar cave that once belonged to a hermit.  It is said that people from the castle brought food down to sustain him.

WaterfallsBlarney Castle & Gardens

There are a few small waterfalls a short distance from the castle that flow into small pools at their bases.  It’s peaceful and picturesque.  The sound of the water from the falls was also soothing.  I think it helped that we were some of the few people in the garden at the time. 

HorsesBlarney Castle & Gardens

I can’t personally attest to it, but apparently there are horses fenced in within the garden a short walk from the castle.  They were not in the pasture when we passed by, but I’m sure it would be nice to see them.  I bet younger children would enjoy a quick peek.

Titanic ExperienceCobh

The Titanic Experience in Cobh, Ireland was fantastic for any age. A chilling aspect of the experience is that each person is given a boarding pass with the name of a real passenger from the Titanic printed on it.  At the end of the tour you find out if your passenger survived.  Before that, you get to explore the exhibits and learn many interesting facts and see replicas of the first- and third-class passenger rooms.  The part of the experience that gave me goose bumps is the original dock that the last passengers to board the Titanic departed.  It’s still standing.  Unfortunately, neither my daughter’s or my passenger survived the sinking of the Titanic.  My husband’s passenger did. 

Spike IslandCobh

Spike Island may seem like a strange place to take a child, but my daughter really wanted to go…so, we did. It is the sight of a former prison and military base and has a vast and interesting history. Some things that made it nice for our daughter was the ferry ride over to Spike Island from Cobh, which offered some amazing views from the water.  She learned a lot about Ireland’s history through the island tour and was entertained by a fairy house scavenger hunt as we explored the main section of the island. We explored the former prison buildings and saw the remnants of the former town that once existed on the island.  My advice:  Walk along the water by the ruins of the former town.  Go as far as you can go.  Trust me, the path dead ends at an old building on the water that you can’t pass.  If you are there during low tide like we were, you will see a small beach of stones.  This is where we skipped stones and found the most amazing sea glass and pieces of old pottery.  From this small beach, you will also get a beautiful view of Cobh across the water.  I would pay to go back to Spike Island just to hangout at this small patch of beach with my family again.   

Pet a LambDingle Peninsula

Yes, there is a place along the Dingle Peninsula where you can pet, pick up and snuggle the most adorable lambs.  Ours was so sweet and soft.  My daughter still talks about this experience.

Inch BeachDingle Peninsula

The five kilometer stretch of tan-colored sand that comprises Inch Beach is a paradise anchored on each side by cliffs and large rolling hills, opening up to the Atlantic Ocean.  It was too cold to swim, but my daughter enjoyed running barefoot through the water and chasing the seagulls.

Cliffs of Moher

The views of and from the Cliffs of Moher are amazing.  The aspects that my daughter found interesting besides the views were the history presentation inside the white tower, which explains one man’s vision that turned the Cliffs of Moher into a tourist destination.  She also enjoyed the interactive displays inside the visitor’s center.  Here she learned about many of the animals that call the Cliff’s of Moher home. 

I hope these ideas help you plan your trip to Southern Ireland with your child and or children.  There is plenty to occupy and entertain them along the way.  Plus, Ireland is such a beautiful place, it would be a shame not to bring them along for the experience. 

I’m sure there are more places and things to experience with your child in Southern Ireland.  Please share below in the comments any you think should be added to the list. 

Happy Travels,

Alexis

Exploring the Luxembourg Christmas Markets

This is my first year living in Europe and of course I had to venture out to some of the famous European Christmas Markets.  Each one I visited was unique and charming in its own way, but my absolute favorite one of the season was Luxembourg City.   

The lights of the Luxembourg Christmas Market.
Luxembourg Christmas Market at the Place de la Constitution.

What Luxembourg lacks in size, it made up for in Christmas spirit.  My ears were treated to the sounds of Christmas carols, my eyes alighted to millions of Christmas lights sparkling throughout the city.  The scent of Christmas trees and woodburning fires danced on the breeze.  My taste buds rejoiced at the flavors of gingerbread and glühwein and my feet were energized as I glided across the ice-skating rink.  

Side note: Glühwein is a mulled wine served hot.  It is a traditional drink at European Christmas markets and usually comes in a festive mug unique to each market.  I already have a Christmas market mug collection, which could pose a storage problem in the future.  They are too fun to pass up.

My family and I have decided that visiting Luxembourg’s Christmas markets will be one of our new family Christmas traditions.  The Christmas market consists of three individual markets situated within three separate squares that are within walking distance of each other.  Each square has its own unique offering.  

Place d’Armes

The first of the markets that we visited was the Place d’Armes.  This old town square offers the market that is most like a traditional European Christmas market and is perfect for eating, drinking and getting into the Christmas spirit.  Within the square are many traditional local food and glühwein booths, as well as, a stage for Christmas carol performances.  The atmosphere was lively and festive.  My daughter’s favorite part was a section where she could roast marshmallows over a small bonfire.  The architecture of the buildings that border the festivities is quite stunning and a perfect backdrop to the holiday celebration.

Luxembourg Christmas Markets
Christmas Market at Place d’Armes

Place de la Constitution

The next market we visited was Place de la Constitution.  As we waited to cross the street to enter this market square the excitement and anticipation were almost too much to contain.  The millions of colored lights and holiday themed rides invited us to enter and made this market a truly magical Christmas fantasy.  My daughter’s jaw dropped and she was stuck in a loop of “Wow!  Look at that!”  In addition to the rides, this market offered food, craft, and game vendors…and of course, glühwein.  We whirled through the air inside one of the ornaments on the giant Christmas tree ride and marveled at the Ferris wheel.  My daughter won a stuffed animal at one of the carnival style games and enjoyed a ride on the carousel.  It was a festive experience.

Luxembourg Christmas Market giant Christmas tree.

Place Guillaume II

The final Christmas market we visited was a short walk away from the Place de la Constitution in Place Guillaume II.  The main attractions were ice-skating and eating/drinking.  The ice-skating rink was next to a large wooden structure where people dined on traditional food and warmed themselves with glühwein and hot chocolate…mostly glühwein.  In this market, the lights were stunning and the music was loud and vibrant, a great compliment to the ice-skating and party atmosphere.  I’m sure you can guess that we went ice-skating.  We must have glided around the ice rink more than a hundred times because before we knew it two hours passed.  Time speeds while playing tag and twirling on the ice.  My daughter thought it was the best.  Later that night while I was putting her to bed, I asked, “What was your favorite part of the day?” Without hesitation, she said, “Ice-skating.”

Ice-skating at the Luxembourg Christmas Market.
Ice-skating at Knuedler on Ice.

So, if you’re ever traveling in Europe near Luxembourg during the holiday season, I highly recommend you visit the Luxembourg Christmas markets.  You won’t be disappointed. If you’ve been to the Luxembourg Christmas Markets, please let me know your favorite part in the comments below.

Happy travels.

Things to do in Kilkenny, Ireland

The medieval town of Kilkenny, Ireland is picturesque and pregnant with personality.  I may be a little biased as I can trace my paternal ancestors back to this region, and this hamlet has been on my list of places to visit for years.  Biased or not, it definitely lived up to the anticipation.  Below are some things that I believe are vital to do and see when you visit Kilkenny.

Kilkenny Castle

The picturesque Kilkenny Castle was built in 1195 and is situated along the River Nore.  Daily guided tours are available, or you can branch out on your own.  The castle was the official seat of the Butler family and has been refurbished to its Victorian era grandeur.  I recommend taking in the view to the NW from the upper bedroom.  It’s fantastic.  Also, if you have children, there is a nice playground on the castle grounds just NE of the castle.  My daughter thought it was amazing.  It’s a great place for a picnic.

Kilkenny Castle.

Smithwick’s Brewery Tour

Located along the Medieval Mile in Kilkenny, the Smithwick’s Experience (pronounced “Smittick’s” by locals) is a must.  The tour takes place in the old brewery and is guided by a local “Cat” (someone from Kilkenny.)  The information on the brewing process was thorough and clearly presented.  The historical information started with the Franciscan monks, who were the original brewers in Kilkenny, and highlighted the major events of the brewery of John Smithwick and his family.  The tour featured the history of the various struggles in running the brewery to include John Smithwick being Catholic during the Reformation and not being able to technically own his brewery and how the brewery survived and even thrived during WWII – called “The Emergency” in Ireland at the time.  The price is 15,00 euro per adult and includes an ale in the tasting pub at the conclusion of the tour.

A flight of ales at the Smithwick's Experience in Kilkenny, Ireland.
Smithwick’s Brewery Tour in Kilkenny, Ireland.

Churches and Cathedrals

If you enjoy touring churches and cathedrals, then you’ll love Kilkenny.  There are so many to choose from and all within walking distance.  There’s St. Canice’s Cathedral, which was built in the 13th century.  Next to the cathedral is one of the two remaining medieval round towers from the 9th century in Ireland that can be climbed.  I recommend climbing the tower for a great view of the city.  There’s also the Black Abbey, which was founded in the 13th century.  The Medieval Mile Museum is located in a former church.  Also, you can see the ruins of St. Francis Abbey, home to the original Franciscan monks, who started brewing in Kilkenny.  When my family and I were visiting, they we doing construction of some sort on the Abbey so I’m not sure what the future plans are for the site.

St. Canice's Cathedral and round tower in Kilkenny, Ireland
St. Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower – Kilkenny, Ireland

Stroll

Kilkenny is an extremely strollable city.  So, slow down and take a stroll among the Cats of Kilkenny through the alleyways and along the streets.  Visit the quant shops enticing your wants of arts, crafts, clothing, décor and more.  Observe children in their plaids walking home from school and posturing for hierarchy within their social tribe. Treat your taste buds to a gelato or ale.  Enjoy the architecture.   Let the church bells remind you of the passing of time on the hour. 

Medieval Mile Museum

The Medieval Mile Museum was interesting and showcased the struggles of life in Kilkenny during medieval times.  Guided tours or available, but we opted for the headset, which my daughter thought was great because she could tour at her own pace.  Don’t skip the graveyard section.  It was a bit eerie, but also a time trip.  A great activity for kids is the Lego figurine scavenger throughout the museum.  If your child finds all of them, he or she will get a small prize.  It kept my daughter entertained.  The figures are well-hidden.

My family and I were able to fit these Kilkenny experiences into a one-day trip.  Just get there early and enjoy.

If you enjoyed this blog, checkout some of my other experiences in Ireland.

Happy travels!

Guinness Storehouse vs. Smithwick’s Experience

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