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!

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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.

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Venice is well known for glass blowing

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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.

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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!

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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?

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!

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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!

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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.

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So happy to be with his Grandpa.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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View from our hotel

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Our apartment building

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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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

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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).

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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 .

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Underwear- don’t care

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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.

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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.

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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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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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