Predjama Castle – The castle in a cave

We visited the unconquerable Predjama Castle built within the mouth of a cave in Slovenia. It has been my favorite castle by far — mysterious, fascinating to explore, and has an incredible story behind it.

The castle belonged to the renowned robber baron Knight Erazam of Predjama (Robin Hood of Slovenia).  According to the legend, he sought refuge here after fleeing the Holy Roman Emperor, Fredrick III.  He then found an ally with the Hungarians during the Hungarian and Austrian war.  He hid in the castle for over a year while under siege, mocking the enemy (Austrians) with fresh cherries — they were bewildered about how he was obtaining food and supplies.  Turns out, the hidden passageways within the cave castle allowed him to smuggle in supplies without the enemy knowing.  In the end, he was betrayed by a servant and was blasted by a cannonball while sitting on the toilet!

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Underneath the castle is a network of cave passages over 14 km in length.  This is one of the tunnels leading out of the cave.

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It was often hard to tell when the castle walls would end and cave would begin. Many of the walls inside were solid rock.

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These were not easy stairs to climb, but led to a rooftop terrace and beautiful view of the valley.  The grassy area is a tournament field where the knights used to compete.  Every July the castle holds a reenactment of the medieval tournament.  I would love to go back!

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I really loved how the museum displayed how the rooms were actually used.  Most castles are simply rooms with artifacts and lovely grounds to explore. (Interior photos by thousandwonders.net).  The dungeon was a little graphic for the kids, but Benny LOVES a good dungeon.

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I was so glad we made this stop! It was definitely a highlight and totally worth seeing.  I was not surprised to learn it’s been featured on ghost hunting shows and has been investigated by the Discovery Channel for “unexplained events”.

 

 

Our First Visitor!

My brother Adam, an amazingly talented artist,  came our way for a quick visit before he soaked in all of the art history Italy has to offer.  We met in Venice for the day.  He took in the museums and I wandered the alleys with the kids.

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If you want to experience one of the most miserable experiences of your life, take the big water bus.  Otherwise, the water taxi is totally worth the splurge.  Venice is one of those cities where you will blow through money faster than you could ever imagine.  I think it is best to mentally prepare yourself and enjoy your time.

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We were so lucky to have beautiful weather all weekend because it had been raining buckets for months!

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While wandering through Venice with the kids, we looked at the fish, chased bubbles, enjoyed gelato, and watched the gondolas row by.

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I think every kid in Venice logged time with the bubbles.  These guys must make a killing.

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We all dined at this lovely spot right outside of the hotel for dinner.  The hotel was wasn’t fancy by any means, but with a five minute walk to Piazza San Marco, the location couldn’t be beat.

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Our hotel

I left Venice with the kids as soon as possible as it is not a bit child friendly.  The crowds are insane, it’s just too much walking, and a bathroom is impossible to find!  My brother enjoyed another day getting lost in the alleys.

The next day, we showed him around Maniago, Lago di Barcis, and drove through the Dolomites.

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We enjoyed a coffee while the kids played at the playground.  Sister will always find a place to relax.

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Piazza Italia in Maniago

The last day of his visit we took  a day trip to Piran, Slovenia. Slovenia’s coastline only stretches 27 miles. Piran is located at the very tip of a narrow peninsula.  It’s old town is one of the best preserved historical towns anywhere on the Adriatic.   20160508-_DSC244020160508-_DSC2444

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Tartini Square named after the violinist Giuseppe Tartini

We enjoyed lunch and a good bottle of local Slovenian wine in the square.

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The kids had time to run around the square.

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We strolled through the old winding alleyways.

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We climbed the bell tower for spectacular views of the city and Tartini Square.  From up here we could hear a choir practicing on one of the balconies down below.  We never did figure out where the sound was coming from, but listening was treat!

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Hello down there!

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Laskos under the sun at this seaside cafe — does life get any better?!?

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Looks so inviting!

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We capped off our time in Piran with a gelato stop.  Benny was served his first ice cream cone.  He felt like such a hot shot.

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Looks like we missed another day of rain in Maniago and came home to a  beautiful rainbow.  We had a good visit with my brother and now he’s off to explore Italy’s endless treasures.

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Andalusia, Spain: Marbella

Next stop… Marbella!  We took a public bus from Granada to Marbella.  We were pleasantly surprised by the bus ride and found it enjoyable and relaxing.  The countryside was almost entirely olive groves and much greener than I had expected.

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She’s got this figured out!

Pool time at last!

The pool was far too cold for me (and everyone else).  I don’t know how the kids braved it!

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The resort had given them a sticker activity book at check in.  It was quite a hit!

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The beach near old town Marbella had a great playground.

It was cold and windy and there were several people on the beach determined to sunbathe.  They looked so miserable.  I wish I had gotten a better picture — this was before the weather turned really nasty.  They still toughed it out.

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Throwing rocks in the sea and finding shells is always a joy.

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Time to warm up — coffee con Bailey’s hit the spot!  Benny and Clara chose to warm up with gelato instead.

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The beach was getting far too cold so we took shelter wandering Marbella’s whitewashed alleys.

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This could possibly be my favorite wall of all time.  I adored the blue flower pots clinging to the walls.

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This is one of many, many paella samplings.

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Old town Marbella is incredibly picturesque!

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By this time, Clara was ready for a good nap.  She sleeps well in the carrier though it gets  painful quickly.

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We spent the most splendid afternoon in this little bar sipping sangria and munching on more paella.  We visited with Germans at the next table while all of the kids played soccer in the street.  When the rain picked up we moved the party inside while the owner played his Spanish guitar and our waitress burst into song.  It was perfect!

The kids ran up and down the street over and over and never seemed to tire.

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Finally some sunshine!!!  Time to enjoy the beach.  Benny loved finding jellyfish on the beach and immediately found a “bellyfish” sword.

Poor Sissy was knocked down by a wave and was so upset.  She looked cute in my jacket though!

We tried  the pool again, but the weather was just not on our side.  It was even to cold for Clara this time.  Benjamin braved it a little, but it wasn’t long before we were all in the hot tub.

It was a perfect night for bubbles!

More paella!  We ate a lot this trip! The truth is neither one of us are crazy about sea food, but feel guilty for not eating it when we are sitting on the sea.  We finally had to search YouTube for directions on how to eat the shrimp out of its shell. Pathetic. I know.

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Next up in Andalusia…excursion to Ronda.

 

Andalusia, Spain: Granada

We’re off to Andalusia! It doesn’t seem too far from Italy, but with a fairly long layover in Madrid, it was a full day of travel.  Luckily, the Madrid airport had a few playgrounds to ease the waiting time.  Why aren’t these more common in the states?

The lobby of our hotel had ancient ruins on display.  The kids enjoyed imagining what this would’ve been.  Benny decided it was a good lion cage.

Granada was quite vibrant and bustling with an exotic feel.  I loved the spice markets on the streets!

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We stopped for an aperitivo to get our bearings and unwind a little. The cafe came with a view of the cathedral, flamenco dancers performing on the corner, and the sound of a spanish guitar across the street.

No European Square would be complete without a carousel ride!

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I was worried about going to Spain since I’ve heard they eat so late at night (even later than Italians), but the tapas bars were open so we always had options.  Our server recommended this tower.   Everyone in the restaurant seemed awestruck as it was served to us.  The French people at the next table asked to sample it. That was a first!  We couldn’t figure out what it was and finally concluded it was squash battered and fried with a molasses based glaze.  It was good, but I think we were all expecting french fries?

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Derek couldn’t wait to sample the famous Jamon Iberico or Iberian ham.

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Apparently we were early risers by Spanish standards.  Somehow, all four of us managed to get ourselves ready, eat breakfast, and STILL take to the streets before anyone!  That’s an accomplishment! We killed time by chasing pigeons…

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Strolling through tiny sleepy alleys…

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And best of all… getting Clara decked out in a flamenco dress! I don’t think the shop was technically open, but she was nice to let us come in.   And yes, I was secretly wishing I was the one trying on dresses!  They were all so colorful and exotic!

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The cathedral of Granada is magnificent!  Mostly done in Spanish Renaissance style, its design is based on the triumphal arch and it is built over the site of an ancient mosque.

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I love how Benny truly seems amazed by these incredible structures. The interior was spectacular!

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The plaza outside of the cathedral was full of gypsies pushing bunches of rosemary.  I had encountered a particularly pesky lady who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.  While my  hands were occupied carrying Clara, she attempted to stuff the rosemary into my purse while screaming “regalo, regalo”(gift)!  Fortunately, I had a purse that zipped and managed to escape without a forced palm reading and a 20 euro loss.

We grabbed lunch at what is supposed to be one of the oldest restaurants in Granada.   This tapas dish had eggs, spicy sausage, potatoes,  and some other kind of meat.  It wasn’t my favorite, but Derek seemed to enjoy it.

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A cheese plate is always a good idea

It was time to do something for the kids so we ventured out to the Science Park – Museum for Children.

They did some drivers ed …
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Worked on a ball track …

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Studied a giant globe  (actually, Derek and I were the ones fascinated with the globe)…

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And constructed and tested a boat made of corks …

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We had to leave the science museum as we couldn’t be late for the main attraction of Granada:  Alhambra! Tickets are hard to get and they sell out fast.  In fact, I had dropped the ball and didn’t order tickets in time, but a tip from Rick Steves saved the day!  In that situation, he suggests purchasing a Granada Card which includes a visit to Alhambra.  It worked out beautifully.

We had a delightful stroll through the gardens. The gentle sound of water trickled throughout garden’s water features,  Clara was sound asleep on my back, the sun was shining; it was tranquil and beautiful! 20160408-DSC00886

I loved the intricate designs of the walkways and the beautiful flowers.

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Now for the main attraction: Nasrid Palace! Nasrid Palace is very restricted and each entrance ticket is assigned a visitation time.  We dutifully arrived about 15 minutes early and were one of the first in line for our time.  Naturally, a few minutes prior to the doors opening, we hear Benjamin shout “I need to go potty”! We were stuck.  Had we gone to  find the potty, we would’ve missed our time slot.

So, we then did the great sprint through the Nasrid Palace (our entire reason for stopping in Granada)! We were basically elbowing and pushing our way through throngs of people.  It was a giant maze that never seemed to end! I managed to snap a few photos with my phone as we plowed through the crowd.

Clearly these pictures don’t do it justice, but the detail is absolutely stunning! I wish we could’ve taken our time and learned something about it, but… alas, it was a great parenting failure and it served us right for not thinking about it.  It took us a moment to recover from the shock of missing the very thing we came to see.

Carrying on, we explored the last of the grounds. We climbed a steep, twisty, narrow, crowded staircase to the top of  bell tower plaza.  My legs almost gave out on me with Clara on my back.  I’m fairly certain I was climbing with all fours at one point!  There was wonderful view of the Albayzin Moorish quarter at the top.  I wish we would’ve had time to visit this area…oh well, we definitely have good reason to return! 20160408-DSC0095020160408-DSC00951

We finished the evening with dinner in a touristy plaza where the servers tried to swindle us and we were constantly interrupted by pesky salesman.  They didn’t bring us our glass of wine, charged us for it and also seven coffees we hadn’t ordered!  We learned a good lesson — always study the bill!

Moving on to the next Andalusian stop:  Marbella…

Slovenia

We had a long weekend for Easter so we decided to check out Slovenia.  I can see why everybody raves about it.  It’s very clean, the people are friendly, and almost everybody speaks perfect English!

Ljubljana was our first stop — and this time  didn’t get lost or drive through a pedestrian zone!  Ljubljana is charismatic and picturesque.

The Franciscan Church was beautiful inside although we busted in on an Easter service.  Whoops! I would have enjoyed watching a little, but definitely not with the kids!

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Franciscan Church of the Annunciation

I’m always a sucker for accordion street performers. He looks delighted to be there! Haha!

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We stayed at the Union Hotel which was especially nice and with Preseren Square a few steps away, the location couldn’t have been better!

Benny and Clara loved the Dragons everywhere.

Next stop was the Ljubljana Castle.  We hiked to the top of the castle towering over the city. Why we were hiking when they provided a functioning funicular was beyond me.  I wasn’t prepared for it.   I was wearing flimsy ballet flats and carried Clara the entire time! It was pretty much straight up the mountain. Benny was a trooper.

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Reaching the top made for some fantastic shots of the city.

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We had fun wandering around the grounds and looking inside the castle.  The kids loved spying for bad guys.

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After the climb back down to town we were ready for an aperitivo!

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Next stop… Lake Bled! It was about a 45 minute drive from Ljubljana.

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When we arrived we took the boat ride out to the island. The kids love any boat ride and the views are breathtaking!

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We were greeted with this staircase upon our arrival to the island.

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After the trek up, we visited the Church of the Assumption (the only place to visit on the island).  The top brought gorgeous views of the mountains, a perfect place for an appetitive, and open grassy area perfect for rough housing!

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This looks a little daunting… but there is only one way down.

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And as always…there was a lot of crying and a lot of whining!

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So long Lake Bled. We’ll be back this summer!  There is so much more here than we had time for — including sampling the famous Bled cream cake.  I won’t rest until I’ve sampled it! We’re moving on to the ski town of Kranjska Gora.

Kranjska Gora was a charming little sleepy town in the Julian Alps.

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The kids and I loved these little Easter bunnies!

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The kids enjoyed digging in what was left of the snow.

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We stayed in a small, family-run motel called Hotel Kotnik.  I think only one man was in charge of the motel and the restaurant! He stayed busy!!  They had these little wooden benched carved outside of their door.

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And for some reason, the kids decided to put their shoes away (this is definitely a first)!

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We tried this awesome dessert.  I didn’t catch the name of it, but it was sort of like a warm cream puff served with ice cream.  One between the four of us did NOT cut it.

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We spent the next day skiing.  Benjamin had his first lesson.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much snow at the resort, but the hill was perfect for Benny.

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He was so excited to learn, but things went downhill fast when Derek tried to be his instructor.  I was fairly certain it could sour him on skiing forever.  He seemed to do much better with the actually instructor.

This is what I did while everyone was skiing… I was possibly the only one enjoying myself.

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I think Derek managed to get a few good runs in despite the fact the snow was minimal and the hill wasn’t the most exciting.  As for Benjamin … only time will tell if he’ll ever recover from his traumatic first lesson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aquileia

The day after Christmas we took a quick jaunt to Aquileia. Also being an Italian holiday, we were lucky it was open (apparently Christmas is a three day event).

Founded in 181 BC, Aquileia was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the Roman Empire.  It is also believed to be the last Roman city to remain unexcavated.

There was a nice nature walk from the Roman ruins leading up to the town center.

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Benny was so intrigued with this tree and believes candy lives behind the door. 

We visited the Basilica di Aquileia.  The basilica was originally built in 313 AD and rebuilt four different times.  Today it is Romanesque-Gothic style and has the most amazing 4th century mosaic floor.  They had elevated glass walkways around the perimeter.  I didn’t get any pictures inside, so I got these from basilicaaquileia.it.

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These mosaics had been covered up by tile and were uncovered around 1909.  I can’t imagine hiding this beautiful floor with boring tile!

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Under the bell tower is the crypt of excavations.  They had another elevated walkway to view the excavations and additional mosaics.  Benny loved the “secret pathways”.

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photo from basilicadiaquileia.it

After viewing the basilica, we had plenty of time to monkey around the gardens.

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The pyramids are urns corresponding to the life and burial of an old inhabitant of Aquileia. 

We had lunch.  Benny was THRILLED to be served water in a wine goblet.

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Trying to beat the fog rolling in. 

Andreis: Christmas Trees and Carvings

We visited a tiny village in the Dolomites known for it’s Christmas tree displays called Andreis.  Unknowingly, we took a  backroad to get there and with Derek not feeling well, the twists and turns were very unkind. The one lane Alpine roads are no joke.  It took us over an hour to get there and it turned out to be about 10 minutes behind Maniago!

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A playground is always a highlight!

The streets were filled with wooden carvings.

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I loved these wooden candles in planters all over the village!

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More trees…

I thought this display was adorable!

We stopped for lunch at the only small restaurant in the village.  They had the most delicious ham and cheese strudel which I believe both Derek and I have been dreaming about ever since.  We must return soon!

Beautiful village with stunning views!

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Please don’t fall through!!!

I love the look of these trees for some reason.

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Presepi in Poffabro

Poffabro is a village of  about 180 people.  Every single window had a unique handcrafted nativity scene. I believe the theme was crib between the cribs. I’m not quite sure what that means, but I wish I had known that before we went and I would’ve looked at them closer.

Our town Maniago was offering a free shuttle bus to village (about 10 minutes away) so we hopped on to check it out.

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Benny loved the bus!

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The kids loved looking at the “little villages” as Benny would say.  Some were quite large and intricate and others were tiny.

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I thought this was interesting.  I wondered why they were all buried…

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Vin Brule is always a good idea!

And of course, every town in Italy has a beautiful church.

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Bolzano Christmas Market

We went to Bolzano for Thanksgiving.  It didn’t feel like Thanksgiving, but we were happy to get out of temporary housing for a few days and lucky for me…the Christmas market opened!!!

We set our with our fancy new GPS which took us straight up and over the San Pellegrino pass (there is a much easier route).  It was beautiful, but all I could focus on were plumetting temperatures, the rapidly setting sun, and roads beginning to ice over.  I thought it was never going to end.  I somehow thought tightly gripping the door handle and pushing my feet into the floor would stop the car from sliding off the cliff.

The drive turned out to be only half the battle.  Finding the hotel park was next.  The GPS took us straight into the Christmas market in the Piazza Walther! Derek had to reverse a very narrow road crawling with pedestrians.  The best part…? Nobody looked at him like he was crazy!

Benny loved the hotel. They had cookies and fruit waiting for us and he especially loved climbing the ladder to peek out the window.

Bolzano is a charming city in the Dolomites and is said to have the largest and most traditional market in all of Italy. This region was a part of Austria until World War I, and according to Rick Steves, many locals would still prefer to be Austrian and speak German as their first language.  The city also has a German name (Bozen) and all of the signs are printed in German and Italian.

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I loved the decorations around town!

We strolled around the streets a while.  Carrying Clara gets quite painful.

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We visited Bolzano’s archaeology museum to see Ötzi the Iceman. He was discovered (frozen in a glacier) by a German couple while hiking and is over 5,000 years old.  It would’ve been interesting, but Clara was having an epic meltdown so we didn’t spend a whole lot of time there.

After lunch we were all feeling better and took a cable car to Oberbozen – a tiny village high in the Dolomites.

We strolled around the village for a while enjoying the views, some coffee, and garden decorations.

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I actually made it in  a picture!  The kids were doing silly faces.

The kids were exhausted after the cable car and needed to rest.  Derek was nice and watched them at the hotel while I enjoyed the Christmas market!

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Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

The next day we set out to find one of the castles in the area.  There are many, but only one was open for the season.  We did a long hike up a promenade that paralleled the river. It was quite lovely, but hard to enjoy while carrying Clara.  We made some wrong turns and finally found the castle!  20151128-DSC00228

When we got up to the doors everything was locked.  It turns out we had found the wrong castle! The kids were quite disappointed.  They were so excited to go in a real castle.

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After some lunch and a rest, we enjoyed the Christmas market.  Everything was so festive with bands, carolers, and lots of gluwein!!!

We enjoyed a carriage ride.  Benny only made it half way.

The kids loved the carousel and train!

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They had a big snow hill and we thought the kids would like to sled, but it was big ice pile and everyone was falling.  Derek was knocking kids down, Benny was whining, and Clara was crying out: “I fa down”!  The snow hill was a bad idea.

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It was a great trip! I hope we can make it back in the summer to see more castles and maybe do some hiking around the Dolomites.

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What a difference quiet time can make!
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Yum! Bavarian doughnuts

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