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.

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. 

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. 

Kate in Rome - Part I

GUEST POST BY KATE.

This weekend for my 12th birthday, dad and I went on my dream trip to Rome. I have been studying ancient Rome at school for a few months, so I was all set for the new adventures that were waiting for us. Below is the Trevi Fountain, one of the most beautiful fountains in the world, and one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. I loved this fountain because of the stunning white stone, and the clear blue water that just made the whole masterpiece totally gorgeous. 

We would walk along the streets and find beautiful chapels and just pop in to get a glimpse of what the church's architecture was like. You never know what you will find when you're walking through the streets of Rome!

And, of course, we went through the Colosseum. It was so stunning- you really have to see it to experience the architectural magnificence. My favorite part of the Colosseum though was actually inside, when you looked down and saw all of the elevators and cages below. When I was studying Rome in school, I learned that the elevators and cages were underneath the actual stage, and it's purpose was to lift gladiators and animals onto the stage where they would fight to the death. 

My dad said this is why you come to Italy- so that you can taste the world famous Italian gelato. :)

One night, dad and I got dinner and ate on the steps as we watched the sun go down. This was definitely one of my favorite parts of our Rome trip.

And, of course, we rented bikes just to ride around the city. We rode down absolutely beautiful streets, by the Tiber river, and eventually ended up by the Colosseum again. 

One reason that Rome is one of my favorite cities is because of the colors of the buildings. The oranges, pinks, tans, and whites went really beautifully together, and it just made Rome all the more fun to walk around in.  

And more gelato. :)

Wknd in Toledo & Madrid

Brian and I just celebrated our 14th anniversary.  So crazy how fast time can fly!  Brian had work in Madrid, so I was able to tag along for the weekend and we celebrated in Spain sans kids!  Because we only had two days here, we had to really pack our sightseeing in...we spent most of our time in the old city of Madrid and our favorite, Toledo.

After exploring the charming streets of Toledo, we bought tickets for the tower tour of the Toledo Cathedral.  The interior of the cathedral is super ornate and gorgeous.  And the views from the top of the tower were perfect.  I love how the architecture of every European city we've been to is so unique.

On Sunday, we made it to church and then walked home through Retiro Park, where a massive marathon was going on.  Not only was the park gorgeous, but it's always fun to feel the energy of a big race and the culmination of all of the hard work.  

Fourteen years ago on April 27, Brian and I were as happy as our young-twenty-selves could have imagined.  Who knew that life would give us so many tough AND fun adventures?!  

San Gimignano

We made a stop in San Gimignano- the epitome of a Tuscan hill town with 14 medieval towers still standing, this place feels perfectly preserved.

Entering the city through the Porta San Giovanni, or as us Americans may call it, the main street. :)  

This view is Tuscany in a nut-shell.  Rolling hills covered with olive, grape and cypress trees, studded with gorgeous villas.

We landed at the Piazza della Cisterna, named for the cistern that is served by the old well standing in the center of the square (above).  

Gelateria Dondoli- world champion gelato.  Say no more.  It was creamy, cold perfection.  

Hilltop views at the Rocca...amazing, and the perfect stop to end our tour of San Gimignano.

 

This beautiful old church was a stone's throw from where we were staying for the week.  Because Brian got sick during our stay, we spent a lot of time on the property of our villa while he recovered.  The kids literally spent 8 hours straight playing outside on one of the days.  Clearly, they needed the time to be outside with unstructured activities, using their imaginations and soaking all of this gorgeous nature in.  That is until they found some potent red berries that they used to write their names on the walls of our villa.  Oh man. We can laugh now because it came out after some serious scrubbing, but it was one of those moments where you want to scream "what were you thinking?!".

I'm so glad we came to Tuscany, we saw some amazing stuff, but I was even happier that we were "forced" to slow down and do almost nothing.  Just what we needed, as evidenced by our kids dirt-stained clothes and sun-kissed cheeks...always the sign of a great vacation.