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.

Hallstat and Pertisau

All hail Hallstat!  Wow...this place is special.  A gorgeous lake, surrounded by alpine mountains, trimmed with perfect chalets and people on boats.  It was like a dream.  After parking our car and grabbing some lunch from the grocery store, we walked along the edge of the lake for about a mile until we found the perfect place for a picnic.

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Yes, this place exists in real life.  This was where we picnic'd...between the swings and the water, the girls could have played there all day.  

This is the famous picturesque Evangelical Church of Hallstatt.  We ate our lunch right there in the garden along the lake.  On a side note: the Chinese loved this place so much that in 2012, they built a full-scale replica of the entire town in Huizhou, Guangdong province.  

We decided to rent one of these awesome electric boats and ride around for an hour.  To our girls utter delight, we even let them drive as long as they wanted.  It was their favorite part of the entire day and I have to agree- it was magic.  Lots of pictures below to document the occasion, because pictures speak louder than words on this one.

After leaving, we drove through parts of northern Austria and Germany (the Bavarian region of Tirol) to get to our next destination.  I would like to have a moment of silence dedicated to this drive because it was the single most gorgeous drive I have ever been on...words, pictures, nothing could do this justice.  The mountains went on forever, the churches with their huge steeples accented on the mountains were so so so stunning.  It was my favorite part of our whole trip.

 

After grabbing dinner, some time at the park and finding our hotel in Pertisau, we settled in for the night on Lake Achensee in the Austrian Alps.  The mountains are definitely our family's happy place.  We woke up the next morning and took the Rofanbahn cable car to the top of the mountain.  It was a beautiful, but slightly overcast day, so we set out for a hike right after disembarking.  Not 5 minutes in, it started to pour rain!  We hurried back to a little cabin cafe and dried off while sipping hot chocolate.

The coziest little cabin where we waited out the weather.

All of the sudden the rain cleared, the clouds parted and we set back on our way.  We heard those lovely alpine cows ringing their bells, which I love so much. I wasn't sure if I'd ever get a chance to hear them again after our trip to Switzerland, so when I heard them again, I was so excited.

We hiked to the top of the nearest mountain, where there is an iron "eagle's nest" that provides a stunning view of all of the surrounding mountains, which stretch as far as the eye can see.

This trip cemented the idea that one day our family needs to live in the mountains!! Being out in nature, especially in the mountains, does something good for your soul.  Everyone just got along- we all laughed, sang, and cheered each other on during our hike (the same thing, unfortunately, does not happen when we are closer to sea level).

These views.  I just can't get enough of them.

This is the Eagle's Nest, where a friendly crow kept landing right by us.  So cool.  

On our way back down, we passed a big group of men sweating, panting and struggling with this hike.  It definitely wasn't easy, but it made me so proud of how awesome my girls were getting up to the top.  Tessa practically hopped up the mountain!

We came across this little clearing full of huge boulders- like a rock garden- and the girls loved climbing and hiding on them.

We are still working on the timing and facial expressions of our jumping pictures...haha!  I love it.

Pertisau was a last-minute decision for us to stay at and we are so glad we found it.  It was gorgeous and perfect for a short stay.

Salzburg & the Sound of Music

Day Two of Salzburg took us to the beautiful and huge Hohensalzburg Castle, which sits atop the Festungsberg hill.  We walked from our home through the gorgeous market streets to the 2 minute funicular that takes you directly to the entrance of the Fortress.  

This is the view right where you enter the castle.  You can see for miles in every direction and of course, it was so beautiful. We spent the first bit of our time just walking along the walls to see every viewpoint.  This place is just gorgeous!

Inside the grounds of the castle and the girls found something right away to climb and play on.  

This is the backside view and this is me, catching up on my walking tour, a la Rick Steves.

The inside of Hohensalzburg was really awesome too...I loved the whitewashed walls with real timber accents in every room.  It was cozy and just what I would love to have my dream house look like!

After the castle tour, we needed to fill our bellies!  We settled on a cute cafe nestled into a courtyard and ordered some traditional Weiner Schnitzel with potatoes.  And, we loved it...the kids loved it...we ordered seconds!  How could you not love anything deep fried?!  We topped this off with some delicious apple strudel and fresh whipped cream.  Mmmm.

Next, we set off for our Fraulein Maria Bike Tour! It began back at the Mirabell Gardens, where our guide asked our less-than-enthusiastic group to re-enact the Do-Re-Mi sequence on the steps from the movie.  Needless to say, we did it, but it wasn't pretty! 

Each of the bikes had this flip-page book of scenes from the movie that we would go to on our tour.  It was really cool to see everything in person, and to hear the history of it all, as well as some of the de-bunking of the sets, story and real-life characters.  Hollywood took a lot of license with the story, but it worked!

Behind us is the government building that had the Nazi flag draped across it during the movie.  Taylor absolutely loved this tour- more than anyone else- and has been obsessed with getting back to biking as soon as we make it back to the States (because kids biking in London isn't a smart idea if you want to stay alive)

Family picture at Mirabell (right after we "tried" to sing Do-Re-Mi)

This is the church that Maria and Captain von Trapp were married in the movie.  Its also the actual place they got married in real life.  We couldn't go in because it was closed for the day.

We biked up a massive hill to get to this point.  We've done several bike tours in Europe- Brian and I always have either Lauren or Tessa on tandem with us.  We are really thankful that no major disasters happened (despite being verbally accosted in Paris by a local!), but it is no joke pulling yourself, a bike, and a large child up a huuuuge hill!  I was thankful and very sweaty when we reached the top.

You can see the Hohensalzburg Fortress above, center right.  This house, besides being totally gorgeous, was used as the back of the von Trapp home during filming.  A different house was used for the front.

No complaints about this beautiful place...except for the time that Kate got so distracted with looking at it, that she went off the road and fell into some stinging nettle...ouch!!

We biked along the prettiest roads with mountain views on either side to see the house they used for it's front.  

My best Maria impersonation involved clicking my heels in excitement!

And then each of the kids taking turns trying to do the same.  I love them so much.  

Tada!  This is the front of the von Trapp home used for "The Sound of Music".  Its now used as dormitories for a university.  However, the real von Trapp home is not close to this and is much smaller in size (they weren't nearly wealthy as the movie portrayed them). Its now used as a bed and breakfast.

The gazebo seen in the film was moved to the most beautiful park, Hellbrunn Gardens.  We could have spent hours exploring this gorgeous place.  

Next up: Tirol and the gorgeous Austrian Alps!

Salzburg, Austria

We decided to take a train- our favorite mode of transportation- from Vienna to Salzburg, where we would spend the next two days.  I love watching the scenery through the windows as we zoom by, being able to walk around, eat yummy snacks (ie chocolate), play card games, and even read a good book.  So nice.  

It took us a bit to find our apartment once we got to Salzburg.  Real life moment: we stayed in the literal worst part of the city.  Suffice it to say, it was NOT a touristy area.  The apartment was really dirty and the shower kept turning from scalding hot to freezing cold every other second (lots of screaming/crying from the kids during their showers).  All in perspective though, we LOVED Salzburg- its hard to describe in words what a gorgeous place this is.  

Its hard to separate "The Sound of Music" from the identity of Salzburg.  The iconic movie was filmed here and its full of familiar places because of it.  Let's begin with Mirabell Gardens, above, where the von Trapp family and Maria sang "Do Re Mi" while bouncing up the steps.  The gardens are beautiful and spill you out just on the other side of the Salzach River, where the Old Town lies.  We picked up some topfenstrudel and a brezel (yes, thats a bread pretzel and its amazing) for a quick snack and kept going across the river.

This is the massive and famous baroque Residenz Fountain, where Maria sang "I've Got Confidence".  And, if you look really closely, you can see the famous statue of Mozart in the background.

The churches in Austria are my favorite.  The designs of the outside are almost too beautiful to take in, beginning with the Salzburg Cathedral (below).  This was one of the first Italian Baroque buildings north of the Alps.  The church was built to remind visitors that Salzburg was the "Rome of the North" and was consecrated in 1628- although you'd never know it was that old since it is pristine.

We literally could not take our eyes off the ornate decor on the inside.  Definitely one of the prettiest interiors of churches we've seen.

The golden orb of the Kapitelplatz lies under the imposing eye of the Hohensalzburg Fortress, one of Europe's largest intact medieval fortresses (we'll get to it in the next post).

No square in Salzburg is complete without an old horse bath (above).  I love the willow trees flanking this one- so beautiful!  We walked ALL over this stunning city, admiring the charming architecture, perfect blue skies, cobblestone streets as well as the delicious smells wafting from the plethora of local bakeries .  We finished our walking tour on the Getreidegasse (where Mozart's birthplace stands) and talked ourselves into the cheapest (1 Euro/scoop!) and most delicious gelato for our first course of dinner. ;)  

St. Peter's Church (above and below) is the birthplace of Christianity in Salzburg and is also incredibly gorgeous on the inside.  It's neighboring restaurant, which shares its namesake, is said to be the oldest restaurant in Europe due to the fact that Charlemagne reportedly ate there in 803 AD. 

Do you see what I mean with their churches?!?!  I love them.  And the way they sit next to the mountains...I couldn't get enough. These are taken from a hill sitting beside the famous Festival Hall where Captain von Trapp sang "Edelweiss".  

Another horse bath...this one is also in a scene from "The Sound of Music" and sits on the Monchsberg cliff face.

I love all of the signs for the shops along the street (this is the Getreidegasse) and its filled with the most charming arcades too.

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Our kids are such troopers...days on end spent in European cities isn't the most exciting for little kids.  They are the best at finding the fun in everything and having pretty good attitudes, for the most part.

Next up: Our Sound of Music Bike Tour and the Hohensalzburg Fortress!  Salzburg definitely deserves two posts. 

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, being the capital of the once-grand Hapsburg empire for 640 years and the cradle of classical music, makes it a place hard to pass up. We mashed this visit with another trip to the Alps, which are a short few hours drive from this gorgeous city.  We flew in late, found our hotel and walked straight to the Stephensplatz, the main city square, to find a quick dinner.  Obviously, we had to try their sausages (aka hot dogs) that were everywhere.  We sat on the edge of the fountain and ate, while watching the sun go down and the city lights get brighter.  It was unusually hot and humid during our time, so we were often looking for water to drink too.  ;)  Vienna is brimming with gorgeous buildings, although they are so well taken care of that none of them look too old (though they are!).  We stayed about a 3 minute walk from stunning St. Stephen's Cathedral- it was so nice to be in the center of it all!

Our first day started with a run through the city for Brian and I- just wanted to make sure we see all of this place before we have to leave- and running really is the best way to check stuff off.  We then went to Schonbrunn Palace, where we would spend the rest of the day.  A former Hapsburg residence boasting almost 1500 rooms, some of which are adorned with hand-painted walls- this place, as they say, rivals only Versailles.  The pictures below were from the interior of , which had the most ornate and stunning rooms I have ever seen! Brian snuck a bunch of pics in with his phone (See below)

I'm not going to lie- this day was pretty hot and sweaty, so we spent as much time as we could in the shade of the gardens.  :)

Schonbrunn had a fantastic playground for families too- the girls loved running through both of their mazes and spent close to 3 hours playing on the equipment while Brian and I sat in the shade and relaxed.  

St. Stephen's Cathedral (above)...that tile roof is something else!

After going to church on Sunday- one of our favorite things (even though it was all in German!), we took ourselves back to the city center. We couldn't see an opera while we were there, so we opted for a tour of their famous State Opera House instead!  It was so interesting to learn about this place, stand on the stage, and get a peak into such a huge pastime.  

This is one of several intermission rooms (above)- each were decorated so differently, but who wouldn't want to grab a mid-opera snack in here?? :)

These two...always holding hands and giggling about something.  Its so much fun to watch them be each other's best friend.

The word "elaborate" sums the opera house up quite nicely.  Coffered ceilings, ornate reception rooms, and lots and lots of gold trim.  Its definitely a fancy night out if you get to see an opera here.

Gustav Mahler, a German-speaking Jew of humble circumstances, became one of the leading conductors of his generation.  He served as the director of the Opera House from 1897-1907, and had to convert to Catholicism in order to secure this post.  

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These carriages are really popular in Vienna.  The horses, and their owners, hung out by the St. Stephen's Cathedral until they were hired each day.  You could definitely smell the horses as you approached, but the locals take such good care of this city and were constantly washing the waste off of the sidewalks.  Either way, we steered clear of any puddles when we walked by , but I give this city a ton of credit- for being a big city and a huge tourist destination, its one of the cleanest places we've been.

These gorgeous buildings are ALL over Vienna- I wish we could've gone in every single one.  We managed some self-guided walking tours all over the main parts of the city, making sure we got our bearings, as well as seeing as many of the sights as we could.  We also spent lots of hours walking through the gardens and letting the kids play at any playground we came across.  What a fantastic city!

The Pothiers

Elle lived with us for a month when we first moved to London and it was the best.  Not only was she so fun and easy to have around, but it helped us get settled super quick.  It was a huge blessing for our family.  She loved our girls and our girls loooooved her.  She's the best- beautiful on the outside and the inside.

So, when Shawni told me that they were coming to London right after Elle graduated, we were so excited!  One year later and a bit more knowledge about our city (how little we knew, but how much we thought we knew one month after living here!) that we wanted to share with this awesome family.  The Pothiers came to our ward on Sunday, which is where we actually met all of them face-to-face for the first time- even though we all felt like we knew each other already.  ;)  It was so fun to finally meet!  They then whisked off for a quick trip to Cambridge and we met up later that evening at Regents Park for a birthday dinner and cake for Charity, Shawni's youngest sister.  We love Charity and Ian so much, they've babysat for us, and we've shared some fun memories together- they're some of our very favorite people, so it was fun to celebrate Charity's birthday all together.  And, in one of our favorite places...Queen Mary's Rose Garden, which was showing off for us because every single rose was finally in bloom and it was stunning!

We met up at the famous London Eye the next day- we had never done it while living here and have always wanted to.  The weather wasn't perfect, but we had the best time chatting and seeing this amazing city from high above.  Our kids got along so great too- I loved watching them play together.  

After the London Eye, we made it over to Camden Market for some delicious food and then walked over to Primrose Hill for another great view (can you see it in the background above?). Here's us all trying to squeeze into a Dave selfie special!  ;)

Reunited at last!!  Tessa adores Elle and Grace!

We love this sweet family so much and are so grateful that they trusted us to take Elle in for a whole month in a different country.  So glad we got to spend time with them in London!!  

Notting Hill with the Bills

Our friends, the Bills, came to London and stayed with us here in our flat in St. John's Wood.  Kayla came armed with an amazing to-do list of things she wanted to see, some of which I haven't even done yet.  I loved it!  One day, we explored Kensington Gardens and then walked down our favorite street, Kensington Palace Gardens, then over to Notting Hill.  We stopped off for a late lunch at our favorite pub, the Churchill Arms- which, surprisingly, serves delicious Thai food!  Then, on to Notting Hill (my favorite London neighborhood!!) for some more sightseeing...

Old school selfie (above) and Churchill Arms (below)...aren't those flowers amazing?!?!

The most charming biscuit shop in Notting Hill that serves the most ornate sugar cookies.

Alice's Antique shop on Portobello is so cool AND famous...you may recognize it from the movie, "Paddington".

The Bills brought their 2-month old baby, Olivia, with them to London.  My girls were OBSESSED!!  And, how could you not?!  She's gorgeous and the sweetest baby.  I'm sure my girls could've held her the entire time the Bills were here and it still wouldn't have been enough.  

We just love when people come and visit because we get to be tourists in our city and we get to see it through new eyes all over again.  Love this place.  Thanks for visiting, Bills Family!!

Kate in Rome - Part II

Guest post by Kate (cont'd) ... Part I here

One of the things we did while we were in Rome was Vatican City! Vatican City is a city inside of Rome, so it was easily accessible, and just as beautiful! The first thing we did was stop by St. Peters Basilica. The thing I loved about St. Peters Basilica on the outside were the massive statues that lined the top of the building. After waiting in line on the outside of the Basilica, we went to the very top of the building, and then went inside of the church. 

We also stopped by one of Rome's most famous buildings, The Pantheon. This two thousand year old building was actually a remake of the Greek Parthenon, and was still jaw dropping in every way. Connected to the Pantheon was a large building in the shape of a dome, that was also very beautiful, and it even had an opening in the roof, which had the sun shining through it. 

This is the inside of the St. Peters Basilica when we were halfway up the top. I have to say, on the way up, dad and I got a little claustrophobic as the stairs started to tilt sideways. But it was all worth it, because the views were just absolutely amazing. 

As I said before, the view was amazing, and you could literally see everything within Vatican City. 

In London, the guards to the palaces and churches have some pretty interesting outfits on, but the guards to the Basilica were wearing something totally different and completely colorful, and it was really cool. 

 This is the Altare Della Patria, a war museum that was close to the Colosseum. We never went inside, but the building itself was just amazing. 

This was by far my favorite part, the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum is like an exhibit of some of the old ruins of ancient Rome, and because I had been studying Rome in school, the buildings were all the more meaningful. I loved imagining what could have been thousands of years ago, and picturing what life would have been like for the people that lived inside of the ruins. There were temples and homes and squares and old rocks lying everywhere, and it was just so cool, and an experience I will never forget. 

Another thing I loved about the Roman Forum was how they let the flowers and plant life grow freely, so there were always flowers and trees growing around and sometimes in the ruins. 

Overall, I loved my trip in Rome, and love my dad for taking me on this amazing adventure, and I'm so grateful that I get to go to all of these incredible places that I will remember for the rest of my life.