Settling In to the Big Apple

We were pretty excited to get to NYC after living in limbo for about a month (even though that limbo was pretty awesome).  However, I had NO idea how much work was ahead of us trying to get settled here and most days I'd give just about anything to go back to limbo mode. ;)  But, here we are...and things are definitely starting to calm down a bit after a few weeks of non-stop work.  

We flew into LaGuardia and because we had secured a one-week rental in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, we drove straight there. Almost forgot!  On our flight in, the pilot must have at least twice circled downtown Manhattan on our descent when it was all lit up at night, and it was pretty magical.  I sat by Lauren and her eyes were as wide as saucers and her mouth had the hugest smile.  It was the best "welcome to New York" moment because you could see and recognize all of the iconic buildings and the city literally stretched out as far as our eyes could see.  

Our rental was really tiny and totally eclectic and in the cutest area of Brooklyn.  Because we had signed (sight unseen!) on a permanent rental on the Upper West Side right before moving to New York, we only ended up staying in Brooklyn for a couple of nights. We hauled a portion of our luggage on the subway and Brian and Tessa took an uber with the rest up to our place on the day we officially moved in.  We also rented some furniture so we could live in our apartment before our stuff from London would arrive. However, our shipment got here so fast and we only needed the rental furniture for less than a week.  It was crazy fast, especially compared to the 3 months that it took to get from Dallas to London!  

When the packers brought our stuff in, there was the initial excitement of sorting, organizing and moving in (I know I'm weird, but I really enjoy unpacking and organizing).  That didn't last long because it seemed like the incoming boxes were never going to stop and we were literally running out of room with boxes stacked up to the ceiling in almost every room!  We moved into a smaller place than we were in in London and obviously couldn't leave anything there, so we had to bring it all here, despite the fact that we knew it wouldn't fit.  Our couches wouldn't even fit through our front door, so we had to hire a separate company to take them apart, bring them inside, and re-assemble them in our living room.  To be honest, I was having major anxiety about everything- so much that I literally had a nightmare about the movers bringing in more boxes in the middle of the night and even woke up with a migraine. Moving is no joke. In order to pare down our belongings, we donated boxes and boxes and boxes of everything that we didn't absolutely "need"- which ended up being a good exercise in understanding that there really aren't many things that you really, absolutely "need" when you really think about it.  Most of our furniture was too big to work, so we ended up selling some, donating some and then buying some new things that would fit in our space.  Ikea to the rescue (and subsequent Task Rabbit)!

After a few days of this moving madness, our good friends, the Davis's came to the rescue!  They invited us on a NYC outing that included a visit to the New York Historical Society Museum, lunch at Sugar and Pimm's, and perfectly finished off with the most delicious ice cream at Emack and Bolio's.  It was just what the doctor ordered.  And, really, is there anything better than seeing a familiar face in a new city? The museum had the coolest movie on the history of New York City- which is something everyone that lives here should definitely see.  We also saw a fantastic exhibit on the artwork of children's author, Mo Willems.  Then, we ended in a really cool hands-on exhibit in the basement, where the kids could interact with items, videos and pictures from the earliest days of NYC.  We then left to grab some lunch down the street and right after we crossed the street, we realized to our horror that Tessa was not with us.  I almost had a heart attack...we've all had those moments when we think we've lost a kid and its enough to do a momma's heart in.  I ran down the street screaming her name and asked people if they'd seen a little girl. I ran back into the museum to ask if they'd seen Tessa...nothing.  Brian had been taking pictures of the day and I asked him if the picture he took as we were leaving the basement exhibit had Tessa in it.  It didn't. I ran back into the museum and JT, along with the museum's security guard, were walking towards me with Tessa in hand.  I almost burst into tears.  I haven't been that scared in a really long time.  So happy to have that sweet girl back in my arms.

Outside of our afternoon with the Davis family, our first few weekends were filled with checking things off of our mile-long to-do list. So, when we had finally whittled that list down to a manageable size, we decided to put it aside and finally get out, especially while the weather is still so nice!  We went on the Big Bus Tour in the perfect Fall weather and were able to explore most of downtown all the way to South Street Seaport.  But first, check out this gorgeous building above. Isn't that detail amazing?! One of the biggest differences between London and New York is the architecture.  But, occasionally you get buildings like this here and they remind me of the gorgeous, old places we used to live by.  I love it.

We've spent a lot of time in Central Park.  Its less than 2 blocks from our apartment and has the best playgrounds plus running paths. Oh, and the most beautiful bridges and scenery!  My favorite place to see the famous NYC skyline is from the Central Park Reservoir. Definitely a view unlike any other.  Our sweet girls have adjusted to living here so fast and SO well.  Its makes my momma heart so proud to see them starting a new school, making new friends, joining new soccer and gymnastics teams and not really missing a beat. They seem to really, really like it here and right now, there's not much more I could ask for than that.  I haven't been the most patient person lately and they have just been as easygoing as they could be.  I know I'll look back on this time as something really special and I'll definitely have them to thank for that.  

Tessa munching on some snacks during our bus tour.  Kate was away on a temple trip with all of the youth in our stake.  She was able to go to the Hartford, CT temple open house...lucky girl.  

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The further downtown you get, the older the buildings get.  I seriously loooove old buildings, so it made me happy to see so many altogether as we got closer and closer to the bottom of Manhattan.  We hopped off the bus near Brian's office so he could give us a quick tour.  Brian works in a gorgeous building really close to Trinity Church, where Alexander Hamilton is buried.  We then got back on the bus tour and continued on to Battery Park, where the much-anticipated Statue of Liberty is.  Lauren has been begging to see her ever since we landed here and definitely we made her wait long enough!  :) 

After seeing Lady Liberty we walked around for a bit and ended up at the famous and stunning Seaglass Carousel, pictured above.  Its kind of hard to describe how magical this carousel is.  The fish wind around and up and down during the ride and the most beautiful music is playing- I'm pretty sure we could have watched and been mesmerized by it for a good long time.  Pure magic in the middle of a huge, busy, crazy city.  The carousel is in a glass-encased building, so you can see the massive skylines as you float around.  Like I said, pure magic.

We rode the bus back uptown for a bit and then got out again at Chelsea Market so we could grab some yummy dinner.  Afterwards, we walked around and then took the subway back home.  It was such a perfect day and great introduction (and re-introduction for Brian and I) to this amazing city.  Now we just have to figure out a way to make days like this happen more often!

3 weeks in Utah

Between the time we load our belongings on a boat to travel back to America and when it would actually arrive is usually about 6 weeks (although it took THREE long months to get from Dallas to London!), so we had some time to kill before we could plan on really moving in somewhere.  Brian and I both really missed our Utah summers that we both grew up loving, so we decided to head to one of our favorite places for 3 weeks before we permanently move to the big city again.  We hoped to spend time with friends, family and the mountains.  And, happy to report, we did plenty of all three!  Brian and I upgraded to Business class on the flight from Heathrow to DFW- which Brian earned by traveling a TON in the last year, and I feel I earned a little bit of too since I was husbandless for the better part of the last year. ;) The kids survived splendidly back in economy sitting by each other and loaded with food, games and movies. I don't even know if they came up for air. ;) We went back and checked on them a lot and our trusty Kate was holding down the fort quite well.  We didn't watch much TV or movies in London, so they were definitely making up for lost time.  Once landing in Dallas, Brian's awesome dad showed up with a big car and an even bigger trailer so we could haul all of our bags from the airport to their home.  I then said goodbye to Brian and the kids and they headed off to their Nana and Papa's house while I boarded a flight to Utah to meet my sisters and mom for BYU Education Week.  However, my flight kept getting delayed and by the time I finally made it to Utah at near to midnight, I had been awake for over 24 hours straight and was quite delirious (and emotional....sorry, Rebecca!). My twin sister, Rebecca, picked me up from the airport and we made it safely back to her house and I crashed...for a solid 4 hours.  I woke up at 4:30 am wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, as they say, due to the time difference.  Not a noise in the house and pitch-black outside, I got up and exercised in their basement to get my blood pumping for the fun day ahead.  We got Rebecca's cute kiddos off to school and then drove down to BYU to meet my sisters for a full day of classes and eating, as we do at Education week.  It was, as always, SO FUN to see my sisters and mom- most of whom I hadn't seen in over a year.  We ate well and were taught even better and I left with some good sugar in my belly, some great lessons learned and some quality time with my hilarious sisters.

On Saturday morning, we all got up early (me at 5:30 am...progress!) and went on a long walk all around near my parent's cabin at gorgeous Sundance resort.  We then saddled up for a yummy breakfast at Foundry Grill (if you ever get a chance to eat their biscuits and gravy, do NOT pass it up) and then we got ready for the day and headed up to a park in Salt Lake for a lunch reunion for my dad's side of the family.  It's always fun to see aunts, uncles and cousins that you haven't seen in forever and catch up!  Afterwards, Jenn and and Claire headed off to the airport and their homes while the rest of us went back to the cabin and stayed up way too late again talking.  The next morning I went to church with Rebecca and her family, which is always fun because it totally throws people off that there are literally two people that look that much alike!  Its kind of nuts. Brian and the kids flew in the next day and we all checked into our corporate housing apartment in Lehi- our home for the next little bit.

One day, we drove up to Alta Ski Resort to do the hike to Cecret Lake (pictured above and below).  It was a gorgeous day for hiking and a beautiful drive up Cottonwood Canyon.  The hike was really nice, and we packed a lunch along so we could picnic up there. I know I've said it before, but we just really love the mountains.  And we've been pretty spoiled this year with all of the amazing mountains we've been able to see and literally walk on.  This one was no exception. 

While Brian and the kids were in Dallas, we had planned a little party for all of our kids' friends there.  It was a highly anticipated event (at least on my kids' part) and they were beyond excited to see everyone after a year of being apart.  Not quite as excited, though, as seeing their beloved grandparents and aunts, uncles, and cousins that still live in Texas.  They are the family we have literally spent the most time with, and we have missed them so much.  I know they had a ton of fun at the party and staying with their Nana and Papa for a few, very special days.  We are so grateful that Brian's parents let this big crowd take over their pool and home for a few hours one night.  It was definitely something my kids won't forget.  They swam until they couldn't swim anymore and left with a lot of mosquito bites, but even more love! They even got to eat their favorite, Chick-fil-a, while they were there.  They sure did miss that food! 

Our first week in Utah, we packed with outdoor fun.  We drove up to Bridal Veil Falls and walked down the gorgeous Provo River Trail.  The fall colors were starting to pop a little and the canyon was incredible.  

My mom and her sisters were in town and staying at the cabin, so we went up to see them one afternoon before they all left.  We got to go on a walk with my mom and look for turkeys.  That night, we all met in Park City for a yummy pizza dinner, where we also met up with Josh, Dagmar and their kids.   The next few days were spent at our community pool swimming and spending time at the Boyle's and Bell's homes with cousins...a lot of time spent outside getting nice and dirty!  We also took the kids to BYU a couple of times so they could see the campus that we love so much.  We snuck in three BYU women's soccer games while we were there over the 3 weeks too.  

The Bells fed us all a lot of good food and let us really take over their home at a moment's notice a ton during our time in Utah.  I hope they enjoyed it as much as we did.  ;)  Our kids played so cute together and Rebecca is one of the best cooks around, plus has, as Lauren says, "the cutest baby ever", so we were never bored and never hungry.  A good combo.  We went to Seven Peaks together and we also went to the movies with Julie's kids one night.  We even hit up the Museum of Natural Curiosity one day, which was so fun for the kids- I had to pull them out of there after almost 5 hours!  We also all met up at Liberty Park in Salt Lake to let the kids run around altogether and then we had a picnic, followed by delicious Banbury Cross donuts.  We even snuck a sleepover in on one or two nights.  I'm telling you, these cousins spent a lot of quality time together.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Christian made us his famous kook-burgers one night, with all of the fixings, and they were amazing!!  We all devoured them and would have eaten more, but we had to leave room for some s'mores, which we cooked in their fire pit after the sun went down.  

Brian left for a week to go to Berlin for some work there.  While he was gone, we got out a lot and took advantage of all there is to do around Salt Lake.  One day, I took the girls all around Temple Square.  We toured the conference center, the temple, the church history museum and City Creek mall.  It was a really nice day.  I love taking my kids to the temples, and this one is our very favorite. Afterwards, we met the Bells at their very fancy church ward party.  They had bounce house slides and we even got to ride in a real-life hot air balloon.  So fun.

One night, we met up with our good friends, the Poultons.  Ally and John lived by us in Texas, but have since moved to Utah.  I played soccer with Ally (who used to play for Utah State and is amazing!) and we served together in our church callings.  I love her- she's one of those people that totally makes you want to be a better person.  We met them up at Mueller Park, where we barbecued hot dogs and s'mores...so good!!  We could have spent hours catching up after having not seen each other for so long.  They are some of the best people I know.  

One day, we headed up to Park City to do the alpine slides there, which is a must (an expensive one, albeit).  It was a school day and the place was EMPTY, so we got to have the mountain pretty much to ourselves.  We only had time for a couple of rides before they closed. It was such a beautiful day out...I probably enjoyed the lift up just as much, if not more, than the actual slide.  These aspen trees that cover the mountains in Utah are so incredible.

We also got to spend a couple of days at my parent's cabin in Sundance.  My dad, having just flown in from Palo Alto where he was helping Beau and Amy at their house, was able to meet and stay with us there too!  It was really nice to have him around.  We cooked hot dogs and s'mores in the fire pit out front on our first night and it was perfection.  Kate was staying with Sofia and Lilian for one night at their home in Heber so she could go to school with them (which she loved!!), so I picked her up, hit up the grocery store for everything we needed, and we made it just as the fire was ready to start cooking.  Ah, it was seriously so nice.  The next day, we rode the lift up to the top of the mountains there and then hiked up to the summit and then rode back down.  It was stunning.  Brian's phone actually fell out on the lift somewhere without him knowing it, and we got a call the next day from a guy who had spotted it while riding 40 feet above, he hiked down, and called us so we could meet him and get it back.  How nice (and lucky for Brian) was that?!   

We took the Mandan Summit trail to the Mandan Short loop and hopped back on the chair lift down.  These mountains are some of my favorites.  And when the leaves are starting to turn gold and orange...so beautiful!  

We went to church with the Bells every Sunday and hung out at their home for hours afterwards while the kids played and the adults talked.  The prophet is in their ward, so we were able to figure out a way to meet him one afternoon as he was leaving.  He let us give him high-5's and my girls loved it...something they certainly won't forget.  

Taylor is totally convinced that she will one day play for the BYU Women's soccer team.  She soaked up every second of their games and was so excited to high-5 them after the last game we saw versus Brian's alma mater, SMU.  BYU smoked them 5-2, and it was really fun to be there- especially to see this girl's face light up here at the end.  

Hot dogs and smore's were kind of a theme this trip.  We had to American-ize ourselves again, right? ;) This was from our weenie roast at Sundance with my dad.  We loved this night.  

Our final day at Sundance, we drove the Alpine Loop to Cascade Springs, where we got out and explored.  Once again, we had the place to ourselves because of school.  It was so beautiful out.  That night, we met up again with my dad and our cousins for a pizza dinner altogether before my dad had to leave town.  

Our last night with the Bells at their house.  I don't think my kids have ever been so baby hungry in their lives- even though Caroline looks upset here, I'm pretty convinced her self-esteem has never or will never be higher as it was during the time we spent there. She had her own personal 5-girl fan club and her feet never hit the ground.  Eloise and Tessa were like two peas in a pod too.  This was right before we had to say goodbye.  Man, we had some really good times with the Bells over the last few weeks.  We love this family so, so, so dang much.  Wish we lived closer...one day we will. 

We're moving to NYC!

It's been such a whirlwind these past couple of months; ending our time in London, transitioning back to the States, and now getting ready for our move to the Big Apple. It's still weeks before we'll be settled, but for now we're excited with our decision and look forward to our new adventure in another big city. 

We leave for NYC tomorrow. We've found a really cool place in the Upper West Side of Manhattan- our new space will be small, but the area is one of our very favorites. We are a couple blocks from school, church, Levain, and Trader Joes :) - and Central Park is just down the street too. We've found a school for Lauren and Tessa, and our first item of business on Tuesday is finding a place for Kate. Everything has moved so fast, and we are really grateful for how most of the logistics have really just fallen into place.  Even though we were heartbroken to leave London, we really feel like this is where we are supposed to be for now.

Brian is excited to start his new job, working at a startup near Wall St.  Ever since serving his mission in NYC, its always been a dream of Brian's to live in this amazing place with his family, and now he's getting the chance.   

Love this city ... so excited to call it home!

Last Hours in London

After we got home from Majorca, we only had eight short days left in London.  Brian was traveling a lot at the end, so it was mostly me and the girls using up every spare minute we had to see our undiscovered parts of the city and seeing again our very favorite spots.  The weather cooperated for us all week long too- it was perfect.  I asked each of the girls what they'd like to see before we moved and each one chose a museum- which was surprising, since they've each begged to never go to another museum over the last few months. ;)  Day one- Taylor chose the Imperial War Museum.  She's been reading a WWII historical fiction book series and became enamored with that time period, so she was dying to see some of the history up close and this was the perfect place to go.  We had never been, and it was even in a part of London that we weren't familiar with yet, so that was also fun to see.  The museum itself was really interesting and so well done- we could have spent all day there.  On our way home, we stopped at a fun local playground and let the kids run wild for a little bit.

This picture is from our last night in London, at Whitehall.  It makes me a little teary even looking at it- the culmination of so many good memories in our favorite place.  I miss it so much.

This was the block that we lived on.  It was perfect for us- close to school, on the high street, so getting to the store was fast and easy, we even had a snack store right on our corner, which we frequented a lot for our sugar fixes.  ;) Across the street was a gorgeous park and playground as well as our most-used double-decker bus stops- the 274, 13, and 82. (more scenes from our little corner of London below) Ah, I love this place so much.

Day Two- Lauren and Tessa both chose the Natural History Museum as their favorite place to see again.  Lauren especially wanted to visit the Earthquake room there.  We explored a lot of this amazing museum (my favorite part is the architecture, if I must say so) and ended up in another of our favorite parts, the Investigation Lab in the basement, where the kids can hold real snake skin and turtle shells, among many other things, and take measurements and write observations.  Its really cool.   After leaving the museum, we wanted to squeeze one last visit to Nando's for lunch.  On the way though, we stopped at Maitre Choux to pick up some eclairs!  We then hopped on a bus to the Diana Memorial Playground (aka the pirate ship park) where we played for a couple more hours before heading home. Day 3- We were tourists as we rode on the Big Bus Tour! I love the bus tours because you get to see so much and hear about its history.  I've been on this tour before, but it was totally fun to go again and seeing it all for the "last time" made it really special and also really sad.  It was a warm day out too, so we hopped off at the Tower of London and walked to Spitalfields Market to grab some drinks and a yummy lunch.  Kate and I had Colombian arepas and the little girls had the usual yummy pizza, followed by Bad Brownies in all their delicious varieties...yum!!  We finished the bus tour and hopped off after a full day by our house at Marble Arch.   We went shopping for school clothes on Oxford Street the next day while Kate was at a young women's trampoline activity with our church.  I love Oxford and Regent Street- this time of year, they are decorated with the Union Jack...perfection.  We went to Covent Garden the next day and listened to the museums, bought some hot chocolate at Whittard, and watched the street performers.  We grabbed lunch at our favorite pizza spot, Franco Manca, and walked all over Soho and then sat at Trafalgar Square for a good hour while the sun set.  We rode the 13 home from Golder's Green all the way to our house (my favorite ride) that night.

Day Two- Lauren and Tessa both chose the Natural History Museum as their favorite place to see again.  Lauren especially wanted to visit the Earthquake room there.  We explored a lot of this amazing museum (my favorite part is the architecture, if I must say so) and ended up in another of our favorite parts, the Investigation Lab in the basement, where the kids can hold real snake skin and turtle shells, among many other things, and take measurements and write observations.  Its really cool.  

After leaving the museum, we wanted to squeeze one last visit to Nando's for lunch.  On the way though, we stopped at Maitre Choux to pick up some eclairs!  We then hopped on a bus to the Diana Memorial Playground (aka the pirate ship park) where we played for a couple more hours before heading home.

Day 3- We were tourists as we rode on the Big Bus Tour! I love the bus tours because you get to see so much and hear about its history.  I've been on this tour before, but it was totally fun to go again and seeing it all for the "last time" made it really special and also really sad.  It was a warm day out too, so we hopped off at the Tower of London and walked to Spitalfields Market to grab some drinks and a yummy lunch.  Kate and I had Colombian arepas and the little girls had the usual yummy pizza, followed by Bad Brownies in all their delicious varieties...yum!!  We finished the bus tour and hopped off after a full day by our house at Marble Arch.  

We went shopping for school clothes on Oxford Street the next day while Kate was at a young women's trampoline activity with our church.  I love Oxford and Regent Street- this time of year, they are decorated with the Union Jack...perfection.  We went to Covent Garden the next day and listened to the museums, bought some hot chocolate at Whittard, and watched the street performers.  We grabbed lunch at our favorite pizza spot, Franco Manca, and walked all over Soho and then sat at Trafalgar Square for a good hour while the sun set.  We rode the 13 home from Golder's Green all the way to our house (my favorite ride) that night.

After 3 days of our packers taking over our house, we were all set and ready to go.  Here we are on the curb with all of our bags, headed to St. Ermin's Hotel for our very last night in this city.  Even though we are smiling, we were all pretty dang sad on the inside.  

I love the entrance to our building- so beautiful.  Kate had a chance for one last playdate with her good friend, Katy, who also happens to be from Dallas and actually used to live in our exact same flat (how's that for coincidence?!).  Most of the kids from ASL leave for the entire summer, so we were pretty happy when Katy made it back before we had to leave.

Our flat...all empty :(

There are so many things I love and miss about London- these streets and their architecture are number one.  I just can't ever get over how beautiful the buildings and gardens are.

We had a chance to say goodbye to some dear friends before we left.  This is Charlotte, my good friend and visiting teaching partner. Our girls got along really well and had a lot of fun playdates.  It was so fun to get to know so many amazing people while we lived in London.  I wish I could've gotten a picture of everyone!  

One last playdate in Regent's Park.

Its hard to explain the impact living in London has had on our family.  Life-changing.  We have each left a HUGE chunk of our hearts in this city that was our home and will always feel like home if we ever get to visit again.  We are so grateful for the experiences we had and the fantastic people we met.  I'm not sure I'll ever get over you, London, but I sure am grateful for what you've given us.  Until we meet again...

Majorca, Spain pt 2

For the next couple of days, we skipped around all over Mallorca, trying a different beach every single day.  And, we still never found a beach we didn't like!  One particular day, the wind was really high, so the waves were HUGE and we spent some time jumping them and also getting thrown under by their crazy force- and our swimsuits were subsequently totally filled with sand.  Worth it. :)  

The picture above and below are from Cala des Moro on the southeastern side of Mallorca.  We came here on our last day and it was by far our favorite stop.  I mean, look at that water!  And the beach was flanked on both sides by huge rocky ridges with just a small sandbar (completely filled to the brim with people and their towels!) so the only path to get down from atop the ridge was a one-way super steep walk that you had to wait in line to use.  We made it, even found a spot, and got right in the warm, blue water.  If you look closely, you can see a pink circle float...that's me! 

We stayed and played for like 5 hours and loved every single second- we didn't bring any food with us and we were having so much fun that we didn't even notice how hungry we were!

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Lots of sand castles for this sweet girl...she was really scared of the water unless she was in the float with me and had puddle jumpers firmly attached. ;)  We also had some pretty intense and funny games of monkey in the middle in the water with our soccer ball.

This beach was right around the next cove from the last one.  But, this was mainly for cliff jumping and snorkeling.  After we packed up and left Cala des Moro, we headed straight here to get some coveted jumping in before calling it a day.  You had to jump in on one side of the cove and swim clear to the other to reach the ridge where most people were jumping.  Kate, Taylor, Lauren and I went first while Brian stayed with Tessa.  Lauren was scared, so she hopped on my back and I paddled her over and then we all climbed on the rocks to the jump.  They always look SOOO much higher when you're standing on them looking down into the water.  It was about a 12 foot drop and made my stomach do flips.  I jumped first, followed by Kate and finally by a very nervous Taylor.  We had to encourage her, but she finally did it and was so proud of herself.  It was fun to watch.  Kate is seriously so brave and did the jump several more times with Brian after we finished.

Kate jumping off to the beautiful water below.  This was such a fun day, chalk full of amazing memories and made for some really exhausted kiddos and parents.

Taylor was begging us to put a room tour of our hotel up on the blog because they loved it so much.  It was pretty amazing- and set a bar for hotels that probably won't ever be reached again in our family, which I am totally okay with. ;)  

On Sunday morning, we woke up early so we could make it to the tiny LDS branch in Manacor for their meetings.  There were a total of 12 people, besides us, in attendance.  I'm pretty sure there's the same spirit in every sacrament meeting, but when the meeting is tiny, you just get it in greater abundance.  This was a pretty special experience for us.  It was fast Sunday, so that meant a testimony meeting for almost the entirety of the block, and when there are only 18 people there, chances are pretty high that you will get an opportunity to go and bear your testimony.  There was a senior couple and 4 missionaries in attendance as well (that puts the local members at a total of 6).  The Bishop was the most humble, sweet man that seemed to be genuinely grateful that we took the time to come and welcomed us so warmly.  Kate, Taylor and Brian (in Spanish!) all bore their testimonies and it was so touching to witness. After the closing, we talked with the senior couple for a few minutes- they were assigned to that branch for their entire mission and we were the first Americans they had seen during their service, so they were so happy to see us- they said it was like a little taste of home, which they had been missing.  Most of the tourists here are German and English, so it was really rare for an American family to be visiting.  The whole meeting was so special and something we will remember forever.  I'm so grateful for this church that you can literally find ANYwhere in the world and instantly feel connected and welcomed no matter what, even on a tiny island.

After church we did a little more exploring around the area and walked along these gorgeous cliffs for some even more gorgeous views and spotted some more cliff jumpers, which we loved watching for a bit.

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After exploring this tiny beach town, we met up with one of Brian's friends from a startup based in Berlin.  He happened to be in Mallorca at the same time as us!  We met at a beautiful villa owned by a friend of his, and sat and talked for a couple of hours.  It was really fun to get to know him and learn more about his company.  Brian was able to fly out to Berlin a couple of weeks later to work with him for a week before heading out on our next adventure to come (stay tuned)!

Mallorca has left a huge impression on us- it was a magical vacation that we will not ever forget.  And, after a long English winter and cooler summer, we were desperate for some warm sun on our faces and Mallorca delivered in a big way.  We loved it!!

Majorca, Spain pt 1

We had planned and bought train tickets for a trip to the Scottish Highlands as our last vacation during our time in London.  We thought we would hire a camper and "glamp" all over the Scottish countryside so we could see and get out as much as possible. However, the week before we left, we still had not found a camper and there were zero available hotels in the areas we wanted to visit.  Add to this the fact that the weather for that week was characteristically Scottish...lots of rain and cloudy skies.  So, we hopped online and looked for the best deals to the polar opposite of Scotland- a warm, sunny beach vacation!  Enter Mallorca...we found great last-minute deals to this tiny island off of the west coast of Spain.  Tickets booked...now lets find a hotel, right?  Not as easy as we had hoped, we spent hours scouring the internet for any availability with no luck.  A few days before our flights, we came across a brand new hotel that had just opened a couple of months prior and they had space.  It was a little out of our price range, but we decided to just go with it because we 1. needed a place to sleep and 2. go big or go home!  Our drive from the Palma airport was so nice- the island had an old Italian feel to me, with its old stone homes and colorful shutters on big pieces of land.  Plus, the hills were studded with old castles along our route- so beautiful!

We stayed in Canyamel, on the eastern side of Mallorca, about a 10 minute drive from the closest beach.  The hotel was incredible and they gave us some awesome upgrades because the place was empty.  We had two big rooms with our own private backyards and patios that overlooked the gorgeous grounds as well as the valley flanked by beautiful mountains all around.  The sunsets from our backdoor were something else.  Our first day was spent on this beautiful beach called Cala Mesquida, about a 20 minute drive from our hotel.  The sand was really nice, but the water was incredible- clear, turquoise and warm- my 3 favorites!  There weren't waves here, so we just relaxed and played a ton.  We swam clear to the rocks on the far side (pictured above) and explored the coves and sea life there as well.  After a few solid hours of ultimate beach relaxation, we headed back to the hotel to swim in the pool there (and rinse the sand off of us!).  That was pretty much our routine for the entire week.  

Brian and the older girls explored the rocks above the water and built stone towers.  Not a bad idea and not a bad backdrop.

While we relaxed at the hotel, Brian drove to this other beach about an hour away.  That water!  Who knew the Mediterranean was so perfect?!

Day two found us at a different beach also about an hour away that we'd heard good things about  The weather today was pretty windy, so the water was a bit more choppy, which provided some pretty entertaining waves for the girls to jump through.  Kate even found a place to do some cliff jumping here.  

There are my girls jumping waves above.

The gorgeous town of Santanyi was a pit stop on more than one occasion, given that it was situated right between several of the most stunning beaches.  Plus, it was a great place to stop and eat...we had some of the best crepes I've ever eaten right here in the town square.  We even went back a few days later to enjoy them again, but the cafe was closed. :(

I spy some sunburned backs.  We were really diligent with applying sunscreen, but our kids fair skin combined with too many hours in the sun made it difficult to avoid.  

Below is the hotel we stayed at.  Our rooms were right at the top of the hill here and the pools, below, were so nice!  

We loved staying at such a gorgeous place and seeing so much of this fantastic island. (Part II coming next)

Amsterdam, Netherlands

It might be because I'm writing this post AFTER we have moved from London, but looking at these pictures and remembering our time in Amsterdam is making me feel all sorts of happy and sad.  Happy that we got to visit such a gorgeous and unique place, and sad that I can't just jump on a train and go there.  Either way, Amsterdam was a slow start and then by the end of our few days there, we absolutely loved this amazing place.  One of my favorite things about each European city we got to visit was the architecture that was unique to each place, and these Amsterdam homes and buildings sort of blew my mind with their design.  Plus, the fact that they were all built on a canal with a pretty interesting history just added to their appeal.  See below for some awesome evidence.

With 60 miles of canals, 90 islands and 1,200 bridges, there are endless things to see and do.  After riding the Eurostar from London to Brussels and then hopping on a Thalys train to Amsterdam, we then walked to our hotel (everything in the city is easy walking, or even easier public transit).  We spent most of our time in the most popular canals, the Prinsengracht (where our hotel was), Herengracht, and Keizersgracht because these areas were so gorgeous. Lined with cafes, coffee shops, and cute shops and, of course, lots of houseboats, motor boats, homes, and thousands of bikes chained to the bridges, the canals provide unending eye candy.  We also spent a considerable amount of time letting the kids play at the local playgrounds while we relaxed.  The weather was gorgeous, so whatever we ended up doing, we did it outside! 

We spent most of Saturday, our first full day, walking along the canals and exploring as much as possible.  We snuck a few good meals in too, that is if stroopwafels constitute a meal? :)  We walked into a Tulip museum followed by a cheese museum, where we all tried some pizza flavored cheese (there were tons of flavors!).  Brian and I let the girls play for hours while we planned out our next couple of days here.

Pictured above: The Famous "I amsterdam" sign in front of the Rijks Museum.  

On Sunday, we were able to find a meetinghouse for our church right in Amsterdam (well, about a 15 minute drive away) and really loved the meeting.  As always, we loved hearing everything in Dutch, while occasionally tuning into the translation headphones.  After church, we had to scramble back to the city center to catch a boat tour- which I cannot recommend highly enough.  We loved it.  It was 2 hours long, and even though we were all moving on empty stomachs, it was interesting enough to make us forget about our missed lunch.  We were able to see so much of the canals from this new vantage point, and the gorgeous weather didn't hurt either. We learned some really interesting tidbits, like how the Dutch used to be taxed according to how many windows or steps they had on their home, so in order to exhibit wealth, many homes were outfitted with many more windows and an abundance of steps leading up to them.  Crazy! 

From our boat ride, we literally had to RUN to get to our scheduled bike tour.  But, a trip to Amsterdam isn't complete until you've ridden bikes there and that wasn't going to happen without some local knowledge and supervision, so off we went!  We saw a lot of the same things that we had just been to on our boat ride, so we tried our best to enjoy just riding around in this gorgeous place (and ignore our seriously rumbling tummies!).  Our kids were such troopers to go this long without food- I don't think we even ate anything until 7 PM that day.  And, we were all so much nicer after we ate.  ;)

Because the weather was so nice, there were TONS of boats out this day.  

On our last day, Brian really wanted to take the girls to see one of his favorite painters and paintings, "The Night Watch" by Rembrandt, which was in the Rijks Museum.  The Rijks is pretty amazing...its gorgeous interior and thoughtful planning were obvious, especially when it came to their famous works.  Each one was accompanied by big information sheets that pointed out significant facts about the art, which I loved to read.  The girls totally loved learning about Rembrandt's famous and massive painting (below) and each said that this was their favorite part of the day.

On our last day, Brian really wanted to take the girls to see one of his favorite painters and paintings, "The Night Watch" by Rembrandt, which was in the Rijks Museum.  The Rijks is pretty amazing...its gorgeous interior and thoughtful planning were obvious, especially when it came to their famous works.  Each one was accompanied by big information sheets that pointed out significant facts about the art, which I loved to read.  The girls totally loved learning about Rembrandt's famous and massive painting (below) and each said that this was their favorite part of the day.

Our friends from London, the Larsons, recommended we stop and get their favorite cookies while we were in Amsterdam.  And I'm never one to turn down a cookie...so we made sure that we made it over to Van Stapele Koekmakerij- which was pretty much the cutest and most fancy cookie shop I've ever seen- and ordered up enough to make up for the lack of food the day before.  Tessa thoroughly enjoyed hers, as you can see...

I don't know if I'll ever get over how gorgeous these homes are.  The best part was at night when the owners would turn on their lights and you could see right into their stunning living spaces.  In an effort to symbolize how tolerant and open their city is, most homeowners don't have window treatments, so that you can see right inside at night.  Seriously gorgeous stuff.  

Lauren is obsessed with gymnastics lately.  She wants to move to Ohio so she can train at the same gym that Gabby Douglas trains at. There are not a lot of moments when she's not jumping around or doing flips all over the place.  

We did a lot of this...people and boat watching.  

Kate and I were able to get away one night and see the Anne Frank Museum as well.  During WWII, Anne, her family, and 4 other people hid in rooms at the rear of this canal house in a secret annex, to avoid Nazi persecution.  The home, which was built in 1635, was able to escape demolition due to the brave story of Anne Frank and her famous diary.  Its a sacred place and an incredibly touching museum that perfectly tells the tale of the courage of Anne, her family, and the people who hid them.  Definitely a must-see.

Amsterdam was full of so many good things- it was a totally unique city and we loved that we were able to see it!

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck is not only the capital city of Tyrol in western Austria, but it has hosted TWO winter Olympic games- 1964 and 1976.  It was about a 30 minute drive from our hotel in Pertisau, so we made our way there one day to get some more hiking in.  And, oh man, was it gorgeous!  The Nordkettenbahn (cable car) whisks you waaaay above the tree line to the top of the Karwendel mountain range. You can see Austria, Germany and Italy from this high perch, as well as mountains stretching so far that you can only imagine where they actually end.

This is several pictures that Brian patched together to provide a panoramic viewpoint from the very top.  Doesn't get any better than this.

We started out on a sort of treacherous hike with a trail inching along the edge of the mountain that in some parts must have been only 15 centimeters wide (it was labeled an "easy hike", but it most certainly was not).  Tessa was scared she was going to fall off the mountain even though I had a firm grip on her hand the entire way...it was a little deceiving because the clouds were low that day and hung about 10 feet below our trail, so it looked like you'd be falling into a cloudy mountain abyss.  We lasted for about 10 minutes and then turned around after we spotted a dead mountain goat that had clearly lost its footing high above us.  

Panaroma Seegrube...labeled "easy", but not so much.

After we bailed on the last hike, we tried another route where we could intentionally pass by some snow patches for the girls to kick around in.  Because snow in July is way more fun than snow in the winter! ;)

After that short hike, we took one more cable car to the tippy top of this grand place.  Once there, we watched these para-gliders literally run and jump off the mountain 10 feet from us- equal parts terrifying and awesome! Talk about an adrenaline pump.

We could only watch and be jealous...one day.

This was the incredible scene from the topmost point.  I'm telling you- I could have spent all day soaking in this place.  

Right behind us was a total sheer drop-off...my stomach was doing flips.  Moments like this make me so grateful that I have some of the most cautious kids around.

Brian was drooling over the mountain bike courses below ... next time :)

 

This was down the street from our hotel in Pertisau.  One of the things we loved about Austria is that the locals dress in the traditional lederhosen to do their hiking.  There are shops selling the outerwear all over the place.  This cute guy was just headed up on a hike and was decked out from the waist up.  On the last morning in our hotel, it was a gorgeous, sunny, clear morning and we all sat at breakfast looking out the massive windows framing the gorgeous mountains right outside.  Sad to leave Austria, but excited about our next stop at the dreamy Neuschwanstein Castle in Hohenschwangau, Germany (that's a mouthful!)...

Once again, the drive from Pertisau to Hohenschwangau was other-worldly.  But, driving up on this place was literally, out of a storybook.  There was a drizzle going on, with low clouds that wrapped around the rugged hills where Neuschwanstein stands.  And right across from it, was the golden-colored Hohenschwangau Castle on another hill.  Breathtaking gorgeousness.  I cannot even begin to do this place justice.  Definitely one of the most stunning sights I've ever seen.

Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle, and you can definitely see the similarity.  We couldn't get tickets inside, as it was sold out.  But, walking around the grounds was enough for us.  Instead of taking a horse-drawn carriage up the 20-minute hill to get to the castle, we opted to walk (don't give us too much credit- the line for the carriage ride was huge!).  

With a place this gorgeous, its always going to draw a ton of crowds.  Lots of people pushing through, both to get into the castle grounds as well as stay dry.  The palace was intended as a personal refuge for the reclusive Ludwig II in the 19th century, but was opened to the paying public immediately after his death is 1886.  Since then, more than 61 million people have visited, more than 1.3 per year, and as many as 6,000 per day in the summer.  Yep, sounds about right. 

After walking the castle grounds, we headed up the hill further for a panoramic view and all of a sudden, the skies opened up and we took cover under this tree for a good 15 minutes.  After getting pretty soaked, we just decided to embrace it, and we kept going to the top.  

And, this is why we kept on going.  For this view.  I cannot believe places this beautiful exist in real life (that sentence should be the theme for this entire trip).  That castle in the distance is the Hohenschwangau.

Brian passed under a barbed wire fence and trudged through some pretty gnarly stuff in the pouring rain to get this shot.  He said it was worth it, and I have to agree.  We seriously loved Bavaria.  Our next stop was Munich for just a few hours, where we walked all around the city and tried to hit the big sights.  We got another good nights sleep and then headed out of Germany, all the way back to London. This trip is definitely at the top of our favorite places.