August – September 2018

I’m working backwards to start with the most exciting update…Connor’s First Day of First Grade!!  (September 4, 2018 – Shelton Park Elementary School)

R: Morgan was so excited to finally pickup Connor after school!!

Experiencing a full day of first grade at the “big school” was definitely an adjustment! Connor loved it from the first day, and we are all pleased with his teacher and the school overall. Morgan and I are getting used to our newfound time together, although she still spends a good chunk of it napping. It’s bittersweet for me to lose so much time with Connor, but he is learning and thriving and comes home happy each day.  A big highlight for him was losing his second tooth while at school.  His “new friend” walked him to the clinic and he came home with a plastic tooth necklace containing his tooth.

On Monday of the second week of school, Hurricane Florence was threatening to hit our area hard enough that the schools decided to go ahead and close for the rest of the week. We decided not to take our chances and drove to Michelle’s on Tuesday night. She and her family were so gracious to take us in after we had just been there a week prior! The hurricane took a turn and didn’t bring any damaging wind or rain to our area after all, so we enjoyed our impromptu “vacation” and then drove home on Saturday.

What’s new with Morgan?

-She says EVERYTHING, even full sentences, although most people wouldn’t understand most of what she says!! Her words are not very discernible to the “naked ear,” but through context, signs, and being with her all the time, we are able to understand the majority of what she says.

-Morgan loves to sing, especially Baa Baa Black Sheep, the ABC’s, and Let it Go. (She starts singing the ABC’s anytime she sees letters or words!)

-We call the kids “Pete and Repeat.” I’m sure you can guess who is who!

Moving backwards to August:

Towards the end of summer, we enjoyed a visit from my dad and stepmom, and a family trip to Washington, DC followed by a few days with Aunt Michelle and her family.  In addition, Connor attended two short camps at his previous school, and lost two teeth!

Connor attended Vacation Bible School in July and a “Bug Camp” the week after Gram and Grandpa left. Both camps were at Bayside Presbyterian Church. He had fun, brought home lots of crafts, and enjoyed being with a few friends he knew from Kindergarten. Luckily for me, friends were able to drive him home each day while Morgan was at home napping!

Gram and Grandpa came for a visit in early August! We enjoyed a magic show at the library, celebrating Morgan’s birthday (again!), and Connor loved going to a Home Depot Kids workshop with them. Charlie and I had tickets to see Pentatonix while they were here, so we got to relax and enjoy an evening out while knowing the kids were safe and happy at home with their grandparents.


The middle of August was spent soaking up as much time as possible at the pool and playground. Morgan had a few days of swim class, and although she “swims” like crazy when we go to the pool with Connor, she wasn’t too thrilled about getting in the water during her class! Thankfully the instructors let Connor get in the water as well, so the time and effort to get there were made worth it by him being able to swim!

Connor lost his first tooth on August 21st! The adult tooth was already coming in behind the baby tooth before it was even loose, but the dentist said that’s fairly common.

Family trip to Washington, DC

Charlie took three weeks of leave, and during that time we took a trip to Washington, DC and also stopped at Aunt Michelle’s for a few days. He grew up in Northern Virginia, but I think we decided it had been 14 years since he had been back??


I had a little help packing!

Saturday, 8/25

We drove to DC through LOTS of traffic. Thankfully, the kids did really well in the car. Once we got close, we drove past Charlie’s old houses and elementary school. After a quick Chick-fil-A lunch, we drove the remaining half hour to our hotel in Alexandria. It was a nice 2-room suite, and Connor would have been happy staying there for the next four days!! We headed across the street to the metro station and made our way to Arlington National Cemetery. The weather was beautiful – sunny and in the 80s. We visited the grave of Charlie’s grandmother and grandfather, walked past the Vietnam helicopter pilot memorial, caught part of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and saw the Eternal Flame at the Kennedys’ graves. Morgan was completely happy hanging out in the stroller, and poor Connor was tired of walking! We left the cemetery around 6:00pm and made it back to the hotel. After eating dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, we finally made it through baths and got everyone to sleep by 9:30pm.

Sunday, 8/26

Our two-room suite was a blessing so that Morgan and I could get up and play while the boys slept. Connor slept until 8:15, which is completely unheard of! After breakfast at the hotel (which is always a highlight of any trip for Connor!), we took the metro and then walked to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. It was already hotter than yesterday and everyone was a sweaty mess all day! We managed to see the wall, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial, and Washington Monument without TOO much complaining from Connor. In his defense, it was a LOT of walking! Finally I carried Morgan in the Tula so that Connor could ride in the stroller. We walked across the street to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which neither of us had seen before. While walking back and taking in views of the Jefferson Memorial across the water, Morgan fell a sleep for a sweaty nap.

We walked to the old Post Office Pavilion, which is now a Trump International Hotel. Charlie remembered a food court in the building and we were all hungry for lunch, but we quickly realized once we arrived that the food court no longer exists. We took the elevator to the top of the tower and enjoyed the beautiful views of DC. Our plan was to head to the Zoo next, but we still needed to find lunch. Meanwhile, several city blocks and metro stations near us had been blocked off because of a bomb threat, so we hopped on a bus to anther metro station. After stopping for Jimmy John’s sandwiches, we took the metro to the Zoo. In spite of the heat, we all enjoyed seeing elephants, otters, seals, pandas, and more.

After a long walk back to the metro (improved for Connor by slurping a frozen lemonade on the way) and a long metro ride to the hotel (during which we kept busy with activity books), we all took turns in the shower/bath and then had dinner. Charlie picked up dinner from a restaurant next door, and the kids thought it was pretty awesome to eat in the hotel room while watching Monsters University on TV. It’s the little things in life!

Monday, 8/27

Morgan must have wanted another adventure with me, so after she woke up at her usual 6:00am, we got dressed and went outside while the boys slept. We enjoyed watching buses, trains, people, and playing with empty coffee cups. After the boys woke up and we all had breakfast, we took the metro and then walked to the National Museum of Natural History. Morgan was already asleep in the stroller by the time we arrived! Connor was so excited to see the dinosaur exhibit, then was a little disappointed that there were only two large dinosaur skeletons. Charlie and I were impressed with all the animal exhibits.

After walking to the National Air and Space Museum, we had a quick lunch in the cafe before perusing the museum. Connor enjoyed it, and Morgan found enough to keep her content.

Connor had been asking nonstop about swimming at the hotel, and we finally had the chance. After arriving at our hotel and changing into swimsuits, we all went down to the pool only to hear the lifeguard say she was on lunch break for another fifteen minutes. After a snack in the hotel room, we headed down again to find many other people magically waiting there as well. We finally got to swim, and Connor had a blast, especially since he had Daddy to play with him the whole time! Next came baths, a delicious dinner that Charlie picked up from a nearby Mexican restaurant, and bedtime.


View of the Capitol

Tuesday, 8/28

Connor decided to join the early morning crew, so the three of us played outside the hotel while Charlie slept. After our usual breakfast and metro ride, we made our way to the International Spy Museum. Morgan enjoyed a cool, air-conditioned nap in the Tula while we all made our way through the museum. It was really neat, and Connor especially liked seeing James Bond’s Aston Martin with all of its spy features.

Morgan woke up as we left the museum and walked to the National Museum of American History. The kids enjoyed seeing lots of vehicles, and Morgan was in the mood to run around more than the last few days. Connor wanted to be her tour guide and show her everything. The highlight of the museum for me was seeing the original “Star Spangled Banner” flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write his famous lyrics.

We headed back to the hotel early to relax. I think everyone had finally hit the sightseeing wall!  After relaxing for a while, we took a walk and stopped at a few places, including a restaurant to have calzones for an early dinner.  Then we walked back for our last night at the hotel!

Early morning adventures outside the hotel while Daddy was sleeping

The original Batmobile at the Museum of American History and James Bond’s Aston Martin at the International Spy Museum

Wednesday, 8/29

Finally, everyone slept until 7:00am! After packing, eating breakfast, and checking out of the hotel, we hit the road for Aunt Michelle’s house. We stopped near Dulles Airport to visit the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is part of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Morgan napped while we wandered around and looked at the space shuttle and countless airplanes. It was a great museum! We had a quick lunch before finishing the drive to Michelle’s, which took longer than it should have due to detours and windy back roads. We arrived mid-afternoon and had time to play and relax before dinner, bath, and bed.

Udvar-Hazy Center

We enjoyed the next few days relaxing at Michelle’s house. Connor always loves spending time with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. Unfortunately, his cousin Garrett is away at Virginia Tech, but he had a great time with Eric as usual! Morgan spent most of her time climbing up and down the stairs and trying to get into everything she isn’t supposed to instead of playing with toys. As much as I love spending time with family, it’s always nice to come back home to our babyproofed house!

We went to the Children’s Museum of Richmond while visiting Michelle

L:  Morgan couldn’t get enough of Blaze the cat while at Michelle’s house!                      R:  I tried to teach Morgan how to lay back and relax

On Sunday we drove home and mostly unpacked, then Connor and I went to a birthday party on Labor Day Monday while Charlie stayed home with Morgan. And just like that…it was time for school!

Here are a few extra pictures from these last two months:

On September 21st, we visited the Arc Gloria from Colombia while it was docked in Norfolk


Auf Wiedersehen, liebe Deutschland…

Wow, what an incredible 3 years. I can’t even begin to express how blessed I feel to have spent this time in Germany. We have explored as much of Europe as we could, created relationships with my German relatives, and watched Connor grow up in this amazing country. If it weren’t for family back in the states, I think we would be perfectly happy to stay!

On the other hand, we are ready to live closer to our families in the United States. It’s time for Connor to create experiences and memories with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. For the next 3 years, Charlie will be the clarinet instructor at the Army School of Music in Little Creek, Virginia. We are thrilled about the opportunity, as well as the chance to be stationed with old friends!

Here are some thoughts about leaving Germany and returning to the United States:

I will miss…
-our German relatives
-our landlord, Inge, who was like another Oma to Connor
-our friendly German neighbors
-Connor’s gym and music classes
-traveling all over Europe
-asking Connor where we are going when he pretends to drive me somewhere and hearing answers like, “Luxembourg!”
-going on a typical walk in beautiful Hochspeyer and seeing chickens, horses, goats, deer, trains, and tractors
-fresh bread from the bakery
-family-owned restaurants and delicious food
-seeing people enjoying the outdoors with their families on Sundays and holidays
-my German class, teacher, and classmates
-having such a small trash bin because almost everything is picked up from our house for recycling
-Christmas markets (and Glühwein!)

I can’t wait to…
-live closer to family
-pay for gas at the pump
-have a dishwasher and closets
-plug anything in without worrying about voltage or watts
-use a clothes dryer that doesn’t take 2 hours

And lastly, a few photos as we prepare to leave Germany:

Spending time with Nina on our last visit to Hirrlingen

Our last Musikgarten class with Frau Baum (L to R:  Adam, Connor, David, James, Henry)

Playing in the roll of cardboard while the movers pack!

Uh oh, I hope Connor doesn’t get shipped with the couch!

Last gym class…a welcome break after watching the movers pack all day (Connor and his teacher, Ingrid)

Playing in the empty house before heading to the airport

Passed out for a nap after finding out that our flight was delayed 24 hours…So thankful we still had our house and air mattresses to come home to for the night! (He’s wearing his 1FCK soccer jersey from our landlord)

More adventures in our empty house…He was getting all the “materials” to make “meatloaf batter.”

This was the first day in our house, wearing an outfit our landlord gave as a housewarming gift. Those thighs!!  (August 2012)

We will never forget the memories we have created here. Tschüss!

Vienna & Prague (April 9-12, 2015)

It’s spring break for the schools, so Charlie was able to take time off this week. After being home from the Netherlands for two days, it was time to hop in the car and start our next adventure. We left Thursday around 8:00am and didn’t arrive in Vienna until after 5:00pm.  After checking into our hotel, we walked about ten minutes to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. There was a Mass going on, so we were only able to look from the back, but it was still impressive. We continued our walk and saw the Opera House, which was broadcasting Die Rosenkavalier live out front on a huge screen!  How amazing to just stop (on a beautiful evening, no less) and listen to incredible live music for free?

Watching a few minutes of Die Rosenkavalier outside the Wiener Staatsoper

Starving and tired (especially Connor, who wouldn’t take a nap in the car today), we found a restaurant for dinner. I had an authentic veal Wiener Schnitzel, Charlie had a stuffed pork schnitzel, and Connor continued his new trend of pretty much only eating French fries when we are at a restaurant. (He had to balance out the 3 fruit pouches he had for a snack earlier :).)  Back to the hotel…time for bed! Lots to squeeze in tomorrow!

After an early wakeup from Connor, we were dressed, done with breakfast, and ready to checkout of the hotel by 8:30am.  Our first destination was the cemetery on the outskirts of the city, so we took a tram to get there. The cemetery was huge, but we had a map showing us the area where the famous musicians were buried. We saw graves for Beethoven, Brahms, von Suppe, Schubert, Schoenberg, Johann Strauss, and Ligeti. There was a high school orchestra group that was also walking around the cemetery.  They were from Walton, which is outside of Atlanta and not too far from where I went to high school. Small world!  Connor enjoyed carrying a stick through the cemetery and pretending to dig and do some gardening everywhere he could.

Gravesites of Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert
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We boarded the tram and got off at Heumarkt, where there was a beautiful fountain and Russian WWII memorial. Connor ran around for a bit before we continued to sightsee. We walked to see a Beethoven statue, the Konzerthaus, and the shop at the Opera House. With Connor asleep on my back, we went to the Haus der Musik, an interactive museum with exhibitions on the Wiener Philharmonik, composers, sound production, and more. Connor woke up partway through, and he had fun with some of the interactive displays. Holding a special baton, he conducted a video of the Wiener Philharmonik playing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. The audio and video was controlled by his baton!  The look on his face was priceless. We also spent a while with another interactive exhibit exploring the sounds of various instruments.

Fountain and the Russian WWII Memorial

Beethoven Statue

By now we were all starving and getting cranky. Connor and I stayed to play near another fountain while Charlie went to look at a sheet music store. We found an Italian restaurant and Charlie and Connor each ordered pasta dishes. I only got a small salad, thinking that I would share Connor’s tortellini, but he only left me about two bites. Hungry boy!  We walked a couple blocks to look inside the Austrian Academy of Sciences, but the man said it was closed…even though he let others in right after us. There was a Jesuit church in the same square, so we walked inside and were not disappointed with the ornate interior.

It was almost 3:00, so we decided to head back to the hotel and get our car.  There was certainly much more we could have seen in Vienna, but we had more than a 3-hour drive to Prague ahead of us.

By the time we arrived, parked, checked in, and got settled in our room, we were more than starving for a late dinner. After finding an ATM to get the local currency, we went to an Italian restaurant right next door to our hotel. Charlie and Connor each had a pasta dish, and I had an amazing salad with arugula, beets, roasted potatoes, pumpkin seeds and whipped goat cheese. Connor was a perfect gentleman during dinner, and the poor guy passed out almost immediately once we finally laid down for bed at 10:30pm.

Our day began with breakfast at the hotel and then a short walk to the Old Town Square. It was one of the most amazing town squares we have seen!  We admired the astronomical clock for a few minutes and watched as it chimed the hour, then meandered through the square to admire the other buildings. It was the last weekend for the Easter Market, so the square was filled with stalls selling all kinds of food, crafts, and souvenirs. We walked into the impressive Church of Our Lady before Tyn, then stopped in the square again to enjoy some live music. Next we walked to the top of the clock tower on the Old Town Hall and admired the view.

Astronomical Clock

Old Town Square from the top of the clock tower (Church of Our Lady before Tyn in the center)

The weather was perfect today!  High 60s, a slight breeze, and enough clouds that the sun wasn’t beating down on us all day. It’s amazing how last weekend we were bundled up to sightsee in Holland, and today we broke a sweat with no jackets!  We walked a few minutes to the Jewish Quarter, but the cemetery and all of the synagogues were closed because of a Jewish holiday. From there we crossed the river (admiring the view of the Charles Bridge, which we would cross on our way back) and strolled uphill through the Little Quarter. It was quite a hike!  We stopped to look inside St. Nicholas Church, then continued uphill.

Charles Bridge behind us

Finally we arrived at the Prague Castle, which is an impressive complex of buildings surrounding St. Vitus Cathedral. We toured the inside of the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, and an armor display. Connor finally fell asleep before our last stop, St. Vitus Cathedral. It was massive!  We took our time enjoying the interior, then headed outside to the castle courtyard to find lunch. As we strolled past the stalls of food deciding what to try, we ran into another family from Charlie’s unit!  We chose our lunch and talked to Stu and Ekaterina while we ate. I had a huge fried potato pancake topped with sauerkraut, and Charlie had dumplings with sauerkraut. Connor woke up and ate some of the dumplings but wasn’t into the potato pancake.

St. Vitus Cathedral

Refreshed after eating and taking a break from walking, we started the trek down the hill. We crossed the river on the famous Charles Bridge, which was packed with tourists, musicians, artists, and souvenir carts. Connor was particularly excited about our next destination:  the Lego store we had spotted last night!  Connor had fun looking at all the sets and playing in the giant container of Lego pieces.  Next we went back to our hotel to relax for a bit.  I love seeing all of Connor’s energy and creativity once he finally has the freedom to play on these long sightseeing days!  He always manages to find so much to do in our hotel rooms. We lucked out with another huge room!  Well, Charlie might not exactly agree, since it is a loft room with low and angled ceilings :).

Two of my friends visited Prague recently and they both went to a train restaurant which sounded like lots of fun. I looked it up and was able to make a reservation for tonight.  There are model trains running all around the restaurant!  Every table is next to part of the tracks, and your drinks arrive on the back of a train car! Connor had fun watching the trains, and we all enjoyed our food. Connor ate just about every bite of his soup from the kids menu, which had carrots, pork, and little noodle dumplings.  Charlie and I both ordered the same dish, which was good, but not at all what we were expecting!  The English translation in the menu was something like “fried wheat pancakes with beans, spicy pork, and cheese.” It turned out to be similar to southwest egg rolls, complete with salsa for dipping. Connor and I were in heaven with our desserts (and we even shared some with daddy). Connor had a kids sundae with gummy bears on the bottom, and I had a sundae with coffee ice cream, dried figs, and chocolate sauce.

Ready for dinner!  See the train track next to us?

After dinner we looked at a few more Easter Market stalls as we walked through Wenceslas Square. They were selling a lot of the same items that we saw this morning in the Old Town Square, so I picked out a hand-painted egg ornament and a beautiful table covering that I had my eye on earlier. We walked back to the hotel and relaxed before bed. Time to head home tomorrow!

After breakfast at the hotel, we walked about half an hour south along the river to the Vyšehrad Cemetery to find the graves of Dvorak and Smetana. We didn’t realize the cemetery was on top of a hill! Charlie’s back was killing him, and my shoulders and hips were tired from hauling Connor on my back, but we made it. Luckily there was a map to show us the grave locations. It was a long walk back to the hotel, but we were grateful for nice weather again.

Smetana and Dvorak’s gravesites

It was around 12:30 when we started our journey home. We only made two quick stops and made it home just after 6:00pm.  We had such a fantastic weekend, but we are ready to relax!  No more trips on the horizon…it’s time to start getting things organized for our big move back to the states this summer…

Holland and Antwerp (April 3-6, 2015)

I have been dying to take a trip to Holland to see the tulips, and I’m thrilled we had the opportunity to go! We decided to stay all 3 nights in Rotterdam and take day trips from there to see Utrecht, the tulips, Zaanse Schans, and Amsterdam.

We made it to the city of Utrecht around 1:00pm, which was just under a 5-hour drive. Our first stop was the Dutch Railway Museum, which turned out to be even more fun than we thought it would be!  We started with sort of an amusement park “ride.”  There were a few startling moments when we were about to run head-first into an oncoming train, but luckily Connor enjoyed it and wasn’t too scared!  Next we walked through an area with an audio-guide depicting some of the railroad history for The Netherlands. We began by stepping into a “time machine” which jostled us around, and it felt like we were stepping back into the early 1800s. Afterwards, we went outside so Connor could ride the mini-train. We loved watching him smile and wave as he rode past us!  Across the tracks was a small play area with slides, and Connor enjoyed running around there for a few minutes.  We looked in the gift shop and grabbed a quick sandwich in the cafeteria before walking back to the car.

Dutch Railway Museum (Het Spoorwegmuseum)


Our next destination was the Dom Tower in Utrecht. I found out that you could only climb the tower with a guided tour, so I had already bought tickets online for the English tour at 3:30. We found a parking garage and walked to the tourism office to pickup our tickets, arriving with a few minutes to spare before the tour started. There were only 465 steps in this tower :). For me, it was one of the easiest climbs we have done because Connor decided he wanted to ride on daddy’s back!  33 less pounds for me to carry!  (He fell asleep shortly after we started walking up.)

Dom Tower

Climbing the tower

View from the top

We enjoyed the views from the top of the tower, then walked back down to see a little more of the city. Unfortunately, one of us dropped Charlie’s hat as we were picking up our backpack from the locker in the tourism office, and once we realized it was missing a few minutes later, the office was closed for the evening! He found a new hat at a nearby store, and Connor was thrilled that he and daddy “matched” since both of their hats now have a “puff ball” on top. The other disappointment was that the Dom was already closed by the time we came down from the tower, so we never saw the inside of the church. Utrecht was a beautiful city to walk through. There was a canal running through, and buildings on either side were just inches from the water.  We found Starbucks for our souvenir mugs, then Charlie navigated us flawlessly back to the car even though I had no clue where we were.


The Tour de France will come through Utrecht this summer!

Next we drove about 45 minutes to our hotel in Rotterdam. After parking, checking in, and finding our room, we were more than ready to find some dinner. The hotel restaurant was overpriced, so we walked a few blocks to find a restaurant. The first few that we walked into were crowded and didn’t have any open tables, so we just decided to order our food to-go from an Italian restaurant. Connor certainly didn’t mind having a scoop of strawberry gelato while we waited for our food!  Thank goodness for the time change last weekend…it was late in the evening but still light out as we walked back to the hotel!  We shared salad and calzones before getting ready for bed. Connor’s favorite activity in the hotel room so far is playing with his “ladder,” which is the wooden tray that fits across the bathtub. Love his creativity!

My original plan was to see the tulips in Lisse this morning, but it was supposed to rain, so we decided to go ahead and see Amsterdam today instead. We all slept in until just after 8:00, then got ready for the day.  The hour-long drive was thirty minutes longer with all of the traffic as we got into Amsterdam.  We finally arrived at the parking garage near the central train station, walked into the train station to find Starbucks (to add to our mug collection!), then waited in a long line for the restrooms. Once outside, we managed to navigate through the sea of people and find the tourist center to pickup a map.  It was probably almost 1:00pm by now, and we were finally ready to see Amsterdam. It started to rain lightly, but thankfully it stopped and cleared up. It felt glorious when the sun was out, but it was definitely still cold when it was cloudy!

Our first destination was the Anne Frank House. I tried to buy tickets online before our trip and they were sold out, so we did not have high hopes of actually being able to get into the museum. Along the way, we stopped in a toy store to look for a few minutes, stopped at a bakery to pickup sandwiches for lunch, and walked through Dam Square. Connor enjoyed listening to the bagpiper at Dam Square!  We walked across several canal bridges and enjoyed the views. Once we arrived at the Anne Frank House, our suspicion was confirmed:  the line was winding around the block!  Content with the scenic tour we had on the way to the Anne Frank House, we weren’t too disappointed that we couldn’t actually go in. Meanwhile, Connor had been riding on Charlie’s back for quite a long time and he was perfectly content.

Anne Frank statue

Sights as we walked around Amsterdam
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We continued our walk to the Begijnhof, a courtyard with a chapel surrounded by medieval buildings. It was such a quiet, beautiful, and serene place…quite the welcome change after the crowds we had been walking alongside all day. Did I mention how many people were in Amsterdam??  The sidewalks were completely packed. Connor was ready to get down and walk, and this courtyard was a perfect place for him. We made a quick exit when he realized he needed to go potty, and we made a beeline for the nearest restaurant. Crisis averted, we turned down a main shopping street that was completely packed with people. We stepped inside a cheese shop and all enjoyed sampling a delicious variety of cheeses. Charlie picked out a cheese with chilies in it, and I chose to buy a jar of specialty mustard. Energized after our cheese-sampling snack, we managed to make our way through the crowds of people until we reached Dam Square again.


From there we walked a bit further and saw a church. Not in the mood to pay just to see inside a church, we walked around the outside instead. Suddenly we heard the drumline of a marching band, and we rushed to the street corner to catch a quick glimpse as the band marched by! As we continued walking through the area surrounding the church, we realized we were in the Red Light District. Luckily, Connor conveniently always had his head turned away from the “sights.”

The skies were turning ominously gray, the wind was getting colder, and we felt like we had experienced Amsterdam, so we decided to head to our car. Just as we started driving, the rain came down!  We really lucked out!  Amsterdam had some beautiful buildings and areas to see, but it was just so crowded.  We were also amazed by the number of bicyclists. There are designated lanes for bikes between the road and sidewalks, so walking can be especially treacherous. There are even parking garages just for bikes!

Amsterdam Central Train Station, and its bike parking lot!
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Happy Easter!  Our day began with the little man full of energy at 6:15am. At 8:00am we went to the lobby of the hotel for an Easter egg hunt. Connor had fun collecting chocolate eggs, and then we got into our car and drove 45 minutes to the Keukenhof gardens in Lisse. Unfortunately, the tulip fields were not actually blooming yet, but there were plenty of orchids, hydrangeas, daffodils, and many other flowers. We all had fun in the central area where we climbed up a windmill, ate a fresh and warm Dutch Waffle (“Stroopwafel”), took pictures with Dutch ladies, watched traditional Dutch dancing, and sat on an old tractor. Connor was thrilled beyond belief to sit on the tractor, and he just wanted to do it again and again.

Posing with the Dutch ladies


Enjoying the flowers with Daddy

Just imagine the whole field filled with tulips…too bad we came too early in the season!

Finally we were able to continue on from the tractor and see more of the gardens. We also came across an animal area, and we all had fun looking at the peacock, pigs, goats, ducks, and chickens. Connor played on a nearby playground for a few minutes before we finished walking through the gardens. We were all starving and Connor was beyond exhausted, so we grabbed a “Dutch hotdog” from a food cart on our way out (it was basically a red smoked sausage…nothing special).  Getting out of the parking lot took so long that Connor fell asleep before we even got out!  Thank goodness he took a nap…things were getting a little dicey this morning :).

With the little man fast asleep, we drove a little over half an hour to Zaanse Schans, an area along the Zaan River full of old windmills, traditional crafts, and souvenir shops. We were lucky to have absolutely gorgeous weather today, and that made our time at Zaanse Schans even more enjoyable. We especially loved walking past the windmills and looking across the water at the beautiful homes. The demonstration on making wooden shoes was neat, too. Connor was still asleep for most of our time there, but he was awake to see the big tools and machines used for the wooden shoes. Zaanse Schans was an area I was really excited to see, and I’m so glad Charlie enjoyed it, too!  He said it was what you would typically imagine when you think of Holland.

Windmills at Zaanse Schans
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After driving an hour back to our hotel in Rotterdam and letting Connor run around the room for a bit, we went to the restaurant in the hotel for dinner. We all enjoyed the meal, as well as our view of the Erasmus Bridge and the harbor. Right before bed, the poor little man dropped his beloved wooden bathtub tray (his “ladder”) onto his pinky toe. It was immediately an interesting shade of gray/purple, but thankfully he felt better after some snuggling and ice.

Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam

Note to self:  don’t sneak away from your sleeping toddler at 6:00am to use the bathroom unless you want him to wake up and not go back to sleep. After getting ready, packing, and jumping on the huge pile of hotel pillows a few times, we were ready to say goodbye to our Rotterdam hotel. Our next stop was Antwerp, Belgium, which was about an hour away. Connor had his heart set on a Belgian waffle ever since we told him we were stopping in Belgium :). He also kept asking if we would see “that instrument,” and I finally realized he remembered the Hang player that we saw outside the bell tower in Brugges last year (similar to a steel pan, but with a much more mellow timbre).

We parked right in the center of town and walked to the Grote Markt, basically the big town square. The view was majestic and we were certainly ahead of the crowd today, for a change. First we found the tourism office to pickup a map, then toured almost the entire old town area as we searched for a restroom and an ATM. Next we toured the Cathedral, which was beautiful of course. By the time we finished there, we were sure Connor was ready for a nap. With him strapped to my back and a small chocolate egg from Leonidas in his belly (and all over my back), we started the long walk to the central train station. Connor jabbered the whole way there. The train station is absolutely spectacular!  The outside was impressive, but the inside was just incredible.

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Antwerp Central Train Station
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On our way back to the center of town, we stopped at a bakery to pickup a quick lunch to-go. I enjoyed my spinach quiche with Brie and offered to share, but Connor chose to hold out for the waffle cart down the street. The three of us shared a warm Belgian waffle covered in chocolate sauce. Yum!  We finally arrived back to the center of Antwerp, wandered around the fabric market taking place in the Groenplaats, and stopped for a few dried apricots and enormous Medjool dates at the dried fruit stand.  We found our car and drove about 20 minutes east of Antwerp to a shopping mall that has a Lego store. Unfortunately, it was closed for Easter Monday!  Thankfully the boys weren’t too disappointed. Now it’s time to head home…

We had a smooth and uneventful trip home. Connor hadn’t napped all day and woke up too early this morning, so he was asleep in bed before 7:15pm!  Because it is currently spring break for the military schools, Charlie was able to take another weekend pass for next weekend. Vienna and Prague, here we come!

Salzburg, Garmisch, & Neuschwanstein Castle (March 13-16, 2015)


We are off to Salzburg, Austria!  Our directions said it should be a 5-hour drive, but after 3 stops and a little bit of construction traffic, it took about 7.  Connor didn’t nap until the last hour!  By the time we parked, walked a few blocks to our hotel, and checked in, it was already close to 5:00. We lucked out with a big hotel room: a double bed, two single beds, and room to play! We walked across the bridge to meander around the Old Town area and saw the outside of the house where Mozart was born, picked up a souvenir Starbucks mug, walked inside a church, and saw a statue of Mozart. For dinner we found a small Italian restaurant. Connor chose gnocchi and devoured almost all of it. Charlie enjoyed his calzone and I had an omelette with roasted potatoes. After relaxing a bit at the hotel, it was time for bed!

The yellow house is where Mozart was born

Connor slept until 8:30, which is pretty late for him. We got ready, checked out, and walked back to the parking garage to drop off our suitcase. Next we walked a few minutes to a cemetery, stopping along the way to pickup breakfast at a bakery. At the cemetery we saw the graves of Mozart’s wife and father, and Carl Maria von Weber’s mother.

We walked across the river and found the house where Mozart was born, toured the museum inside, then went back across the river and toured a house where he lived later in life.  Next we walked about 10 minutes to the Dom, which was absolutely gorgeous inside. It was destroyed by a bomb during WWII and was rebuilt in 1959. A few minutes later, we arrived at the Festungsbahn, a funicular train to take us uphill to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. We enjoyed walking through the grounds (and Connor enjoyed running in circles around a tree and climbing on rocks) before heading back down the hill for lunch.  We had a delicious lunch at a Bräuhaus: beer-cheese soup with pretzel pieces, and beef gulasch with a bread dumpling. Connor inhaled pretty much all of my dumpling, but luckily Charlie shared a few bites of his with us. It was time to walk to the car and head a little over 2 hours to Garmisch, a town nestled in mountains of Germany’s Bavarian region.

Walking across the bridge


Looking up at the Dom ceiling

Views from the Hohensalzburg Fortress

It was a little after 5:00pm when we arrived at the Edelweiss Lodge in Garmisch, a lodge and resort for military and dependents. The drive was picturesque, and the houses look just like what you would imagine for a town at the base of the ski slopes. Edelweiss Lodge is gorgeous!  Our room has a vaulted ceiling, two queen beds, plenty of space, and a balcony.  Connor spent a while running around and playing in the wardrobe, pretending that it was his bed, and also pretended to fix things in the room. Eventually we went downstairs to get some info about tomorrow’s adventure up the Zugspitze, then had dinner at the buffet. Connor has been asking for Spätzle for two nights in a row, and here we are in Bavaria, but tonight‘s buffet menu was BBQ. He found plenty of French fries and bread to fill him up, and tried some pulled pork.  After dinner it was time for bed!  He was exhausted from not having a nap, and fell right to sleep at 8:00.

View from our hotel room in Garmisch

After grabbing a quick breakfast at the hotel’s coffee shop, we drove down the road to the train station. It was time to begin our ascent of the Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest mountain!  We rode the cog train about 15 minutes up the base of the mountain, then got off to switch to the Eibsee cable car. There was a line and we had to wait a bit, but we met another American family in front of us and enjoyed talking to them while we waited.  Connor thought the mom was his new best friend!  We were packed like sardines in the cable car, but managed to enjoy the view as we rode to the top of the mountain.

Here comes our cable car!

View from the cable car

As I’m sure you can imagine, it was COLD up there!  I think I heard Charlie say it was -9 Celsius, and there was plenty of wind on top of that. Connor loved playing in the piles of snow while Charlie and I tried to take in the incredible view…which was a little difficult, between the sun glare and trying to keep one eye on the little man. Once we had enough of the cold, we went back inside to look in the gift shop, where Connor picked out a souvenir “snow groomer” toy. We had lunch in Germany’s highest restaurant, enjoying our booth by the window. I had spinach-cheese dumplings served with creamed cabbage and had no complaints!  Charlie had gulasch soup and shared some white sausages and a pretzel with Connor.  We took the cable car down the mountain, and then had about 30 minutes to wait before the next cog train left. I managed to bounce around outside long enough for Connor to fall asleep before we boarded the train. Our new friends that we met on the cable car ride up were on this train as well. Connor woke up just in time to say goodbye to them before we got off at our stop.

Views from the top of the Zugspitze (the golden marker is the highest point)

Riding the cog train after we came down the mountain…Naptime while traveling is getting a little cumbersome!  I usually carry him on my back, but when he gets tired he likes to snuggle 🙂

We decided to drive to the center of Garmisch and walk around some stores we had noticed as we drove in yesterday. Just as we approached the shops, Charlie asked what day it was. Oops, it was Sunday, so all the shops were closed!  Instead, we drove to the Olympia Stadium, which was used when Garmisch hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics. We relaxed inside for a little while and watched people ice skating, and as a bonus for Connor, we also got to see the zamboni smooth the ice!  We also looked at the hockey rink inside the building.


Once we got back to our hotel, we found the playground outside. Connor had fun letting off some steam, and especially loved tromping through the snow and mud. The weather was absolutely beautiful today: sunny and almost 50 degrees. After some playground time, we walked a few minutes across the main road to Artillery Kaserne. We didn’t even know there was an Army base in Garmisch!  It is definitely a small one. We walked through the tiny commissary and then the BX. Of course, Charlie managed to find two Lego sets that we couldn’t live without, and I picked out a floor puzzle for Connor.

We walked back to our hotel room and Connor put together his entire puzzle, taking breaks here and there to play with his snow groomer. Then we went downstairs and had dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. We all shared some appetizers and a pizza, and brought dessert back to our room. After a bath and books, it was time for bed!

We checked out, loaded the car, grabbed a quick breakfast to-go, and started the hour-long drive to Neuschwanstein Castle near Füssen. After parking and buying our tickets, we trekked uphill for about 30 minutes to reach the castle. We have been wanting to see this castle since we first moved here, and it did not disappoint us!  Disney based Sleeping Beauty’s castle off Neuschwanstein.  We had told Connor that we were going to see Mickey’s castle, and he kept asking if it would have a yellow rope around it. Neither of us could figure out what he meant, but then Charlie realized he must have been thinking about our Mickey Christmas ornament from Disneyland Paris that has a yellow string to hang on the tree!

After waiting for our entrance time and taking in the spectacular views from the outside, it was time to head inside for a guided tour. The castle was built for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, and he died before it was finished. Only one-third of the rooms inside were completed. The rooms that we saw were absolutely breathtaking!  Unfortunately, photos inside were not allowed.  The tour lasted a little over half an hour, and then we stopped at the gift shop before heading down the hill. We decided to take a carriage ride on the way down, and Connor was excited about that. Well, he may have been even more excited about the Thomas the Train water bottle that the little girl had across the seat from him!


Playing outside the castle before our tour

Carriage ride down the hill

The drive home took about 4 hours, and Connor slept for a lot of it.  We only have time for a few more adventures before moving back to the states.  Next up:  The Netherlands and the Czech Republic!

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

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

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

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, 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

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!


Checking out the trains at the Verkhersmuseum

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

Sections of the Berlin Wall

Holocaust Memorial

Brandenburg Gate

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!

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

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!

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

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.


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)


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

Views from the top of the Cathedral

Charlie’s artsy shot of the Cathedral tower

Connor’s new shirt 🙂

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

Taking a break to enjoy Petite France

View from our hotel room


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!

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