Berlin, Germany

We were in Berlin from August 9-12.  After a 10 hour travel day, Berlin felt like a breath of fresh air.  Honestly, Germany felt a little like coming home.  A good start to our Germany visit was the Mannheim train station….we had an hour layover there, and it was so much fun walking through the different food shops…..Schnitzel, Pretzels, Wurst….oh yes, and chocolate!!! 😉  Anyways, as we were walking out of the Berlin train station (about 5 minutes after arriving), even my dad said: “I don’t know what it is, but I really like it here.”  I think we all did.  The weather was beautiful, and we spent both days walking around at a relaxed pace, and checking out the historical sights in the city.  The boys learned a lot about the history of the city; the division of east and west, why the wall was built, as well as learning about Hitler and the terror that the Nazi reign brought to the country/Europe.  We went to one museum (Topographie of Terror), and I couldn’t finish walking through it…way too many people being mistreated and killed during Hitler’s rise to power.  But Berlin has done an amazing job of documenting its history, and moving past it.  It is a lively, vibrant city, and we found the locals super friendly and welcoming.  I think one of my favourite walks was through the downtown area, just browsing through the stores and soaking up the atmosphere.  Lots of plaques, statues and memorials, but also very modern with lots of trendy stores. Oh, and Berlin has one of the best malls we have ever seen 🙂  Even my dad liked it….two weeks later and he’s still talking about it 😉  haha.  Unfortunately, we got to the mall too late to take the slide down from the fourth floor to the first floor, but we did get to watch couples dancing under the stars on an outdoor stage between the two wings of the mall.  What a great stop on this journey.  I wish Berlin was closer to Canada, so we could make the trip more often 😉  Anyways, I hope you all are doing well.  It’s been great getting emails, messages, etc. from everyone.  Thanks!  Until next time…

 

One Month In…

Well, it’s been over a month, but wanted to post how we’re feeling and doing one month into the travels.  Enjoy 😉

Favourite place visited so far:

  • Jo: “middle of the ocean” (Queen Mary 2 cruise over) -because of making lots of friends and it was lots of fun.
  • Isaac: London – because of Harry Potter world and Hamley’s Toy Store.
  • Nathan: Scotland – because it’s a beautiful area.
  • Riann: Scotland, London, Brugge….it’s a tie 😉

Things we miss:

  • Jo: friends and family
  • Isaac: friends and family
  • Nathan: friends and family
  • Riann: friends and family; walking with friends, hanging out with friends, going out  shopping/concerts/sports events/etc. with friends, and hanging with my ultimate friends (as in the sport, you are all “ultimate friends” in my books 😉 haha
  • (notice there aren’t any “things” that we are missing….crazy that everything we need fits into our backpacks)

Best food so far:

  • Jo: everything
  • Isaac: Crepes
  • Nathan: Queen Mary 2 food
  • Riann: Chocolate!!!! English chocolate, Belgium chocolate….YUM!!!!

Best thing about travelling:

  • Jo: We’re together
  • Isaac: Making new friends
  • Nathan: Seeing all the cool new areas and places (“and being with you guys (Riann, Isaac and Josiah), I guess.”)
  • Riann: Meeting new people, experiencing new places, and seeing more of this beautiful world.

Worst thing about travelling:

  • Jo: heavy packs
  • Isaac: always on the move
  • Nathan: driving on small UK roads; and Jo’s morning dumps experienced in close quarters 😉
  • Riann: doing laundry (just did a bunch in our bathroom sink because there is no laundromat where we are staying), and Nathan’s morning dumps experienced in close quarters.  hahahah

Funniest memory so far:

  • Jo: Where we beat papa in a bet when we were on the boat to go swimming.
  • Isaac:  I don’t remember.
  • Nathan: when Riann and Isaac got locked in a stairwell (funny afterwards, not during)
  • Riann: The boys coming up with “Papa Crossy” as a nickname for “papa,” who likes to cross streets regardless of whether the light is green or red; and then calling him “papasquashie” when he had a few close calls.

Countries visited: 6 (including USA)

# of boats we’ve been on: 5 (one cruise, 4 ferries, and a boat tour in Bruges)

# of trains: 20

# of buses (long trips): 1

# of rental cars: 1

 

 

Paris, France

We made it to Paris!  We took a 3 hour bus ride from Brugge, and arrived at Bercy bus station.  From here, instead of taking more transit, we decided to walk the 5 km to our house…..easy peasy 😉  It really wasn’t too bad.  Jo was the only one who gave up part way through, and said he couldn’t make it, so Papa graciously carried Jo’s pack the rest of the way.   Anyways, we were in Paris from August 4-9, so we had a lot of down time, and didn’t feel rushed at all, or like we had to pick and choose certain sights to see.  The first full day there, we walked to and around a lot of the major sights, and just enjoyed the Parisian atmosphere. We had a couple of days just playing at the parks in the area, and took one afternoon to go to the Palace of Versailles (about an hour total travel time each way).  The boys were happy just chilling and sailing boats at the Palace of Luxembourg 🙂  We ate fresh bread (mostly baguettes) every day, had the best crepes ever, and will return to try out France’s best ice cream Berthillon’s), as it was closed until the end of August.  I also saw an pickpocket attempt to steal a man’s wallet right out of his hand…she got it and started running, but another person down the path heard the yelling, and grabbed her. Some soldiers were walking by, so they headed over and were waiting with everyone until the police got there.  We have never felt unsafe, but that was just a reminder to us to be a little more wary of where our wallets were, and to use some common sense…no travelling with a tonne of money in pocket, no flashing money around, etc.  There are armed soldiers walking around a lot of the main tourist areas, as well as a big police presence.  My mom had her bag searched twice when her and my dad walked down to the Arc de Triomphe, and there were two “incidents” (man with a knife threatening soldiers at Eiffel Tower, and soldiers attacked by a car on the Wednesday morning we left), but we didn’t hear about any of these things until we were out of the city and logged onto Facebook.  Honestly, I feel like there is a big difference in the way the media in North America reports things, and the way things are reported over here.  Like I said, we never felt unsafe at all, and didn’t hear about anything happening while we were there…it was just people enjoying life, eating, and relaxing in the parks 🙂

All that being said, I do have to admit though, that Paris wasn’t what we thought it would be.  I really hate to say it, because I know everyone has these romantic views of it, but it wasn’t one of our favourite places so far…. We are returning in September to meet some friends though, so I’ll keep you posted on our thoughts then 🙂

And finally, in terms of big picture travel…planning and getting around the different places has not been too difficult at all.  Google and google maps are our best friend.  Nathan downloads maps of each place we go to, and we are able to use that for walking, and also for metro or city transit.  We had ferries and major buses all booked before we left Canada (except for the one to Paris, which we booked about 3 days before we took it).  We have travelled extensively around North America, and have learned that being organized and having stuff in place beforehand helps things go a lot smoother for us (we are not good at on the spot decision making 😉 ).  Luckily, trains, buses and ferries have all been on time, and we haven’t had to make alternate plans (yet)….  Ireland was the only place that got a little confusing, and it wasn’t because of the schedules, it was because of the cost…we thought our cards were full and would cover us for the 3 days in Cork, but the driver told us one day we were in deficit.  We found out later that although they have a posted price, turns out they charge whatever they want to on certain days….so I still have no clue how they decide that, but we just went with it.  We also ended up walking from our place in Cork to the train station (about 35 minutes), instead of bussing it, because the bus didn’t come when it was supposed to.  We waited about another 15 minutes, and then decided to start walking.  People are usually very gracious and willing to help when you ask for it.  As we heard on vinyl cafe while driving yesterday “strangers are not really bad.”  In France, language was not a big problem.  A lot of people would speak English when they heard you say “Bonjour.”  And surprisingly, I was able to speak and converse (very limitedly) with people in French.  I took French in university, but hadn’t used it since then, but was surprised at what I remembered.  I think I was in shock  when I asked our bus driver (in French), on the way to Paris, it we were at a rest area for 30 minutes, and he nodded and answered back in French.  He understood me!  hahaha.  Anyways, I didn’t intend for this post to be a novel.  Hope you are all doing well.  Thanks again for checking in.  I wish we could just bring you all along with us, but this is the next best thing I guess.  Until next time… 🙂

 

Thirsk and Brugge

I’m falling a little behind here; sorry!  We were in Thirsk, England, and then Bruges (Brugge), Belgium over a week ago.  Thirsk is the home of Alf Wight (penname James Herriott), who was a vet, and wrote a tonne of books about the adventures of his profession.  I have to admit that I didn’t know a lot about him going into this; it was a stop for my mom, who has read most of his books, and watched the show “all creatures great and small,” which is also based on his career.  Anyways, it was a worthwhile stop, and we all learned quite a bit about this man and his life at home.  Thirsk is quite a quaint little town as well, and we stayed in a very cool old hotel/pub that felt very British indeed 😉  The boys found the best park of the trip yet…zip line, skateboard ride, teeter totter….on and on.  We played for a while the first evening, and then headed over the next morning before our drive to Hull.  They got to play football with some of the boys, and then we headed our for the three hour drive.  Made it to Hull pas de probleme, and boarded the ferry over to Bruges.  The ferry was an overnighter, and the four of us squeezed into a two bunk berth (4 single beds).  My parents splurged and had a double, so they were on a different floor.  I think we all slept for most of the ride, so I can’t tell you what the sea was like, but it felt like a smooth one 😉  We arrived in Zeebrugge around 830 am (another time change), went through customs, and hopped the bus to Bruges.  Luckily, when we got to our hotel 4 hours early, they had a room available so we dumped our bags and took off to explore.  Pictures honestly can’t do this place justice.  Bruges is a UNESCO heritage site, and it was like walking through a fairytale town….old buildings, cobblestone sidewalks, bridges, canals.  Gorgeous!  We just wandered the first day, and then downloaded a walking tour for the second day, so at least we had an idea of what buildings/sites we were looking at.  The boys saw their first piece of art by Michelangelo: the Madonna and Child, in one of the churches we toured.  Lots of history, lots of pictures, lots of memories.  Another great stop on the trip, and we are so glad to have been here 🙂  Until next time….

 

Stirling Castle and Wallace Monument

Good morning 🙂  It’s another beautiful day here; just wanted to post a few pics from our day in the Stirling area of Scotland.  We headed up to Stirling Castle for opening time….Nathan doing a fabulous job of getting us there (driving on the left hand side, and going through multiple roundabouts). Made it to Stirling just after it opened.  It’s a steep drive up to the castle, and it sits on a cliff along three sides, and has lots of walls and ramparts on the other.  You can immediately see why this site was chosen for a castle.  I did not get the history of when/how it started out as a castle, but we did learn that Robert the Bruce captured it from English hands, and tore most of it down.  I don’t think he stayed here for any length of time, but his descendants did, and it went back and forth between British and Scottish control for many years.  The oldest remaining part of the building is from the 1300’s, and it seems that every king that has lived in it since has added or torn down some part of the existing buildings.  Robert the Bruce’s descendants, the Stewarts, were the ones that eventually decided this place was worth fixing up and keeping.  I didn’t realize that back in the day, the royal families travelled a lot, and this was only one of many castles on a circuit that they would have travelled along and stayed at for a few months before moving on to the next one.  Anyways, LOTS of history here, and the boys found the buildings and grounds quite interesting.  After Stirling Castle, we drove over to the William Wallace monument.  We lucked out in our timing, as when we got to the top of the hill (bottom of the monument), there was a skit going on with two actors, who were talking about Wallace and why he was an important part of Scottish history.  It was very entertaining and informative.  We were told why Wallace began to rebel, why the Scots joined him, and how the English felt about it all as well.  The boys are definitely getting their history lessons 😉 (and we adults are too).  Anyways, hope everyone is enjoying the summer….can’t believe it’s almost a week into August! Enjoy the day, and have a good one 🙂  Until next time…

 

Scotland—Glasgow, the Highlands, and Edinburgh

Scotland was a beautiful surprise for us.  I’m not sure what we were expecting, but Scotland far surpassed any preconceived notions we had going in….  We took a bus from Cairnryan up to Glasgow; it was a gorgeous ride up along the coast, and then in to Glasgow.  Glasgow wasn’t at the top of my list of places to see, but it ended up being one of the ones I most enjoyed walking around. It is a wonderful blend of old and new; and we spent the day just walking around, taking pictures, and soaking up the atmosphere.  Nathan has Scottish roots, so he and the boys had a lot of fun (and learned a lot) looking up the clan tartan, seeing an old map of the clans from years ago, and taking in some Scottish history.  We were blown away when we walked into Glasgow Cathedral.  I think it’s the first BIG church that we actually went into and explored.  There is so much history here that I can’t even begin to write about it.  We spent an hour walking around, reading inscriptions on plaques that are hundreds of years old, and again, just soaking it all in.  From Glasgow, we picked up a rental car, and Nathan did a fantastic job of driving on the left hand side, and getting us through Glen Coe and up to Fort William area.  I could post tonnes of pictures of the scenery from this drive, but the pictures really don’t do it justice.  Weather was rainy off and on, but that seems to be the norm in the UK; just buttoned up our rain jackets, waited about 10 minutes for the rain to pass, and then put the umbrellas away and took the rain hoods off.  We did some hiking and took a ride on the Jacobite steam train, which was another feast for the eyes.  (For the nerds out there, the Jacobite is the steam train used in the Harry Potter movies, and it goes over the glennfinnan viaduct, which was also pretty cool to experience….there were hundreds of people lined up along the road and hills taking pictures as we rode along and went over the viaduct).  Anyways, we spent another day traveling along Loch Ness, looking for Nessie.  No sightings, but we did learn a lot of cool facts about the loch and the area.  From there we ended up just outside Edinburgh, and spent a day walking along the Royal Mile and checking out the city.  Had another day that was spent at Stirling Castle, but that will be it’s own blog post 🙂  Needless to say, Scotland has nestled itself into a piece of our hearts, and we are looking forward to coming back in September.  Everything else is going well…we have found that going to a park, or spending some time running around with the boys is something important for them, and has helped them feel like life is still a little normal.  A couple hours of downtime has been good for all of us as well.  Just chilling, catching up on emails and facetiming friends goes a long way in keeping life good.  Thanks for checking in and for your comments and emails.  We miss you all, and wish you could all be with us for real, instead of just through the blog, emails, instagram, and phone calls.  It’s hard to believe it’s been a month already!  Anyways, thanks again everyone 🙂  It’s nice having such a great support group cheering us on 🙂 Until next time….