Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Thessaloniki (Heather visits)

My sweet friend's husband surprised her with a visit to see me!! We spent some time tooling around Germany, and spent a weekend in Greece, just us girls. It was such a great trip, and so much fun to hang out with one of my besties. She has fought and overcome Lyme disease, so this trip was even more special, knowing that even a year before she wouldn't have been physically able to do it. We are so thankful to God that He chose to heal her.

We started our time together touring around Munich. We took the train and visited Schloss Nymphenburg. The palace was nice, but the grounds were the real attraction. So pretty!!

Our trip to Greece was amazing! The flight from Munich only took about 2 hours, but the change in culture was very noticeable. The architecture and views were breathtaking! Neither of us had been to Greece before, so it was new to both of us. We saw a lot of ruins, with modern buildings built right up next to them. 

Unbeknownst to us, there were protests scheduled for the weekend we visited, and the tower was closed to visitors because of it. We took a sneaky selfie to get the SWAT buses and trucks in the background. We asked a policeman if we were in danger, and he said it was the rival government groups fighting each other. Nobody had any guns, but apparently they were throwing rocks at each other (and the police) an hour before we showed up. We didn't spend too long in the area, but it was interesting to see a protest like that up close.

We ate a lot of really good food (Heather eats gluten free, and Greece was a great place to experience that...lots of seafood and meats and gelato that fit into those restrictions nicely).  We also found a Starbucks which is a treat for me, since the closest one to me right now is over an hour away. I miss having one on every block! :)

We spent one evening taking a "cruise" around the harbor which was pretty fun. I love being out on the water, and at sunset it was that much nicer. The cruise itself was free as long as you bought a drink or snack on board...such a neat idea, and a fun way to see a different perspective of the city! 

We didn't have a car for most of the time and just walked around the city, and I'm thankful we decided to go that route.  The traffic and parking was terrifying!

Our last day, we decided to rent a car and drive to the peninsula and spend the day at the beach. It only took about an hour to get there, including a quick detour to try to drive through a field (thanks, Google maps). The scenery was incredible! We were there in the off-season (March) so almost everything was shuttered closed for the winter along the coast, even in the "bigger" towns. A few places had signs of life, with people painting their buildings or pressure-washing their patio furniture, but for the most part, we were alone on both beaches we visited. It was too cold to swim, but we enjoyed spending time exploring, and eating some sandwiches in a lifeguard stand. It was a really nice way to wrap up our time in Greece. 

Greece was a great choice for a girl's trip, and we never felt unsafe, even with the protest. It was easy to navigate, and almost everyone spoke English. Really fun memories!!

Once back in Germany, we spent a day at Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. So fun to take a carriage ride and tour the castles again. And we are so similar, that we wore the same shoes :)

It was another whirlwind trip, over way too fast, but with good friends, you pick up right where you left off, and that's how it is with Heather. Love her to pieces and miss her tons.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Naples and Rome (Adams visit)

In March of 2017, my sister and her husband and their son came to visit us in Germany! We had a great time exploring some parts of Germany and took a quick trip to Naples and Rome to check that off their bucket list. We spent a day in Nurnberg touring the castle and some historical spots from WW2.

Our getaway to Italy started in Naples. It was a quick flight from Munich, and we arrived just after lunch. We checked into our hotel and then headed for the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. We spent a few hours wandering the museum and checking out the artifacts. There were so many interesting pieces and many of them were older than the United States! :) Our first dinner in Italy consisted of pizza and calzones at a little hole-in-the-wall place. It was delicious!

The next morning, we took a train to Pompeii and got to use another free Rick Steves audio guide to walk through the old city.  It was so strange walking the same paths that people ran through millenia ago to escape a volcano eruption. As they excavated the site, they found hollow spots in the ash/lava that they filled with plaster. When they dug up the plaster, they discovered that the holes were formed by people who had been encased in the ash and then decomposed. It was such an interesting piece of history. Pieces of expensive pottery and silver coins were found in a bathroom, as if someone hid them there intending to come back for them later. It was really incredible to see what life was like, interrupted suddenly and frozen in time.

After Pompeii, we took a train to Rome. We had so many things on our list to see in Rome!! We really packed a lot in, but there's still so much more we could have seen. I do recommend booking your museums/sites in advance online. We would have spent way more time in line and not actually touring if I hadn't gotten tickets before hand. The lines were crazy! We started at the Colosseum. This is one of the seven wonders of the world, and that list is Tyler's and my current bucket list, so we made sure to fit this in while we were there. We used another free Rick Steves audio guide instead of booking a tour guide. It worked great! We were glad to get World Wonder #3 checked off.

After the Colosseum, we visited the Roman Forum just across the road. It was the hub of ancient Rome where politicians would give speeches and craftsman would sell their wares. It was fun to imagine the hustle and bustle of 2,000 years ago.

We also got to see Vatican City and St Peter's Square. I had bought tickets for the Vatican City Museum online so we were able to skip the line and get right in during our time slot. After touring the museum (and seeing the Sistine Chapel!), we found a back way into St Peter's Basilica and skipped the line there too! We really enjoyed seeing both of those places.

We grabbed lunch on the go, tracking down some delicious paninis. So yummy!

The Pantheon was our next stop. The construction of this building has long been under debate, wondering how the dome supports itself. Amazing that methods from so long ago can still stump us. :)

On the way to our last stop, we paused at the Trevi Fountain for some quick pictures. So pretty!!

We were too late to tour the inside of Castel Sant' Angelo, but the outside was still really neat. I'm glad we got to see it.

My nephew so great with all of our wanderings, and had lots fun on the "choo-choo." It was fun to spend time with all of them!

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Our next adventure took us to Slovenia via car. I never in my life would have thought I'd be visiting Slovenia. It was wasn't on my radar (I'm not even sure I knew for certain it was a country!). However, after researching a bit, it seemed like a fun, easy getaway. We picked the middle of Slovenia to visit, which took about 5.5 hours to drive.

I found the cutest little B&B to stay at during our trip. We ended up being the only guests that weekend, so we felt very pampered. The owner made us a multi-course dinner one night, and upgraded our room to one with a deep soaking tub for free.

We had decided to tour some caves and a castle for our weekend activites, and we were not disappointed. Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle were our first stops. They are very close to each other and part of the same park, so you can buy a ticket that includes both attractions. We toured the cave first, then drove to the castle.

The cave complex is very well built-up, with a hotel onsite, along with some restaurants and gift shops. The first part of the cave tour is a train ride through tunnels in the mountains to get to the main cave. They've set it up really nicely, with lighting in strategic places to give dramatic effect to the stalactites and stalagmites along the tracks. There's even one spot with several chandelier hanging from a tall ceiling! Once you arrive at the the "end" of the tracks, everybody unloads and starts walking. They have tours in a bunch of languages, including English so we were able to understand what the guide was saying! :) It was interesting to learn about the history of the cave (discovered by some kids in the 1800s and the first tours were done by lanterns!), and the cave structures were incredible. They have used the existing rooms in the cave to design a ballroom/gallery which is available for rent for any occasion. The acoustics were great and several music events have taken place there. After walking a little over a kilometer through the cave, you return to the train and take it back out to the outside world. The cave is pretty cool, even in summer, so dress in layers!

Just down the road from Postojna is Predjama Castle. It's been around for over 800 years and has seen so much happen in its years. We got an audio guide for this, so we were able to go at our own pace and skip things that weren't interesting to us. It is the largest "cave castle" in the world. The building blends almost seamlessly with the rock cliff. There are multiple places inside where one side of the hallway is man-made and one side is cliff-face. In the 1600s, a robber-baron lived in the castle and was put under siege. He was able to live in the castle for over a year under siege. The attackers thought he was the devil because he would taunt them by throwing down flower petals and fresh cherries from the castle walls and they couldn't figure out how he did it because there was snow on the ground in the valley where they were camped. Little did they know, he could escape through the cave at the back of the castle and pop out near a small village at the top of the mountain where spring had already sprung and trees and flowers were in full bloom. He probably would have lasted indefinitely in his fortress because he had easy access to fresh food and water, but one of his servants betrayed him and told the attackers to aim their cannons at the one "weak spot" of the castle wall, the bathroom. When the robber-baron went to use it one night, the servant lit a candle and the enemy attacked, killing poor Erazem.  The castle itself is also very interesting, though. Lots of small rooms, and only a few were heated. Castles in the middle ages were built more for protection than for comfort, and this one definitely help up its end of the bargain where protection was concerned!

The last site we visited was Skocjan Caves. These were near the border the Italy, but still within easy driving distance. This cave was much deeper and had a river flowing through it. The walking path was high above the rushing river, and I was pretty freaked out...not a fan of heights/steep drop-offs! At one point in the tour, they turned off all the lights in the cave, and all the flashlights, etc, so it was completely dark and all you could hear was the water. It was eerie knowing how much space was around and under you, but not being able to see it.

(the lights are the walking path far above the river)

The food of Slovenia was pretty good too. One of the dishes we tried was a grilled patty of meat that you slice up and eat with a bread similar to pita and a garlic/cheese spread and a red pepper spread. It was really good!

All things considered, Slovenia was an inexpensive, easy place to visit. Probably not a destination to spend weeks at a time (in my opinion), but a weekend added on to a Europe vacation is certainly worthwhile.