Leipzig, Dresden, & Berlin (February 13-16, 2015)

Friday
Our first destination for the day was Leipzig, but on the way we stopped in Jena to have lunch with our friend Kris, who was at CCM with both of us. I’m so glad she had the day off work and had time to spend with us! It was a 4-hour drive to Jena, so we were definitely ready for a rest. We enjoyed catching up over lunch at a café, then hit the road again for Leipzig. Connor fell asleep within moments to make the most of the hour-long drive.

Visiting Kris in Jena
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Once we arrived in Leipzig, we went straight to St. Thomas Church, where Bach used to be the organist. It was surreal to sit inside and think about all the history in that church! Across the street from the church was the Bach Museum, and we enjoyed wandering through there for a bit. Next we walked to see the Rathaus (Town Hall), passed some amazing University buildings, found Starbucks for our souvenir mug, and then looked inside the St. Nicholas Church. We started walking back to our car, but as we passed St. Thomas Church again we realized it was 6:00 and the weekly Motet concert was about to begin. Connor wasn’t in the mood to sit in the pew (can’t blame him after the day we had), so he and I found a room in the back that had a few toys. He was thrilled to sit and play with trucks for a little while!

St. Thomas Church and a statue of Bach
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We left the performance after about 30 minutes and walked to the car, then drove a little over an hour to our hotel in Dresden. After booking 10 rooms on Hotels.com, we had earned a “free night,” which we used as a credit towards a nice hotel in Dresden! Right outside our window was the Neumarkt, and there were hundreds of people bringing lit candles in remembrance of a bombing that took place on this day during WWII. It was after 8:00pm by the time we got settled in our room, so we just ordered room service for dinner and then went to bed.

Views of the Neumarkt from our hotel room
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Saturday
Thank goodness Connor slept until 7:15! Once we all got up and moving, we finally saw Dresden in the daylight. We walked to see the Rathaus and picked up our souvenir Starbucks mug. There were SO many policemen and police vans everywhere.  As we walked through one of the squares, there was a crowd of people and it looked like there was some sort of demonstration going on. Charlie steered us clear of that as best as he could, and we made our way back to the Neumarkt near our hotel. We finally found a bakery inside a small mall, and Connor inhaled some quark-filled donut holes for breakfast.

Next we walked inside the Frauenkirche. It was completely demolished during a WWII bombing and has recently been rebuilt. The inside was beautiful, and almost looked more like a concert hall than a church. You might not believe this, but we actually did not climb up to the top of the dome! It was 8€ per person, which we didn’t think was worth it, especially considering we didn’t have a lot of time to spend in Dresden.  Next we walked across the Neumarkt to the Verkhersmuseum (Transportation Museum). We have been to similar museums in Speyer, Sinsheim, and Luzern, but it’s so much fun to see how Connor enjoys the vehicles more and more each time!

Frauenkirche
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Checking out the trains at the Verkhersmuseum
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It was time to head to the car and drive to Berlin. It was around 12:30 and I thought sure Connor would nap while we drove almost 2 hours to Berlin, but no such luck. At least he was perfectly content! We checked into our hotel and then set out for Checkpoint Charlie, and Connor fell asleep just as we arrived. There were tons of people in the area. We looked around outside and then went into the museum. Connor was still asleep as we finished and walked to look a section of the Berlin Wall, as well as ruins of former Gestapo buildings. The little man finally woke up shortly before 5:00pm as we were walking towards the Brandenburg Gate. Along the way we saw the Holocaust Memorial. The memorial wasn’t that exciting, but the Brandenburg Gate was impressive to see in person.

Checkpoint Charlie
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Sections of the Berlin Wall
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Holocaust Memorial
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Brandenburg Gate
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Finally it was time to walk back to the mall right next to our hotel. We were all absolutely starving, and found a gourmet burger place in the food court that sounded good. I was sold as soon as I saw a burger on the menu with Camembert cheese! Unfortunately, Charlie was just about on his last bite before he realized that he was eating my burger by mistake. Oh well. We walked inside the mall to Toys-r-Us, where Connor picked out a small circus Lego duplo set and Charlie picked out a Lego bulldozer. Next we went to a shoe store to buy a new pair for the growing little man. The poor guy was complaining for two days that he didn’t want to wear his shoes and finally today he said they made his feet hurt. Connor had fun going down the slide inside the shoe store! We finally tore him away and ended the evening with a gelato cone. Back in the hotel room, Connor had fun relaxing and playing with his new Legos before finally falling asleep at 10:30. That’s what I get for letting him nap until almost 5:00!

Connor’s new friends that we met in the mall!
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Sunday
It was an early morning. I made reservations a few days ago to visit the dome of the Reichstag, the building where the German Bundestag (parliament) meets. We made it there with time to spare, only to find out they weren’t even letting anyone in to start the security check until 8:00am. All of us waiting in the cold were upset because our confirmation letter told us to arrive by 7:45! Once we went inside the Reichstag we were ushered into a large elevator and went up several floors. We picked up our audio guides and started up the spiral walkway going to the top of the glass dome. The views of Berlin were good, but would have been even better later in the day once the fog lifted.

Inside the dome of the Reichstag
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We were starving, so we walked to find some breakfast near the Brandenburg Gate. Next we walked part-way to the Victory Column to take a few pictures. The views were impressive since we could see the Victory Column as we looked one direction and the Brandenburg Gate as we looked the other way. It was mid-morning by now, and our next destinations were a long walk away on the other side of our hotel. The churches weren’t even going to be open for almost 2 hours, so we decided to take a break at the hotel for a bit. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for a family nap since we were all up early that morning, but unfortunately Connor was not as interested in that idea as Charlie and I were!

Passing the Brandenburg Gate again…and finally getting Charlie in the picture!
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We left the hotel around 12:30pm and explored the eastern side of Berlin, stopping first in the Gendarmenmarkt. I had no idea what it was when I marked it on the map as I planned our trip, but it turned out to be a beautiful square with incredible buildings: the Konzerthaus in the middle, with a French cathedral and German cathedral on either side. Connor finally fell asleep as we entered the French cathedral and, you guessed it, climbed the 254 stairs to the top! It was an easy climb on a smooth and wide staircase. Next we continued walking towards the Berliner Dom, stopping along the way to walk through a weekend art market. The Dom and surrounding museums were incredible to look at, and the beautiful blue sky just enhanced the views. The Dom was amazing inside, and we took our time to enjoy the sanctuary. Connor woke up to admire it with us. After looking at the crypt in the basement, we began the long trek back towards the hotel.

Berliner Dom
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Connor had been really easygoing all day, and we were grateful to have an opportunity to do something just for him that we knew he would enjoy: LegoLand! Charlie happened to see a brochure about it yesterday, and it was right down the street! After our long walk back from the Dom (and one more stop along the way to see St. Hedwig’s Cathedral), we finally arrived at the LegoLand Discovery Center. Connor had a blast building Legos, going on a dragon ride, playing on an indoor jungle gym, and building Lego cars to race down a track. Of course, he also enjoyed picking out a Lego set at the gift shop. (Yes, we have too many Legos already…and Charlie has countless bins full of them in storage in the states…) After Connor let loose some energy, we walked across the street to an Indian restaurant we had spotted the day before. Our dinner was delicious: samosas, naan, lamb korma, and chicken saag. Connor enjoyed the naan, rice, and lamb. When we got back to the hotel, Connor was dying to put together his new Lego truck. (It’s a construction truck pulling a trailer with a porta-potty. Of all the choices he had…) He had fun helping daddy put it together before bedtime.

LegoLand!
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Monday
Connor got us all up before 7:00. We packed up and left the hotel around 8:30. We made a stop in Potsdam, a little over half an hour away, to pickup breakfast at a bakery and get a souvenir Starbucks mug. Originally we thought we might stop in Leipzig again to see the Mendelssohn House since we ran out of time on Friday, but by the time we were settled in the car after breakfast we just wanted to head home. Connor finally fell asleep several hours into our journey with his hand in the trail mix bag, and he slept until we got home around 3:30. When we asked him what his favorite part of the trip was, he said, “Eating jelly beans in the car, and when the dragon ‘splitted’ on us.” (The dragon on the LegoLand ride “spit” on us at the end.)

Charlie is going on a concert tour for 9 days at the end of February/beginning of March.  Maybe I can convince him to write a blog about all the places he will see in Eastern Europe!

Strasbourg , France (February 6-7, 2015)

Friday

Charlie had a 3-day weekend, so we planned to visit a couple of towns not too far away. We drove less than 2 hours to Strasbourg, France, which isn’t far across the border from Germany. After checking into our hotel, we bundled up and walked to the Cathedral.  It was in the low 30s and incredibly windy!  We stopped at a bakery along the way to pickup a quick sandwich to go. (Charlie had a cheese pizza, and I had a Croque saumon, which was a fancy grilled cheese with salmon. Delicious! Connor was too sleepy to want to share.)

The Cathedral was beautiful, of course. As we were admiring the astronomical clock inside, Connor finally fell asleep on my back for a late nap. We walked outside and around the corner to find the entrance to climb to the top of the cathedral, but of course it was closed for another 10 minutes! After a detour inside a nearby souvenir shop, we came back and climbed 330 steps to the top of the cathedral. The wind was gusting so strongly, especially once we got to the top, but Connor slept through it all. After taking a few pictures at the top and climbing down, we meandered down a street lined with shops. We stopped in a store that caught our eye; it was called Bretzel Airlines, and it had shirts, mugs, etc. that incorporated a pretzel into famous logos. Being so close to Germany, I guess the Bretzel is a popular snack here in Strasbourg! We picked out a souvenir shirt for Connor before continuing on our way.

Strasbourg Cathedral
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Views from the top of the Cathedral
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Charlie’s artsy shot of the Cathedral tower
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Connor’s new shirt :)
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After a short walk, we arrived in the Petite France area along the river. Connor was awake, so we stopped at a café to warm up, have a hot drink, and use the restroom. (This is our first trip with no diapers! So far, so good!) Connor and I shared a Chocolat viennois, which was a mug of hot chocolate with a mound of whipped cream on top. Feeling warm and refreshed, we bundled up again and walked around the Petite France area a little longer, stopping to look in a sewing shop and running circles around a tree with Connor. It was late afternoon, and we decided to walk back to our hotel and relax for a while. We lucked out with a great deal on our hotel room. The room was very large with plenty of space to play, and it had a huge bed plus a twin bed for Connor. His favorite feature was the wardrobe, which he kept climbing into and pretending it was his “basement.”

Around 6:00, we bundled up once more and walked back to the same café for dinner. Charlie had glanced at the menu when we were there earlier and he thought the dinner options looked good. He was definitely right! We ordered spätzle with a creamy mushroom sauce for Connor, and Charlie and I had a burger. It was the best burger I have had in quite a while! Connor devoured plenty of his dinner as well.  On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a small Turkish café to pickup dessert to go. Charlie had baklava, and Connor and I shared a sweet “egg roll” filled with ground nuts and honey. Between a late nap and all the excitement, Connor didn’t go to sleep until almost 9:30. What’s on deck for tomorrow? We aren’t entirely sure yet!

Petite France
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Taking a break to enjoy Petite France
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View from our hotel room
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Saturday

We walked to a nearby bakery to pickup breakfast, and brought it back to the hotel to eat. It was the same bakery where we picked up lunch yesterday, and it didn’t disappoint us today, either! Connor had quiche, Charlie had a chocolate-filled donut, and I had a Croque chèvre…oh, and small pain au chocolat :). After checking out of the hotel, we drove a little over an hour to Zweibrücken. There was a huge outlet mall we wanted to look at, and it was basically on the way home. It was beautiful and sunny, but still extremely cold. The mall was outdoors (and crowded!), but we were in and out of the stores often enough that we didn’t get too cold! We shopped for a while before driving about 45 minutes home. Connor finally took a snooze during the last 15 minutes. Now it’s time to do laundry and spend time planning next weekend’s adventure: Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, and Potsdam!

Christmas Adventure, part 4: Cagliari, Palermo, Naples…and home!

Tuesday, December 30
Day 8 – Cagliari, Italy (Sardinia)

I assumed we had information on Cagliari in our Rick Steves book, but we realized last night that we don’t. Oh well, time to fly by the seat of our pants! We took a free shuttle from the boat to the end of the pier, which was right at the base of town. The town basically sprawled across a big hill, so we had nowhere to go from the pier but up! After picking up a map, Charlie started navigating us uphill. We found a tower and walked up the 120 steps to enjoy beautiful views of the bay. We walked even higher uphill and saw the gorgeous Cathedral. Connor fell asleep before noon, and we walked to the Bastione di Saint Remy. It was an impressive arch with more wonderful views. Next we walked down a tourist-filled street lined with shops, then to a cemetery. Connor woke up on the way. After finding the cemetery and just beginning to walk through, a groundskeeper told us that it was closing at 1:00, which was in about 5 minutes. Luckily, Charlie understood enough of his Italian to figure out what he was saying, and we left before getting locked in!

Amazing views in Cagliari
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Bastione di Saint Remy
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We walked back along the shore to catch the bus to our boat. It was SO WINDY as we got on the boat and I literally almost fell over twice. After lunch, Connor and I went to the play room while Charlie went to our room to rest his back. (He tweaked it somehow and was in a lot of pain today.) Connor had a great time playing with Friedrich, his new German friend of the same age. We went back to our room to see daddy, then came to the play room again for the evening activity. Hooray, we got to play on the jungle gym in the big room again! Charlie joined us there, and afterwards we went to the art gallery and decided to buy a painting. We had each noticed and decided we liked the painting while we were alone, so when we realized the other one liked it, we decided to make the purchase. After dinner and bedtime for Connor, I went to the theater to see the show. It was aerial acrobatics tonight and it was amazing! The wind was picking up all evening and the boat was really swaying, but the performers never stumbled.

Wednesday, December 31
Day 9 – at sea

Connor had mercy on us and “slept in” until 7:00am. Charlie’s back was really bothering him and he was having trouble moving around normally. We had a relaxed morning and a late breakfast, and then I went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the boat while Charlie and Connor played. I loved the tour! We saw the galley, trash and recycling areas, laundry area, backstage of the theater, and the bridge. Afterwards I came back to the room and took nap with Connor while Charlie went to an appointment at the spa for acupuncture and a massage. It helped a lot with the pain, but he thinks a chiropractor is what he really needs. Just by looking at him I could see how misaligned his body is!

Look how enormous the washing machines are!
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We all went to a late lunch, then Charlie played bingo while Connor and I went to the play room. We played with Connor’s new German buddies, then others arrived for the evening activity. Tonight the teacher put on a puppet show with songs and animal puppets, and Connor loved it! Charlie met us there, but said he needed to go to the doctor. Connor and I stayed and played a little longer while Charlie went to the doctor, then had a quiet dinner. The buffet was pretty empty because all of the sit-down restaurants were having New Year’s Eve specials. We had planned to go to one of them, but between Charlie’s back pain and deciding to visit the doctor, we just went to the buffet instead. Charlie met us there as we were finishing, so we stayed while he ate. The doctor gave him a shot to help with the pain. It was a low-key New Year’s Eve for us, and no one bothered to stay up until midnight!

Thursday, January 1
Day 10 – Palermo, Italy (Sicily)

Happy New Year! We were supposed to arrive in Palermo, but the port was closed in the morning due to bad weather and strong winds. We had breakfast, then Connor and I went to the play room while Charlie laid down to rest his back. He felt much better, but still had some pain. Later in the morning, the Captain said we could head to port. By noon we were ready to head out. Palermo was not a beautiful town! It was filled with rundown buildings. Once again we had no specific plans ahead of time and just used the map to find whatever sounded interesting. We wandered off to find a few churches, but they were either rundown or just not open. Connor fell asleep, and we finally came across a touristy area, and it was fairly busy with people considering most places were closed for the holiday. We found the Cathedral and were excited to finally have something impressive to look at, but unforunately it was closed and we couldn’t go in. After walking just a bit further, we went back to the boat, and Connor woke up along the way.

We finally found some decent sights in Palermo…
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Teatro Massimo
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Cathedral
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Vacation is hard work!
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After a late lunch, Connor and I went to the play room while Charlie rested his back.  We had fun at Connor’s evening activity, which was exploring textures with cornstarch and water.  Connor loved it and he was a mess!  He and I played a little longer before meeting Charlie in our room to get ready for dinner. We had reservations at one of the specialty restaurants, Teppanyaki. Connor was enthralled by the chef, as we had hoped he would be! He had fun using his chopsticks as drum sticks and building alphabet letters. Actually, I think he successfully ate with them, too! He loved the food, and so did Charlie and I, of course. After he went to bed, I went to the theater to catch the end of tonight’s illusion show.

Friday, January 2
Day 11 – Naples

We were up and ready in time to meet at 8:15 for our shore excursion to Pompei. It was a 25-minute bus ride to Pompei, complete with views of Vesuvius along the way, and then we had two hours on our own to tour the ruins. We ran into Friedrich’s family in the ticket line (one of the families we always see in the play room), and the two boys had fun running around before we entered. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and not too chilly. We enjoyed taking our time to explore the ruins of Pompei. It was hard to imagine an entire city being covered with volcanic ash.

Pompei
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After our bus ride back to the port, we walked around Naples on our own. We were all starving, so Charlie checked the Rick Steves book and found a recommended pizza place. Once we finally got there, we realized that we weren’t the only ones who wanted to have some authentic Italian pizza today. There was a crowd outside the door waiting to get in! There was another restaurant across the street that Rick Steves recommended, but it also had a crowd! Poor Connor had been nodding off for a nap as we walked, but we kept him awake since we knew we were about to stop. We walked a bit further and found a restaurant. Our two pizzas and my huge salad were fresh and delicious!

Walking through Naples
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Next we headed towards the Cathedral. Somehow we ended up walking through narrow streets lined with tall buildings on both sides, and it didn’t seem like a nice part of town, but the area was bustling with people and tourists. We finally found the Cathedral, which was (of course), closed for another 25 minutes. We tried to walk to a nearby church in the meantime, but (you guessed it), we had trouble finding it. Connor was exhausted and having a tough time, and who could blame him? We should have just let him fall asleep earlier when he wanted to!  Finally we found the church, but it had a line around the corner! Connor fell asleep, but only for a short nap. Deciding not to go back to see the Cathedral, we walked down a shopping street heading towards the port and stopped to look in the Disney Store.

Cathedral
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Castel Nuovo (we didn’t go in)
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Once we got back to the port, we stopped inside the terminal so that Charlie could use wifi for the first time. In our room, we got a lot of our things packed up since we have to leave our suitcases outside our room to be picked up tonight. I can’t believe it’s the last night of our cruise! We went to the play room and played on the jungle gym in the big room. Connor was exhausted and a bit of a mess tonight. On our way into the buffet for dinner, he spotted a special offering of strawberry ice cream. His mind was too focused on the ice cream to eat any dinner, and he finally got to have some after Charlie and I finished our dinner. After going back to our room and giving Connor a shower, he was even more of a cranky mess than he was earlier…and then he threw up. We were hoping that it wasn’t a stomach bug and maybe it was just a perfect storm of ice cream, no dinner, and getting himself all worked up. He perked back up after a bit and fell asleep pretty easily.

Sunset view of Capri from the ship
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Saturday, January 3
Day 12 – Civitavecchia and traveling home

Unfortunately, Connor got sick once more during the night. While I was cleaning up, he fell back to sleep with the lights on, so I guess he was pretty exhausted. He was up around 6:30am, and then actually fell asleep before 8:00am for a short nap. Meanwhile, Charlie brought a small breakfast to the room for us while Connor slept. We had to wake him and get him dressed, and then we were off the boat before 9:30. I didn’t realize ahead of time that we would be off the boat that early, so I had arranged for our driver to pick us up at noon. We picked up our bags and then went over to the check-in area to wait. I called the transfer company, and the driver was able to arrive by 11:00. Connor was happy and playing, then suddenly threw up again. The poor people waiting to get on the ship for the next cruise must have been thrilled to witness that and wonder how many germs were on the boat! I got Connor cleaned up, then we went outside and our van was there shortly. It was the same driver that had driven us to Civitavecchia to start our cruise! I think he was excited to see Connor.

Connor fell asleep on the way to Rome and woke up when we got to the airport. Another mistake I made was booking the cheapest flight of the day, which wasn’t until 6:45pm, so we had 4 hours to kill before we could even check-in and drop off our bags! We went upstairs and found an area to sit. Connor and I kept busy alternating between walking around and sitting down to snuggle. After a while, he got sick on the floor. (Let’s see…boat, cruise terminal, airport…we were praying it wouldn’t happen on the plane!) Finally it was time to check-in and drop off our bags, but we still had 3 more hours until our flight! Connor napped again, and meanwhile Charlie ran into the family from Spain that we spent a lot of time with in the play room. Well, what do you know…their 2-year-old had been sick since last night, too.

Our journey home was long. After a short delay, we took off and were almost ready to land in Frankfurt when we found out the runways were closed due to snow. The pilot circled for a few minutes in case they re-opened them, then he decided to divert to Stuttgart. The plane parked at a gate for about an hour and a half, and then we were able to take off again for Frankfurt. We were so grateful that not only had Connor NOT gotten sick on the airplane, but he was asleep for most of the time we were sitting on the ground in Stuttgart. It was difficult to hear him so upset as we tried to get him back into his seat and buckled to takeoff again, but he was able to settle back to sleep soon.

Finally we made it to Frankfurt, picked up our bags, changed Connor into his pajamas, and were in the car heading home by 1:00am. By that time, you could barely tell there had been any snow! We got home shortly after 2:00am and carried Connor up to bed without waking him. I thought we were in the clear, but he woke up at 6:15am throwing up, and Charlie decided we should head to the doctor just to be safe…plus, he wanted to be seen for his back. After several hours waiting around at the ER with nothing that could really be done for either of them (well no diagnosis, but a pain shot, muscle relaxers, and a chiropractic referral for Charlie), we were back home and ready to recover from our trip. Connor was pretty much back to his normal self later that day and was able to eat some dinner.

All in all, we absolutely LOVED our cruise and we would go on another one in a heartbeat. Weeks later, all three of us still talk about the people we met, the cities we visited, and the memories we made on the boat. Here is a photo that was taken just before we boarded the ship for the first time.  We laughed when we saw it and just had to buy the photo because Connor’s face said it all!  He had a great time, I promise :).

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It took us a few weeks to recover from all of our excitement, and we didn’t travel anywhere during the 4-day weekend in January.  (However, we used the 4-day weekend to help Connor learn how to use the potty, and he hasn’t needed a diaper since then!)  Now we are busy planning our adventures for our remaining months here!

Christmas Adventure, part 3: Barcelona & Valencia

Saturday, December 27
Day 5 – Barcelona, Spain

We had a more relaxed morning than usual since we didn’t have to meet a group for an organized shore excursion.  Once we got off the ship and walked through the large cruise terminal, we caught a taxi and rode just a few minutes into city. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the monument of Christopher Columbus, then we walked up Las Ramblas, which is a 1.2km-long street lined with cafés, outdoor markets, and street performers.  It was a quiet street at this time of day.  We stumbled upon Starbucks and went in for our souvenir mug.  At the end of Las Ramblas we found ourselves at Plaça de la Catalunya, which was filled with fountains.  We saw an Apple Store, and I managed to pickup a wifi signal and send a quick email to immediate family letting them know we were all still alive!  (We hadn’t connected to the internet for several days, and what do you know, the world was still turning :).)

Christopher Columbus Monument
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Next we walked towards the Cathedral.  It felt much colder than we had anticipated, and we stopped at a department store to buy a hat and longer socks for Connor.  Just outside the Cathedral there was a flea market; Charlie was in heaven looking at the old coins, and found two quarters to buy.  Meanwhile, Connor and I were busy watching a cimbalo duo performing outside the Cathedral.  It was the same instrument we had seen on the streets of Rome, and this time there was a CD display in front of the performers, so we finally learned the name of the instrument!  The Cathedral was impressive from the outside, and the inside was incredible.  I can’t put my finger on it, but there was something about this Cathedral that made it even more beautiful than most of the churches we have seen in Europe recently.  Connor has been inside so many churches and cathedrals throughout our travels that he asks to kneel and pray when we go in. We always pray for family and friends near and far!  Charlie took an elevator to the top while Connor and I sat in a pew and enjoyed our surroundings.  Charlie said the view wasn’t that impressive.

Cathedral
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After going outside and watching the cimbalo for a few more minutes, we walked to a metro station and took the train to Sagrada Familia.  Connor fell asleep in the train on Charlie’s back!  It was like vacation for me!  Sagrada Familia was unlike any church we had ever seen.  The architecture, designed by Gaudí, was incredibly ornate.  Construction began in 1882, but it is still incomplete.  The church is supposed to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of his death. We should have bought tickets ahead of time.  The line was too long, so we decided that looking at the outside was enough for us.  With the little man still snoozing, we walked to the Arc de Triomf, wihch was built as the main access gate for the 1888 World’s Fair.  There was a beautiful pedestrian area surrounding the arch, and Connor was awake to watch a few trick rollerbladers practicing.

Sagrada Familia
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Arc de Triomf
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We walked through a nice park and eventually made our way back to Las Ramblas.  The area was now crowded with street performers and tourists.  Being a street performer is a lucrative business in Barcelona!  You must audition and register with the city, and only 15 are allowed on a certain stretch of Las Ramblas at one time.  We dropped coins into a few of their cups so that we could see their “show.”  Next we went inside the Christopher Columbus monument.  We tried to take the elevator to the top of the monument, but the employee told us it was too narrow to bring Connor. There was another flea market along the shore, and we enjoyed watching all the people bustling around this busy port area.

He’s a street performer, not a statue!
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After taking a shuttle bus back to the boat and finding a late-afternoon snack on the boat, Connor was ready to have some playtime!  He was excited to see his friends in the play area, and enjoyed the evening activity for kids.  We had dinner at one of the sit-down restaurants and everyone enjoyed the meal.

Sunday, December 28
Day 6 – Valencia, Spain

Connor was coming down with a stuffy nose and cough overnight. He finally decided to sleep in this morning, of course, on a morning when we need to get up and go!  We had to wake the poor guy and he was basically a mess until naptime. We took one of the cruise line’s excursions today. After a 45-minute bus tour of Valencia, we went to the Oceanogràfic, the largest aquarium in Europe. We planned this excursion because we thought Connor would really enjoy it.  I think he liked it, but it would have been much more pleasant for everyone if he had been more rested! The dolphin show was amazing, with 7 dolphins performing tricks in a large stadium.  (We also enjoyed the pre-show entertainment, during which the announcer chellenged two audience members to a dance-off!)

Oceanogràfic
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After the dolphin show, it was time to meet our group at the bus.  We decided to take a taxi and stay in Valencia instead of taking the bus back to the boat.  Charlie and I each took Spanish classes for several years, but when we hopped into the taxi and tried to talk to the driver, we couldn’t believe how we both stumbled and froze.  My brain couldn’t come up with anything but German!  My mother would be ashamed!  Fortunately, we eventually communicated to the driver where we wanted to go, and she dropped us off at the Cathedral in Plaza de la Reina.  It was beautiful!  There was a Mass going on, but we were able to enter and take a look. Connor wanted to stop and pray again :).  The tower was about to close, so we weren’t able to climb to the top.  We enjoyed a trio of two violins and a string bass performing outside the Cathedral, then continued walking until we found…you guessed it…Starbucks.  We were the only customers there, which was bizarre.  After buying our souvenir mug, we continued wandering around (with Connor napping) and found two more churches.  Mass was just letting out as we arrived at each of them, so it was too busy and crowded to go in.

Cathedral
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We love to notice the mailboxes in each country we visit!
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Looking towards the Church of Santa Catalina
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Walking around Valencia…
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We found the shuttle bus to head back to the boat and Connor woke up along the way.  After a late lunch and time in the play room, Charlie went to play bingo while Connor and I played in our room.  Later, we headed back to the play room for the evening activity where we got to make a mess with paints again! Meanwhile, the boat set sail for the evening.  As the Captain was making his usual evening updates and announcements, he warned us of rough seas, and advised “anyone who usually takes medicine for motion sickness to go ahead and take it!”  Yikes!  I went to a short class at the gym while the boys stayed in the play room a little longer.  We met for dinner, then relaxed and went to bed.  The boat was swaying a lot that night, but so far so good.

Monday, December 29
Day 7 – at sea

Today is our second full day at sea. Connor woke up before 5:30am and was so stuffy he couldn’t nurse, which made him pretty upset. He tried for a while, then I decided to put him in a hot shower with some toys and he felt much better after that. The boat was still swaying a lot, but luckily none of us felt nauseous yet! We went to breakfast, played in our room, and then Charlie went to the gym for a TRX class.  He came back soon because everyone had cancelled due to the sway of the boat!  The next order of business was a glorious nap for all three of us.

The Captain said the water should calm down around mid-afternon, but it actually felt worse. Charlie went to an art auction and didn’t see anything he couldn’t live without. Connor and I went to lunch by ourselves, where he ate two bites and proclaimed that he was all done.  Luckily for me, he was happy to play with some of his toys while I finished. We met Charlie at the theater for the staff talent show. We sat in the front row and Connor was entertained by a guitar, singers, a flute from the Philippines, and dancing. After the show we went to lunch so that Charlie and Connor could eat, then we all went to the play room. We had lots of fun with our usual crowd, and the big room with the jungle gym was open for us today!  Our lunch was so late that we weren’t ready for dinner anytime soon.  We went back to our room and Connor had a little snack before bedtime, then I went and had some dinner by myself while the boys slept.

Our play room friends…4 countries are represented!
From L to R:  USA, Spain, England, Germany
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Christmas Adventure, part 2 (Florence, Sanary, & Le Castellet)

Wednesday, December 24
Day 2 – Livorno, Italy

We arrived at the port of Livorno, but our adventure for the day was in Florence. After getting ready and grabbing a quick breakfast, we went to the meeting point for our shore excursion. We had chosen the option that included motorcoach transportation to and from Florence, but we were otherwise on our own to explore. The bus ride was about an hour and a half from where we were docked in Livorno, and there was a tour guide talking to us along the way. She was informative and certainly had a sense of humor. Connor and I went to Florence in October (see this post), but it was fun to come back and show Charlie!

Once we arrived, our first destination was the stunning Basilica of Santa Croce. Inside, we found the tombs of Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini. Next we walked to see the Duomo, and our exhausted little man fell asleep on the way. True to form, we hiked up 414 stairs to the top of the bell tower. (Well, I had to stop before the last section because it was too narrow to continue with Connor sleeping on me, but Charlie made it all the way!) After climbing down, we walked inside the Duomo. I hadn’t seen the inside last time I was there, so I was glad to have the opportunity. It was fairly plain on the inside, but the size was impressive. Being the gluttons for punishment that we are, next we hiked up 463 steps to the top of the dome. Along the way, we had an up-close view of the artwork on the ceiling. Connor woke up and cheered us on as we continued our climb. The end of the climb was extremely steep! Thank goodness there was a separate staircase to walk down so that we didn’t have to squeeze past other people. The view from the top was incredible, of course. The bell tower that we had climbed earlier was easily visible, and when we pointed it out to Connor and told him we climbed it while he was sleeping, he said we better go climb it again! Sorry, buddy.

Santa Croce
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View of the Duomo from the bell tower
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Ceiling inside the Duomo
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View from the top of the Duomo (you can see the bell tower that we climbed earlier)
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With our legs feeling a bit like Jell-o, we managed to walk to the Ponte Vecchio, stopping along the way to see the town hall and surrounding statues, including a copy of Michelangelo’s David. We walked past all of the fancy jewelry shops along the bridge, then stopped at a café for pizza. It was the same café Connor and I had gone to with Tammy, and he got a big kick out of that. We all enjoyed the pizza, and after climbing 877 stairs earlier (oh wait – double that to include the way down!), we definitely had room for gelato. My cone was filled with Ferrero Rocher, tiramisu, and baccio, and I was in complete heaven.

Ponte Vecchio
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Connor wanted to re-enact his pizza photo from our trip to Florence with Tammy in October!
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We walked back to the square to meet our group and had time for Charlie to look at some Roman coins inside a gold shop. Connor had fun playing in the square and met a 3-year-old girl from Hong Kong. She held his hand while we walked back to the bus :). Our bus driver took us out of Florence through the “Beverly Hills” area, beginning with an incredible overlook of the city from the other side of the river. According to the tour guide, we also passed a house where Tchaikovsky lived for a year. It was a quiet bus ride back. Charlie napped, and Connor was kind enough to wake me anytime I started to nod-off! It was after 5:00 by the time we returned to the boat. We relaxed in our room for a bit, then went to check out the kids play area, which turned out to be a great place for Connor to let loose each day. It was only for kids under 3, so it was never too crowded. After playtime and dinner, it was time for bed! Will Santa Claus find us on the boat?

Thursday, December 25
Day 2 – at sea

Merry Christmas! We were at sea all day, but traveling slowly and in sight of the coastline. Connor had already opened several gifts at home before we left for our trip, but we brought a small Lightning McQueen blanket and Mater pillow to leave on his bed this morning. He loved them! I went to the fitness center for a boot camp class, but no one else showed up and the instructor would only hold the class with at least 3 people. There was a cycling class later that afternoon, so I decided to come back for that instead of exercising now. We all went to breakfast, then to the atrium of the boat to see Santa! While waiting in a short line, an “elf” made a balloon puppy for Connor. When it was our turn, Connor actually sat with Santa and looked pretty happy! Every child under age 12 received a wrapped gift from Santa, which I thought was really neat. Connor opened his and was excited to see a pair of sunglasses and a Norwegian Cruise Line luggage tag. We ran into the family from Hong Kong that we had met yesterday, and Connor was tickled to see that their little girl had received the same gifts.

Charlie went to a TRX class at the gym while Connor and I went to the play room. Many of the toys were different today, which was a pleasant surprise. We met a nice German family with two kids: Friedrich was almost exactly the same age as Connor, and his sister Margareta was under a year old. I practiced my German as much as I could, but the parents could speak plenty of English. After a nap and lunch, we went to the atrium for a holiday concert. Connor enjoyed watching the drum set and guitars while Charlie and I cringed over the male falsetto singer. Thankfully, the female singer more than made up for it when she sang “O Holy Night.” The boys had some time together while I went to cycling class, and afterwards we all went to the play room for the evening activity. Connor had fun playing instruments and dancing, followed by playing on the jungle gym. We were already seeing him blossom into a little social butterfly! He was saying, “I’m Connor” when asked his name, “thank you,” “see you tomorrow,” etc.

We had dinner at one of the sit-down restaurants. Connor plowed through his 3 courses and loved his gnocchi main course. Charlie and I were excited about the Beef Wellington but it was slightly disappointing. Connor and I got ready for bed while Charlie went to play Deal or No Deal. Too bad he didn’t win!

Friday, December 26
Day 3 – Toulon, France

Cruise lines make their money in many different ways, and one of those is laundry!  Whose idea was it to only pack enough clothes for half the trip??  Oh wait, that was me. Time to stuff as much as possible into the 27.99€ laundry bag. After filling the bag and going to breakfast, it was time to meet our group for our shore excursion. Our bus drove us along the Bay of Toulon, where we were docked, to the town of Sanary. The tour guide pointed out French warships in the bay and gave us lots of information during the half-hour drive.

Sanary was a small and quiet town.  Once we arrived, our guide walked us through a daily market with tent after tent filled with fresh produce, spices, meats, cheese, and more.  Next we walked into a church and an Australian lady from our group surprised us with a stunning a cappella performance of “Ave Maria.” After admiring an elaborate nativity scene, we went outside and wandered a bit on our own. Connor rode on a carousel and played on a playground, so it was a great day already!

Sanary
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After an hour in Sanary, we hopped back on the bus and rode twenty minutes further to the hilltop town of Le Castellet. What amazing views!  We walked uphill through winding streets lined with shops and cafés, but many of the shops were closed since it was the day after Christmas.  It was a thirty-minute ride back to the boat, and Connor fell asleep in his own seat on the bus (which is no small feat for him).  He stayed asleep while I carried him through a souvenir tent, through the security check to get back on the boat, and all the way up to our room.  I plopped him on the bed and he slept for 3 hours total!  Charlie and I took advantage of the opportunity for a nap as well.  I woke up before both of the boys and enjoyed the beautiful weather on our balcony.

View from Le Castellet (you can see the Mediterranean Sea below the horizon
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Le Castellet
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We had a better view of the French warships in the Bay of Toulon on our way backIMG_3300

Once the sleepy-heads finally woke up, we were all starving.  We got a late lunch, then went to the library.  Yes, there was even a library on the ship!  Connor was excited to find “If You Give a Cat a Cupcake.”  After reading in the library, we checked out a few books and took a break to look out the window as the ship set sail for the evening.  We went to the evening activity in the play room and Connor loved getting messy with all of the paints.  The kids spent some time playing afterwards while the parents enjoyed talking together.  We had a fun group that was always there each evening:  two German families, a Spanish family from the Canary Islands, a family from London, and us.  After playtime and dinner, it was a late bedtime for Connor as a result of his marathon nap.  It was really windy and the boat was swaying a lot tonight!

Charlie caught some beautiful sunset shots
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Christmas Adventure, Part 1: Rome & Cruise Day 1

Knowing that we are moving back to the states this summer, a fire has definitely been lit under us to squeeze in as much traveling as possible.  I had been dying to go on a Mediterranean cruise, and Charlie agreed that it would be a perfect way to see many places in one trip.  We decided to spend two days in Rome before beginning our 11-day cruise.  The vacation was everything we had hoped it would be…and more!

Sunday, December 21 – Rome
The alarm went off at 2:00am to start our journey. Connor woke up excited and talking nonstop. Our flight left Frankfurt at 7:10 and arrived in Rome at 9:00.  On the plane, Connor enjoyed watching Cars with his new headphones and Daddy’s iPad, snacking on the chocolate croissant brought by the stewardess, and finally catching a snooze. A driver was waiting for us after we picked up our bags, and we rode about 25 minutes to our hotel. Luckily a room was ready this early in the day, so we got our things settled before heading out. We walked to a nearby metro station and had a pretty long ride to the Colosseum. It was a gorgeous day, with sunny skies and temperatures that felt like the low 60s.  The line was ridiculously long, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I had purchased tickets online ahead of time. There was no way we would have been able to wait in that line!  We walked right in with our tickets and made our way through the sea of people to explore the Colosseum. It was a slow process, since Connor wanted to stop and climb on every single rock we passed :). Eventually we had seen our fill, and walked across the way to Palatine Hill. It was a nice area for Connor to have more freedom to walk and run.  We walked around the ruins of old palaces, and Connor had fun climbing on all the rocks and acting like our tour guide.  Next we wandered over to the Forum, which was crowded.  Once again our little man was busily climbing on rocks, and anytime we would show or tell him something, he would stop and recount the information as our “tour guide.”

Colosseum
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Exploring the Colosseum
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After a little walk, we saw the monument for Vittorio Emanuele II, my favorite building we had seen so far.  Connor enjoyed some street performers along the way, especially a man playing the cimbalom.  (We didn't know the name of it at the time, but it looked like a giant hammered dulcimer.)  As our walk continued, we went into a church, then saw the outside of the Pantheon, which brought us to an extremely congested touristy area.  We managed to make our way to the Trevi Fountain, which of course was drained and surrounded by scaffolding.  Charlie found a metro stop nearby, and the trains had people packed in like sardines.  Charlie thought he felt someone trying to pickpocket him, but thankfully it was unsuccessful.  Connor had been so sleepy without a nap, and I had been carrying him in my arms so that he wouldn't fall asleep in the carrier.  It was tough keeping him awake on the last stretch from the metro stop back to our hotel!  We went straight into the hotel restaurant for dinner, where we met a young man and his grandmother who would also be on the same cruise as us.  We all crashed early for bed!

Monument for Vittorio Emanuele II
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Pantheon
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Monday, December 22 – Rome
After a rare morning of being in bed until almost 8:30am, I looked at my email again and realized we had to be at the Vatican Museum by 10:00am.  I had purchased tickets before our trip, and was notified by email that it was closing early because there was a Papal Audience being held that afternoon.  We rushed to get out the door and decided a taxi would be the quickest way to get there.  Our taxi driver dropped us off at St. Peter’s Square, and after a fast 10-minute walk, we arrived at the Vatican Museum.  The good news was that we arrived in time to enter, but the bad news was that we only had one hour to stay inside.  Without any breakfast in any of our bellies, we managed to rush through the museum so that we could see the Sistine Chapel before everyone had to leave.  Connor was content listening to music with his headphones while riding on my back as we walked through countless rooms on our way to the chapel.  People were shoulder-to-shoulder inside the Sistine Chapel, but it was worth the effort to see.  I just wish I had an hour to lay on my back and enjoy the ceiling!  There were many more rooms to walk through before exiting the museum.

Heading to the Vatican!
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Beautiful ceilings inside the Vatican…as we followed the sea of people towards the Sistine Chapel!  (No photos were allowed inside the Chapel.)
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We walked back towards St. Peter’s Square and found a cafe for an early lunch.  Nothing special to write about, but it gave us energy to continue our day!  The line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica was just as ridiculous as the Colosseum, so instead we admired the Nativity scene in the center of the Square, then hoisted Connor onto my back to start a long walk.  The plan was to walk to a metro station, but by the time we realized we weren’t going the right direction, we were halfway towards where we were headed anyway!  Connor fell asleep on the way and missed the Spanish Steps, as well as the street lined with fancy shops leading up the steps.  The steps were crowded, of course.  We walked up and enjoyed the view from the top.  As we continued wandering, the view just kept getting better.  Connor woke up and we relaxed while he had a snack and ran around, then we stumbled upon part of the Villa Borghese Gardens, overlooking the Piazza del Popolo.  The excitement for Connor after walking down the hill to the Piazza was watching the jackhammer and climbing on the lion statues on the fountain.  After admiring some more buildings, we got some gelato to share (Connor requested strawberry and loved it) and continued walking back towards the Vatican.  We stopped in a souvenir shop, took some more pictures of St. Peter’s Basilica, then decided to attempt the long walk back to our hotel. The map wasn’t so easy to read and it was already getting dark, so when we found ourselves on the wrong street and stumbled upon a train station, we decided to take advantage of the taxi stand and hop into one.  We had dinner at the hotel again, then relaxed in our room for a little while before going to sleep.

St. Peter’s Basilica
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Spanish Steps, and the view from the top of the stepsIMG_2879IMG_2881

Enjoying the beautiful views
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Mraz Family, look what we found!
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Piazza del Popolo (Connor’s jackhammer in the foreground!)
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Tuesday, December 23 – Rome & Cruise Day 1 (Civitavecchia, Italy)
It was an early morning for the little man, which meant an early morning for everyone.  We got ready and hopped in a taxi to head to St. Peter’s Square.  From there we took a short walk to Castel Sant’Angelo, which we had passed the day before.  It was initially a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family, then was used by the popes as a fortress and castle. We walked up and around the cylindrical building until we reached the terrace.  The views were worth the trip!

Castel Sant’Angelo
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Amazing morning views from the terrace of Castel Sant’Angelo
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After walking back down and finding some sandwiches, we took a taxi back to our hotel.  We checked out and the driver for the shuttle we had arranged was already waiting for us.  We rode about an hour to the port in Civitivecchia.  The town was so congested with traffic!  The van dropped us off right in front of the cruise terminal.  We dropped off our suitcases, then walked to the next area to check-in.

Before we knew it, we were on our cruise ship, the Norwegian Jade!  We found our room on Deck 10 and met our room steward, Michael, who was so friendly and helpful.  Everyone was hungry, so we found one of the restaurants for a late lunch.  Oh, the simple pleasures in life:  glasses of ice water automatically brought to your table, and refilled constantly!!  (For those of you who have not visited Europe, that does NOT happen over here.  You normally have to pay for bottled water instead.)  After lunch we wandered a bit to explore the ship.  We saw the art gallery, then went up to Deck 12 to find the fitness center.  We got distracted on the way when we stumbled upon the kids play area.  There was an indoor jungle-gym that was blocked off, and Connor was so upset that he couldn’t go on it.  The fact that he didn’t have a nap today certainly didn’t make it any easier for him to accept the situation.  (Luckily, he would have the opportunity to play there another day.)  We found our way back to our room, unpacked everything, and were pleasantly surprised with the effiency of the room.  Of course the room was small, but there was plently of drawer and shelf space to unpack everything, and racks under the bed to store our suitcases.  The shower stall was actually bigger than ours at home!  Connor had his own pull-out bed right next to our king bed, and we had a patio door opening up to a balcony.

After we unpacked, there was mandatory safety drill.  We had to listen to instructions over the intercom, then meet at an assigned location and watch a life jacket demonstration.  Once that was finished, Charlie went to an info session about shore excursions while Connor and I played in the room.  We met Charlie at the gift shop a little later to look around, then went to dinner at the buffet as the ship set sail.  There was plenty of food to choose from, and needless to say, no one ever left hungry.  We went back to room and I got Connor ready for an early bedtime since he hadn’t had a nap.  Charlie was about to go to the gym while I laid with Connor, but he had a huge meltdown because he wanted to go exercise with Daddy.  Charlie snuggled up with us and Connor settled into sleep, then he was able to sneak off to the gym.  We all had a good first sleep on the boat, and didn’t feel any movement except some slight jostling as we docked at the port early the next morning.

Stay tuned for more about our cruise!

Freiburg, Lucerne, & Basel (November 27-30, 2014)

It’s Thanksgiving Day! Connor celebrated by falling back to sleep until 9:00am (a major anomaly) after initially trying to get up at 4:30am. We made it out of the house a little after 11:00, and arrived in Freiburg, Germany about two and a half hours later. Connor is becoming quite the little road tripper and doesn’t mind riding in the car. After checking into the hotel, we ventured out with our map to explore the Altstadt (Old Town). First stop was a bakery for a snack to tide us over until dinner (pretzel sandwich for Charlie and a slice of quiche for Connor and me). We then had enough energy see the Freiburger Münster (cathedral) and climb the 265 stairs to the top of the tower. After enjoying the view, we also climbed over to see the bell tower before walking all the way back down.

Freiburger Münster
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View from the top of the Münster
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Charlie navigated us through picturesque streets already decorated for Christmas, past one of the old city gates, down a crowded street full of shops, and eventually to the Rathaus (Town Hall). Outside the Rathaus was the Freiburger Weihnachtsmarkt. Like most Americans we know, we love to attend these spirited Christmas markets in any town we visit during the holiday season! The first order of business was to buy a mug of warm Glühwein so that we could add another souvenir mug to our collection. We meandered the rows of market stalls, then stopped for Connor to enjoy a turn on one of the rides. As we were getting ready to head back to our hotel, we noticed another Glühwein stall offering a different mug (with nutcrackers, Charlie’s favorite!) so naturally we had to add that one to our collection, too!

Beautiful streets
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Freiburger Weihnachtsmarkt
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Connor was happy to hang out on my back while we walked to the hotel. He suddenly came down with some congestion and a slight cough last night, plus he didn’t nap since he slept so late this morning, so he was pretty content to just be carried around. We had dinner in the hotel’s restaurant and certainly had no complaints! I had a perch filet served with crispy potato pancakes and creamed spinach, and Charlie had pork medallions with cream sauce and Schupfnudeln (a potato-noodle). Connor ate lots of Käsespätzle (which he so kindly shared with an eager mommy and daddy), as well as plenty of my fish. It was my first Thanksgiving with no traditional dinner, but I feel so blessed to be exploring Europe with my two favorite boys!

Friday
After a few sneezes and nose-blows first thing in the morning, Connor’s congestion was miraculously gone as quickly as it had started! We walked back to the Münster to peruse the daily market in the surrounding plaza and thought it would be a good place to find some breakfast. It was cold and so foggy, but we enjoyed browsing tent upon tent filled with fresh produce, flowers, advent wreaths, baked goods, wooden toys, etc. For breakfast I chose a slice of leek quiche which Connor shared, and I also got a small array of goat cheese (some with dried tomato, some with fig, and some stuffed in small peppers) and stuffed grape leaves. Charlie had a raisin cinnamon roll. Somehow the fog got even thicker while we were there and it felt even colder, so we walked back to eat in our hotel room. Then it was time to check out and drive less than two hours to Lucerne, Switzerland.

Our hotel room in Lucerne was surprisingly spacious, which is definitely a plus when you’re staying two nights with a toddler. It was still foggy and cold, but we put on our layers and headed out to see the city. We walked across the Spreuerbrücke (bridge) and enjoyed our first “real” views of Lucerne. It’s such a gorgeous city, and I love that the Christmas lights were up already. We walked through a pedestrian shopping area before heading to the Museggmauer (old city wall). The view from the wall was worth the uphill walk, even with the fog!

Lucerne
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It was mid-afternoon and we were starving for a quick snack because we hadn’t eaten lunch. Lucky for us, a bakery accepted Euro and we were able to grab something before finally finding an ATM and withdrawing the local currency. (Connor and I shared our third quiche of the trip. This one was a pumpkin quiche!) We walked to the Kapellbrücke, then admired the view of the lake. I was so disappointed that the fog was covering the view of the Alps. Next we walked inside the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to find the Christkindlimarkt. The main Weihnachtsmarkt wasn’t open yet, and we were disappointed that the Christkindlimarkt didn’t have much to offer. Poor Connor had been excited all day about going on another ride, but there definitely weren’t any rides, nor did they have souvenir mugs. But, our optimism returned as we found a Starbucks just outside the train station and Charlie bought a Lucerne mug.

We walked along the river, stopping to take a quick peek in yet another stunning church. Connor found a stick outside and spent the next twenty minutes pretending to play his “clarinet” and singing. We took some more pictures on a bridge before walking back to the hotel. Our dinner options near the hotel were expensive, and we weren’t up for paying that much money to sit in a restaurant with a toddler who didn’t have a nap and could self-destruct at any moment. We went back to the hotel and ordered pizza, which was sadly just as expensive as the restaurants, but at least Connor was able to have plenty of time to let loose. Charlie loved his calzone, but I was a little disappointed in my “regional specialty” pizza topped with potatoes, steak, bacon, Gruyere, and crème fraîche. I know it sounds good, but for the scant amount of each topping used, the pizza should have been about one-third of the original size. Connor passed out quickly for bed, and hopefully he will catch up on his missed naps overnight!

Enjoying the beautiful view after Connor’s “concert”
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Saturday
No such luck…awake at 6:30! After breakfast at the hotel (which my experienced little traveler always looks forward to since he knows that means orange juice, bread, eggs, and sausage!) we bundled up for the cold, foggy walk to our car. Unfortunately we paid almost as much for that first night in the parking garage as we should have for both days because we didn’t know to get a special 2-day ticket. Oops. We drove a few minutes to the Bahnhof parking garage since it was more centrally located for the places we were walking to today.

First we made a quick stop at the tourist center inside the Bahnhof to buy a museum pass for the day. It was still cold and foggy, but we walked about 20 minutes along the lakeshore until we reached the Richard Wagner Museum. Wagner lived in that house for 6 years. What a beautiful location! There wasn’t much to the museum, but for music nerds like us, it was worth the walk.

Outside the Richard Wagner Museum
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We walked 20 minutes back towards the Bahnhof and found the nearby boat docks. Perfect timing…the boat we wanted was just about to leave! It was a short ride across the lake to the Verkhershaus (Swiss Museum of Transport). It was fun for all of us! A major perk for Charlie and me was seeing the huge tunnel drill and wall of road signs that were part of the clues and detours on The Amazing Race last season (along with the Kapellbrücke that we saw yesterday). The museum had different buildings for trains, cars, and airplanes. We never made it to the boat building because there was plenty to keep us busy. Connor enjoyed the train simulator and the big slide down from an airplane, but the highlight for him was the outdoor play area. It was awesome! There was a cargo-loading zone where he could lift containers of blocks with a crane and load them into train cars. He also had a blast climbing into the diggers and other construction vehicles, as well as shoveling rocks into a wheelbarrow. Everything was kid-sized, but completely realistic. There were lots of kids playing out there on this cold day; I can’t imagine how crowded it would be in the warmer months! Our last stop was a mini-train ride around the outside of the museum.

Boat ride to the Verkhershaus.  See the Alps in the background?  Nope, neither did we.
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Verkhershaus
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We picked up sandwiches in the museum café before walking to our next destination. Connor’s early mornings and missed naps finally caught up to him as he passed out on my back with a piece of sandwich in his hand. It was already 3:00 so I didn’t particularly want him to fall asleep, but obviously he needed it! While he slept, we walked another 20 minutes or so to the Löwendenkmal (lion monument). It reminded me of Stone Mountain with a huge lion carving instead of the Confederate heroes. The entrance to the Gletschergarten (Glacier Garden) was right by the lion monument, so we walked through it while Connor was still snoozing, but it really wasn’t as exciting as it sounds. He woke up as we got to the top of a small tower. The view was pretty good since we were already much higher in elevation in that part of town. I loved seeing the Christmas trees and lights by the lakeshore in the distance!

Löwendenkmal
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On the way out of the Gletschergarten we stopped for Connor to see the lion monument. Right across the street was the Alpineum, so we decided to check it out since it was included on our museum pass. It was a 3D diorama of the Alps and only took a few minutes to walk through. We started our trek back to our car, which Charlie thankfully remembered was at the train station (I was ready to walk all the way back of the hotel!). It was a beautiful walk with all of the Christmas trees and sparkling lights. We drove to the parking garage near our hotel, then walked a few blocks to an Indian restaurant we had spotted that morning. Connor enjoyed another “picnic” dinner on the floor of the hotel room and ate plenty of my lamb curry, vegetables, and rice.

After relaxing and watching the end of “Cars 2,” it was time for bed. Thankfully Connor’s late afternoon nap didn’t affect bedtime too much. He was so easygoing all day today! Not one complaint about anything! We will see what tomorrow has in store :).

Sunday
After breakfast at the hotel and checking out, we hit the road for an hour-long ride north to Basel, Switzerland. It was exactly on the way home, so we figured we might as well see another Christmas market! Once we arrived in Basel, our first stop was the Musik Museum. Three floors were filled with countless instruments that we all enjoyed seeing. Next we walked to the Altstadt area and stumbled upon a Starbucks as we were searching for an ATM. We picked up our Basel souvenir mug from Starbucks, found the ATM, then headed to the Christmas market. It’s advertised as the largest in Switzerland! We strolled up and down the rows, wandered off to see a huge church, then came back so that Connor and I could ride a mini-ferris wheel. After picking up a quick snack, it was time to head to the car and start our 3-hour drive home.

The fog may have kept us from seeing the Alps, but we still had a great time. We can’t wait for our next adventure: a Mediterranean cruise over Christmas and New Year’s Eve!

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