Tag Archives: castle

Thomas Family Greek Vacation

8 May

Hello, y’all! First of all, thanks to all of you who have made the switch with me over to Treats, Travels and Truths! It’s so exciting for me to really get things rolling over there. But like I said, I want to keep this space as somewhere to continue sharing our personal pictures- the stuff that we want to share with our family and friends. And that’s just what I’m doing today. John’s brother, sister-in-law, niece and sister have all been here for the past couple of weeks and we decided to use a week of their visit to take on our latest adventure, Greece! What a wonderful place and what a fun, fun time we had exploring its capital, Athens, as well as two of its islands, Mykonos and Santorini. Over the next week or so, I’ll have several posts up on TT&T all about each of these spots and how we spent our time there so please be sure to stop by there to read up if you’re interested. But in the meantime, here’s our adventure as described by pretty pictures ❤

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First up, Athens…

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Library…

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Top of the Acropolis

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Erechtheion Temple- next to the Parthenon and smaller, but much better preserved…

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The Parthenon

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Temple Erechtheion- right next to the Parthenon and much smaller, but much better preserved…

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Parthenon on the left, Erechtheion on the right…

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View of the south from the Acropolis

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Erechtheion

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The original theatre where Plato and Socrates both spoke…

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Mt. Lycabettus

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Legend has it that Poseidon (brother of Zeus) and Athena (daughter of Zeus) were fighting over the city when Athena cast her spear down and where it sparked, an olive tree grew. As a result, she won the city (thus its name) and Poseidon was given a smaller village nearby…This is the original olive tree from Athena’s spear…

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A girl and her espresso…

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When in Greece, eat….pasta! Ha!

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GYROS!

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On to Mykonos…

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First morning on our balcony…

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The walk to lunch…

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Chocolate faces!

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When you’re not sure if you’re on a road or someone’s (poorly maintained) driveway! Ha! *It’s a road!*

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Mom, see the fava beans?

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Siblings ❤

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Mykonos Town

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(Neve’s first crush…On our waiter…Raphael…Who played along beautifully…In case any of us were wondering how she’d react her first time ‘in love’ and planning to ‘marry him…’ ❤ ❤ <3)

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And finally, to Santorini…

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Taken from our balcony…These blue domes are some of the most photographed items in the world…

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From our balcony…

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Our front door…

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Grape Vineyards…They have to keep them cut very short or they can’t withstand the high winds…Wine is a staple industry on Santorini…

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Castle Ruins…

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Black Sand Beach…About 5 min before she was naked and in the water!

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Downtown Fira…

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Red Sand Beach…

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Only brewery in the Greek Isles, on Santorini…

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I really can’t say enough good things about our time in Greece. Athens was terrific, the islands were terrific, the sunshine and the (mostly) warm temperatures were terrific, the food was terrific, the people were (mostly) terrific…Time most definitely flies when you’re having fun! Can’t wait to share more over on TreatsTravelsandTruths.com!

Thanks for following along!

Happy Easter, Y’all!

20 Apr

OK, a few days after the fact, but I hope all of you had a lovely Easter! We sure did! For starters, my mom was in town- she surprised me a few weeks ago with a last minute decision to come for a quick visit that just so happened to include my birthday and Easter. Both weekends were terrific. For Easter, we finally made it Burg Eltz, John’s bucket list castle that Rick Steves had named as ‘Best in the World’ (we attempted to see it last fall, but it ended up closing for the season the week before our trip :/). It was well worth the wait and has most definitely become one of our favorites, too! Birthday Weekend was terrific, too- the first night we celebrated with a Grown-Ups-Only night out with our tribe (woohoo for 2 babysitters + 5 littles!), then spent Sunday doing what we love the most- cooking, baking, and just being together. Meant so much getting to share it with Mom.

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We made pizzas from scratch- the crust, the sauce, the toppings…DELISH!

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This is my absolute FAVORITE cake on the planet and I get it once a year, when my sweet husband- and now sweet daughter- make it for me on my birthday. It’s a take on the classic Tres Leches, but with fresh homemade whipped cream and Oreos. HOLY COW.

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Birthday Flowers (with a Boston Terrier photo bomb!)

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Driving to Burg Eltz

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Burg Eltz

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Driving to Burg Eltz

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Waterfront in Koblenz, Germany, where we stayed to visit Burg Eltz…

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Deutsches Ecke- the merging of the Mosel and Rhein Rivers in Koblenz, Germany…

Mom and I also did a little daytrip over to Burg Lichtenstein, which is another of our favorites. It’s small and quaint, yet so charming and regal the way it’s built right on top of a giant rock overlooking the foothills all around. How is it possible that this is Mom’s first castle?!

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Other than that, we’ve just been doing a whole bunch of normal. And it’s been awesome. It’s crazy how much of a boost the regular, day to day stuff gets just from having your mom around. We dyed Easter eggs, we met up with friends at the biergarten when the weather was pretty, we celebrated the Easter Bunny’s delivery (via a clever scavenger hunt set up while we were gone to Burg Eltz!)…Oh, and BIG NEWS! Neve learned to ride her bike all by herself, no training wheels! BURSTING. That’s the only way I can describe the love and the pride her Daddy and I- and Goddess, and Poppy from afar!- felt. ❤

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Stuttgart Postcard Heart on a random fence…

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Trying to get a picture and I keep saying, ‘Turn around, no the other way, no the other way…’

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The beautiful face of a big girl bike rider!!

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When you take your American- little-bit-European- new bike riding girl for ‘whatever she wants’ and she chooses strawberry ice cream and an espresso with extra milk ❤

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When you get to be there to open the care package you sent before you knew you were coming! Ha!

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Do you ever stand at your grill flipping burgers and get the feeling you’re being watched?

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Taped to the door when we got home from the castle on Easter Sunday…

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We really did have the loveliest of times with Goddess here visiting and saying goodbye to her earlier this week was difficult all around. But at least our hearts are full and our souls are happy. ❤ Funny thing is that Mother Nature must’ve known we were prepared for a crummy few days because she brought back the snow! In April! This is the third time it’s snowed on the day Mom is leaving. Maybe it’s a sign…Ha! As pretty as it was and as unexpected, I’m pleased to report that it seems to have passed again and the forecast is showing slow improvement throughout the weekend. This Southern family is ready for WARM!!!

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And that’s it for now! Lots of fun over these last couple weeks and even more to come as John’s brother, sister-in-law, niece and sister arrive on Wednesday for their annual visit- and this time, we’re headed to Greece! A first for all of us!

But in the meantime, remember that big news I teased you with a couple weeks ago? Well, the time has arrived to share it- finally! Stop back by tomorrow for the big reveal 🙂

Portugal, the (First) Adventure Phase…

3 Jun

…and boy did we cover a whole lotta ground! As I told you yesterday, our main goal with this trip was relaxation, reconnection and rejuventation. Our usual trekking around big cities took a backseat, which meant that we chose to only spend one day in each Lisbon and Porto. And while different than our norm, we all agreed that we thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace! One thing I realized, though, is that I have way too many pictures of each city to combine them into one post. It just wouldn’t do either city any justice!

First up, Lisbon. Our resort was in Obidos, about an hour north of the city. Since we had a rental car (60€ for the whole 6 days!), we got a chance to really get a good feel for the northern part of the country. You’ve never seen so many mountains and hills in your life- in the countryside or in the cities!

See what I mean? They’re gorgeous! Although I will say that these shots make things appear a bit greener than they actually are. We were both surprised, in fact, at how tan/sandy/clay-y/almost arid the Portuguese landscape is. I guess because they’re known for having some pretty good, sunny weather, we just expected more of a lush- maybe even tropic- feel, but not so much…Still so pretty.

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Lisbon, the capital and largest city of Portugal, is the 11th largest metropolitan region in the EU with a population of about 2.8 million people.  It’s one of the major economic centers in Europe, with a growing financial sector and one of the largest container ports on Europe’s Atlantic coast.

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest in Western Europe, predating other modern European capitals like London, Paris and Rome by centuries. Julius Caesar made it a municipium called Felicitas Julia, adding to the name Olissipo. Ruled by a series of Germanic tribes from the 5th century, it was captured by the Moors in the 8th century. In 1147, the Crusaders under Afonso Henriques reconquered the city and since then it has been a major political, economic and cultural centre of Portugal. Unlike most capital cities, Lisbon’s status as the capital of Portugal has never been granted or confirmed officially – by statute or in written form. Its position as the capital was formed through constitutional convention, making its position as de facto capital a part of the Constitution of Portugal.

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A neat little side note here. Neve views- and chooses- all of her clothes based on their ‘tickly-ness.’ She pulls them taught by wrapping them around one hand, then tickles the palm of that hand with the fingernails of the other hand. (The above picture gives you an idea of what this looks like- and shows how ridiculously sweet she is! Gah!) Thin, smooth, slicky fabrics are the best, of course, but it can be done with some cotton and knits with a little added effort 😉  Two neat things about this cute quirk…First, she was born with it and started doing it with the fabric of her swaddle sack before she could even roll over (!) and we still can only have pillow cases that a) have a hole on one end and b) are made of the silkiest fabrics (translation: expensive!) as she tickles every single time she falls asleep. Second, I was (and still am) a tickler, too! I had blankets with silk edges that I used to tickle my palms for many years and still get John to tickle my  back at least once a week! So the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree with my girl! ❤

OK, back to Lisbon! The other reason I posted that picture is to show Neve’s boredom after we’d been waiting nearly an hour to catch the city’s infamous old Tram #28 that takes visitors around to many of the major attractions. Trams are the main mode of transportation in the heart of the city and have been for decades.

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However, still having at least 30 minutes to go before it would our turn to board, up came a Tuk Tuk. What’s a Tuk Tuk, you ask? Well, it’s hard to describe. It’s like a covered moped taxi. That’s probably the best I can do. See for yourself:

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Long story short, for a super reasonable price, we hired a Tuk Tuk- with its driver, of course- to take the three of us all over the city and tell us what we were seeing. GENIUS. In less than 2 hours, we’d been up and down oodles of hills, winded through the narrowest of ancient alleyways, seen several different neighborhoods and ALL of the major attractions…Plus, it was all done with our own personal tour guide, Tiago, educating us along the way! Neve was in Heaven with how adventurous this was. Totally meant to be.

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View from the back seat. That’s Tiago driving. He’s hoping to save the €14,000 needed to buy his own Tuk Tuk by the end of this year. Once he can work for himself, he expects to earn about €7000/month.

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Our first stop was the highest point in the city so we could get the perfect overview. It really helped us to get our bearings and to see just how vast the city is, along with the flow of the Tagus River.

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The Lisbon Bridge was modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge.

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That’s the castle on top of the hill in the distance.

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We were so high that we had to put on our jackets to help block the wind!

Just the riding around the city was fun- and educational- in itself. It gave us a truer sense of inner city life, too. As you might imagine, the trams are on tracks and therefore, have to stay on the more beaten, wider paths. Not Tuk Tuks! We could go anywhere! We got to see the nooks and crannies, the vibrant colors, the locals…

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Remember a few months ago when we were talking about Budapest and how we liked that it felt ‘lived in’ and had some ‘grit,’ just like we felt in Prague? Well, Lisbon has the same grittiness- that wonderful marriage of old and new, of vibrant and dull, of life and decay…We loved the orange tiled roofs, the rainbow painted buildings, the cobblestones…And we liked that they were ‘real,’ as opposed to being painted and pristine for tourists.

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Oldest cathedral in the city, 1147.

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Originally a church, the Pantheo was converted into a burial place for notable Portuguese personalities. What makes it unique is that it’s not religious figures buried here- it’s people who had an influence in the city, including musicians, artists and philanthropists. 

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Lisbon had street signs before the US was even a country!

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Overview of Alfama, the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon…

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Someone bought this property to build a house on…When they started digging for the foundation, they found an ancient Roman amphitheater! 

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Our Tuk Tuk for the day 😉

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This is the entrance to the castle I pointed out in the overview picture above. It’s a Moorish fortress from medieval times known for its well-fortified citadel.

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One of the best doors I’ve ever seen! (I have a thing for doors- I have pictures of them from all the cities we’ve visited- this one was just particularly awesome!) The one a few up from this is also among the awesome- two in one post! Ha!

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John was in his element with all the squid and octopus salads everywhere! This was his favorite of the entire week and only cost €4!

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Dad, John insisted on this picture just so you could marvel at the wiring with him 😉

Now y’all know how much we love stumbling onto a good market, right?! Well, that’s what happened just as we were finishing up our day making our way back to the train (we parked outside of the city and trained in that morning). The Baixa Mercado takes up the entire famous Rossio Square and is jam packed with local artists, chefs and mixologists. Be still my heart! And speaking of mixologists, Lisbon’s (and Obidos’) signature drink is the liqueur, Ginjinja. It’s made by infusing ginja berries (sour cherries) with liquor and sugar, then serving in a small chocolate shot glass. Delish.

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And with that, we made our way back to Obidos for the night, feeling like we’d really covered alot of ground in just a day. No, we didn’t get into the depths as much as we’re used to (ie. touring inside the churches, exploring inside the castles, etc.), but we got a really good idea of what Lisbon is all about, its flare, it’s vibe. And we dig it.

You know what else we dig? Porto, Portugal’s oldest- and second largest- city. Please stop back by once more tomorrow- or Monday 🙂 – for our second Portuguese Adventure Phase! Happy Weekend, y’all!

Family Photo Dump

18 Apr

Happy Monday, y’all! I thought about waiting until this weekend to do a post because it’ll be a terrific, juicy one with lots of pretty pictures. Afterall, we’re headed to Rome on Wednesday for the rest of the week! Or I could’ve waited until tomorrow since we’re headed to FruhlingsFest tonight (the Oktoberfest spring equivalent- WOOHOO!) But I just couldn’t wait. We are having the BEST time with family- Mark, Bethany and Norah. We’ve been so excited for their visit- and have missed them terribly since we left last summer. At home, we spend alot of time together, so the distance has definitely been felt in that regard, especially for Neve and Norah who  (usually) gracefully straddle the line between cousins and besties. 😉

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Night One ❤

This is their time in Europe, so it’s been so great to experience some of those ‘first time wonders’ again through their eyes. Things that we don’t really notice anymore, customs that we’ve just gotten used to, scenery that has become our norm…I just love those little nuggets of newness! And we love being part of this new experience for them.

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First night in Europe. What better way to kick off than dinner at the nearest biergarten?!

Just a quick aside for those of you not as familiar with our family tree. John is the oldest of three children- Mark is four years younger and Christina, who was here last month, is in the middle. He and Bethany are high school sweethearts (Bethany had just turned 15 when I met her! She and Mark started dating a few months after John and me), who then both graduated from University of Louisville. Mark lived with us one summer in college while he interned at SPAWAR with John. Once he graduated, he moved to Charleston to accept a full time position as a civil engineer (John is an electrical engineer). Bethany soon followed and they bought a house just a few miles from us. Norah came along in 2013, making her just 21 months younger than Neve. And that’s our quick run down 😉

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For our first week, we’ve been super busy, both exploring Stuttgart (y’all know I love playing me some tourist!) and venturing out for some cool day trips. So far, though, nothing that I haven’t already posted about, so I won’t go there again. 😉 If you happened to miss the posts about the famous Wilhelma Zoo, medieval Rothenburg or Schloss Lichtenstein, just do a quick search of the site and it’ll take you right to them! But for now, just some shots of our adventures, our time together, some awesome spring-welcoming weather, some not so awesome weather, because…Germany. HA!

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John’s newest toy! Several of the guys ride to work each day and John’s been dying to join the fun! It’s less than 10 miles, but half of that is straight uphill! Ha!

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Spring has sprung at Wilhelma!

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What are the odds?! We met a family on the train en route to the zoo…who are also American…and who live across the street from us! The boys are 4 and 6- and the three of them were instant friends! We have plans to hang out next week 🙂

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Where did my little baby go?

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If you look closely at the roof of the building at the far end of the alley, you’ll see a stork sitting in her nest. Storks return to the same nest year after year- and they meet their lifelong mates there, too. ❤

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Lichtenstein Castle is always one of our favorites, even on days the clouds and fog are so heavy it makes it look like the Evil Queen’s castle instead of Snow White’s.

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Just a little patience…Grabbed some lunch before heading home and the weather cleared out- just temporarily- and long enough to get the perfect shot ❤

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Two birthday celebrations in less than a week! And yes, this is a real cake this time- an ice cream cake, actually! My attempt to write his name ended up completely not centered, so I added a ‘y’ for extra pizzazz. Ha!

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See, I told you so! We really are having a wonderful time, strengthening our bonds and making such lovely family memories. The sad part is that this coming week is sure to go by even quicker than the past. Not even going to think about that yet! Just going to focus on the Fest tonight, a quick trip back to the Sonnenhof farm tomorrow and then we’re Italy-bound for five days! I know, I’m tired just thinking about it, but SO pumped! Go big or go home, right?!

Heidelberg Hump Day

25 Mar

You know the best way to celebrate making it to the middle of the week? By taking a quick road trip to one of the prettiest cities in Germany, in my opinion anyway! And I do mean QUICK- we had to drop Neve at school at 8a and be back to pick her up at 2p, so we made the most of it for sure! Heidelberg is the coolest little big town (feels small, looks charming, actually pretty darn big) and is about halfway between Stuttgart and Frankfurt, so about an hour and a half, less if it weren’t for the God-awful traffic this country is known for. Grrrr.

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Heidelberg sits along the Neckar River in southwest Germany and is the fifth largest city in Baden-Wurttemberg (our state here- the largest in Stuttgart). It has nearly 200,000 residents and is known worldwide for its university, as well as its castle. But look at the picture above- doesn’t it just look like a quaint small town?? That picture is actually only of ‘Old Town’- you can see a bit of ‘New Town’ in the distance…

Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, “Heidelberg Man” died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907. Scientific dating determined his remains as the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of worship were built on the Heiligenberg, or “Mountain of Saints”. Both places can still be identified. The Romans built and maintained permanent camps and a signal tower on the bank of the Neckar. They built a wooden bridge based on stone pillars across it. The camp protected the first civilian settlements that developed. The Romans remained until 260 AD, when the camp was conquered by Germanic tribes. Modern Heidelberg can trace its beginnings to the fifth century.

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If you look closely at the top of the mountain, you can see the Roman signal tower (from the 5th century BC!) where the trees part…

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Standing on the Old Bridge, the castle is in the distance on the left…

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Alte Bruke, or Old Bridge, made of Neckar Valley sandstone, is one of the last large examples of a classical stone bridge. Built in the 1700s, the old Bridge Gate still stands and is a landmark of the area- it was once part of the medieval city wall.

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Heidelberg Castle was originally built in 1214 and added to over the years with most of the current structures being added in the 16th century. The ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. Throughout its years in operation, the castle was used as both a residence by multiple kings and as a fortress. Also over the years, it had several severe destructions due to attacks, fires, bombs, and plain ‘ol time…Luckily, the majority of the castle underwent restorations in the early 1800s so we can at least get a taste of its splendor. It’s really a beautiful castle.

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The grassy courtyards surrounding the castle were used for drying laundry and grazing farm animals.

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Powder turret split by an explosion in the late 1600s and described in Mark Twain’s ‘A Tramp Abroad’ from 1880.

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Gate was built in the 16th century and had a drawbridge just beyond…

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Aside from the castle, Heidelberg is so darn pretty- the architecture, the colors, cobblestones, the squares, the green spaces…All set along the river. Even the ‘New Town’ is pretty as far as modern cities go. I definitely think I could live there 😉

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Heiliggeistkirche, or Church of the Holy Ghost, is the tallest and most famous church in Heidelberg. Its foundation dates back to 1398. That’s a permanent farmer’s market around it.

So we covered alot of ground in just a few hours, right?! Our feet were hurtin’, but in a good kinda way ;). It even managed to wait until we got back in the car to rain! And before I  go, I’ll leave you with just a couple neat factoids about Heidelberg:

  • The first evidence of humans in Europe was found here (already told you that one up top!)
  • The city served as a Nazi stronghold during WWII- nearly all of the Jewish population was wiped out once Hitler came to power.
  • The Allies, however, did not target nor bomb Heidelberg because they wanted to use it as an Army garrison following the war due to its awesome infrastructure (Autobahn, river, and railways).
  • Heidelberg University is the oldest in German, and one of the oldest in Europe. It’s been teaching medicine for nearly 650 years. One of every five residents is a student.

Interesting stuff, huh? Hope everyone has a wonderful Easter weekend! We will drop Uncle Andy at the airport in the morning to make his trek home 😦 and then head to the park with friends for a little Easter Egg Hunt! Should be fun- fingers crossed for no rain! Jeez, I must be getting used to it over here if I pray for no rain rather than sunshine- I know better by now! Ha!

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Burg Hohenzollern

22 Feb

First and foremost, John’s parents and his sister have landed and are finally here for their FIRST European vacation! We have been so looking forward to sharing this experience with them- it’s something that John’s been excited about since this whole opportunity presented itself last year. So here’s hoping that their next two weeks here in Germany with us are full of fun being had and memories being made ❤

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Welcome to Germany meal

What better way to start a German adventure than with a castle- am I right?! We’d been hearing good things about a castle just an hour away from us, and once we researched it, we decided to save it to do with John’s family. It was lovely.

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Burg Hohenzollern is the ancestral seat of the imperial House of Hohenzollern. The third of three castles on the site, it sits nearly 800 feet up in the foothills of the Swabian Alps. The first fortress on the mountain was constructed in the early 11th century. This castle was completely destroyed in 1423 after a ten-month siege by the free imperial cities of Swabia. A larger and sturdier fortress was constructed from 1454 to 1461, which served as a refuge for the Catholic Swabian Hohenzollerns, including during the Thirty Years’ War. By the end of the 18th century, it was thought to have lost its strategic importance and gradually fell into disrepair, leading to the demolition of several dilapidated buildings. Today, only the medieval chapel remains.

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The final castle was built between 1846 and 1867 as a family memorial by Hohenzollern scion King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Architect Friedrich August Stüler based his design on English Gothic Revival architecture and the Châteaux of the Loire Valley.

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Really a pretty castle, isn’t she? So wish they’d allowed pictures inside the fortress itself because it was equally as pretty- full of rich wood carvings, elaborate jewel-toned fabrics, marble tiled floors…Really elegant.

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I think it’s a requirement that castles have some of the best views in town. Seriously, pick a window, pick a balcony…And soak it all in 🙂

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Underneath Hohenzollern was super cool. You take a tiny winding spiral staircase down into the ground into the ‘casemates,’ which were sandstone cellars used to store weapons, ammunition and valuable as they were virtually indestructible. There are also several secret passages, a staircase to somewhere long forgotten, and pieces of each of the three castles that have stood in the same spot.

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Carved into the stone, believed to be the ‘stamp’ of the mason who was doing the building…in 1654.

Among the historical artifacts of Prussian history contained in the castle are the Crown of Wilhelm II, some of the personal effects of King Frederick the Great, and a letter from US President George Washington thanking Hohenzollern descendant Baron von Steuben for his service in the American Revolutionary War.

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And with that, Sunday Funday was had by all! Now we just have a couple days before we’re headed out on our next big adventure- we’re road trippin’ to Vienna, Austria then on to Budapest, Hungary! So pumped to explore some new cities- afterall, it’s one of the best parts of being here ❤

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Neuschwanstein, Where Dreams Come True…

31 Jan

Where dreams come true, huh? Well yes, something like that! Schloss Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s new company logo all those years ago. And in person, I can totally see how it’s beauty and charm and over-the-topness would inspire just about anyone!

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One of our favorite things about living in Germany is all the history and culture that’s everywhere you turn. And we sure do love turning to castles! Ha! See what I did there? 😉 There’s no doubt that Germans loved them some castles and they run the gamut in terms of age, style, sophistication…But they’re all just so incredibly neat to visit.

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Approaching Neuschwanstein…

John and I first visited Neuschwanstein six years ago and loved it immediately. Being perched up on a rocky mountainside, its spires and turrets reaching high up into thin air and its white bricks  contrasting perfectly with the near-black surrounding forrest just begs you not to stare in awe. We were so excited to go back- and to take Neve. She had seen pictures and could hardly wait to see ‘Elsa’s castle’ for herself. (All the snow and ice makes it look very similar to Queen Elsa’s ice castle in Frozen- totally recommend you watch that flick if you haven’t already…)

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Neuschwanstein Castle, built in the mid-1800s, is a Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill in southwest Bavaria, right along the Austrian border.  It was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a personal retreat and as an homage to famed composer, Richard Wagner. Ludwig paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and by means of extensive borrowing, rather than Bavarian public funds. It was designed as the romantic ideal of a knight’s castle. Unlike “real” castles, whose building stock is in most cases the result of centuries of building activity, Neuschwanstein was planned from the inception as an intentionally asymmetric building, and erected in consecutive stages. Typical attributes of a castle were included, but real fortifications – the most important feature of a medieval aristocratic estate – were dispensed with.

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Neve LOVED that we took a horse-drawn carriage to the top!

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Entrance to Neuschwanstein

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Inside the courtyard, waiting to go inside the castle…

King Ludwig II was an interesting character and I totally recommend you look him up if you’re into history and folks who think outside of the box. He was raised just down the mountain at a smaller castle, Hohenschwangau. Always a daydreamer, an artist and aloof, he was unprepared to take the thrown at 18 when his father died, but he actually proved to be a sound- and beloved- king by most. That being said, he was extravagant and irresponsible with his money, choosing to spend every last penny- and then some- one elaborate architecture projects, arts investments and travels. He was also extremely shy and introverted, becoming much of a recluse as years went by. All of the above led to the higher ups questioning his abilities…and his mental state.

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Castle Hohenschwangau, Ludwig’s childhood summer home at the bottom of the mountain. (Neve says this is Arendelle, for all my Frozen fans <3)

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For about two decades, beginning in 1868, the construction site was the principal employer in the region. By 1880, about 200 craftsmen were occupied at the site, not counting suppliers and other persons indirectly involved in the construction. At times when the king insisted on particularly close deadlines and urgent changes, reportedly up to 300 workers per day were active, sometimes working at night by the light of oil lamps. He was involved in every single aspect of construction: design, materials, revisions, furnishings…He was onsite every day and in 1884, he was able to move into the still-unfinished palace so he could direct from sun up to sundown. Despite its size, Neuschwanstein didn’t have space for the royal court, but contained only the king’s private lodging and servants’ rooms. The court buildings served decorative, rather than residential purposes. The palace was intended to serve Ludwig II as a kind of inhabitable theatrical setting that he’d always dreamed of. In the end, Ludwig II only lived in the palace for a total of 172 days.

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Throne Room

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Throne Room Mosaic Floor- each tile was hand laid.  

Before Neuschwanstein could be completed, Ludwig was declared incompetent as King by a group of his ministers who had bribed and threatened several psychiatrists (who had never even met Ludwig) to support their claims. They physically removed him from the castle one night and took him to a castle outside of Munich for further review. The following evening, he was found dead- along with his doctor- floating in a nearby lake. Although it was ruled a suicide at the time, autopsy reports showed no water in his lungs and the doctor who was accompanying him had been beaten. So the world will never know what exactly happen to King Ludwig II- was he trying to escape? did he commit suicide? was he murdered?

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Looking down from a balcony at the river and waterfalls down below…

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Ludwig was deeply peculiar and eccentric, but the question of clinical insanity remains unresolved. Many prominent psychiatrists and neurologists have disagreed with the contention that there was ever clear evidence for Ludwig’s insanity. Others believe he may have suffered from the effects of chloroform used in an effort to control chronic toothache rather than any psychological disorder. His cousin and friend, Empress Elisabeth held that, “The King was not mad; he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams. They might have treated him more gently, and thus perhaps spared him so terrible an end.”

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Singers Hall, largest room in the castle…

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Today, visitors pay tribute to King Ludwig by visiting his grave, as well as his castles. Ironically, the very castles which were said to be causing the king’s financial ruin have today become among the most popular attractions in all of Bavaria. The palaces, given to Bavaria by Ludwig III’s son, Crown Prince Rupprecht, in 1923, have paid for themselves many times over and attract millions of visitors from all over the world each year.

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This was such a great day trip for all of us. Still have a hard time believing that places like this- and views like these- are in our backyard. Just two hours away- we crossed into Austria, then back into Germany to get here- all of this was waiting for us. And such a gorgeous day to top it all off- very chilly, in the low 20s- but the sun was shining and the ice and snow left here and there just made it feel extra special. Totally recommend a visit to this gem if you’re ever in southern Germany!

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Caves and Castles

9 Nov

Well, I think this weekend was the first since we got here that we did zero work! No unpacking, no rearranging, no organizing, no donating…That’s got to be a great sign, right?! And y’all, it was so nice. We were finally able to take a little day trip and we had such a fun time. Icing on the cake was that the weather couldn’t have been any better- sunny and warmish and a light breeze blowing around the few remaining neon-colored leaves that have made the most beautiful fall.

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Did you guys know that there are roughly 20,000 castles in Germany? Nope, I didn’t put too many zeroes- there are seriously that many! It’s the neatest thing to be driving down the road and just stumble upon a fortress ahead in the distance. Ha! This weekend, we opted to visit Germany’s smallest castle, Lichtenstein, which is about an hour and 15 minutes south of us near Bavaria. Nearby, we happened to find Fog Cave, one of southern Germany’s oldest and largest show caves. Our little explorer was in adventure Heaven, let me tell you!

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Fog Cave, first mentioned in literature in 1486, is roughly half a kilometer long and is known for its impressive drip rock formations, which look alot like marble. Just like all caves, its temperature stays around a steady 55F, but because of its location, there tends to be a constant meeting of cool with warm air, causing it to produce its own fog, thus its name. Cool, huh? The cave is home to several species of bats, including the endangered white-bellied, ‘Mouse Eared Bats.’ In an effort the help preserve their population, the cave is only open during the warmer months so that they can safely hibernate (and not have to search for food) all winter. Neve was fascinated by these cute little guys hanging from the ceilings in the cave- even insisted we stay quiet so as not to disturb their slumber!

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We happened to be the first visitors that morning, so we had the cave entirely to ourselves for over an hour. Talk about feeling miniscule! And let me just do a quick aside for those of you who may not know this- I lived in a cave for a few weeks during my junior year of high school. Yep, I went with a group of probably 12 people through an Outward Bound program where we hiked several miles through the West Virginia snow to the mouth of a giant cave system where we descended underground and didn’t see the daylight again for several weeks. We took with us only what we could carry (which meant that, yes, my backpack was practically bigger than me!), lived only by nature (no electricity, no batteries (that meant actual fire lamps worn on our helmets, lit with flint strike lighters), no watches, no radios), took no showers, carried our waste with us (yes, all waste)…We hiked for miles within the caves every day, setting up ‘camp’ each night beneath the bats sleeping overhead…We crossed rivers (yes, that meant we got wet, along with our stuff), we completed challenges, we played games…There were definite rough patches along the way that we won’t get into here, but all in all, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life and one that I’m so thankful I fought to be a part of (I was the youngest of the group). Needless to say, any time I’ve visited a cave in all these years since, I can’t help but be taken aback…But enough with the digression!

Another mind-blowing tidbit is that stalagmites and stalagtites grow at an average of 1 cubic centimeter every 80 years…Yeah, wrap your mind around that one as you think of how many millions of years old these caves are. And look at this visual for perspective:

This stalagmite was damaged during WWII, so it was cut and polished so that its interior could be studied. The lines and different colors show what the soil and rain water was comprised of during different centuries...

Nope, not a tree trunk! This stalagmite was damaged during WWII, so it was cut and polished so that its interior could be studied. The lines and different colors show what the soil and rain water was comprised of during different centuries…

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Driving between the two places couldn’t have been any more gorgeous. Here’s the random view from the parking lot.

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That's where we're headed! The castle on the mountain in the distance...

That’s where we’re headed! The castle on the mountain in the distance…

Schloss (Castle) Lichtenstein is a Gothic Revival castle built on a cliff in the Swabian Alps. Although the original castle was built here in the 12th century, it was destroyed during battle. The new castle was built in 1390 and was considered one of the best Medieval fortresses of all time as it withstood every single attack, but when it lost its role as a Lordly ducal seat in 1567, it fell into disrepair. In 1840, Count Wilhelm purchased the property from the King, removed the top half of the castle and rebuilt it as a premier hunting lodge for himself, his friends, and distinguished guests from around the country. The castle was inaugurated in 1842 with the King present. An interesting fact: the Count personally designed the plans for the rebuilding, as well as furnished and decorated the entire property himself as he had a flair for style. Today, the property is still owned by the Dukes of Urach, Count Wilhelm’s descendants, but is open to the public for a few months each year.

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City of Honau in the valley in the distance…

This was one of our favorite castles we’ve ever visited. For starters, it’s just beautiful- the castle, the grounds surrounding it, the miles and miles of beauty that can be seen in any given direction from its walls…But more than that, it just has the best ‘cozy’ feel going on inside. I know that’s a funny word to use in relation to a castle, but it’s really true. Its rooms are small, warm and inviting. The furnishings are soft and rich and detailed. The stain glass windows cast the most beautiful colored sunlight all across the wooden floors…You leave there thinking to yourself, ‘I totally would’ve loved a weekend there with friends spent hunting (OK, so I wouldn’t do this part, but I know some would!), fellowshipping, eating, drinking and being merry!’ Unfortunately, they don’t allow pictures inside, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!

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Look at that view!

Look at that view!

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Main entrance over the drawbridge...

Main entrance over the drawbridge…

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Painted Bark Tree

Painted Bark Tree (Hi, Mom!)

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Wasn’t that the most fun for a Saturday?! We even made it home in time to try out a new burrito place for dinner! And I’m happy to report that it was pretty darn tasty! Similar to Moe’s if I had to compare. We’ve been on the hunt for decent Mexican since we got here- just like we were in Wiesbaden in the spring and five years ago when we were here- and were just about ready to throw in the towel , but Burreatos hit the spot! BAZINGA! No, it’s not amazing and not an exact match, but it was chips and salsa and burritos in an actual tortilla so we’ll take it! 😉

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Hope everyone has a great week!

Pumpkin Fest!

13 Oct

I know I keep saying it, but I promise I’m going to get more regular at these posts! It just goes to show how insane these last few weeks have been! Mainly, finishing up our stint at the Marriott and getting ourselves- and all of our stuff!- into our new house! More on that to come…

But for now, let’s go back to our two visits to the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Fest! John and I have the fondest memories of this festival from our time here in 2010 and we were so excited to take Neve because we just knew she’d love it. It’s this GIANT park in the northern Stuttgart suburb of Ludwigsburg that has a palace, an old castle, an English garden and a magical fairy tale garden all within it. Now imagine gourds of all shapes, sizes and colors descending onto all of the above! It’s the most colorful, unique, fun place you’ve ever seen! Not to mention that there are tons of delicious pumpkin cuisine throughout!

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This year’s theme was ‘Taking Flight,’ so all the displays had something to do with flying, whether it was literally or figuratively, like with imagination or with art…

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Taking Flight…with the palace in the background…

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Pumpkin Fest is the largest pumpkin exhibition in the world. Every year, more than 400,000 gourds 150 tons!- and more than 500 different species of pumpkins are brought in to make it all possible. The craziest part for me is that they’re all grown in this state- Baden-Wurttemberg- not shipped in! In addition to all the sculptures, there are contests for the largest, heaviest (current world record is 1400 lbs!), and best carved. And there’s even a pumpkin boat race where people hollow out the huge pumpkins and paddle them across the lake! The final weekend of the fest, guests are invited to join in the smashing of all the pumpkins. I hate we missed that part, actually- how fun does that sound?!

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Pumpking Maultaschen (German Ravioli- my favorite!) in Pumpkin Soup...Pumpkin Latke, Pumpkin Fries (better than sweet potato!)...and Pumpkin Prosecco to wash it all down!

Pumpking Maultaschen (German Ravioli- my favorite!) in Pumpkin Soup…Pumpkin Latke, Pumpkin Fries (better than sweet potato!)…and Pumpkin Spritzer to wash it all down! (Not pictured: Pumpkin Beer and Pumpkin Prosecco 🙂 )

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Yep, everyone enjoyed the pumpkin fries! Ha!

The second time we went, we took our new friends, Ashley and Aubrey, with us. It was their first German festival, so we just knew it’d be perfect since this one is family oriented and relatively tame! Ha! And you can see what a difference just a few weeks makes in the fall colors!

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Aubrey, Ashley and Neve…In the boat floating around the Fairy Tale Forest…

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Peeking into Rumplestilsken’s house…

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Rapunzel's castle...You can see her long braided hair (with red bow) descending from the tower...

Rapunzel’s castle…You can see her long braided hair (with red bow) descending from the tower…

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With Aladdin and his magic carpet!

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This is really one of the coolest festivals in our opinion. It’s fun for everyone- young children all the way on up. And it’s such the perfect way to welcome the season! Happy Fall, y’all!

Part 3: Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

17 Sep

Thanks again for stopping back by! This is what happens when your adventures are just so grand- they take three days to get them all out there! Ha! We knew when were planning this trip that it would be a doozy and require a good bit of time spent either doing boring things (ie. taking care of paperwork to get the new car) or in the car making our way home. Total, we spent just over 16 hours in the car- and that’s not counting the nearly full day of travel to get up there! So we definitely wanted to do something special for Neve- something she would think was the most fun and would hold her attention. And with that, we found that Sleeping Beauty’s castle just happened to be in northern Germany along our route back to Stuttgart!

Getting there would prove to be a bit challenging, however. The drive from Copenhagen to Sababurg, Germany was supposed to take about 7 hours. Due to crummy weather and horrible German traffic (this is a world-known thing- the unexplainable terrible traffic situation in this country- they call them ‘staus’ and we call them ‘worst things ever on every single road trip!’), it ended up taking us closer to 10 hours. So frustrating. On the plus side, you take an hour long ferry between the countries, so we had a chance to get out of the car and enjoy a surprisingly delicious meal on the boat!

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We made it to the castle just in time for our dinner reservations. Still raining and still chilly, but there she was- the Dornroeschenschloss, Sleeping Beauty’s castle. It was gorgeous and so majestic set atop the highest hill surrounded by lush green pastures.

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Dornroeschenschloss, built in 1334, was originally used as a fortress to protect the town’s pilgrims from enemy invasions. Several hundred years later, it became more of a hunting lodge and home of the region’s elite. Eventually, the castle began to decay and its stone wall (originally used to fence in the livestock) became covered with thorny hedges, leading the residents of the surrounding areas to let their imaginations run wild. Two such imagination were those of the Brothers Grimm, the famous authors to so many childhood classics. From this castle, their fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty was born.

Our room- in the righthand tower- was so cute. Dated, but cute ;). Love me some timber and exposed beams, too! Neve especially loved the princess bed and even more special princess bathroom ‘only for girls, but Daddy can use it.’

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Dinner was phenomenal- candlelit, overlooking the countryside and delicious fresh-prepared cuisine. All right there in Sleeping Beauty’s Dining Hall.

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The gardens surrounding the castle are gorgeous- the perfect marriage of planned landscaping and letting nature do her thing. We spent our rainy morning exploring and learning the story of this particular princess. Neve is in love and has yet to stop talking about the story.

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In a nutshell…Many moons ago, a King and Queen had dreamed of having a baby, but hadn’t succeeded in their efforts after years of trying. One night, a frog came to the Queen while she was in her bath and told her that her wish would finally come true- she would have a baby girl in the spring. After the birth of Briar Rose, the baby girl (and the original name of Grimm’s fairy tale), the King was so elated that he threw a grand party, inviting any and everyone- with the exception of one of the 13 ‘Wise Women’ as he only had 12 plates fit for such royalty. The first 11 ladies blessed the child with things like wealth, happiness, beauty…But when it came time for the 12th lady, the shunned 13th Wise Woman came from the shadows and angrily put a curse on the baby- that she would prick her finger and die on her 15th birthday. The 12th lady offered the only blessing she could- to lessen the effects of the curse. The princess would not die, but rather sleep for 100 years, along with everyone and everything around her.

On her 15th birthday, the princess found herself drawn to the seamstress quarters where she found a little old lady spinning on her spindle. The witch encourages the princess to try it for herself, but she immediately pricks her finger on the spindle and falls onto the nearby bed, drifting off into a deep sleep. Below her, everyone in the castle- the King and Queen, the staff, even the flies on the wall- also falls asleep and will remain so for the next century. As years go by, the vines and plants take over, essentially covering the grounds and the castle in impenetrable layers of vegetation. Word spreads throughout the country that there’s a beautiful princess inside and many a prince attempt to scale the walls only to end in uncertain death when they’re overtaken with the vines.

Finally, on the day that marks the end of the century, another prince is determined to take his chances for a shot waking the beautiful princess inside. Because the curse is over, he is able to cut through the hedges and make his way up the tower to find her sleeping peacefully. He wakes her with a kiss and they make their way down from the tower to find the rest of the castle occupants also waking and the vegetation receding to reveal the same beautiful gardens that had been there 100 years before. The tale ends with the couple marrying in splendor in the grand courtyard.

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The wall surrounding the castle…

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Looking down into the cellar…

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Today, the castle is used as a hotel, a restaurant and an upscale event spot. Can you imagine your wedding in this castle’s courtyard and your reception in the gardens?! It’s so great what this man (a single affluent guy purchased the property years ago and has spent all this time bringing it back to life for all of us to enjoy) has done so that, hopefully, generations to come can experience this little piece of history. So awesome to get to share this with Neve.

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And with that, we loaded back up and made the final 4 hour drive to Stuttgart. And with minimal staus! Woohoo! The pups had a great long weekend, too. We were lucky enough to meet a couple who keeps pups in their home- one family at a time- and it appears that Meg and Dulcie had a blast! They were spoiled rotten and even got baths before we got there to pick them up!

Talk soon!

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