Hello from Europe!
Our family loves an adventure whether it’s been well planned or an impromptu trip. Our Christmas celebration in Europe was the later but it didn’t make it any less magical. Cory had to work in Germany and England, and he let us tag along!
Cory was already in Germany for a conference so this was my first time solo parenting it on an international flight. These little expert travelers were as amazing as I expected! Even at 10 and 8, they are so good to understand why we should sleep at specific times to help us get on the right time zone. I also travel with sleep masks for them and it is a huge help!
Upon arrival, we got big hugs from Cory….and Jess and Jack! Jess is a part of the Australian family I lived with 19 years ago. She now lives in Switzerland with her husband and son and drove up to Munich to see us. We trained into the city to our hotel ApartHotel then head straight to Hofbrahaus for delicious sausages, German beer and the best atmosphere seeing a band playing and people dancing. It was everything I had hoped it would be! Cory and I lived in a very German neighborhood when we lived in Chicago; and, each part of Germany we’ve visited has brought back fun memories of our time there.
Next we went straight to Marienplatz to experience Germany’s #1 Chriskindlmarkt. It was quintessential! There are so many vendors and people around but of course we had to get some treats. Teddy picked a chocolate covered banana; I got a Nutella crepe; Bea some sweet candies; and Cory gluhwein. When you get gluhwein or any hot drink here, it comes in a mug you can keep or give back and get your deposit back. Marienplatz is home to the New Town Hall with an amazing clock tower that displays life-size figurines coming out of the clock when it chimes. However, in the winter, it only chimes once daily at mid-day.
We waked rested the next morning to hotel lobby breakfast and great smiles from 19 month old Jack and Bea and Teddy ready to play with him! Cory joined us this morning to take the train (which was helpful as we couldn’t find a lift anywhere and he helped Jess carry it up and down stairs) to Deutsches Museum. When we got there, we found out it was closed for an electrical issue. Who would’ve guessed!?! We chose an indoor activity because it was cold and a bit rainy. Luckily, it never poured so we didn’t melt! On to the Royal Residenz but turns out it’s not stroller friendly and our little buddy was napping….so moving on! Instead we walked around to Odeonsplatz to see where the Nazis rallied before World War Two. It was quite eery standing here as you could see the road where the troops would have marched the streets. Of course, while we’re here, it hosts a stand to buy Christmas trees. We have found stands like this all over the different cities we visited along with super fun Christmas lights. The one thing we didn’t hear much of on our trip was Christmas music.
Spatenhaus was the perfect lunch setting and delicious food! I had German salad with cold sliced sausage, onions, gerkins, cucumber, tomato. I usually go for the heavy sausage, sour kraut, German potato salad meal so this was quite different and refreshing. Who’s ready for our second ChriskindhlMarkt. You can find these markets all around town and they’re all a bit different in vendors as well as size. This was a smaller one but had a fun kids’ section with animatronics. We have no idea what they’re saying but so fun nonetheless! I got delicious chimney cake dipped in cinnamon sugar with Nutella in the middle…Yum!!!!! It was worth my fingers being bitter cold while I ate it! Work called for Cory so he headed out and we tried the Residentz again as Bea really wanted to see the Schatzkammer/ Treasury aka Crown Jewels of Germany; unfortunately, it wasn’t as great as we hoped. Things don’t always work out as you plan!
After some much-needed time to play in the hotel lobby (you always have to tenor your “going” when kids are involved), we had dinner at *Pivasta Restaurant for Afghani food. It was delicious food with dumplings, chicken tekka, etc! We do love middle eastern food! Our hotel lobby provided more fun with books, games and viewing of the World Cup so stayed and chatted for a while. It’s quite fun to be in Europe during the ending of the World Cup as it’s a much bigger deal here than it is in America.
After breakfast the next, we tried again for Deutsches Museum. Luckily, it’s open but the train isn’t running because of an accident….so we walked! It’s a super cool science museum which is always fun to have Cory around for these types of activities as he’s our resident science expert! The museum has vintage airplanes, chemistry, physics and musical sections and lots of technology. The kids’ favorite part was the interactive section; you could rent a ball to watch it go through a maze which all age kids enjoyed! We ate lunch at the cafe here and it was undoubtedly the best museum food I’ve ever visited!
After a walk back to the hotel, Jess packed up and we all played a bit in the lobby before she and Jack headed out. We had the best time with them! She is the sweetest, most patient momma and Jack is one lucky little boy! It was so fun to see her as a momma! The kids were so sad when they left! We got lots of hugs!
Kids and I walked around the Marienplatz again before meeting Cory for dinner at Hackerhaus. This traditional German restaurant is located where Hacker beer was originally brewed starting in 1417AD! It was everything you can imagine with the staff wearing leiterhausen, the chairs carved with intricate designs and more. It was also the best pork knuckle I’ve ever had and amazing weinerschnitzel too. It was such a fun dinner as a family with so much laughter! Herein lies why we travel to experience new cultures and to be together as a family!
Munich was so fun and getting to be with Jess and Jack was just the best! After a leisurely morning in our great hotel set up with two rooms (kids were on rollaway beds) plus a washer in our bathroom, we train to the airport. All went smoothly especially since Cory has a card for airport lounges around the world; it is always the cleanest facilities with food and drinks. It spoils us traveling this way and just makes the whole experience so much more relaxing. This lounge even had a kids’ area with easels with butcher paper and markers. What fun for the kids!
We arrived in London and decided we should’ve rented a car. Thankful goodness for National Car Rental and ease of renting a vehicle with Cory’s status. Cory also talked me into getting a manual car. I can drive a manual and have driven on the other side of the car and road before….but never that combo. Here goes nothing! We quickly checked in at London Heath Marriott before meeting Cory’s colleagues from Splunk and McLaren for an English pub dinner at Three Horseshoes. They were so kind to include me and the kids on this evening and made us feel so welcome! I was an even prouder wife tonight as I told Cory they wouldn’t have taken us all out for an evening if they didn’t really respect and appreciate him. It was so fun!
Now, let the ultimate Go With Daddy day begin! Cory worked at McLaren Technology Center today and he was so excited to be there! We dropped Cory off to work and I drove us to Windsor Castle. I drove the manual better than I anticipated; I made it without stalling out or taking any wrong turns which was very surprising! The sun was shining and a beautiful day to be outside; we got to Windsor Castle in time to see the changing of guards as it doesn’t happen often (or even every day) in winter. This castle is the only castle used by all British royals. The guards change and the bagpipes and drums make it a ceremonial occasion. We also didn’t want to miss the State Apartment to see Queen Mary’s dollhouse. It was worth the short cue to see all the intricate pieces of the doll house from actual wine in the wine bottles to real books/words on the pages in books to actual songs played on the tiny records. Unfortunately, you couldn’t take any pics.
Then it was time for our tour of the McLaren Techology Center and we were all giddy! The tour was so fascinating and held Bea and Teddy’s attention. We learned about Bruce McLaren who was always pushing the limits in racing; even though he was killed at 32 years of age, his legacy lives on with the success of his company. We saw so many amazing McLarens, the trophies they had earned over the years, and even the inner workings of making gear boxes and other parts to make the cars for 2023 even better! We saw a 450,000 piece Lego McLaren! We also met the McLaren eSports Shadow team who won the 2022 F1 eSports season!
Then the most exciting part of our day was seeing McLaren driver, Lando Norris strolling down the boulevard (as they call the main walkway of the center). We were upstairs (it’s all glass everywhere in the building) and had a great view of Lando as he looked up to see us, grinned and waved! Our day was made! Cory had a broadcast tonight with the McLaren Shadow team so we left him to work and headed back to our hotel. Truly, the ultimate Go With Daddy day seeing Cory in action and a big part of his job that he loves so much! Thanks for letting us tag along, Cory!
With Cory’s work, we try to tack on some vacation days of sightseeing which is what came next. We had an early, uneventful flight to Prague. The Czech Republic is a new country for all of us to enter; going through customs was a bit different than any other country we’ve entered though. The officer made us split up one adult and one child at the desk and thoroughly looked through the pages of our passports. The officer made sure her stamp was not on a new page of our passports. I wonder why! We were staying in an AirBNB this time and the owner had arranged an Uber to our apartment. We’re staying in Prague 1 which is the heart of the city! Having the extra space with two bedrooms and two baths, kitchen, living room and laundry as opposed to a hotel room is quite an upgrade. Teddy immediately set up their toys in their bedroom so he could feel at home.
Now let’s check out the city! After a quick lunch, we enjoyed their biggest Christkindhlmarkt in Old Town Square along with seeing U Minuity which is the most interesting house in the square that juts out into small extensions with biblical and classical motifs. Old Town Hall has a 600 year old astronomical clock that strikes at the hour by mechanical figures. Their Christkindhlmarkts are different in size from Germany…ie smaller ones around every corner. We each got a yummy treat again. Cory and I drank gluhwein but I tried the white kind; it’s too sweet for me. I like the red better. We also had to try some treats! Teddy and I got chocolate waffles on a stick and Bea picked a Nutella filled crepe. We love walking around exploring new cities but we’ll layer up more tomorrow as it was cold cold today. U Spirku for tonight’s authentic Czech food dinner; I tried the traditional roasted beef with gravy, cranberries, dumplings and whipped cream…delish! The kids split a pork knuckle and Cory got ham, duck and beef combo dish with the ham being his highlight! Also, the beer here just tastes better! Czechs were the original Budweiser company before America took it over.
Happy Saturday to us as we took it easy this morning because we had an early lunch reservation at La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise. Cory was over the moon excited! From start to finish, it was obvious that this was a Michelin Star restaurant. Their five-course meal with pairings was quite the experience! After that we needed a good walk so we headed toward the Prague castle where we crossed one of the many bridges and walked up many steps. We should’ve been counting! St Vitus’s Cathedral is the most beautiful Gothic cathedral in Europe; it even has a mosaic of the Last Judgement put in 1370! The history in Europe is unreal and especially in Prague as it was mostly untouched during World War Two unlike the rest of Europe. Another Christkindhlmarkt around the palace area too! St George’s Basilica that still looks like it did when it was built in 12th century! The hits just don’t stop in this area with Lobkowicz Palace then we walked over the Charles Bridge viewing their towers, domes, cathedral spires, etc. It’s so picturesque here!
Our apartment is close to Wencesla Square; the Statue of St. Wenceslas is where people would come to protest the Nazi and Communist parties in years past. Like I mentioned, it’s quite cold in Prague (and even more so today) so we chose less walking and to see some of the sights via the historical tram cars. We got off at Petrin Park to see the Mirrors Maze which provided lots of laughs! It was a fun hike to and from where we also found the neatest lunch spot…Peklo Restaurant. It’s a restaurant located inside a cave!
We waked up to snow and more coming down; we had been hoping for this! Again, we’re in a great location to easily walk to the train station for our train to Budapest. Prague’s train station is super nice with a really fun, very detailed Lego train station inside. It’s still snowing as we head out on our longest (seven hours) train ride of the trip. We arrived to find a cab who gave us a good deal to get to our VRBO that’s tucked away in a courtyard style apartment building. The apartments are on the outer rim with courtyard in the middle. We found an amazing place for dinner at Vendiak…best meal in Budapest. I had a lovely Julius Meinhl fruit tea and potato soup, Cory had roasted pork bravas style and kids weinerschnitzel. It was all delicious!
As it turns out our apartment wasn’t as advertised; so when the kids waked, we let them know we wouldn’t be staying at our apartment again. They were thrilled! Sometimes you get lucky with a rental (like in Prague) and sometimes not. However, sometimes you just need your tried and true hotel and we used points for a room for the next night at Ritz Carlton…upgrade! Both the apartment and the Ritz are on the Pest side and we’re so close that we can walk to the hotel.
Once we got settled at the Ritz, we were off to explore. First up, St Stephen’s Basilica, one of chief landmarks of Pest as well as the city’s largest church. This dome (along with Parliment’s) are most visible in the Pest skyline and has 150 different kinds of marble on it. It was a beautiful cathedral where we were able to take the lift to the top for a full view of the city and the Danube River. The Danube is what splits the Buda from the Pest side. Another Christmas market was being set up outside the cathedral; we’ll be back to check it out tonight.
Next up, cab to the Buda side…on the left bank of the Danube, this hillier, older part of Budapest has amazing views of the Castle Hill area and a scenic lookout in front of the Hungarian National Museum including the Chain Bridge and the Parliament building. The Chain Bridge is the oldest and most beautiful of Seven Road bridges in Budapest. We’ve heard this area is even more brilliant at night! The fisherman bastion is also located here and we explored the white stone towers, arches and columns. We gave some change to a Ukrainian man playing his accordion here. We saw lots of support for the people of Ukraine in Prague and Budapest. Tonight we bundled up to see Budapest lit up on a riverboat cruise (with Legenda) as we were told it’s the best way to see the city. They were right! It was spectacular especially seeing all the bridges and Parliament building. We also saw the Freedom Statue which overlooks the city for protection.
Dinner tonight was enjoyed at Rezkaka which had great food and fun, live music with a violinist and a cimbalom (similar to a hammered dulcimer). On our way back to the hotel, we couldn’t let our only night in Budapest go by without a walk through the Christkindhlmarkts. Like I mentioned, they all have a different vibe. We enjoyed a light show on St. Stephen’s Bascilia and stayed out too late, but so many fun giggles in the process!
If you have followed us, you know we love zoos. So we checked out the Budapest Zoo and had it mostly to ourselves since it was so cold. We don’t mind the cold! We saw a new animal we’d never heard of or seen before, a dhoule. We made friends with a sweet, shivering squirrel monkey who came over to see us even though he was clearly very cold! We saw Bea’s favorite animal the red panda and Teddy’s favorite, from the day, was the sugar glider. Right beside the zoo, you find Hero’s Square with lots of statues of kings and heroes from 997 to 1300s. Their history goes back so far!
Back to the hotel to have a late check out. Honestly, picking a hotel chain and having status is so worth the extras and convenience! We had lunch in the lounge before we left. Then we got to the train a bit early, but Cory figured out that the train station had a business lounge which you can use when you buy first class train tickets. So, we headed that way to wait on our train and eat a small bite. I so appreciate that Cory always looks at the perks when booking trains or flights; they come in handy especially with kids! On to Vienna where we’re greeted with warm smiles, as always at the Marriott, and the kids are treated to chocolate wafers and a stuffed hedgehog for Teddy.
Today in Vienna was a day for walking. We walked to and toured St. Stephen cathedral which was beautiful and a building that began construction almost 1000 years ago. Wild to think of that long ago! The cathedral is located in a plaza that’s full of energy and I can tell it’s going to be even better seeing the Christmas lights when it gets dark. Another day, another Christkindhlmarkt we happened upon while walking around. The kids got treats but then we found Cory’s ultimate Vienna treat…kasekrainer at a street vendor. It was even better than he described! On we walked to City Hall to find another Christkindhlmarkt and the neatest ice skating trail. It wasn’t just a circular rink but had a pathway to skate through. The kids and Cory had a blast doing this. Bea is quite good as she roller blades at home! Teddy fell a handful of times but always got back up and kept going…learning resilience!
My afternoon pick was Haus der Musik, a music museum dedicated to composers Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and more with interactive exhibits. It brought back so many memories of things I learned when I took piano lessons growing up and I hoped Bea and Teddy will appreciate it one day too! Their favorite part was the stairwell piano that you played with your feet! On to Wiebels Wirsthaus for delicious bone marrow, potato soup, weinerschmitzel and steak. Inside, it was very quintessential Austrian! Can you tell that we’ve really enjoyed the food on this trip!?!
On our last full day in Europe, we trained to Schonbrunn Palace; it’s out a bit as it was the royal’s summer palace. We had to get a timed entry but we enjoyed their Christkindhlmarkt in front of the palace while we waited on our time. It was a great audio guided tour (the kids loves these!) that we heard about their life in the palace. It was quite fascinating! It’s a lot like Versace in that it’s an expansive property including beautiful garden areas and the oldest zoo…Vienna Zoo. It’s quite an excellent, large zoo with incredible habitats for these animals. I’d definitely go back!
A quick train ride back to our hotel to grab our bags and have dinner at Puerstner recommended by the concierge. Another excellent, authentic meal! I’m glad we got a good meal in us as it was a late night after a delayed train ride to Munich then an hour in a taxi to our hotel. Oh man, there were some tired kiddos (and adults!) Nothing like a 4 hour night of sleep and not wanting to miss your flight to make for a fretful night’s sleep. Two weeks in Europe was totally worth it!
Last thing, as I think it is one of the most helpful travel tips, is how we maneuvered through the Munich airport that was currently a zoo due to a bunch of flights being cancelled the day before. Thank goodness for Cory’s status with Delta for starters as it put us in the shorter of the two very long security lines. Then, observant Cory found a QR code on a billboard to fast track the security line! You could literally book a timed entry to pass the line and he was able to get us a timed slot for 15 minutes after he initially clicked the code. What an upgrade and it cost nothing! We zipped through security and passport control. Wow, there are definitely things that can elevate your travel experience! Then we came to the Airport Business Lounge where Cory has a card to get into them around the world. It just makes things way more relaxing, free food and drinks and gives everyone a little space before getting on a tight airplane. On to the plane with my sweet kiddos who are getting harder to snuggle/sleep on planes as their legs hang into the aisles. However, they still sleep when you ask them to and are the best travel buddies ever! Until next time, Europe…