Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Salzburg, Austria -- The Sound of Music!

We headed out by train to Salzburg day after Thanksgiving and had a great time seeing the sights in this beautiful old alpine city, birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and setting for much of the movie/musical The Sound of Music.

Again, we enjoyed the company of our friends, the Akers family and stayed in a fantastic apartment right in the heart of the city. One of the most exciting things was that the city opened their Christmas Market on the evening we arrived and Christmas lights and decorations were everywhere! We walked around and it was just gorgeous!

The following morning, we went on the popular Sound of Music tour and enjoyed seeing many locations used and learning fun facts about the musical. For instance, did you know that the front and the back of the house in the movie are actually two homes in two totally different locations? Or that the real Trapp family actually left the area via train as opposed to being chased out by Nazis and running into the mountains for escape? Or (I think the best surprise of all!), remember that scene where Maria is in the mountains singing “The Hills are Alive” and she hears the bells ring and runs down to attend to her duties at the abbey? Well, in the movie/musical, she arrives at said abbey within 5 minutes. An amazing feat, considering the Untersberg mountain from which she ran was 16 miles away from the abbey!

Highlight of the tour were the two houses used in the movies (although we couldn’t go in either one as they are both private homes), seeing the row of trees where the Von Trapp kids literally hung out, dancing by the gazebo (that has changed locations many times and is no longer anywhere near either of the houses used in the movie), and touring the beautiful church where Maria and the Captain were wed (in a pretty little town nearby called Mondsee). We then went through the Mirabell Gardens where we found two fountains and many statues depicted in movie scenes, as well as the archway of vines and the steps that Maria and the Von Trapp children skipped through and up to conclude the Do-Re-Mi song. Of course, the girls and their friends acted it out and had a great time! We also toured the Nonnberg Abbey -- the abbey used in many scenes, as well as the skyline and paths seen throughout the musical. 
After that, we all attended our first Christmas Market (these are in many cities throughout Germany and surrounding areas) and tasted our first Gluwein (a warm tradition to carry and drink as you walk through the market). It was so much fun!

Check out the pictures and see if you recognize anything from the movie...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beautiful Ireland!

Even though we've loved our other travels, something about Ireland really touched our hearts. Surely, it could have been the astounding beauty from the city to the country to the coast, but I think it may have had something to do with the familiarity. They speak English (with an accent I could listen to all day!), the signs are in English, the parking spots actually fit full size cars AND they have stores and restaurants that we've all heard of before, including, yes, Starbucks!!! Really, though, between the beauty and the friendliest people we have encountered, we felt incredibly lucky to be there and, truly, right at home!

Anyways, we (us and the Akers family, another chaplain and family who got here when we did and have become fast friends) flew from Frankfurt to Dublin where our gorgeous apartments awaited. I found these apartments (as well as the ones in Pisa and Paris) on Trip Advisor for 80 euro per night and they were truly gorgeous. Large, full of amenities, including a working fireplace, and right down the hall from each other -- how fun!

We got in toward evening the first night so many things were closed. However, the Guinness Brewery, considered one of the 7 Wonders of Ireland (truly!), was open so we took a tour and really had a good time. Not only was it informative, but the building was beautiful and the history was fun. Did you know that the original maker of Guinness signed a 9000 year lease for the brewery location? Really! So, if you ever want to see it yourself, it will still be there! Yes, the tour does include a "free perfectly poured stout," which all the adults tried. I'm sorry to say that I've never liked beer and I still feel the same way. Still, it was fun!

The next day we took a 12-hour EXCELLENT coach tour to the Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle and the city of Cork. Our tour guide was fantastic! He talked to us about the history of Ireland, their traditions, and about the countryside as we drove. We passed a field with a large, round grouping of trees and he thrilled the kids by telling that it was a fairy ring! Truly, you'll see these along the countryside just taking up space in the fields but the farmers will not cut them and use the land because they believe they'll anger the fairies and the fairies will take revenge on their crops! Fun! He also told us all the tales about our destinations and even treated us to authentic Irish tunes! It was remarkable.

Our first stop, The Rock of Cashel, is also one of the 7 Wonders of Ireland and it's easy to see why when you get there. The building, the cemetery and the scenery are simply astounding and the grounds even hold the true cross used to mark the true St. Patrick's grave. 

From there, on to Blarney Castle and, yes, we kissed the stone and received the gift of gab (hence, this long post!!). It was really fun! And any Harry Potter fans might be interested to know that the Poison Garden out back, as well as some of the castle, can be seen in the Harry Potter movies!

The next day we visited a bit of Dublin including the famous Temple Bar section and city central, then off to the coast of Howth. That was amazing! I'll let the pictures tell that story. Suffice to say, we all decided we'd live there in a minute!

Worth mentioning, also, is that Ireland has a rich history and you can learn much about it at the Kilmainham Prison, where we visited our last day. This prison can be seen in many movies, including "In the Name of the Father." Also worth mentioning, is that pubs are awesome! We had a few meals in pubs and they were so homey, warm and welcoming, not to mention that they served incredibly yummy food in incredibly large portions! 

As you can tell, we had such a good time!

Paris, France

In October, we ventured on to another country and one amazing city -- Paris, France! What can I say about that? It was incredible!

Did you know that each night, upon each hour, the lights on the Eiffel Tower twinkle? It's so cool! We didn't know. We were just walking along staring at it for the first time and it started up. We were so excited! And that was just the start of excitement in a city like Paris. Everything is truly beautiful! We saw the Arc de Triomphe (in fact, stayed right down the street from it), the Sacred Heart Basilica, Notre Dame, the Salvadore Dali Museum (I have always loved the melted clocks!) and even ventured into the Louvre and saw the Venus DeMilo and Mona Lisa -- incredible!

Pisa, Florence, Cinque Terre, Italy!

By September, we had been to the countries of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, so we ventured a little further and visited Tuscany and the coast of Italy!

First to Pisa, and it was so cool! We stayed, literally, right outside the gate to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and, thus, were able to visit it both night and day. One night, we had the pleasure of seeing it during a full moon -- amazing! And here's a fun fact: The staircase winds around the sides of the tower all the way to the top and as you climb, the marble is worn on each step according to the way the tower is leaning at that point! More amazing!

We also spent some time in Florence, Italy, where we made sure to see the sites, including the real Statue of David. Then on to Cinque Terre, a series of five cities on the Mediterranean Coast that are each unique and incredibly beautiful. But how couldn't they be with the Mediterranean as their backdrop?? Wow!