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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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awake and ready to run free

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Where you can dress for entrance into house

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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.

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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.

 

Montenegro

While travelling around Croatia we decided to make a day trip to Kotor in Montenegro. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Dubrovnik so we set off in the morning with our plans. Unfortunately, something was going on at the border crossing and we sat in traffic forever. The line wasn’t long- it just wasn’t moving. So this resulted in cranky kids from the get go.  Once we finally crossed the border though- the drive was beautiful. Very similar to Croatia, but to get to Kotor you drive along the bay. Had we more time I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from pulling over a hundred times to take pictures and swim at the little beaches.

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When we finally arrived my kids were eager to get out of the car and Mama was hungry. I was pleased to see no cruise ships were in port which meant the city wouldn’t be too crowded. I’m imagining how packed it would be in that small city on a cruise port day-no thanks! We parked by the old town and found a fruit stand to get the boys cherries.

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Being inside the old walls felt like being in a miniature Dubrovnik. The crafts and souvenirs were similar as well as the food and friendliness of the locals. We found a great place to eat lunch that had mist fans pointed at the tables. This was a relief because it was hot. Now, 2 years ago I would have never described 83 as too hot. But after living in the mild U.K. climate your body adjusts and no longer welcomes extremes.

A symbol of Kotor is the cat and they are all over the city. Many souvenirs have cats on them and there is even a cat museum. I really wanted to go to it but I had to check myself and think about if I came all the way to Montenegro to go read up on cats. Yes, I am that cat lady. One even hopped up on Kellan’s chair and sat with us for a bit. Instantly happy and entertained kids.

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My entire plan for our day in Kotor was to hike 1400 stairs up the mountainside to the fortress of St. John. That was the whole reason I went. If you google Kotor, chances are you will immediately see pictures of the city from above- taken from St. John. I love a good view so for me it was a must do.

As we were sitting at lunch, sweating, we had a view of the top of the stairs and asked ourselves- Do we really want to do this? It was hot and there looked to be no shade up the mountain. I would have had to wear Carter and Kellan would have to walk/be carried by Ben. After going back and forth we decided we honestly just didn’t feel like it. Guess I’ll never know how beautiful those views are in person.

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After walking around the city, doing some shopping and gelato consuming, we opted to head to a little park with a beach. The park had trampolines, bounce castles and plenty of space for the boys to run around happily in the shade. We had it all to ourselves. Carter even got a little pigeon chasing action in which is his all time favorite activity (after eating gelato). I am really glad we made the change in plans because when they are happy- everyone is happy.

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The pebble beach was right across from the old city on the bay and barely anyone was there. It seemed much cooler on the water. After having a swim and throwing some rocks we hit the road back to Croatia, worried that there would be more border crossing issues. We had a small wait but nothing compared to our outbound trip.

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Stonehenge & Plymouth

For a long weekend we decided to take a road trip down to southwest England. Ben has some family in the Plymouth area so it was due time we made our way to that part of the country. I can’t believe it took us so long because it’s gorgeous down there. I’m even more excited now to visit Cornwall a little father west of county Devon.

The trip was supposed to be about 5 hours so to help break up the ride we stopped into Stonehenge. It’s one of those bucket list items every tourist has to see. Now that I have seen it I don’t feel the need to ever go back. But you have to do it at least once. It was a good way to let the boys stretch their legs and get some snacks at the visitor center cafe. Walking the stone circles itself takes no more than an hour including the bus ride from visitor center to the site.

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Once we arrived into county Devon the English landscape changes from flat to rolling green hills. It’s a beautiful area with so much to see. We stayed at an Airbnb in the little village of Yealmpton which was a close base to family, the city, and beaches. We spent most of the weekend visiting with family and they were great hosts; showing us all their favorite sites.

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Mothecombe Beach

This is a beautiful, unspoiled, sandy beach surrounded by cliffs. It was a few pounds to park and then a 10 minute walk down to the beach. On the morning that we went it was still pretty chilly in the upper 50’s. The wind was also pretty strong but there were still people swimming. Those people are crazy. Thankfully, my boys were satisfied with running around and throwing rocks. It reminded me very much of some of the beaches we have been to in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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Jennycliff

We ate lunch at Jennycliff cafe which overlooks the bay across from Plymouth. This stretch of cliffs is a great place to walk and view the sailboats. There are a series of beaches below as well. Great place to sit and eat ice cream while people watching.

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Mount Batten

Just down the road from the cafe is a peninsula you can walk around to view the bay the city. You can also park here and catch a ferry into the city to avoid driving downtown. This is the scene where Carter decided to take a tumble and bust his face. So our time here was cut short.

Wembury Marine Center

One of my favorite activities in Devon was this beautiful pebble beach in Wembury. There is a car park right by the beach but our hosts had us park in a nearby neighborhood so we could take the scenic walk down to the beach. Perks to knowing the locals!

Something I really admire about many beaches in Ireland and the U.K. is how natural they keep the surrounding areas. A beach like this in America would be covered in high-rise hotels and beach homes. Instead, the scenery at the beach in Wembury included an old stone church and fields of grazing sheep and horses. The area is primarily used for wildlife conservation.

This is a great little beach for small childen because of the rock pools that form on the beach. My boys really enjoyed looking at all the rocks and playing in the water without actually having to go into the ocean. I would really like to come back here with more time. Alas, we had dinner reservations and my husband will tell you I’m worse than a toddler when I’m hangry.

 

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The Odd Wheel Pub

This family friendly pub was so nice we decided to eat there two nights in a row. They have a playground for the kiddos and even allow dogs inside the dining area. At one point there were about 7 sweet dogs sitting behind me as I ate my meal. So nice to eat somewhere this relaxed where the food is actually very good. It has a great community feel to it. The people in general down in Devon were just very relaxed and friendly.

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Plymouth

Plymouth is a small, walkable city that is rich in history. We got to see where the famous Mayflower set sail in 1620.  I’m from eastern Virginia. Learning about America’s beginnings starts young there since it’s also an area rich in history. Funny to be on this side of the history/globe now.

We spent the morning walking around the city and around Plymouth hoe. The boys even recreated a famous shot of the Beatles from the 60’s. Molds of copper were made of how each bandmate sat in the photograph. One day Kellan will look back and appreciate this (I hope)!

We also spent a few hours in the aquarium where the boys had a blast. Carter is really getting into marinelife. He gets very excited and will run at full speed between displays. It was after this trip that I decided this boy needed a leash. I finally bought one. Worth every penny.

 

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Dartmoor National Park

As we headed home we stopped into Dartmoor which is just north of Plymouth. It’s huge and you could spend days exploring just this park. Being limited on time we focused on an area on the eastern border which has the largest waterfall in England. Again, it was hard to belive we were still in England since the area we live in is so flat. I call Suffolk the Iowa of England. Different worlds.

There was a large cafe, playgrounds and plenty of walking trails. We stuck to the main trail which was about a one hour loop up to the top of the waterfall and back down. I’m glad we stopped here as it was a pleasant surprise. The views from the top were incredible. I would love to see what else Dartmoor has to offer.

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The Netherlands

I have been saving visiting the Netherlands for when the tulips at Keukenhof were in full bloom. After pricing out our trip we realized it was going to be a very expensive weekend. Since my husband wasn’t all that excited to go see a bunch of flowers, I decided to take my oldest boy on a special trip- just the two of us!

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We flew to Schiphol on a Friday night and took a shuttle to an airport hotel ten minutes away. The airport is a great base location between the gardens and the city. From there you can take a train or bus anywhere you need to go. The Steigenberger Airport Hotel was a great choice. Good food, amenities and most importantly for me – comfortable beds. By the time we checked in and got into our room it was 1 a.m. with the time change so we got a late start the next day.

We took a train from the airport into Amsterdam central. I didn’t really have much of an agenda aside from walking around and seeing where the day led us. One thing I knew I wanted to do was spoil Kellan. We never get quality one on one time these days. So of course the first toy store we saw I let him pick out a couple hot wheels and a superman backpack to carry his new treasures from the trip.

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We walked around the canals, did some window shopping and came upon a carnival with a ferris wheel. I hate ferris wheels but my kiddo wanted to go so I couldn’t say no. I am fine on them when we are moving but the stopping and swaying is what scares me. At a couple points I was in full blown panic mode and this sweet kid was right there by my side telling me that everything was ok and that he would be brave for me. My 3 year old rocks, y’all.

 

After a couple rides and games we made our way down to nine streets for some lunch. This is an area of the city with great shopping, food and scenery. This is where you will get all the pretty canal shots atop bridges. There are bicycles everywhere houseboats all over the canals. Fun fact: in Amsterdam they don’t use curtains or shut their blinds. This would imply you have something to hide. So even at night you can look into a street level home and see everything! I have American neighbors that don’t even open their blinds during the daytime.

For lunch we found a cute place that served Dutch pancakes. They were amazing. I would describe them as a cross between an American pancake and a crepe. Ham and cheese. Delish.

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Being a very busy weekend in Holland due to the flower parade, I had tried for weeks to get tickets to the Anne Frank House. It was my one must do for the city. Sadly, we couldn’t get tickets. However, at 3:30 you can queue outside and they will allow non tickets holders to enter for the last hour they are open. When we got to the museum I was shocked to see that the line was so long it wrapped around the block and I never did find the end of the line. There was no way we were getting in.

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It was a little upsetting to not get to see the Anne Frank House but I decided to let Kellan decide what we would do instead. He picked the zoo so we took off in a taxi to spend an hour there before it closed. Kellan was happy so that made mama happy! It was a nice little zoo just outside the city center. It deserved a couple more hours but I asked Kellan what animals he wanted to see the most so we headed straight to those.

 

Our next activity was a pizza canal cruise we had pre booked. It was a 90 minute cruise that served us pizza, ice cream, soda and beer. Apparently the boat did not want to waste an entire booth on just me and my son so they awkwardly sat us with a Canadian man that was in Amsterdam on business. Here I was trying to have a special dinner with Kellan and instead I had to sit directly across and eat dinner with a strange man. It looked like we were a family and it was weird. I felt it, I know he felt it- but who didn’t feel it? Kellan. My little social butterfly. Whom proceeded to talk this guys ear off for 90 whole minutes. Weeks later and Kellan can still tell you this guys name, where he was from and the ages of his children.

Aside from that…I would still recommend the cruise to others. The pizza was amazing. They stop on the canal about 30 minutes in to pick it up fresh from a pizza place. Mama got to have a couple beers and the scenery was great. We left happy.

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On day 2 of our trip the plan was to check out of our hotel, rent a locker at the airport to store my luggage, take a bus to Keukenhof and then return to the aiport and fly home. That’s what was supposed to happen.

The first thing that went wrong was we overslept. I’ve never been in a quieter hotel with more comfortable beds. I’m not used to just sleeping until I want. So as soon as I realized the time I had to rush Kellan awake and run out the door as quickly as possible. We took exactly 5 minutes to eat at the hotel while waiting for the shuttle to arrive. Once at the aiport all of the lockers where already full. Great. So now I have to take the suitcase to Keukenhof. We head out to the bus for the gardens and discover the line was a mile long. My heart sunk because I knew if we waited in the line we wouldn’t make it back in time to catch our flight. Keukenhof was the entire basis of our trip. It was why we came. I had to make a choice. One that put me straight on Santa’s naughty list. I created a diversion and I cut the line.

Even though I was now much further  ahead than I would have been, the line was still moving slowly. They were asking for people willing to forego a seat and stand the 25 minute ride to the gardens so I decided we had no other choice. So instead of looking out the window and viewing the beautiful countryside, we were crammed like sardines against the other people standing.

Once we arrived at the gardens I knew we have about 60-90 minutes before we had to head back to the airport. Most people go for around 5-6 hours so I already knew we were going to miss out on a lot. It was very crowded. If I had the chance to go again I would not go on the weekend of the flower parade. You could barely walk there were so many people. Nevertheless, we enjoyed what we did get to see and it was absolutely beautiful. We walked around, snapped pictures and stopped to get some cotton candy for Kellan (where we ran into none other than Canada man).

Kellan was about two bites into his treat when all the sudden out of nowhere it started to hail. Large, fierce, pelt-you-in-the-face hail. It was complete chaos. Thousands of people running to take cover. I am carrying a backpack and a rolling suitcase and trying to run with my toddler. He falls and is instantly soaked. He is screaming in misery because his cotton candy is destroyed. It was a scene. You would have thought his leg was broken. By the time we reached an overhang it was so crowded and we couldn’t get any more wet so I just decided to keep running and get to the bus.

On the bus I had to strip Kellan out of his wet clothes and put on his dirty clothes from the day before. Unfortunately that didn’t help the fact that his shoes were soaked through. I felt so bad for him knowing he was going to have to wear those the rest of the day.  At least on the drive back to the airport we were in good spirits and able to laugh about our misfortune. He still talks about that lost cotton candy though.

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Once we got to the airport I discovered I had booked the wrong return flight. We ended up not leaving until the next day. So all of that panicking and rushing ended up being for nothing! This will definitely go down as one of my biggest travel blunders of all time. Thankfully, I have a really understanding husband. He was actually back home in the emergency room because our friends boy he was watching fell and broke his arm. It was quite the eventful weekend. But I got to have a little bit more quality time with my handsome kiddo. We spent our last day at the hotel. Eating, playing in the arcade and just cuddling and watching movies.

 

Northern Ireland

We loved Ireland so much that I already knew we would love Northern Ireland.  Something about that island feels magical. I desperately needed an outdoorsy trip because sometimes city trips can be stressful on the kids. They are always having to be strapped into a stroller or not allowed to run free. We deal with more tantrums and meltdowns.

Northern Ireland is the place to take your kids. We didn’t have one incident because the boys were happy to run around and explore. We also lucked out (again…Ireland loves me) with the weather. 50’s and mostly sunny the entire trip! People keep saying how rainy this island is but we have yet to experience it. Luck of the very distant Irish I guess! did I mention that the Irish are so nice and friendly? We had great, genuine conversations with strangers and everyone was very social with the boys. I never felt like I was being treated like a tourist.

Portrush

Portush is the cutest little village on the northern coastline. I highly recommend staying at the Portrush Atlantic Hotel. Its within walking distance of anything you would want to see in the village and it is right across the street from the ocean. Unfortunately, being the winter and off season there was a deserted feeling. Not many gift shops were open and the restaurants had more limited hours. I would still stay here again being that its the perfect location to hop on Dunluce and Causeway roads. These are the  scenic coastal highways that will lead you to the top sites on the coastline. Eat at the Ramore- family friendly atmosphere and the food was divine. The food at the hotel was pretty good too.

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White Rock Beach

This is a beach a few minutes drive from Portrush and worthy of at least a couple hours. We put on our boots and ran around the beach, hiked along the cliffs and even had some ice cream (even though it was upper 40’s). The beach is my happy place and I have certainly passed the gene to my children. No old buildings or city landscape will ever impress me as much as some cliffs and the beach. The beach reminded me of a cross between the cliffs of Dover in England and the cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

 

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Giants Causeway

An ancient volcano erupted which created the 40, 000 rock columns at Giant’s Causeway. It’s a World Heritage site and entry is free with a National Trust membership. I want to say it was a highlight of our trip but really can’t since we loved everything about our holiday in Northern Ireland. One thing I know is you can’t come all this way and miss it.

Parking is at the visitor center which has bathrooms, a great gift shop and small cafe. You can elect to take the bus to and from the visitor center down to the site but I would advise you walk down and take the bus back up since its uphill. The walk down was beautiful and we stopped to take pictures and enjoy the beauty.

The boys loved this excursion because they love rocks and stepping from stone to stone. Some areas were a bit slippery so we had to make them hold our hands near the water. Someone tried to be a little too independent and got wet but he didn’t even care because there was too much fun to be had.

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20 minutes walk down

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This is why I love Northern Ireland 

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Carrick-a-Rede

Also along the causeway route is rope bride that connects the mainland to a tiny island. Fisherman used to use bridges to access the island for salmon but it is now used as a tourist attraction. It is free with a National Trust membership. I honestly cant advise how long the walk is from the car park to the bridge but I think it took us about an hour because nap time happened. Carter decided to fall asleep in the baby carrier so we took our time on the walk and stopped a lot to admire the scenery. It was absolutely gorgeous. We lucked out with sunny, warm skies and a fairly small crowd. When the little one is sleeping is when I get my best site seeing in. I love being able to just stop and enjoy the moment. That’s a luxury when you have two rambunctious toddlers.

I was fairly certain there was a possibility I would chicken out once we arrived at Carrick-a-Rede but up until that morning I was prepared to do it. Once we arrived I realized from the starting point of the stairs you cannot actually see the beginning of the bridge. It was hard to judge how far the bridge was above the water. Children can only cross if they are able to use both hands so you would need to wear a child that isn’t old enough. Carter was sleeping in the carrier so I had no excuse other than I was scared. I told Ben and Kellan to go first and that was probably a bad idea because I was able to see and hear Ben go into full paranoia mode on Kellan as they were crossing. “Kellan! Use both hands! Kellan! Slow down!” So I knew it was scary. When they made it back the crowd cheered and high fived Kellan and he was so proud of himself. He asked me to go again so that was all I needed to chicken out and I let him take my ticket. 5 years ago I would have been first in line but lately heights have become a real fear!

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Being brave is tiring

Dunluce Castle

Another must see along the northern coastline is Dunluce castle. The 13th century ruins are set on a cliff with beautiful views. The history is rich here with ties to many battles, vikings, Scottish clansman and royals. The boys made sure to bring in their swords in case we saw a dragon. That’s our way of making castles fun and exciting since we visit so many. The entire grounds had a great Princess Bride feel- like being in a movie.

Below the castle is a small rocky beach. There is no path granting access but we took our chances with the kids and made the steep climb down via our own path. There we got to view the castle from below while the boys had a blast playing with all the rocks. We had the beach all to ourselves and it was fun pretending it was our own corner of the world for the afternoon.

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The Dark Hedges

A lot of this post contains filming locations from the HBO show Game of Thrones. If you watch it, you may recognize some of these locations. I’ll be heading to more filming sites in Croatia soon so stay tuned for that. If you have never heard of GoT then these places are still major tourist attractions in the country. The dark hedges is the only location I went to that served no purpose in my going there -other than it being a Game of Thrones site.

Due to the popularity of the show the dark hedges has become a pit stop for basically any tour bus travelling from Belfast to the northern coast. We stopped in on our way from the airport mid afternoon and the road was filled with people taking pictures. This was a weekday in the winter. I can imagine the summertime is very busy. I said “no thanks” and we decided to come back first thing in the morning on the way to Belfast. We got to be the only people on the road.

The beech trees were planted in the 18th century and have a very mystical feel. The street is featured as the King’s road to Winterfell. Fan of the show or not- its still worth it to swing by. Beautiful

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Inch Abbey

On the southeastern coast we visited Inch Abbey on our way to Tollymore Forrest. Its ruins date back to the year 800. Across the river from the abbey you can see Down Cathedral- the burial site of St. Patrick. Inch abbey also serves as a filming location for Game of Thrones. Scenes include Robb Stark and his army after taking Jamie Lannister prisoner. We spent about 30 minutes here letting the boys run around and of course- fight dragons.

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Down Cathedral-burial site of St Patrick

 

Castle Ward 

Castle Ward is a sprawling 18th century estate near Strangford. It’s a National Trust site with a playground, cafe and lots of walking. Since we were short on time we opted to just see the Game of Thrones shooting locations and didn’t actually tour Castle Ward itself. The farmyard and tower house of the estate is featured as house Winterfell and a few other areas of the estate are featured for other scenes. We had a great time walking around and fortunate enough to have the place to ourselves. I can imagine it being a busy place when tour buses arrive since tours come here for the “Winterfell” experience complete with archery lessons.

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looking for trolls

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Tollymore Forest Park

Tollymore is about an hour and half south of Belfast and is now one of my favorite places on Earth. We stopped into the most picturesque coastal town of Newcastle where we had an amazing lunch before spending our afternoon hiking. You could really spend a whole day here so pack a lunch if you plan to do so. There are several routes you can take ranging from 0.7 km to 9 km. We opted to take the red “river route” which was 5.2 kilometers. We basically had the forest to ourselves and it was a gorgeous day. You will also see Game of Thrones tour buses here since scenes such as the dire wolf pups were shot in the park.

Our route went along a small river and we stopped often to let the boys throw rocks into the water and play. There are so many beautiful spots on this path of old bridges, stepping stones, a hermitage and waterfall. It was so gorgeous I kept thinking to myself if it was this pretty in the winter…I can’t imagine what it would look like in the spring or early fall.  The boys had the most fun and after our hike we sat on a bench and enjoyed getting to know a local couple and their dog.

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Belfast

We didn’t spend a lot of time in the city since we came to Northern Ireland for the great outdoors. We did spend an evening walking around, eating at a Mexican restaurant and shopping for souvenirs. It is a smaller city and a good base for day trips elsewhere. The museums were fabulous:

W5

Hands down- the best children’s museum I have ever been to. They put a great emphasis on sensory seeking, eccentric, fun. The entire time we were there I was dreaming of having a place like this closer to where I live in England. It’s just perfect for two toddler boys looking to have a good time.

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The Titanic Experience

While not exactly a fun time for the kids in comparison to the W5; they did seem to enjoy a few of the displays. They have a small ride like attraction, a projection room with ship blueprints on the floor, and an IMAX screen showing wreckage of the titanic under the sea. Kellan was surprisingly in tune with how serious the sinking was, seemed very concerned and asked a lot of questions. I would love to come back without children and read every display top to bottom.

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Barcelona

Barcelona…where do I begin? It was the dream trip for a family with toddlers. An easy, breezy, long weekend. It has been on my to do list and when I saw tickets come up for $35 a person I jumped on that deal. Perfect place to celebrate reaching 20 countries of travel.

The airport is about 25 minutes outside of the city and it was really easy catching the Aerobus to the city center. I love trips where we don’t have to take car seats. Sometimes we like to go crazy; exploring, renting a car, the whole shebang. Other times I just want simple. Simple is good with toddlers.

From there we took a taxi to our Airbnb. It was a really amazing place in a quiet area of the city. In retrospect, I would have stayed a bit closer to La Rambla-the main strip. Being the low season I probably should have disregarded all the reviews about no AC, open windows, and street noise in the touristy areas of the city. We ended up having to do a lot more walking and public transportation due to our location.

Barcelona is huge and very spread out. This is not a place you can walk to all the sights. The hop on hop off bus alone takes 2 hours to complete a loop. And that is just one itinerary. The HOHO has two different lines for different areas of the city. That’s how much there is to explore here! You can spend over 4 hours on a bus and not ever get off on a stop. I highly recommend the HOHO with kids. We purchased the two day pass in advance.

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Double decker bus

Why I loved Barcelona

Kid friendly, kid friendly, kid friendly. Seriously. Public transportation is easy, the streets are stroller friendly, there are playgrounds all over the place, and most importantly…kid friendly restaurants. So many times we travel and eat fast food because the places we really want to eat are not suited for the littlest honey badger. He is not a great eater. He does not want to go to a restaurant and sit quietly while everyone else eats a meal. He wants to grab a banana from that fruit stand and go about his way.

Barcelona is filled with outdoor dining. Even in January it was around 50 and sunny so eating outside was enjoyable. My kids could people watch, bird watch, get up and stretch their legs if they wanted to. All without us having to sacrifice the quality of our meal. And we ate goooood. I had some of the best food I’ve had in Europe. The seafood was amazing. The tapas! We didn’t have to worry about what Carter was going to eat since practically every other store there had a fresh fruit stand we could grab something and take with us.

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Did I mention the Sangria?

Geography-wise…Barcelona checks all the boxes for me. I am from Virginia where the ocean is not far from the mountains. I like having the best of both worlds. Barcelona is a beautiful city right on the ocean, rolling hills on its backside and in the distance we could see snow capped mountains. Palm trees in one direction and mountains in the other? Yes, I could live there.

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Where I plan to store my future boat

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Sagrada Familia

You can’t come to Barcelona without seeing this beautiful church. It was designed by Gaudi, as many buildings in Barcelona were. Work on this church began 130 years ago and it will finally be completed in about 10 years. The area outside the church has street performers, a playground and food so you can spend a good bit of time here. We didn’t get to tour the towers as my children were too small but what we did get to see was breathtaking. I have never seen anything like it.

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Parc Guell

At the base of the mountain range there is a really great park with great views. Its a good 15 minute walk uphill from the HOHO bus stop so wear your walking shoes. Lots of great cafes and art stores in the area. The park itself has a playground and there is also a Gaudi museum there which you must pay to enter. There is a beautiful terrace with tiled mosaic and salamander statues. Even in the off season this park was busy. Get tickets ahead of time! This was where my boys felt the need to run wild and free so my pictures are lacking.

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The museum

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Barcelona Aquarium

Expensive but well worth it. This is a going to make the kiddos happy. My boys love sea life and there are plenty of interactive displays and areas for them to run around and play. There is also a cafe and excellent gift shop where your kids will beg for toys. It’s located at the Port Vell bus stop and there is a large mall and outdoor dining on the water right next door.

Placa de Catalunya and La Rambla

This plaza and street are the hub of the city. You can walk around, shop, and eat all day. Make sure you go down the little side streets! My kids spent a good amount of time chasing pigeons in the plaza. Plenty of photographers focused on Carter because there is nothing more joyful than watching him chase pigeons. The kid has great facial expressions.

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Parc de la Ciutadella

This is another great park to walk around. There are playgrounds, ponds with wildlife and a zoo inside the park. The zoo was pretty pricey so we skipped that having already done the aquarium. The highlight of this park is the Casacada Monumental. It has a beautiful waterfall fountain and golden statues. The stairs of this monument is where one of my children decided to have an epic 10 minute meltdown. It was so bad that I said “Bye, Felicia” and walked away leaving him there. Thankfully my method worked and he came screaming after me scared that I was really leaving him. It’s not a real family vacation until at least one toddler gets overtired.

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Boqueria Market

We went on a weekday in the winter so I cannot imagine how crowded this market can really get. But it’s a must while in Barcelona. It’s right off La Rambla and has amazing fresh food. We had already eaten dinner when we visited so we bought some macaroons, unique chocolates and people watched.

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This is everything that Carter loves

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One of everything, please!

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More pictures from around the city

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Camp Nou soccer stadium

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Battlo house
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Battlo house

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Casa Pedrera

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Christmas With The Royals

One of my bucket list items while living in England was to see the Queen in person. The easiest way to do that is to watch her enter/exit the church she attends during her winter stay at her country estate. The Queen attends the same church for about 2 months and we only live an hour from Sandringham. You can read about our first visit to her country home here: Sandringham House and Apple Picking.

See the Queen: Round 1

We had been going back and forth on whether we wanted to drive there on Christmas Sunday for about the two months prior. Up until Christmas Eve I still didn’t know if I wanted to go or wait until the following week. We already read the reports that Will, Kate, George and Charlotte were spending the holiday with Kate’s family. We also knew the Queen and Duke had been very sick that week. When we woke up Christmas morning we had breakfast, opened some gifts, checked the weather and upon seeing it was going to be a nice day, decided to hop in the car and just go with low expectations.

On the way to Sandringham we did hear on the radio the Queen was too sick to attend church. It was disheartening since we really wanted to see her but also worrisome considering she has never missed this service…ever!  Naturally, being that she is 90 years old a cold can be serious. We decided to keep on our way and hoped other members of the royal family would be attending.

The church service begins at 11:00 and we arrived at 10:40 with just enough time to walk down the long road of cars to the security area and then make our way to the church. Sandringham estate has a walkway leading to the small Mary St. Magdalene church. The royal family will walk this path but the Queen and Duke arrive by car and are dropped off at the church steps. The path is roped off so that you may stand on either side of the road to watch their arrival. Many people arrive very early in the morning for the Christmas service to get a good spot to see the Queen. Since she is dropped off you would need to be fairly close to the church to get a good view. However, on this unique day with the Queen being ill, my priority became getting a good spot along the pathway in order to have interaction with another royal. I was also told that due to so many royal members not attending that day the Christmas service crowd was much smaller than usual.

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The size of the crowd when we arrived. I was told it was smaller than usual

We were about 4 rows back when the family started their way to the church. On their way in they walked at a faster pace and just waved and smiled at the crowd. Christmas day is the only time they allow the public to take pictures of them on their private property….so keep this in mind if you decide to go any other Sunday in the winter. You will not be able to take pictures! So being the only day it was allowed everyone was snapping away. Due to being short I pretty much had to raise my camera above my head and hope for the best! We saw all of the Queens’s children: Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward, as well as their children. The Duke of Edinburgh then arrived by car and was dropped off at the bottom of the church stairs. So this is another thing to keep in mind with going to Sandringham really early: you will not have any interaction with the royals until after the church service is over.

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While the royals attended service the boys ran around and made friends. I noticed the other side of the pathway had less people so when they let down the rope to allow people to cross… I made my way over there fast. I looked for the shortest person I could find and stood behind her. I spoke to this woman, her mother and father the majority of the service. They were pretty hilarious. She told me that coming to Sandringham to see the royals was a family tradition. Her father had a step stool so that he could stand behind her and take pictures of her talking to Prince Harry. She has a thing for Harry. The stool idea is really pretty clever. Next year I will definitely bring a stool because then it doesn’t matter what time you arrive…you will get a view!

She was joking around and putting on her chapstick in anticipation of their kiss. This woman was a riot…I liked her. I told her I had read that the royals are more likely to chat with children that have flowers. She agreed to let Kellan stand in front of her with his 3 bouquets and use him as her bait.

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The Duke, being 96, elects to be driven to church. You can see him there in the tan coat. This is also where the Queen would be dropped off to give you an idea of how close you need to stand for a good view.
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Exiting church and stopping for photos

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When the royals exit the church they stop for pictures and then proceed back towards the estate via the walkway. Unlike when they enter, they walk slowly and stop and talk to well wishers. It was definitely true that they are more likely to stop for anyone bearing flowers or gifts. They will also stop for dogs and people in wheelchairs. Our plan worked and everyone that was walking on our side of the pathway stopped and talked to Kellan. Camilla (future Queen consort) came buy and said hello and received his flowers. Princess Anne (the Queen’s daughter) also stopped and spoke with us; even asking Kellan why he wasn’t wearing his coat. I was so proud of how sweet and polite my boy was!

Anne stopped to talk with us for so long that Harry proceeded down the path without stopping on our side since we were already speaking with someone. We decided to run down to the end of the path in order to get a second chance of an encounter. I ran down, stuck out my hand and said “Merry Christmas” and he shook my hand. YES! In case you didn’t know: Harry has worked very closely with the US military, has aided programs for wounded warriors, and everyone that has met him says he is very humble and down to earth. So…we like Prince Harry!

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The future King. He did not stop on our side of the pathway

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Anne receiving flowers from my sweet boy
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Where is your coat?

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Round 2:meet Harry
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He stopped to kiss a dog…not my new chapstick wearing friend

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See the Queen: Round 2

The following week was the new year’s service and we had intended on going. When we woke up that morning we searched for news of the Queen’s health and it was reported she was still too ill to attend church. We considered going and seeing if Will and Kate would be in attendance but the weather was cold and rainy. It ended up being a lazy day at home.

See the Queen: Round 3

It was two weeks after Christmas and we decided not to get to the church before the service at 11 to watch the royals arrive. Instead, we showed up about 15 minutes before they were due to exit. There was hardly anyone there and we walked right up to the the front. We made conversation with the family next to us and they informed us that the Queen, Will, Kate, and the Middleton family were in attendance. Basically everyone we did not get to see the last time. It was their first time visiting Sandringham and they also had two boys that were very sweet with mine. They dug for worms and played with a ball I brought along. I asked them “What should we say if they stop and talk to us? Last time we wished them a merry Christmas”. They had no idea what we would say either….so we settled on saying “Happy new year” being that it was only one week into 2017.

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The Queen and Duke exited the church first. The crowd cheered as it was her first public appearance in a month due to being in bad health. They waved, got into a burgundy Bentley, and were driven back to her home. Will, Kate, and the Middletons walked the path and stopped to talk to well wishers. I am really kicking myself in the rear for not bringing flowers. Had Kellan brought some they would have stopped and chatted. In fact, no one in attendance had brought any which would have increased our chances; especially being that the crowd was so small. Will stopped and chatted to a woman in a wheelchair. Kate stopped to pet a small dog. The Middletons sort of stood back and waved. As they neared us we just smiled, waved, and said “happy new year”. They wished us a happy new year back and began to walk off. As they began to leave Kellan started loudly yelling “BYE! BYE!”, to which Pippa Middleton stopped and said “He is so cute!”. Pippa and Kate are absolutely gorgeous in person, by the way.

Due to being private property, you are not allowed to take pictures of the royals at the church. Christmas day is the only day they allow pictures to be taken. Paparazzi line up just off the property to get zoomed shots of the family and pictures of the Queen driving away in her car. I am so excited that we got to see all the royals during our time in England. It was really easy considering it took 3 weeks to see the Queen. I do wish we had pictures of the Queen, Will and Kate! I snuck a picture after they were far past the gate. You can view paparazzi pictures from that day here:  The Queen at Sandringham

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Stirling

From Edinburgh we took a day trip to the Stirling area. The kids were under the weather and actually enjoyed sitting in the car, relaxing and watching movies (gasp). They usually are not fans of the car. Especially the “wee” one. That’s what the locals called Carter.

Our first stop was to the Hopetoun farm shop off the M9. I wanted to see Hopetoun House; a country estate where one of my favorite tv shows filmed (Outlander). Due to this being a private estate on private roads, you have to first obtain a permit at the farm shop for your vehicle. Unfortunately, I was informed they would not be giving out any permits that day so my hopes and dreams of seeing Jamie Fraser’s home: Lallybroch, were crushed.

We continued up towards Falkirk and stopped at the Kelpies statues right off the highway. If you are travelling through Scotland this is a good place to stop as there is plenty of space to stretch your legs, a playground nearby, toilets, and a small cafe. We snapped some pictures and ate a snack at the cafe.

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Our next stop was at the National Wallace Monument. This tower sits on a small mountain in honor of William Wallace, a 13th century Scotsman that led the wars of independence. If you have seen the movie Braveheart, you know who this is. Of course, the movie isn’t all too accurate and Scotland doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of Mel Gibson. Nevertheless…that movie is one of the best movies of all time- fact or fiction! The music…the scenery…the romanticism….so yes, as I stated in my previous post, movies like this are why I have been wanting to come to Scotland since middle school.

Regardless of my connecting the monument with the movie, William Wallace is considered a hero and icon in this country. It was on the top of my to do list for the area. We pulled up to the parking lot and looked up the hill to the tower. My husband looks at me and asked “how many steps is it?” Trusty google declared there to be 246 spiraling steps. We looked at the toddlers sitting in the backseat with snot running down their faces and began imagining the different scenarios that could occur on this journey up and down the tower. Then we played the game “Well what do you think?” for a good five minutes before we decided to just continue on with our journey.

About ten minutes further and we reached Stirling Castle which is on a mountain across the valley from William Wallace. The parking lot alone gave us the view we would have had from the monument so I didn’t feel so bad not climbing the tower. It was very windy and cold and had begun to drizzle. Kellan straight up refused to get out of the car, saying he was tired and began asking if we could take him back to the hotel so he could take a nap. I decided to walk around the castle alone while Ben stayed in the car with the boys and persuaded Kellan to just close his eyes and nap in the car.

Stirling is historically significant in Scotland’s wartime history. From the 14th-17th century it has had 8 sieges and and played a huge role in politics. It is also one of the largest castles in the country. I highly suggest a stop here when visiting Scotland. I wish I had more time to spend here but I didn’t want to make my poor kiddos wait too long.

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You can see the National Wallace Monument across the valley

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Our next stop was Doune castle about 15 minutes north of Stirling. I had only added this to our itinerary after we couldn’t get the permit to see Hopetoun House. I wanted to see one of the Outlander filming sites and this popped up being nearby. I had not heard of it previously but it ended up being my favorite thing we did that day. Very glad things worked out the way it did. The rain had cleared and the sun came out a little so it started to warm up. At this point the boys decided they were ready to get out of the car so we got to all go in as a family. Our first stop was the gift shop to buy tickets. The two young women working were very friendly and explained all the filming that had been done here (I could tell they had done this before).

Outlander season 1 was filmed here in 2013 as Castle Leoch. They also explained that Game of Thrones filmed their pilot Winterfell scenes here before the show got picked up and they moved locations. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a popular movie that was shot here. It’s apparent though that this castle has become popular lately due to the show Outlander because the gift shop is filled with show souvenirs. In fact, you can come to Scotland and do full week long Outlander tours. Yeah, the show is that great. I am now on book 3!

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Finally happy and running around 
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The Outlander clans 

 

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Ben bought the boys swords. Needless to say, Kellan is really getting into castles and Royals

We really lucked out and had the castle practically to ourselves. That’s the benefit to winter travel. Sure, the sun rises at 9am and set at 3:30pm. But had we come in the summer we would have fought the crowds. I think what I enjoyed most about this castle is that is was small and very intimate feeling.

You take the tour with an audio headset but can travel through the castle in any direction you please. You just stop when you see a number, enter the number into your device and will hear the information for the room you are in. 3 stops were dedicated to the Outlander filming.

Built in the 13th century, Doune was first the home of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. Eventually it was obtained by his father, King Robert II and used as a hunting lodge. Later it became the home of an Earl and saw some damage during the Jacobite rising. It is now cared for by Historic Scotland, and agency that safeguards historic buildings.

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Courtyard Game of Thrones and Outlander filmed in
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Outlander filmed stable scenes out here

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After touring the castle the boys were tired again and Ben took them to the car to rest. I walked around the back of the castle and along the creek. It was really nice being the only person out there! I could have walked around for hours; very pretty and peaceful.

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We headed back towards Edinburgh and decided to stop into Linlithgow to see the palace. It was getting dark, had started raining, and closing soon so we parked and this time Ben walked around and snapped pictures while I stayed behind with the boys.

Linlithgow was where Scottish monarchs lived in the 15th and 16th centuries before the monarchy left for England;  King James and Mary, Queen of Scots to name a couple. Mary has always been a historical figure that fascinates me which is why I wanted to stop here. It would be a beautiful place to visit during nice weather as it is situated on a pretty lake.

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*A trip to the highlands is happening as soon as my mom decided when she is coming back to visit. I can’t wait! This is the trip I have been dreaming about since middle school.*

Edinburgh

Before moving to England if someone had asked me my top destinations for Europe I would have always responded Ireland or Scotland. I have always admired the music, culture, the accents. The movies I liked always romanticized those countries. Ireland was our first overnight trip from England and it did not disappoint. During our trip I repeatedly told my husband I wanted to live in Ireland. I already knew I would love Scotland just as much.

Scotland has the advantage being on the same island. We typically have to fly most places but can easily drive up north. So I knew Scotland wasn’t going to be a country I tried to jam pack into one trip. I decided we would do the Edinburgh area for a 3 or 4 day trip and save the highlands for when we had more time. The highlands I want to do when the days are long. We went to Edinburgh during winter solstice and the sun didn’t rise until just before 9 and set at 3:30. That does not give you a lot of time to sight see. If you plan on going to Scotland just once…I suggest you go from April-October to really maximize the daylight.

The drive up was pretty easy and took us about 7.5 hours with 2 stops. On the way up we could practically feel the health of our children deteriorating. They proceeded to be sick the entire trip with fevers, runny noses and terrible coughs. It didn’t stop us from having an amazing experience but sick kids mean you have to modify your expectations a bit….as well as functioning off a full nights sleep.

We stayed at the Premier Inn off East Market Street. It was a good, central location that allowed us to walk to everything along the royal mile. We dropped off our bags and headed straight to the Christmas markets. The first night we went was the Sunday before Christmas and it was packed. Too packed to fully enjoy. We saw the street of light show (highly recommend), rode rides in Santa Land, and browsed the stalls. This was the 5th country we have visited the markets at in the past month and it really never gets old! We went back on Monday and Wednesday nights and they were surprisingly not busy and much more enjoyable those nights.

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Our first full day in Edinburgh was dedicated to the Royal Mile. This is the famous street that begins with the Queens palace and ends with Edinburgh castle. In between there are hundreds of whisky, souvenir and specialty shops. Also, plenty of restaurants to chose from. The Royal Mile is one long, steady hill that can feel pretty steep when pushing up a double stroller. Our first stop on the mile was Camera Obscura. This is not to be missed for people travelling with kids. Its very interactive and hands on for any age. The boys had a blast!

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On the top floor there are some pretty great views. They do a magic show throughout the day up there (which we intended on watching but Carter decided he did not have time for that….so we kept it moving).

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Our next stop was the Scotch Whisky Experience across the street but we decided that our interest in the tour did not match the price tag so we just browsed the gift shop. You have to save money where you can..especially when you know your kids aren’t going to enjoy it. Next, we headed up to castle and again, opted not to tour the inside. At this point I was hungry so we just walked around the outside of the castle and headed for lunch. I picked a place called Oink because it was something quick and easy. They use one pig per day and close when its gone so this was recommended to me for a lunch time meal . I got a pulled pork sandwich with haggis stuffing and it was pretty good! Not the kind of pork a southern girl is used to but you take what you can get in the U.K.! When you are in Scotland you have to eat haggis…it’s an unofficial rule! The boys refused to eat anything which became a theme for the trip. We would constantly buy things to try and coax them to eat and they just refused.

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With the boys sick and fussy we bought them a nice wool blanket, sat them back in the stroller and just hoped they would relax and fall asleep as we walked along the royal mile. We did some shopping and took a walk inside St. Giles Cathedral. This is free to enter but you need to pay a small donation to take pictures inside. The cathedral is 900 years old and dedicated to a popular patron saint of Edinburgh. That evening we spent more time in Santa Land which magically helped the kids perk up!

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GO.TO.SLEEP.
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In love with music of Scotland

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Our second full day in Edinburgh it was cold and rained a good portion of the day which ruined some of my plans. I was not going to make my sick kids walk around in the rain. I had hoped to hike Arthur’s seat, a mountain that overlooks the city, but we opted to drive through Holyrood Park and get to the highest point we could via the road. I am sure the views from the top are amazing.

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Another activity we had wanted to do that day was tour the Holyrood Palace. Its the official Scotland residence of the British monarch and of course being that I am obsessed with all things royal I had to go! It’s served royals in Scotland since the 1600’s and Queen Elizabeth spends time here in the summer. The rain was subsiding a bit so we got the kids out of the car to go and it was so cold and windy they were instantly miserable. My kiddos are not a fan of the cold..yet try and get them to wear hats and gloves *insert eye roll here*. We took some pictures from the outside and then decided to head over to an attraction that was indoors.

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Carter thinking: “where is my beach?”

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Our next destination is historically significant for our family. Some background on my husband: His family is from Wales and his grandfather (Bumpa) served in the royal navy. This of course made the family move throughout Europe as his duty stations changed. Ben’s mother met Ben’s father (American) in Germany and that is where they lived until they decided to make Illinois their permanent home. So that is a big reason why we wanted to get stationed in the U.K. Ben wanted to see his family history and be able to allow his boys to experience it.

It just so happens a ship Bumpa was on is now on display in Edinburgh. He worked communications on the Royal Yacht Brittania, where he traveled with the royal family all through Europe and Africa. It’s pretty amazing that the Queen he served so long ago is still Queen today!

The yacht is free of historical and informational signage as they prefer to use just audio touring. So if you want to know any history on the yacht at all you must use the audio tour. Its actually a fairly small ship and only a couple officer bunks so we had a fairly good idea of where Ben’s grandfather slept. There was also an officer lounge. They help make the tour interesting for children by hiding small stuffed corgi dolls in all the rooms. That way the child had to pay attention to add up how many corgi’s they find. At the end of the tour if you have the correct answer, you get a sticker. That was all Kellan needed to have a good time! Most of the tour is indoors but you do walk along the deck a bit so still bring an umbrella if it’s raining.

It was truly a wonderful experience to see some family history. The yacht is attached to a mall so there is plenty of shopping and places to eat after you finish your tour. There is also an indoor play place for rainy days.

That evening we headed back to the Christmas markets. There was barely anyone there due to the rain that day so it ended up being a lot of fun for us not dealing with the crowds.

Stay tuned for my post on our day trip to Stirling!