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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Luxembourg

We had about 24 hours in Luxembourg and arrived after dark to pouring rain. This wasn’t make it work type rain…it was a storm. Everything I had planned for our time there was outdoors. So we had to improvise and search for an indoor play area to get the kids tired for bed. We had been in the car the majority of the day and they were ready to run. Fortunately, we found this great place YOYO that was jungle themed and massive. The best part was having the place to ourselves so we had a great game of hide and seek.

The next morning the rain held off and we got to see what the country looked like in the daylight. I hadn’t had huge expectations for our short trip there but I was really impressed. There were so many places I wanted to stop and take pictures but we were on very limited time. Beautiful scenery and buildings! I could have definitely use a couple more days.

Our first stop was into the Luxembourg American cemetery. 5,000 service members are laid to rest here as a result of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-45. It has beautifully made memorials . We didn’t stay long since cemeteries are a place of respect and silence and my kids wanted to run wild and free. However, it was nice to stop by and pay our respects to those that fought for our freedom.

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We next headed into the city center to find the Christmas markets. I had wanted to see them at night but the rain left us no choice but for a daytime visit. We found parking and came upon a great pirate themed park for the boys to play at. Everything was wet but they didn’t care. We are used to that in England!

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The Luxembourg market was amazing. Being a weekday morning it didn’t feel crowded at all.  The boys rode the carousel repeatedly and we ate some sausages and chips while watching the city mayor give a speech for the opening ceremony. The food was some of the best we had at all the markets we went to. The areas were split up throughout the city center so we walked around and tried to experience all that we could. I only wish we had more time to visit!

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 bridge in the middle of the city
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The architecture in the city was beautiful. Wish we had more time to visit!

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The city had a very romantic feel

 

Oslo

Oslo wasn’t anywhere on my radar until some super cheap tickets ($140 total for a family of 4) came up for a three day weekend. Then it became very appealing. Also, we had yet to do a strictly city tour where we didn’t need to bring car seats or rent a car. The trip just seemed to be really simple and that sounded perfect. When we got off the plane we purchased the Oslo Pass which allows you transportation through the city and entry to all the museums. You can choose between 24, 48, and 72 hours in which we chose the 48 hour pass for 54 Euro a piece. The kids were free!

However, from the airport you do have to purchase the FlyToGet train tickets to go from the airport to the city center. The train was extremely easy. Get off the plane, get a ticket and there is a train that departs every 10 minutes. It dropped us off at the Oslo station right in front of our hotel. Stupid easy. I was really happy to see there was snow on the ground on our journey into the city. Its been a while since I’ve seen real snow so that was a treat.

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We stayed at the Clarion Royal and it was an amazing hotel for the price. The room was big, the beds and pillows were actually comfortable, and the amenities were on point. The breakfast buffet was huge! They also have a small heated swimming pool which we utilized both nights of our stay.

When we arrived the sun was setting and we wanted to take advantage of something still being open. We decided to walk 10 minutes to the National Gallery because I wanted to see the famous “Scream” painting by Edvard Munch- Norway’s most famous artist. They have an entire collection of his work along with two floors of beautiful art. We could have spent much more time exploring but it was dinner time for the boys and you don’t want to be in an art gallery too long with hungry children. So we headed to a taco shop across from our hotel and ran into an expat that ended up joining us for dinner.  I love finding Mexican food in Europe. When we see it we can never pass up the opportunity! Usually when you think of Mexican food you think of a quick, cheap meal. Well…this is where those cheap plane tickets became the cheapest part of our trip. Food in Norway is expensive!

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Day 2 was our only full day in Oslo so we had to cram in as much sightseeing as possible. We took the tram to Frogner park and the whining started immediately. Kellan was wearing the most layers out of everyone but that was no match for the snowy 25 degree cold. He determined he wasn’t going to have a good time as soon as he stepped off the tram. He wanted to be held the entire time so Ben ended up carrying him so I could be free to take some pictures. The park contains the Vigeland installation of nude sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. This is the same man that designed the Nobel Peace Prize medal. He spent 20 years between the 1920s-40s creating the installation. Some of the work is really bizarre but that’s what makes it so unique. I wish we could have spent more time there but with my children turning into icicles we had to be as quick as possible. Why do kids complain about being cold and then refuse to wear their gloves?

 

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The next stop was the popular Aker Brygge, an area on the water with shopping, dining, boat tours and the Nobel Peace Prize center. Ben and the kids decided to head back to the hotel for a snack so I walked around solo for about 30 minutes just enjoying the scenery. I can imagine in the summer this is the place that gets really crowded with tourists. Although there wasn’t much going on down there this time of year it was really nice and relaxing to just walk around and take in the beauty without a crowd. I practically had the entire Nobel Peace center to myself!

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Nobel Peace center

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After the kiddos took a nap in the hotel we once again set out for some burritos. I couldnt help myself.  Then we took the number 30 bus out to Bygdoy where many of the museums are located. The bus ride was about 25 minutes. Our first stop was the Viking ship museum which is utterly fascinating. To think people used these ships to cross freezing oceans so long ago….it’s just something you need to see if you are in Norway and love history.

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The Oseberg ship was excavated in 1904 and thought to be from around 800 AD

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The Gokstad ship was found in 1880 and is from the 9th century

The Fram museum is just up the road from the viking ship museum and located on the fjord. We walked around just as the sun had set and then spent about 30 minutes inside the museum. This is a good one for the kids as there are some great interactive activities. The museum is dedicated to polar exploration and the most famous explorers. The main attraction is a ship used in Arctic and Antarctic missions in the late 1800’s. You can even go on the ship and walk around. The boys definitely enjoyed this museum the most.

After our museum fun we headed back into the city in search of the cheapest meal possible. McDonalds it was! I have eaten at McDonalds in almost every country I have visited, especially after having kids. It’s cheap, its quick and its easy. While I would love to experience all the fine dining Norway has to offer, it’s just not realistic for the budget of our travelling family. In order for us to make all these international trips you have to cut costs where you can. So, thank you Mcdonalds.

After we ate we walked around some of the shopping areas and picked up some souvenirs and Christmas gifts. My new thing has been buying an ornament everywhere I go. They will be a lot of fun to look back on every year while putting up the tree.

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The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast and let the kids chase pigeons outside since everything was closed on a Sunday. My mom has always said her most vivid memories of living in Europe as a child was the pigeons and I’m fairly certain it will be the same for my boys. When there are birds around nothing else matters. To all the pigeons in Europe: I am sorry my children wont leave you alone.

 

The Algarve, Portugal

With the hubby gone all summer I was in need of some fun in the sun when he returned. I wanted a mix of beach, pool, site seeing and culture. Portugal has it all.

The Hotel

We stayed at the Be Live Family Palmeiras near Porches, Portugal. After landing in Faro and renting a car it was an easy 40 minutes drive to the resort. The roads in Portugal are well maintained and easy to navigate. Plus, we had perfect cell reception to plug our destinations into our phones.

I chose this resort because 1.) The price was right, and 2.) It looked very toddler friendly. We made an excellent choice. This resort is only a few years old and very clean. It is a ginormous compound with endless activities. Animal shows, kiddy discos- my kids loved it all.  They have a kids club where they had face painting, games, a bounce house, and more. There was a playground and two kid pools; one with slides and interactive water spouts. We had two beaches about a 5-10 minute walk away that provided water sports. All four of us hopped on a jet ski and Kellan got to drive while Carter fell asleep immediately.  Every single time that kid puts on a life jacket then gets on a boat he falls asleep!

Being all inclusive we could eat and snack whenever we wanted and we never felt like we were the loud table at the buffet because it was a very casual, relaxed atmosphere. I will say though that unlike a lot of resorts that have theme nights for dinner, this hotel put out the same things every lunch and dinner. So you would definitely want to venture out and eat at local restaurants to avoid getting burnt out on the same food daily.

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Bottomless slushies

Be Live caters to Portuguese and French tourists but did a good job speaking English when needed as they do have British visiting as well. We were actually surprised at check in when they told us we were the first Americans they had seen at the resort! But if they know an English speaking guest is in the crowd they will switch between the three languages to make sure everyone understands.

This was my first time being around so many French people and they are so much different from the people I normally interact with. I wouldn’t call them nice nor would I say they are rude. I would describe them as indifferent. The entire week at the buffet or at the bar no one ever said “excuse me” if they bumped into you nor would they acknowledge you if you said it to them. Being from the south I am used to a hello, a smile or a nod when you pass someone in a hallway or elevator. They basically just didn’t interact with us at all which is disappointing because I finally had a chance to practice those three years of French I took in high school! I did find the locals and the hotel staff to be very friendly. Kellan had a mouth injury playing soccer one day and the staff got us an appointment with  a dentist 5 minutes away very quickly. I am so thankful they were helpful in that situation.

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This was an aquarium/amusement park/water park close to our resort. It was expensive but it was well worth it being very toddler friendly. We saw a dolphin show and sea lion show– and again, they spoke English in portions of the shows. I didn’t get any pictures here because we were too busy having so much fun… but I would definitely recommend a trip here if you find yourself in the Alrgarve.

Ponta da Piedade

This was my number one “must see” attraction in the Algarve because this is the post card area. Every tourist spot has that one attraction that’s featured on magnets and postcards and this is it. About 40 minutes from our resort; the parking was free and you first walk around the top of the cliffs taking in the beautiful views. There is just something about cliffs and breath taking views that I love.. as you have probably noticed from our excursions in Europe thus far. Can’t help myself.

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This is not a beach area but a group of rock formations where you can catch a boat to explore the nearby caves and grottos. There are stairs that lead you down to the boat dock and you pay your driver after the tour is over. Very easy. There are constantly boats in and out dropping off and picking up passengers. 5 people allowed per boat. I believe we paid 40 Euro but the kiddos were free. Our guide was a rough around the edges grandpa-type; lauging and poitning out the nudists sunbathing..but he was sweet with the boys. Well, he was sweet with Kellan because Carter fell asleep pretty quickly. The ocean just calms him. We like when the honey badger is calm.

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Fell asleep clutching his popsicle in one hand and the GoPro in the other
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Camilo Beach
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Rock formation resembling an elephant

After our tour we did some more walking around the cliffs since my littlest little was napping. One day we are going to show him all the pictures of him napping in front of all these beautiful European backdrops and laugh. This kid has never missed a nap in his life and mama ain’t complaining.

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Praia de Marinha

About 15 minutes from our resort, we decided to spend a morning at this gorgeous beach. Agian, we had free parking (I love free), beautiful views and about a million stairs to walk down before reaching the water. Everything we did in Portugal involved cliffs, steep hills and stairs. It wasn’t exactly easy with a 1&3 year old in tow but its definitely doable. Going to the beach with toddlers on vacation you pack SO much stuff because its not an easy or quick trek back up to the car. So you would rather pack and lug everything down the first time. I am not complaining: this beach and everything else we did on our trip was well worth the effort. I just want anyone considering going here to know that many of the excursions we did involve climbing and walking which isn’t always easy when your kids decide they are too tired to walk.

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Praia de Marinha has some really great rocks formations to explore on its western side but about ten minutes into trying to reach them we decided it was too difficult with the kids. The current was strong and the waves crashed high on the rocks. If I was to go again I would check the tides to make sure I went at its lowest. Nevertheless, we still had a really great time exploring the beach and playing in the sand. I think the boys favorite part was chasing the seagulls around. Carter is obsessed with birds. He will follow one around as long as it will let him. Makes me want to take him to Venice because he would be that kid chasing pigeons and having the time of his life.

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Something else to note about the beaches we visited in the Algarve: the beaches do not have a steady decline into the water. There is a drop off just several feet into the water and the current is strong so your little ones need to be supervised at all times playing on the shoreline. So my kids weren’t able to do any swimming on their own but I held them so they could swim father out.

Praia Nova, Praia da Senhora da Rocha, and Nossa Senhora da Rocha

Just a 5 minute walk from our hotel you can take some stairs and walk down a hill to reach a small coved beach surrounded by cliffs. There is a tunnel built into the cliff that leads you to the neighboring beach, Praia Nova. Both beaches are great for playing in the sand, water sports and hunting for seashells. Kellan especially got a kick out of the long, dark tunnel and pretending there was a bear inside. We explored the beaches on several of the days we were in the Algarve and on the last two nights of our trip we walked out onto the edge of the cliff separating the two beaches. There is a restaurant and a beautiful, white chapel. The origins of the chapel is a complete mystery but many date is back to the 8th century. This is the perfect place to watch the sunset which is why we came back a second time.

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Porches Pottery

Porches is a village in the Algarve with a famous pottery shop. Every location I travel to I like to find a Christmas ornament, magnet, and then some type of display souvenir such as a vase or a wall art. In Portugal you have to get pottery. I spent a good hour in this store deciding what I wanted because I wanted it all. You can watch the women painting the pottery as you shop. Ben had to sit outside with the kids because I did not trust those crazies not to touch things. Thankfully they have a small fish pond and garden area. I settled on an ornament and a beautiful wall lantern.

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**Stay tuned for my post on our day trip to Sintra, Portugal!**