Venice

Before I moved to Europe I lived in the most picturesque neighborhood in Florida with some of the best neighbors a person could ask for. Seriously- this place was straight out of a Nicholas Sparks movie. Erica and April became like family during our time there and when they decided to visit me in England I was ecstatic. There is nothing like some girl time to recharge your body and mind in the midst of raisin’ babies. Shout out to the hubbies for making this trip possible.

We flew into Venice late on a Friday night and took the bus to the Piazzale Roma. This is as far as a bus can take you- it’s all water taxi’s after this point. We opted to walk to our hotel which was a good 25 minutes of narrow alley ways and bridges. Thankfully we packed light. I chose a hotel that had 24 hour reception and was right in the middle of the touristy area. Residenza Goldoni is steps away from the Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge, perfect location for being able to walk and take water taxis anywhere you need to go.

We didn’t really have any plans going to Venice other than to walk around. Everyone will tell you that Venice is a good place to “get lost” and that’s pretty much what we did. We have 7 toddlers between the three of us and we honestly didn’t want to be on a schedule, wait in any lines or do anything we would have done with kids. Plenty of prosecco was consumed and one of us decided to get a nose piercing-wasn’t me- but I did think about it!

IMG_8064IMG_8066IMG_8068IMG_8106IMG_8109IMG_8114IMG_8116IMG_8117IMG_8121

St. Mark’s square is the famous Piazza that dates back to the 9th century. There are churches and museums to visit in this area but we opted to drink wine and shop for art and jewelry. I found a beautiful watercolor piece for my wall and a bracelet for my niece’s upcoming birthday.

It’s also just a great place to people watch or sit and enjoy the view of boats hopping from island to island. We had plans to taxi over to Murano and Burano but as we were about to board the boat it began to thunder and lightening. I’m not one to be frolicking around when it’s lightening outside so we had to pass on that excursion.

IMG_8070
Venice is well known for glass blowing

IMG_8071IMG_8072IMG_8073IMG_8074IMG_8079IMG_8081IMG_8082IMG_8083IMG_8090IMG_8096IMG_8098IMG_8099IMG_8100IMG_8101

The food In Venice was pretty great. I found the gelato to have been better in Rome but nearly everything else was fairly similar. People think it’s weird when I say this…but probably my favorite dish was a pizza topped with potatoes. Carbs on top of carbs? Yes, please! I think my next trip to Italy will need to entail the countryside and off-the-beaten-path dining since I’m sure that’s Italy at its finest.

The locals were all very friendly but what’s disheartening is the lack of Venetian culture actually living on the island. You have probably seen on the news this summer that many European cities have begun anti-tourism protests. Venice was among one of the cities claiming the overwhelming amount of tourists (mostly those off cruise ships) are raising rents, causing pollution, and forcing locals to move out. Venice was the first city I have visited where this claim was very apparent. It felt like we were only amongst tourists and barely any locals. Almost like being in an theme park. The locals want to protect their centuries old buildings and heritage and I can see why.

IMG_8131IMG_8130

IMG_8126
DEA (our squad name)

Since we were in Venice we had to go on a gondola ride. Sure, it’s pricey but it’s a bucket list item you have to check off. My advice to anyone heading to Venice is to do the Gondola ride first.  Since we waited until the end of the day, we were taken down canals we had already walked down multiple times. Doing it at the start of your trip will give it more of a wow factor. However, it was nice going right before sunset. Felt really romantic with two of my favorite gals!

IMG_8132IMG_8134IMG_8136IMG_8142

Now that I have visited a couple Italian cities I need to know what should be next on my list for Italy. The country? The beach?

So tell me-where is your favorite place in Italy?

Paris

I am not a huge city person, especially when I have two toddlers in tow. We much prefer outdoorsy trips. When my sister and a friend had a couple days overlapping in Europe we all decided to head to Paris and leave the kids with their Daddy. This was my first trip away from both the boys, and it was a little hard but I have to admit I needed a getaway after a couple months of solo parenting.

IMG_7638
When you are traveling kid free and it’s an empty flight. Score!

Where we stayed 

This was a pretty last minute trip so getting a hotel in the arrondissement we wanted was impossible. August is a busy month is Paris. Hotel des 3 Poussins in the 9th arr. was a good last minute find. It’s a cute boutique style hotel near a metro station and about 10 minutes walk from the Moulin Rouge. The area was pretty quiet and we felt safe walking around at night. No views of the Eiffel Tower but we were happy!

IMG_7754
Wish we could have seen a show but tickets here are not cheap

 

How we got around

We took a flight to Paris but took the Eurostar train back. I highly recommend the train over flying. Easier check in, no long lines, more comfortable, and we had no luggage restriction. Plus, there were some shady characters circling us at CDG. We had men stopping very close to us and pretending to tie their non-existent shoelaces, etc. Paris is the only place I’ve visited in Europe where I was constantly paranoid of being robbed.

From the airport and within the city we took the metro. It was very cheap, especially compared to the London underground…but it was also pretty grotesque. It smelled of urine everywhere and we generally just didn’t feel safe, especially walking through the metro stations at night. Next time I would just spend the extra money on a cab. Erica and I had an incident where the doors shut behind me before she had hopped on and we got separated without her having a phone. We thankfully found each other at the next station but that was pretty nerve wracking.

We did spend some time on the hop on hop off bus which is a great way to see the city on limited time. We only had one full day and two half days. Even being busy tourist season is ran very efficiently.

IMG_7768

Where we ate

Honestly, all the food in Paris was great. Probably one of my favorite things about the city. I was excited at all the possibilities of eating out without children and wasn’t disappointed! Erica had cravings for pistachio macarons and pasta so we had plenty of that. Our favorite restaurant was near our hotel in the 9th arrondissement, Ristorante al Caratello. We had the best meal, some drinks and great conversation with another patron and the owner.

Our only negative experience was outside of the train station before we went home. While the food was good, we chose to eat outside and there were beggars constantly stopping and asking us for money and food. One woman actually took my plate of fries and dumped them into her bag when I said I was done with them. You can avoid the harassment by simply eating inside the restaurant.

IMG_7761
Pizza place near the train station.

The Eiffel Tower

Shame on me… but I didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower. Partly because I don’t like heights all that much and partly because I didn’t want to waste half a day with ticketing and lines. Paris in August y’all- it’s busy. Instead, we chose to enjoy from below. We walked around, took pictures and spent a good amount of time frantically looking for toilets for my sister and niece. Something that’s majorly lacking at one of the largest tourist destinations in the world? Bathrooms. You could probably spend just as much time waiting in line for a toilet as getting up the tower.

IMG_7659

IMG_7683
View from Trocadero, a good place to get full pictures of the tower
IMG_7689
At night the tower lights up and sparkles for the first ten minutes of the hour

My favorite thing about being at the Eiffel Tower was getting to experience it with my niece Emily. My boys are little and I am sure there is plenty Kellan will remember when he is older. But Emily is definitely old enough to remember that she got to travel around Europe with her Aunt. I also loved being able to tell she appreciated what she was experiencing. I am really big on experiences and making memories over having things. This is a special memory we will always have together.

The Louvre

We spent a couple hours walking around the Louvre which was pretty grand and at first a little confusing to navigate. Not quite as maze-like as Vatican City but you can definitely spend a lot of time here. At first we were unsure if we wanted to spend time here, knowing it would be very crowded and seeing the Mona Lisa would be a spectacle. However, I am really glad we decided to go. Afterall, it’s the most famous paintings and the most famous museum in the entire world. We also didn’t have any issues buying tickets on site and walking straight into the museum because we took the entrance from the metro below ground.

And yes, seeing the Mona Lisa was an event. Pretty sure it’s the closest I’ll ever feel to being part of a cow herd. You enter the back of the herd and slowly inch forward while your body is pressed up against strangers on all sides. Once you get to the front you have to take a minimum of ten pictures and then turn around and get a selfie with her too. It’s all a part of the experience and I am still thankful we got to see her. Erica mentioned to me that no one actually gets to sit and admire the painting, and it’s true, which is quite sad. If that’s something you would like to do- don’t go to the Louvre in the summer.

IMG_7710

IMG_7713
behind bullet proof glass

IMG_7720

IMG_7721
My fave painting I saw

IMG_7727

IMG_7731IMG_7734

Champs-Elysees

This is the famous avenue surrounding the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a touristy area everyone has to visit when they come to Paris. Lots of shopping, dining, and the views of the Arc are amazing. Don’t buy your souvenirs here though as they are twice as expensive as you pay elsewhere.

Something to consider when you visit this area is preparing your children for what they may see. There are many homeless refugees lying right in the middle of the sidewalks either sleeping or begging for money. At one point I saw three small children sleeping with their mother on a mattress right under a window display. This kind of stuff just tugs at your heartstrings and I imagined the questions my 4 year old would have had had he seen those children. How do you explain to a small child why some children don’t have a home? Why people walk right around them and pretend they aren’t there?

IMG_7687IMG_7752

Other sites from the HOHO bus

IMG_7660IMG_7737IMG_7739IMG_7740IMG_7743IMG_7744IMG_7746

IMG_7747
Notre Dame
IMG_7749
Notre Dame

IMG_7751

 

Framlingham Castle

If you speak English (and you probably do if you’re reading this blog) then you have certainly heard the song “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran. He wrote this song about Framlingham, his hometown and the 12th century castle of the same name. I’ve visited castles all over the world yet it took me 18 months to visit this one an hour from my home. Go figure.

With a couple of my friends visiting I took the opportunity to finally go see this castle on the hill.  With the kids in tow, I was pleasantly surprised by the children’s activities put on by English Heritage. There is a slide that descends from the castle walls, role playing activities and storytelling. The gift shop sells ice cream and swords and other toys to make the trip enjoyable for the kiddos.

 

IMG_7779

Something I hadn’t realized was that Framlingham does not have an interior. Past the exterior walls there is only a grassy courtyard where the activities are put on. The admission into the castle gives you access to walk along the upper castle walls, giving you a full view of the countryside in every direction. Gorgeous.

IMG_7780IMG_7781IMG_7783

Something else I learned was that the Howard family onced owned Framlingham. The Howards were a very political family during the war of the roses era. That era of England fascinates me. Check out Framlingham for a day of fun and history.

IMG_7802

 

Isle of Skye

I was originally supposed to take this trip with my mom but she had an unforeseen move and the timing did not work out. When my sister said she and my niece were coming I knew Isle of Skye is where I wanted to take her. She is someone that would fully appreciate the history and the beauty. With only a months notice we had a very difficult time finding somewhere to stay on the island. I emailed and called every accommodation on Skye and we had no luck. August is the busiest month. If you plan to head there during this time frame plan far in advance. We had to stay off the island which took time away from the time we spent on it. Overall, everything worked out though and we got to see almost everything that was on my list.

Simply driving around the island is breathtaking. It is very underdeveloped and natural. I wonder if the life of a sheep farmer is for me because something about this place makes you want to leave everything you know behind and live a simpler life. Everywhere you turn there are highland cows, sheep, horses, rainbows and waterfalls.

DSC_3365DSC_3367DSC_3369DSC_3370DSC_3371

Fairy pools

The fairy pools are a bit out of the way compared to some of the other sites. To reach it you travel down a small single lane road and it is very secluded. As we drove up the weather started to turn and by the time we arrived it was pouring rain. This was my niece Emily’s number one must see attraction so there was no way were going to miss it. So we put on all the rain gear we had and set off hiking. The rain was coming in sideways and from all directions so everyone was soaked within minutes. I was wearing Carter in the Ergo and he amazingly slept the entire hike. Even at almost 3 years old the Ergo is his place of calm.

IMG_7500IMG_7501IMG_7507IMG_7508IMG_7551IMG_7514

IMG_7516
Even hiking in the rain my husband is still going to wear his dress shoes. Yes, I married a pretty boy.

IMG_7519IMG_7521

Due to the rain and fog we did not have a lot of visibility so my pictures don’t compare to anything you will see online. It is still beautiful and worth it. I only wish the sun had been out so the kids could enjoy it more. Poor Emily and Kellan were so wet it was hard for them to enjoy.

IMG_7529IMG_7530IMG_7532IMG_7534IMG_7536IMG_7540IMG_7541

Fairy Glen

Probably my favorite thing we did on the Isle of Skye was the Fairy Glen. It really does have a magical feel about it. Green hills and valleys with sheep wandering about. We were fortunate enough that we avoided rain while hiking. We also got lucky with not many other visitors there. I had read it can get so busy you sometimes have to park and walk 30 minutes away but we had no problem finding parking.

DSC_3381DSC_3382DSC_3384DSC_3389DSC_3390DSC_3392DSC_3393DSC_3394

We told the kids that we were searching for the fairies that live there. Emily said they live in flowers so Kellan was searching in every flower for a fairy. They really enjoyed running free and climbing on all the mounds. They wrote a note to the fairies and places them among the rocks for them to find. It was really fun having them use their imaginations and make the hike even more mystical.

DSC_3395DSC_3396DSC_3397DSC_3398DSC_3399

Sligachen

Anyone coming onto Skye passes Sligachen and its brewery. This is a busy area and great place to stop to eat, let the kids play on the playground and do some light hiking. We did not eat here but did stop and walk around a bit for some pictures around the bridge. The scenery is stunning.

DSC_3372DSC_3373DSC_3374DSC_3375DSC_3376DSC_3377

Duntulm Castle

Up on the northern area are the remaining stones of Duntulm Castle. The remains itself aren’t much but the views on the walk there are spectacular. Built in the 14th century during feuding among two clans, it was the 17th century when it became the seat of clan MacDonald. The MacDonalds eventually took the stones from Duntulm and used it for another house nearby.

There is a more preserved castle on Skye called Dunvegan, seat to clan MacLeod, but we did not have enough time to visit.

Kilt Rock

Kilt Rock is probably the easiest site to visit on the island as it has its own car park just steps from the waterfall. We didn’t even get the kids out of the car as they were napping and just took turns going for a look. This makes it very crowded. In the past there were many deaths from people trying to look over the cliff’s edge but today there is a designated viewing point with fencing. We were pleasantly surprised by a man playing the bagpipes for the crowd of tourists.

DSC_3412DSC_3413DSC_3414

Old Man of Storr

Due to the kids being exhausted and napping in the car we elected not to hike Old man of Storr. Next time!

DSC_3420

Quiraing

Another area to hike is Quiraing on the northern side near Kilt Rock. We decided to give the kids a break from hiking and took pictures from the car.

Lealt Falls

This is another busy area of Skye due to its proximity to Portree and easy access. The gorge is close to the road so you must hike up a hill and look backwards in order to see it. When we stopped it was extremely windy and beginning to rain. There is no barrier on the cliff so take precautions with children in bad weather. I believe there is access to view from a road more eye level to the falls but I wasn’t sure how to get there and chose to leave the kids in the car. Again, we took turns on the short walk up.

DSC_3418DSC_3419

Isle of Skye was the trip of a lifetime and I am so thankful we got to experience it. If it isn’t already on your bucket list…make it so. To the locals- don’t be surprised if you eventually see a foreign school counselor and physical therapist as your new neighbors.

 

 

 

The Highlands

It finally came. My dream trip to the Scottish Highlands. When we moved to Europe I had a top 5 MUST DO list and this was on it. The only thing that could make it better? My sister and my niece Emily joining. We have visited and lived in a lot of cool places and it’s always nice when people make the effort to come see you and experience what your life is like. They flew into London and hit the ground running, leaving straight away for Scotland. There was a lot to get done in 5 days.

*Before I dive into the gloriousness of Scotland- I want to give a shout out to American Airlines for being the worst airline and customer service ever. They will never get my business again after what they put my family through with their luggage. To put it as plainly as possible- it was lost, separated and not returned to them until they were leaving England.*

I digress. Day 1 we spent driving to Glasgow. We arrived at midnight due to the delay with the luggage situation so our plans to see the city were put off -which I was okay with. The star of this trip was the Highlands anyway. Warning- there will be talk of Outlander ahead. And yes, I did download all the Outlander soundtracks and make my family listen to it on repeat for a week as we drove. I can’t help it.

Glencoe

People said Isle of Skye would be the highlight of my trip but Glencoe gave it a run for its money. Maybe it was because it was the first thing we did so it produced that initial wow moment for me. Maybe it’s because some Outlander scenes were filmed there so it made it more special. Either way this place is a must see when visiting Scotland. I wish I had known to devote more time there. We basically drove through and stopped in at the Three Sisters. They are three stunning mountain ridges overlooking a valley. The car park is right at the viewing point so you can choose to get out and enjoy the view or you can hike. We brought a kite and hoped to do some hiking but that didn’t last long because it started to rain heavily. Being that my sister and niece did not have their luggage they had almost no rain gear with them and no extra clothes for if they got muddy. They ended up buying all new gear the next day because we didn’t want to miss out on any more hiking while waiting for the luggage.

DSC_3226DSC_3238DSC_3231DSC_3236

Fort William

We were running short on time in order to catch the Jacobite train so we had to settle for driving around Fort William and not stopping as we had planned. It was a very picturesque small city and I would love to return.

Glenfinnan

At Glenfinnan station there is a small dining car that serves cafe food such as soup and toasties. The kids really liked eating here and the food was good. There are not a lot of dining options in the area so this is a good place to grab a bite before exploring.

You can actually ride the Jacobite steam train between Mallaig and Fort William but we settled for watching it pass on the viaduct. It is about a 10 minute walk from the highlander memorial car park and passes at 11 and 3. This train is famous. Not only because it is a steam locomotive traveling through some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery, but it was used as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies.

DSC_3249DSC_3261DSC_3263DSC_3266DSC_3245

Glenfinnan is where the Jacobite rising began in 1945, led by Prince Charles Stuart. The history of the highlands, the rising and fall of the clan system is simply fascinating. I find it actually quite similar to how the English viewed Native Americans tribes in the new world. Both were viewed as tribal societies or savages.

There is now a memorial here overlooking Loch Shiel in tribute to the Jacobites.  The view is amazing. The kids really enjoyed throwing pebbles into the water. It’s the little things that keep them happy.

DSC_3269DSC_3270DSC_3272DSC_3274DSC_3279

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

On our way to Inverness we got to drive the length of Loch Ness. There are a few little villages along the water that are worth a stop if time permits, all selling cute Loch Ness monster souvenirs, of course. We arrived at Urquhart castle right as it was closing so we only got to take pictures from afar. Something else to put on the list for next time!

DSC_3296

Inverness

This is the capitol of the highlands and such a cute little city. We did not spend much daytime here but walked around a couple evenings along the river Ness, did some window shopping and eating dinner. Our favorite place to eat with the kids was Zizzi; a rare gem that is super kid friendly but also had amazing food.

DSC_3297

 

Culloden Battlefield 

Not far outside Inverness is the battlefield and museum of Culloden- not to be missed if you love history. This is where the Jacobite rising came to a violent end in 1975. The museum has a gift shop (complete with Outlander souvenirs, yes I shamelessly bought a Jamie Christmas ornament), a cafe, and interactive displays for the kids to enjoy. There are costumes for the kids to dress up in, weapons and artifacts they can touch and a movie depicting the battle, which I realized very quickly was too violent for my oldest son. Oops.

Outside the museum you can walk along the battlefield, visit clan markers, and the memorial Cairn. There are blue flags indicating where the Jacobites were positioned and red flags for the government army. There weren’t many people there the day we visited but we did meet a sweet elderly couple with a three legged dog. They walk the battlefield yearly and pays respect to their heritage, clan Mackintosh.

Carter napped the whole walk. Kellan is my curious child and probably did not stop talking the entire time. He wanted to know every detail of the battle, who lost and won, where they are today and what happened to their families. I thankfully had a good base knowledge of the history but even that was not enough for him since he is still not fully understanding what it means to me killed. I do love that he has such inquisition for old things, history and battles.

IMG_7577IMG_7579IMG_7580

IMG_7582

Eilean Donan Castle

We have been to many castles since we moved to Europe. I mean, a lot. Eilean Donan absolutely gets to be in my top 5 faves. This place is stunning. A 13th century castle, it was built as a protective measure against the Vikings and aided in the Jacobite rising. What I learned is that it housed Spanish soldiers that were supporting the Jacobites, so the government bombarded the castle and it sat destroyed for 200 years before being rebuilt.

You can spend a good bit of time here just walking around, touring the castle ( a lot to see inside), eating lunch at the cafe, and shopping at the gift shop. The kids had a great time simply walking around the waters edge, under the bridge, and throwing pebbles. Give my kids water, rocks and rain boots and they are happy.

DSC_3323

DSC_3324
Scotlands most photographed castle. Not hard to see why.

DSC_3331DSC_3337DSC_3340DSC_3344

I was really excited to show Emily and Jess their first castle. Emily has a really great imagination but also old enough to understand more things than my boys do. Something I like to tell my boys when we visit castles is that we have to find the dragon and slay him. It’s just a way to make it fun for them being that they usually have to walk slowly, be quiet and not touch anything. For whatever reason, Kellan took this occasion very seriously and was on a mission to find a dragon. This poor Scottish woman sat and listened to him forever as he went on and on with questions on where the dragon may be hiding. So patient! Scottish people are so friendly.

DSC_3356
Necessary to fully enjoy!

DSC_3357

Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside the castle.  I was trying to keep mental notes of all the great displays they had. Many weapons and maps marking the timeline of the Jacobites. The decor was very detailed with extravagant furnishings. You will even see a lock of hair from Bonnie Prince Charles. Kinda weird but…wow!

DSC_3358DSC_3359DSC_3360

Kinloch Rannoch

This is a lake near Tay Forest Park and my journey here served one purpose: it is the filming site for Craigh Na Dun in Outlander. It is a trek to get here, very small and winding roads within the mountains. The people that scout for filming locations on the series did a great job finding this gem. It is a pivotal location for the show as it is where Claire journeys through time via the standing stones. The stones were placed here by production but as soon as we pulled up there was no mistaking this was Craigh Na Dun!

DSC_3421DSC_3422DSC_3423DSC_3424

When we arrived we found the area to the hill is gated. My sister was a little uneasy about opening the gate but my love for Outlander is too strong to travel all that way and not see it. I had Ben stay behind with the kids so we could quickly and quietly walk up, take pictures and leave. **Whispers to self** Outlander is not real, Outlander is not real.

While taking pictures Kellan decided to have his first encounter with stinging nettle and you would have thought he broke an arm as loudly as he was screaming. He was in a lot of pain. So much for being inconspicuous.

IMG_7599

Mallaig

We only stayed one night in Mallaig while waiting for a ferry to the Isle of Skye, but I have to give the name of the B&B we stayed at. Seaview guest house was such a pleasure. Great communication, friendly and very comfortable/stylish rooms. Wish we could have stayed longer.

**Stay tuned for my write up on the beautiful Isle of Skye!**

 

 

Rome and Vatican City

When my Dad and his fiancée booked a Mediterranean cruise out of Rome I decided to meet them out there for a couple days before they set sail. Originally we had planned to make it a long trip with stops along the Amalfi Coast, Naples , and Pompeii. Unfortunalty… the hubby was tasked for work in America- so the kids and I kept it simple by making it a Rome only trip.

We flew into Rome a day before my Dad arrived and checked into the Crown Plaza St. Peter’s. It’s a massive hotel a bit outside the city. It was comfortable, spacious, great pools and a good breakfast. I will say this isn’t a great place to stay if you want easy access to transportation. There isn’t much within walking distance and a taxi is your only option into the city center. For our needs it was perfect.

Day one we spent swimming at the pool and I took the boys out for their first Italian meal. This is all my kids really cared about- the pool. It was in the 90’s during our entire trip which is vastly different from the weather here in the U.K.   Kellan of course finds a friend immediately and ignores his family while I chase Carter all over the place. No relaxing by the pool for Mama!

IMG_6722
International travel + pool time= early bed time

The next day we slept in a bit and had a leisurely breakfast while we waited for the grandparents to arrive. When they showed up they were pretty jet lagged and tired so we spent the majority of day 2 at the pool and having family time. I know what those long flights can be like!

IMG_6732

Typically I am the planner of the family. I say where, when, how long- all of it. My husband isn’t picky and just trusts I will make our holidays fun (and naturally they are because I am the funnest ever). This trip was a first for me because my future mother in law made all the plans. It was really strange having someone else take control but she did a really great job making the most of our one full day in the city.

Rome is overwhelming. There is SO MUCH to see and do.  It’s similar to London in the sense that you can live there and probably never see it all. So much history and architecture to be seen. So much food to be tasted.

We had a group of 7 including some friends Dad and Diana were cruising with. Diana booked us a Rome in a day tour and it was perfect for fitting in a lot of must see’s in one short day.  They have all been to Rome before and obviously knew how overwhelming it is. The tour was a private air conditioned van that drove us to all the sites so that we had very minimal walking and we didn’t have to navigate ourselves. This saved so much time. It was really hot and the rumors are true- it’s not very stroller friendly. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any sidewalks at all. I did bring my stroller though and we made it work!

The first stop on our tour was the Colosseum. Yes- it’s as grand as you imagine it to be. Breathtaking. We got lucky and arrived on a day it didn’t seem to be too busy. I was expecting much worse. Nevertheless, the line was still long but Diana had booked us a private guide which ensured we passed the line. We walked around for about an hour with the guide giving us  the history of what we were seeing. Everyone should have the Colosseum on their bucket list.

IMG_6738
So happy to be with his Grandpa.

IMG_6743IMG_6744IMG_6746IMG_6747IMG_6748IMG_6749IMG_6750IMG_6752

The next part of our tour was a little hurried because we were already behind on time. The guide walked us around to see the Arch of Constantine, Circus Maximus (ancient stadium for chariot races), Palatine hill, Capitol Hill, and Roman forum. There is so much history and information in the area that one hour couldn’t do it justice. A pleasant surprise were all the fresh water wells to refill your water bottles. Of course my boys thought they were for playing.

IMG_6754IMG_6757IMG_6758IMG_6760IMG_6761IMG_6762IMG_6763IMG_6764IMG_6765IMG_6766

After the Roman forum we hopped in our private van and the driver took us around to see some of the residential areas in the city and stopped for pictures at a few sites including the Aventine keyhole. This is a door with the keyhole designed to give you a picturesque view of the Vatican.

IMG_6767IMG_6768IMG_6770IMG_6774IMG_6776

 

We also stopped at the Pantheon, an ancient temple that was built in dedication to the Romans gods. It’s arguably one of the best preserved buildings of its time in the world. We didn’t have enough time to tour the inside, sadly.

IMG_6771IMG_6773

Our last stop before lunch was the Trevi fountain. It’s said that if you throw in one coin, you will be assured another trip to Rome. Two coins will ensure a new romance and 3 coins ensures a new marriage. I had Kellan throw in one coin because I would love to return!

There is an article floating around the internet with pictures comparing what famous sites are thought to be like and what they are actually like. It hit the nail on the head with this one. It’s hot. It’s extremely crowded. Everyone is taking selfies and trying there best to get family photos. Police are everywhere blowing whistles at the tourists getting too close to the water. It’s not the picturesque excursion where everyone is picnicking and eating gelato by the fountain. Regardless- it’s the Trevi fountain. It’s famous for a reason.

IMG_6777IMG_6779

IMG_6786
Is it lunchtime yet?

Our tour guide asked where we wanted to eat and we said “where you would take your family”. I’ve no idea the area or the name of the restaurant but we ended up at a great spot that seemed like it was geared towards local customers. Delicious!

After eating we had a few hours to spend at Vatican City. Not everyone may know this but it’s actually the smallest country in the world. I had done a bit of reading on what our visit would be like but nothing prepared me for what it was really like. There are no vehicles driving through and you cannot take a stroller. It felt like I was in a never ending labyrinth. It’s very overwhelming and very confusing. We actually lost a person in our group. Don’t worry, it was an adult- and yes, we found him.

Im thankful that it ended up being Carter’s nap time so I strapped him on my chest and he slept a good bit of the time. Kellan, however; did not like having to walk in the heat for so long  (cue the whining).

This is the thing about Vatican City- this is not somewhere you want to be on a time constraint. We had a very specific time and place we had to meet our driver. Being that the others had already visited years before- I said I had to see the Sistine chapel. Well, you can’t just walk directly to the chapel. You are walking though museum after museum, what seems like maze after maze in order to get to it. Not an easy task on hurried time. It was really difficult to keep focused on the fact I had to get to the Sistine chapel and pass all of these historically significant and famous displays without so much as stopping to look. But I knew if I didn’t make it to the Sistine chapel I would forever regret it.

IMG_6796IMG_6797IMG_6801IMG_6803IMG_6804IMG_6805IMG_6806IMG_6807IMG_6809IMG_6810IMG_6811IMG_6812IMG_6813IMG_6814IMG_6815IMG_6816IMG_6817IMG_6821IMG_6822IMG_6823IMG_6824IMG_6825IMG_6833

IMG_6835
Enter a caption

There is no doing the Vatican in 3 hours. A full day wouldn’t even do it justice. This is where I want to come kid free and read everything. Look at everything. No distractions. We did make it to the Sistine chapel thankfully. To enter you must be covering your knees and shoulders. I brought a large scarf to wrap myself in because there was no way I was going to spend the day wearing long pants in 90 degree heat with a toddler strapped to my body

The Sistine Chapel is the official residence of the Pope and is also the site where Pope’s are elected. This is also the location of the famous Michelangelo painted ceiling: the Last Judgement. Everyone knows this painting and it’s beautiful in person. Wish I could show off a picture but no photos and no talking allowed in here. A check off the bucket list!

After meeting back up with our driver he took us driving around the city a bit more with stops at great views. So that was a Rome in a day! Phew.

IMG_6855IMG_6856IMG_6860

After regrouping at the hotel a couple hours we took a taxi back into the city to walk around the Ponte Sisto area, shop and eat. This is where I had the best gelato of my life. They put this cream on top and it was just perfection.

IMG_6870IMG_6873IMG_6867

Our last morning in Rome we spent relaxing, hanging out at the pool and having family time. It’s always sad saying goodbye but this time we know it won’t be too long before we see them again. The wedding is in October!

I have to give my kids a lot of credit for this trip. Getting used to Daddy being away is always a rough transition but adding in a ton of traveling and that is a lot for little boys to handle. I think at this point they are so used to having to go with the flow that they are pros.

Dubrovnik

We spent 3 nights and two days in Dubrovnik which was the perfect amount of time. We got pretty lucky with clear skies, warm weather, and no cruise ships at port. I can imagine the cruise ships can make the city feel crowded. Dubrovnik now scores as one of my favorite cities we have visited in Europe. The architecture, blue water, hills, the people. Yup, I could live here.

The food did not disappoint either. Food in Croatia was surpringly some of the best we have had and reasonably priced as well. Above all- it’s family friendly. This is a place the kids can enjoy just as much as the adults.

Where we stayed

I don’t know how we snagged this amazing 2 bedroom apartment in June considering I booked fairly last minute. I can’t imagine a better location. Set just above Banje Beach with a view of the old town- we could easily walk to everything we wanted to do. The only downside is the parking was scarce so Ben had to park pretty far away. Well worth it!

Just outside the front door is the steps down the the beach. Very convenient with toddlers in tow. Banje is a small pebble beach which my kids really like because they can stand at the waters edge and throw rocks into the water for hours. Unfortunately, Carter took his rock throwing game to another level. It was like it happened in slow motion. He went on a hunt for a larger rock to throw in the water. An Italian couple were laying on their backs reading books when I noticed Carter pick up a ten pound rock, start heading for the water, and for whatever reason he stopped. He then turned and dumped it right on this ladies crotch.

She never saw it coming.

The sound she made…..

I could have crawled into a dark hole and never came out after that.

DSC_3105
View from our hotel

DSC_3106DSC_3108

DSC_3109
Our apartment building

DSC_3110

DSC_3112
It’s exhausting assaulting innocent people on the beach

Cable car

The cable car was about a ten minute walk from our apartment. We wanted to go at sunset so we grabbed some snacks and headed up. We were not disappointed. The view was breathtaking. I would visit Dubrovnik again just so that I could watch the sunset. On one side of the cable car there is a viewing area that has tall guard rails which makes it safer for children. Over here the cable car blocks part of your view. If you walk a bit up the other side you will be rewarded with a full unobstructed view of the sunset. We took turns walking to the cliffs edge to look over the city.

DSC_3060DSC_3061DSC_3062DSC_3065DSC_3066DSC_3067DSC_3070DSC_3074DSC_3077DSC_3085DSC_3090DSC_3104

The Old Town

As a UNESCO world heritage site, there is a lot of history here. It’s a really great place to just walk around, eat, shop, and get lost. Parts of the old town are wide and bustling with people. Or you can just choose a path and get lost among the narrow streets. There are so many restaurants to choose from and of course- gelato. I think we ate our weight in gelato. Many artists sell their work here and we picked up a beautiful canvas painting of the old city.

DSC_3113DSC_3114DSC_3115DSC_3116DSC_3117DSC_3118

DSC_3127
Small aquarium. It took about 20 minutes to view all the exhibits. Carter screamed with joy the entire time he was so excited. Actual screaming. 

DSC_3128DSC_3135DSC_3142DSC_3143DSC_3144DSC_3150DSC_3155

For one meal we chose an Italian restaurant and for another we chose Mexican. As an American living in Europe it’s always hard to pass up a Mexican place when you see one. Ben and I agreed they had some of the best nachos we have ever had. Eating out in Dubrovnik with toddlers is so nice because- similar to Barcelona- you can always eat at a table on the street. My kids like to sit and people (also, cat) watch while they wait for their food. It keeps them entertained and makes life easier for us!

DSC_3122DSC_3123DSC_3126

DSC_3131
While I was taking this photo Carter was sneaky and ate a candy from the barrel. A lady working there scolded him. This kid just loves to embarrass me

DSC_3132DSC_3152

The old city is the main filming location for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. I have always been a fan of the show but now having visited Winterfell (Northern Ireland) and Kings Landing- I’m an even bigger fan. There are plenty of tours you can take but I prefer to just google shooting sites and find them myself. The best location I found was the walk of atonement scene featuring Cersei. The steps are just below a church, which originally denied permission to shoot on the Jesuit steps due to nudity. Eventually permission was granted and the scene is iconic. You can also visit where Joffrey died, or visit Littlefingers brothel (actually a museum).

DSC_3136DSC_3137DSC_3141

 

Zadar

For our multi city trip in Croatia we based ourselves in a small town just south of Zadar. We only got to spend half a day there but that was really all we needed. I will say that it was probably a highlight for my kids.

The two main attractions for us was the sea organ and the greeting to the sun display. After finding free street parking we walked over to the sites which are located right next to each other. Had I known what a great swimming spot this was I would have dressed the kids in their swim gear. The water was really calm and there were plenty of kids swimming. A group of older boys were jumping from the highest point of the organ which promoted Kellan to strip down to his underwear and ask to join in. Then he remembered he is scared of sharks so he hung out in the safe zone.

The sea organ is a really neat concept but we really could barely hear it. This could be that it was a calm day. There are tubes underneath the steps that play music as the waves come in and out. I would recommend going close to sunset as that is when the greeting to the sun starts .

DSC_2755DSC_2756DSC_2757

DSC_2758
Underwear- don’t care

DSC_2770

While waiting for the sun to set we walked around the city. We stopped at a great park that had bounce houses and a small trampoline park. While Ben watched the boys I walked next door where there were some market stalls for souvenir shopping. I scored a beautiful glass sun catcher and of course my usual Christmas ornament. I love decorating my tree with memories!

Zadar has some great architecture and beautiful churches on every street. It’s also a very walkable city with kids. It just has a great atmosphere. For dinner we wanted to find some seafood but opted to grab some fast food since we were running short on time and the boys were getting tired.

DSC_2777DSC_2778DSC_2780DSC_2781DSC_2782DSC_2783DSC_2784

The greeting to the sun is a circle of hundreds of solar solar modules covered by glass. After soaking up the sun all day the panals light up at night. The monument is just magical at sunset. I would go back just to watch it again. I am sure it can get very crowded here but it didn’t seem too bad for us.

Kellan of course made a friend immediately and the boys were running around and having the time of their lives. That’s one of my favorite parts about traveling with kids. No matter where we go Kellan always finds a friend. It doesn’t matter that they don’t speak the same language. They always find a common ground and quickly fall in love with each others company.

Warning- the glass can get a bit slippery as we discovered when both our kids took a fall and prompted us to leave before it was fully dark. Bloody knees do mark the beginning of summer when you are a boy.

DSC_2785DSC_2787DSC_2788DSC_2792DSC_2799

 

Krka and Plitvice National Parks

Krka National Park

Being that we had flown in at 2am that morning, we elected to only do a half day at Krka.  Everyone slept in pretty late so we had a lazy morning before heading out. We had based ourselves out of Sukosan which was about an hour north of the park. After heading down, the main goal was to find the largest series of waterfalls as that was a pretty spot for swimming. Plitvice does not allow swimming in it’s lakes so the main appeal of Krka for me was being able to swim- and luckily it was sunny and beautiful weather.

For the shortest travel distance to the swimming area we parked at the Lozovac entrance. From here we had lunch and some gelato (the first serving of many that day) before we caught the 10 minute bus to the park. Once the bus dropped us off it took about 20 minutes of downhill walking before reaching Skradinksi Falls.  Along the way there are plenty of viewing areas to take pictures and food stalls selling fruit and sweets.

DSC_2716DSC_2731DSC_2735DSC_2736DSC_2737DSC_2739DSC_2740DSC_2741

The swimming area at Skradinski is breathtakingly gorgeous but it’s not exactly easy with small children. First, it’s crowded. Second, it is very rocky, uneven, and sometimes slippery ground to get down into the water. The lake floor itself is all rocks. There are no soft spots for your feet so make sure you bring appropriate water shoes- we had not!

While it wasn’t exactly the peaceful waterfall experience I imagined it to be…it was still worth it. I would just go again with floaties and water shoes. The water was such relief from the hot sun and the views were simply amazing. Fun fact: of all the places we visited in Croatia this is where we heard the most American accents- mostly college age travellers.

DSC_2742DSC_2748DSC_2749DSC_2753

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Around ten years ago I was watching a travel channel that featured this park. Ever since it has been on my top 5 European travel destinations list. Forget every city in Europe- I would always chose hiking and waterfalls first. The challenge with Plitvice was deciding when to go. I wanted to go when the trees were green and the weather hot and sunny…but I also didn’t want to be hiking amongst the summer tourist crowd. Early June ended up being our choice and it worked out pretty nicely.

Plitvice is huge and planning this trip with toddlers was overwhelming.  This isn’t something you can do with a stroller so you have to plan for a long day of carrying your kids or allowing them to safely walk. I agonized for days which of the various routes we would take. The lower lakes are the most popular for people on one day trips but I wanted to see the upper as well. I was afraid only doing half the park would leave me with a serious case of FOMO. So we decided to hike both. That left us with the decision of taking route C or route H. Since a friend recommended H that was our winner.

After driving 1.5 hours we parked at Entrance 2. I had read pretty much everywhere to get at the park at soon as it opens. We didn’t arrive until 12 pm. This ended up working in our favor. Walking the H route- you start at the upper lakes and end at the lower lakes. Most people doing the upper lakes started much earlier in the day or people were coming from the reverse “C’ route and were walking past us rather than alongside us. We never felt like we were walking in a crowd which was nice being that it was a Saturday in June.

Another benefit of doing the H route is that it is mostly downhill…which means the C route is mostly uphill. The only negative when considering which of these routes to take is the view of the falls. On H- you walk coming from behind the falls and after you pass it it’s behind you. Taking the C route means you are always walking towards the falls and always have the view. I would still choose the H route again with the kids. Walking uphill vs. downhill when you have a child strapped to your body makes a huge difference.

The H route is supposed to take 4-6 hours but from leaving our car to getting back in it took 7 hours. We had eaten first thing before we even entered the park. Then you have to take a bus to where you start the hike so all this adds time to your day. Carter fell asleep right away so the first hour was a breeze. The upper lakes had more wooded, hilly walks. The water falls were thinner but taller.

DSC_2810DSC_2811DSC_2812DSC_2813

DSC_2814
This kid is such a trooper
DSC_2815
Just a stroll through the forest with some dead weight strapped on

DSC_2817DSC_2818DSC_2820DSC_2828DSC_2829DSC_2834

DSC_2835
The falls felt amazing because you were close enough to feel the mist 

DSC_2837DSC_2838DSC_2841

DSC_2843
awake and ready to run free

DSC_2846DSC_2848DSC_2850

After doing the upper falls we had to wait in a long line for a boat to take us to the lower falls. This was the only time we felt crowded in the park. There were some arguments and confusion over which line was for which route/boat. There definitely could be a better system to separate the lines accordingly. After the boat ride you get dropped off at the cafe/rest area of the lower lakes. Here you can shop for souvenirs, have lunch, use the toilets and of course- eat ice cream.

For the lower lakes portion there is a lot of walking on raised plank walkways over the water. At times you are right on top of the waterfalls. We bought a backpack leash for Carter specifically for this trip because the kid knows no fear or the words stop and wait. It ended up being quite the wise purchase because once he woke from his nap he had energy to burn. It was great allowing him to be hands free and semi independent but ensuring he stayed close. Adding the dinosaur backpack only added to the appeal of the Asian tour bus groups. In some cultures it is good luck to touch blonde hair so it’s common for people from places where blonde hair and blue eyes aren’t the norm to ask to touch him, take videos and photos of him. Whenever we passed by these groups he would wag his little dinosaur tail for them to ooh and aww over. Carter hearing everyone say how cute it was really helped with him wanting to wear it. I was afraid it would be a fight but the day went very smoothly.

DSC_2857DSC_2860DSC_2863DSC_2865DSC_2867DSC_2869DSC_2874DSC_2876DSC_2877

I loved the forrest-y feel of the upper lakes but the lower lakes is the winner for me. It had more wow moments. Those moments where you want to pinch yourself because it’s just that beautiful. The lower lakes allowed you to be closer to shorter, wider falls. If you are doing the just the lower lakes you should choose the route that meets the falls head on. Pictures really don’t do it justice. The lower falls is also going to be the more crowded of the two in the summer. We stayed all the way to closing time and there were still plenty of people there.

This trip was one of my genuine bucket list items, regardless of having moved to the U.K.  I’m so grateful that we were able to experience the majority of the park with our boys. I had prepared myself thinking the trip was going to be challenging when it was really pretty nice with the kids.

DSC_2883DSC_2884DSC_2886DSC_2891DSC_2892DSC_2895DSC_2896DSC_2897DSC_2900DSC_2902DSC_2904DSC_2906DSC_2907DSC_2910DSC_2914

 

 

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

During our road trip down the Dalmatian Coast we decided to head into Bosnia for a night. From Zadar it took us about 3 hours to drive to the beautiful village of Mostar. It was a highlight of our trip and would recommend to anyone as a day trip from Split or Dubrovnik. I wish we would have spent even more time there.

Where we stayed

You can get a lot of bang for your buck in Bosnia. Hotel Eden is a 4 star hotel that only cost $100US for a large family room with a gorgeous view-breakfast included. We loved the hotel so much we wished we could stay longer. Not only was the view amazing but the pool also overlooked the city. I don’t think my boys ever wanted to leave the pool. Kellan continued to ask about it the rest of our trip.

Eden also has a spa which can be booked same day. It stays open late and I was able to book a one hour relaxation massage at 9:30 after the kids went to bed. I only paid $45US for this luxury and it was worth every penny. Best massage I have had in years. The staff in general were very friendly and welcoming.

Hotel Eden is a 5-10 minute walk downhill to the bridge. On the way back it is all uphill. The location is great because you get the beautiful views but are very close to everything you would want to see in Mostar.

DSC_2919DSC_2920DSC_2921DSC_2922

Mostar

Mostar is a cultural capital and its famous landmark is the Stari Most-old bridge- which was built in medieval times. Many religious and city buildings were destroyed during the Bosnian war in the 90’s, including the famous bridge. It has since been rebuilt but you can still see the effects of war being that Mostar was the most heavily destroyed city in Bosnia. After the hardships this area has faced the locals are very welcoming to tourists. We never felt unsafe here. They warmly greet those that want to respectfully visit their culture and history.

We first stopped in for some lunch with a view of the river. The food was great in Bosnia. They have a mix of Serbian, Croatian and Mediterranean dishes.  Very affordable pricing as well.

DSC_2934DSC_2923DSC_2924

The bridge is a foot bridge only, a bit steep and quite slick. There are men that will jump from the bridge into the Neretva river for tips. It’s been a tradition to jump from the bridge for 450 years. You can watch on the river bank, at a cafe or from the bridge itself. We wanted to cool down so we went wading around the river while we waited for a jumper.

DSC_2932DSC_2938DSC_2940DSC_2955DSC_2960DSC_2984DSC_2994DSC_3000DSC_3002

After eating and playing in the water we set off to do some shopping. The area surrounding the bridge is filled with cafe’s and market stalls. Some of the products I noticed were imported from Turkey and China but they also had plenty of locally crafted items. I found so many things I liked I ended up buying quite a bit- my favorite being a large decorative copper plate of the bridge. The maker told us what every symbol on the plate meant and took great pride in his work. I also found a rustic wooden painting. We always enjoy finding things to hang on our walls at home that tell a story.

DSC_2925DSC_2926DSC_2927DSC_2928DSC_2929DSC_2930DSC_2988DSC_2989DSC_2990DSC_3005DSC_3006

 

Tekija Blagaj

20 minutes drive from Mostar is a 600 year old Dervish monastery. The Dervish are Sufi Muslims that take a vow of poverty and simple living. It costs a few marks to get in and although it’s pretty much a tourist attraction nowadays it’s still a holy building and you must exercise respect when entering. Due to the need for silence inside the Dervish house, Ben and I took turns entering so that the kids could play. The women must cover their knees and heads while the men must cover their knees. You cannot wear your shoes. There was a woman offering scarves to those that came dressed inappropriately (which included me because I only brought shorts).

DSC_3011DSC_3012DSC_3013DSC_3014

DSC_3016
Where you can dress for entrance into house

DSC_3017DSC_3018DSC_3019DSC_3020DSC_3021DSC_3031DSC_3033DSC_3034

DSC_3035
Kellan was playing with bugs and this woman picked him up and made him wash his hands and face. Being that she did not speak English I am not sure the reasoning but she was very adamant that he needed to be cleaned. 

The Dervish house is set against a mountain on the Buna river at the base of a spring. There are restaurants that line the river and also a few gift stalls. We pretty much had the place to ourselves and had an amazing meal at one of the cafe’s with a small play area for the kids. The food was consistent with what we had in Mostar: a mixed meat dish and some trout.

DSC_3008DSC_3009DSC_3010DSC_3041DSC_3044DSC_3046DSC_3048DSC_3049

DSC_3050
They didn’t want to eat the fish…just play with it. 

Bosnia has been one of my favorite trips because of the unique cultural experience. I love being able to educate my children on other cultures and religions. These trips are going to shape who they become as adults and I hope that includes having tolerance and a positive worldview.