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7/30/14

Iceland

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Not sure how we came up with the idea of going to Iceland.  Perhaps it was just one of those things...I mean, we'd never met anyone who'd been there, it sounded intriguing!  Plus, it was a short plane ride from Prague...so, why not?
As most know, Iceland is not covered in ice...its neighbor Greenland is ice...Iceland is green...go figure. Iceland was formed only 20 million years ago (compared to Eurasia at 375-325 million years old)  It is made up of many volcanoes (still active) as well as glaciers.  Almost all of their heating and electric come from hydroelectric power and geothermal water reserves.  (and this means that when you take a shower, the water smells like rotten eggs...honest to god...its so gross.  We couldn't take showers fast enough!  But, the locals told me that they don't mind...even love...the smell.  um, no.) 
There are very few trees (the locals joke "if you get lost in Iceland, just stand up" hahaha) and loads of untouched landscape, with only 320,000 people living in the whole country you can understand why.  Hot springs are everywhere along with some massive geysers.
A trip to Iceland is very different than a trip to Europe...you don't go out and wander through the streets of the town...you go on adventures!!!  Google visiting Iceland and you will see loads of excursions and day trips.  Because the girls were so little, we were limited to some of the more extreme tours.  We really wanted to hike across a glacier, but they wouldn't let us...(next time!)  Instead, Matt went diving in glacial waters!!  He said it was a cool (no pun intended) experience except there wasn't much to see...no fish in those icy waters!  
We rented a cute little apartment and then had each day scheduled with things to sightsee.  Matt had a to work a bit, so the girls and I got to do some things on our own too.  We had fun trying out different foods and Matt even ate whale..sushi style...it looked like maroon tuna.  Said it was yummy!   

 Our first tour took us to along the Golden Circle.  We saw a national park, the tectonic plates of Northern America and Europe, the famous Gullfoss waterfall, a medieval church and the Nesjavellir Geothermal field.  It was quite the day!  It was wonderfully cold too...while all my family was sweating away in Vegas, we were bundled up but good! 


see that little house?  its where the divide between Europe and North America lies

here you can see the piping that goes throughout the country to provide utilities to the residents

stunning views and goofy girls ;)

the girls and Matt are touching the lake where Matt went diving in glacial waters!  He had a special suit and Icelandic long underwear to keep him warm!  The spray from the waterfall was awfully chilly!

This geyser was so much fun to watch, it erupted often but the smell...oh the smell...rotten eggs, ick

the medieval church and more views  :)

Another excursion took us on a horseback ride (the highlight of the trip for me of course!)  Icelandic ponies make for an interesting ride, they have a 5th gait that is sort of like a fast walk.  They are trotting, but instead of posting up and down, you just sit tight and enjoy the ride!  At first they weren't going to let Lily ride (said she was too little)  I put up a fight and promised that she would be fine and they gave in...thankfully!  She did amazing and so did Sara!  I couldn't ride next to both girls, so I stayed nearer to Lily.  Other adults kept an eye on Sara (since Matt's pony took off to the front of the line and he could never get it to turn back around) and they assured me that she had a huge smile plastered on her face.  At one point, Lily's pony bucked up a bit, but she held on and didn't even get scared!  So proud!  I was in second heaven.  :D

We of course had to visit the famous (and very unique) Iceland church Hallgrímskirkja.  I think it looks a bit like an alien spaceship! Its supposed to represent the lava flows of Iceland's landscape.  hmmmm... The organ inside was incredible, I only wish we could have heard it being played.  The best part was the stunning views from the top of the tower.  I just love all the colorful houses and roofs.  



I was sure that the town deserved at least a bit of wandering around, so we headed out one afternoon.  Girls had fun with the viking gear!

The bookstore top left...people posing for my pic!  The gorgeous class building is the Harpa concert hall, the sculpture is supposed to look like a viking ship, and I just love the mural on the side of that house.

We found a park with a zip line (top left) that was so fun!  Daddy is always ready for a piggyback ride, more ice cream, and two beautiful little girls! 

A few more shots of the geysers and a gorgeous sunset

We also spent some time at Laugardalslaug Indoor and Outdoor Pools.  We never made it to the famous Blue Lagoon, but we were actually much happier with this pool...especially the girls!  I swear, they spent the better part of two hours marching up those steps to launch themselves down that slide.  And let me tell you, outside of the warm water, the air was COLD!  They didn't care one bit...it was so funny to watch them.  Somehow I've lost the pix I took, so I borrowed these from another website.  The small pool was warmer, but pretty packed with adults...and I don't think the little water pads were out then...either that or the girls didn't care and just kept themselves happy with the slide.  We went twice...once on our own and again with Matt.  It really was fun!  Oh!  And so, before you can even get in the water you have to take a shower...in the ladies locker room...and all the showers are open... there is even a lady in there to watch and make sure you bathe!  It was so weird!  LOL  First time the girls have ever seen so many naked women and girls!  At least they didn't comment!  ;)



If we ever make it back again, there are more awesome excursions and tours that we could do now that the girls are older....so, maybe sometime!  It was a great trip and really fun to see such an interesting country...but alas, the long summer of travel is over....back to the states.  First stop was Vegas to see family...then...home...to Austin.  (click the link to read about our new home.)
parting shots....a few more from the church tower and then...as we headed home, we flew over Greenland...see...not so green!  LOL  



  

Praha....aka Prague...what a city!

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Our dear friends in Saudi were fortunate enough to live in this incredible city for a few years, so when we told them that we were planning a trip there they were more than excited for us!  Said to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, we couldn't wait to visit.
We flew out of Italy and into Prague. (August 2013) My friend helped me figure out where to rent an apartment to be near the good stuff.  The apartment was pretty cool...old, but huge. Downside was that there was no air (naturally) but also not much of a breeze...so, yeah, it was pretty warm.  But we did love the location, of course, I don't think it would have mattered, as long as you're near one of the bus stops, you're good to go. 
It is a gorgeous city...I fell in love. It's what I thought Paris would be like...but I liked it even more.  Loads of colorful old buildings, funky architecture, the river...it has it all.  The people are friendly and fun.  You just feel right at home.  I just loved wandering the streets so many things to see.  My favorite was Old Town Square.   


The famous view of the Charles Bridge, a lock bridge, and colorful buildings.  (I don't think I would ever tire of the view of the castle...sigh)

More lovely buildings, views of the Vltava river, and cool clock tower.

Loved the cobblestone streets, and what a sunset!!!

The following pix were taken when we went to visit the Prague Castle and St. Vitus cathedral.  One of my favorite parts was touring the Golden Lane with its tiny houses that were occupied up until WWI!  The girls had so much fun peeking inside each one to see how people would have lived in these small homes.  They were originally for castle servants.  The girls also loved seeing the suits of armor and the variety of swords...we didn't tell them too much about all the torture equipment we saw...totally creeped me out that humans actually used those things on each other!!  The cathedral had stunning stained glass windows...it was just beautiful!
St. Vitus, and a castle guard

Inside St. Vitus, a cool door, and a view of the cathedral from the Charles Bridge

Touring the suits of armor and weaponry, torture devices, and another shot of St. Vitus

Some of the tiny houses along the Golden Lane, some Prague beer and a hearty bowl of goulash!

Another day of sightseeing took us to see Petrin Tower...Pragues version of the Eiffel Tower. A meager 299 steps awarded us with stunning views of Prague.  (and a great way to work off the beer and goulash!)  The tower is located within this lovely park area that also had a mirror museum.  Now THAT was fun...we were laughing so hard all of us were in tears!  Plus a cool playground for the girls to kill some time.  It was a great way to spend the day.
Incredible views...sky was a bit hazy, but I still grabbed some killer pix

SO MUCH FUN!!!

The girls could have stayed and played with the bubble guy for hours, they thought the spider playground was pretty cool too!

We spent another day wandering through Josefov (aka the Jewish Quarter).  The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest preserved synagogue in the world dating back to the 13th century. (pictured top right)  The old Jewish cemetery is considered to be the most remarkable of its kind in all of Europe.  I must admit, I've never seen a cemetery like that one!  



 Other highlights included funky sculptures (the girls found the naked man hilarious), the Dancing House, and of course, the famous Astronomical Clock.  (which we stuck around to watch it "do it's thing" on the hour and found that it wasn't worth waiting for...just a heads up)  

We love visiting zoo's in the different countries...this one was a visit we would never forget.  Its an amazing zoo and very beautiful, but what made it memorable was the monster thunder and lightning storm!!!  The thunder boomed so big and loud that you could feel it vibrate through your whole body (and made me cower like a baby! lol)  It made for one exciting day!


 The rest of the photos just show more amazing sites around Prague.  It was a wonderful trip and one of those places that we hope to visit again (and often!).  
views of Old Town Square from the top of the Astronomical clock, and center pic one of the towers at the end of Charles Bridge

some of my favorite pix....love the middle one  :)

More yummy beer, and a beautiful evening....

The girls are always finding ways of getting ice cream...and they found the faceless babies and their butts hilarious, they really wanted to touch the swans, but only got semi close ;)

its just a beautiful place

Always on the hunt for good sushi, (and this was good!), loved the Absintherie and their cool car too!


And now...we are off to Iceland!!!!!


  

5/8/14

L'Italia parte due...

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Ah Italy.  You know you have found a very special place when your heart aches because of how much you miss being there.  It crushes me to know that this summer I won't be going back...won't get to walk up that hill and see the beautiful vine covered house.  Say hi to the neighbors.  Take the girls for gelato and wander through town.  Trekking down the steep steps to head to the little grocery stores, happy when the shopkeepers would recognize us, and then back up the steps lugging my groceries behind me. Enjoying the little park or spending a few hours at the pool or watching the girls fly over the ledge and into the lake.  I can't explain how much Menaggio and Italy mean to me...its home.  In a sense.  
Last summer I was blessed to spend a whole month there again...but this time it was just me and my girls.  Matt had to stay and finish up in Saudi, and well, none of my family could make the trip this time.  So, yep, it was just us three.  And you know what?  It was amazing.  Some days we didn't do much of anything...maybe a walk to town for groceries or a snack, then back home to hang out, cook, watch movies.  Other days we'd venture out to some of the towns we didn't visit the previous summer or back to some of our favorites, like Bellagio and Lugano.  There is something magical about Italy that just stays with me always....and I will get back there...at some point.  :)  
Something special we did that summer was get to visit with some friends of ours from Saudi.  My friend is from Italy and her daughter was in the same kinder class as Sara.  They were good buddies and so when she invited us to spend a few days with her...we happily agreed!  :)  I was a little nervous trying to figure out how to get to her though...just me and the girls having to travel by train...4 hours.  But I was able to get it all sorted and we ended up on a fabulous train ride through Tuscany and down to Orvieto.  My friend lives just outside the city, but in the summer her family heads to Montalto...a small beach town that we just loved.  Her family was so amazing and took such good care of us while we were there.  We spent days on the beach, went to see an Italian circus, went into the countryside for some horseback riding, ate AMAZING pizza that her sister and brother in law make at their local restaurant, and basically just had a great time.  It was wonderful.  
Once we got back to Menaggio, I took the girls on one last day trip to Lugano, Switzerland (we had visited there the year before as well) and then Matt finally arrived and we headed off to enjoy the rest of our summer vacation in Prague and Iceland (those posts to come soon!)  :)
I'm going to talk about the rest of the trip through the photos (many many photos) I took.  (remember, this blog is going to eventually be turned into a book for my darling daughters to have...so pix are very important!)  :D  
here we go:
My home away from home.  Our house was the little one in the center there...over the tunnel with the little Juliet balcony.  Top left is the view from the balcony.  Top right is the little market that would take place every other Saturday in the main piazza.  Bottom right...a small local market whose owners were related to my neighbors just down the hill.  The girls and I would stop there often for cheese, meats, wine, and the owners would always give the girls a little sweet.  :)  Bottom left is the little park we would stop at often; the girls had so much fun playing on all the equipment.   

Top left...They would have concerts in the piazza...I took the girls one night, they had fun listening to the orchestra..even getting up and dancing!  :)  Bottom left: the stairs.  The 155 stairs we would climb both ways to get to the grocery store and back (or well, just to get to town if we didn't want to go down the big hill)  Who needs a gym?!  Middle and bottom right:  one of the beautiful little restaurants in the main piazza and another shot of the Saturday market.  Top right:  the girls and their Italian friends...the Italian kids spoke very little English, my girls spoke very, very little Italian...and yet...they played together all the time.  :D

The previous year we never made it out on the lake unless we were taking the ferry somewhere.  This time, I was going to get myself a boat!  We rented one of the little boats and took off for an hour.  We had an absolute blast.  Went up the lake where we hadn't been before and raced back down past Bellagio and over to see the beautiful Villa del Balbianello.  I was a great way to spend an hour!  :)

Some of the amazing scenery we saw while on our boat ride.

The girls LOVED jumping into the lake!  

lazy days in Menaggio

Pasta, pizza, and gelato....oh my!
Bottom left was a dinner at one of our neighbors houses.  So lovely!  Middle pic is the girls and their Italian friends at the lido.  (aka pool)

We spent a day visiting one of the smaller towns we never went to the year before.  Bellano.  We wandered through the streets, stopping at shops, checking out churches and having lunch.  We also went to see a really pretty waterfall with catwalks through the trees.  (a few pix in another collage)

above are more of Bellano.  I love the top right...a bunch of old men were sitting outside sipping wine and playing cards...so Italian!  ;)

More of us just enjoying ourselves with friends and just the three of us.  Bottom left and top left are at the river a friend of ours took us to..a little hike through gorgeous woods and then a dip in the water!  Bottom right is the girls keeping themselves entertained outside our house.

The next few collages are of our trip to Orvieto and Montalto.  We took a train down through Tuscany and past Florence.  It was gorgeous!!  Of course, the girls mostly just watched movies in our private cabin that we had on the train!  :)
Top left and bottom right are the views of Orvieto from afar.  Such an awesome town.  And the church of Orvieto.

Some shots of Tuscany from the train.  Meeting our friends!  

Spending time at the beach, circus, and some outdoor relaxation after horseback riding.  :)

Oh man, the pizza was incredible!  They used huge scissors to cut the slices.  And the toppings were fresh and super tasty!  My friend also shared with me some wine that was 16% alcohol!  Needless to say, we sipped it slowly!    

Bottom right is where we ate dinner most nights in the hotel with my friend and her family.  Her family runs the hotel and so we would have a nice dinner there altogether.  The food was always fantastic.  Other pix of the girls just having a great time.

We had to visit Bellagio one last time before we left (and so I could get a special bottle of wine for my brother and his wife)  I enjoyed a lovely mimosa while Sara took my picture!  :) 

Top left are photos of us by the waterfall in Bellano.  Middle and bottom right are pix of this fabulous little bistro in Bellagio.  Great wines paired with cheese and meats, but the setting was amazing..carved out of stone and wine bottles everywhere.  

Just some fun shots.  We had some great rain storms followed by a gorgeous rainbow one day!  And Lily was happy to get a new doll.

We took the bus back to Lugano for one last day trip before Matt arrived.  Hiked up a ton of stairs to get a beautiful view.  The main piazza has such beautiful buildings.

Some pix of Lake Lugano.

They had a display of horses throughout the town, and of course, the girls wanted their photos taken with every single one.  :)  

Well...that pretty much sums it up!  We had a truly wonderful month and we have memories that will last a lifetime.  I hope to get back to that little house soon...though, there is so much more of the world we still want to see.  But like I said, Menaggio will always have a very, very special place in my heart. :)


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