July 14, 2016

Warning: I'm not a writer and my grammar is terrible; don't judge me. We started our two week journey by flying from Baltimore, on this double deck plane, to Frankfurt. We got into Frankfurt at 8 a.m., picked up our rental car, and we were on our way. It felt very surreal to be there, we'd been talking about this trip for several years and there we were, driving on the autobaun, in Germany. Jeff loved the whole, drive your own speed limit, I was not a fan. Our first stop, Heidelberg. 
H E I D E L B E R G , G E R M A N Y 

Heidelberg was beautiful. We walked around the the old part of the city, walked up to philosopher's way, saw the two famous bridges and ate delicious food and gelato! 

I just loved the green shutters on this house.

S T R A S B O U R G ,  F R A N C E

After Heidelberg, we headed to our destination for the night, Strasbourg. Strasbourg was wonderful. We walked all over exploring the city. We got crepes for dinner, which I was not really a fan of, gasp, we probably just didn't go to the right restaurant? We also were not aware of dining etiquette (probably should have looked that up before we left); do you tip or not, do you just walk in and sit down or do you wait for them to sit you, do you ask for your check or do they just bring it to you after a while. I wish we had been more aware of those things from the beginning, but we learned as we went. Thank goodness for google! 

We visited the famous covered bridges, they're supposed to be all lit up at night, and look really cool. 

Walking along the river was my favorite part. 

We went back to our car after our 10 mile day of walking and went to sleep at 9. haha. We were exhausted. Jeff and I didn't get much sleep on the plane. We were so excited to be traveling without the kids, and had so much adrenaline to help us get through the day, but once we got to the apartment we crashed. We woke up around 6 the next day, got some bread from a bakery, and headed back over to Germany. I must say, European bread is to die for! The croissants and whatever else made my taste buds so happy, except for the time I got what I thought was a cinnamon bun looking thing, with chocolate wrapped on the inside, but they were poppy seeds and it tasted like dirt, at least I tried something new!

2  D A Y  G E R M A N  S C H L O S S  E X T R A V A G A N Z A

We saw this castle as we were driving and decided to stop and take a look. 

Can you spot Jeff? We knew there were going to be a lot of castles, but we didn't realize that they were everywhere. Every town, no matter how big or small, seemed to have a church and a castle.

Of all the castles, Jeff was most excited about the Hohenzollern castle. When we arrived at the base of it, he was a little disappointed that this was our view. And no, we didn't go inside any of these castles, we were there to see the scenery.

After hiking up to the castle and back down, we drove to a mountain that gave us a better view of the castle. We got some lunch in hopes that the sky would clear up, and right when walked outside, the sky was clearing, and the weather was perfect. We took a trail that lead us to a beautiful view of the castle (below). It really was magnificent. Jeff was ecstatic. After taking a thousand pictures, we sat on a stone lounge chair and soaked up the beauty. Our pictures don't even do the view justice.

Bavaria was incredible, and the green fields were mesmerizing. I loved all the different shades of green and blue. We saw a church at the top of a hill and decided to stop, because I was getting tired and because we thought there'd be a good view. I know! How could I fall asleep with all this beauty around me, but sitting in the car while someone else drives just puts me to sleep, especially when driving long distances. But we got out, hiked to the top of the hill, and looked at the countryside.

Here's the Sigmaringen castle and below is the Liechtenstein castle. 

After the Liechtenstein castle, we drove to Ravensburg to stay for the night. We stayed in a place that was surrounded by farms and vineyards. It had a restaurant with an outdoor area and a sandpit, all I could think about was how much fun my kids would have here. It had only been two days, but I missed them, then I thought about all the driving and stops we were doing, and thought it's better they aren't here. Having Jeff to myself for two weeks is magical and probably won't happen again for a very long time.

The next morning we got up, ate breakfast, and got in the car to view more castles. Side note: I have never had nutella before, until this trip, and it's my new best friend. We drove past Lake Constance, which we heard was amazing, but we didn't stop, it was early, cold and rainy. We'll have to go another time. We hadn't really seen very many tourists, but then we got to Neuschwanstein, and realized this is where they've been hiding. Are you allowed to not like tourists even though you are a tourist? 

The bridge to see the castle was closed, but Jeff hiked up to this cool spot to be able to get a better view. 

T Y R O L , A U S T R I A 

After Neuschwanstein, we made our way to Innsbruck, Austria. We have friends that live there, and they told us to check out Highline 179, in Tyrol, on our way in. We hiked up and crossed the suspension bridge, which was a little unnerving, but exciting at the same time. We had awesome views and got to see the Ehrenberg ruins.  

I N N S B R U C K , A U S T R I A

After the sky bridge, we drove to Innsbruck to meet our friends, Ben and Missy. Jeff and Ben studied physics in undergrad together and we haven't seen them in almost 8 years! It was fun to stay with them for a couple days and catch up. After undergrad, Ben went on to pursue a Doctorate in Physics, I can't remember exactly what specifically, but he took us to his lab, where he created a machine that traps a single atom. I am not in love with science as much as Jeff is, but this blew me away. He tried to trap one for us, but the lasers were off a little, and needed to be adjusted, so we just got to see a video of one that he had previously trapped. It was pretty cool!!

This is half of the machine that Ben made. Crazy! 
I wish I had gotten pictures of downtown Innsbruck, but I didn't haul my camera everywhere while we were there. The whole city is beautiful. It reminded me of Utah, you walk right outside and you can almost touch the Alps. We went out to eat and Missy introduced me to Dumplings, they were so good. I had tried other German food and wasn't in love, but these are my favorite, especially a cheese dumpling in soup!

The next day we took a tram up into the mountains and hiked our way down. It was nice having others that knew their way around. I don't know why we didn't get a picture of us all! They took us to an Alm, where we ate lunch outside and looked out over the mountains.

Later, we biked along a river into downtown, but then it started pouring and we had to turn around and go back. We were soaked, but it was kind of fun. The next morning we went to go do the Mieders sommerrodelbahn. We got there and found out they were worried about rain, so they needed to wait an hour before starting it up. We walked around the town for an hour, came back, and they were running! We took a tram up to the top, got some lunch and then rode the toboggan down. It was so long and so fast! It lasted for about 5 minutes; we made sure to do it twice. It was totally worth it.

Longest video, ever, but you have to at least listen for when Jeff laughs. He was having so much fun and hearing him laugh is the best.


L I E C H T E N S T E I N 

Jeff was so cute in our little car.

Z U R I C H , S W I T Z E R L A N D

We got dinner at the grocery store and had a little picnic by the water. It was nice and simple. We walked around and visited some town squares to get a nice view of the city. Zurich was a really cool city. I enjoyed our time there.

When we first drove into Switzerland, we were in a tunnel and then came out to this stunning lake. The water was a really pretty green. Again, the pictures just don't look the way it did in person. We stopped on the side of the road to take a look around, and of course, snap a selfie.

K R A T T I G E N , S W I T Z E R L A N D 

We stayed in Krattigen with a woman, named Heidi, and her family. She was so nice!!! I wish I had pictures of all the wonderful people we met! Her place was more expensive on Airbnb, but it was worth it. She made us an incredible breakfast, with cheese from her brother's farm, and homemade jams and honey. She was also really helpful and nice to talk with. I wish I got a picture of her house too. It had ornate carvings of deer and woodland creatures, and was exactly what you picture a Swiss home to look like. 

We had a really nice view of the lake, just a short walk from Heidi's house. 

I love all the detailing, shutters, and flower baskets on all the homes.

L A U T E R B R U N N E N , S W I T Z E R L A N D 

We went to Lauterbrunnen to spend the morning and afternoon there. Jeff saw a picture of one of our friends here, and was determined to find the same spot where his picture was taken. We spent probably an hour trying to find this trail, which is comical, since it was such a small place, but we finally found it! We also walked up behind the waterfall that you can see in the picture. 

I thought this cemetery was so lovely. I like the little gardens each plot has. 

We went to Trummelbach falls, they are Europe's largest, subterranean waterfalls, and carry water down from Jungfrau glaciers. 


When we planned this vacation, we were hoping for awesome weather and wanted to take a tram up by Grindelwald and go hiking, but we wouldn't have had a great view and sitting in a heated pool, in the rain, sounded nice and relaxing, so we did that for a few hours. Our friends in Austria, tried to get us to go to a sauna when we were visiting them, to have that cultural experience, but I am not mature enough or comfortable enough to sit and swim naked among men and women, so sitting here, in my swimsuit, at this spa, was good enough for me. 

We told Heidi we were going to be driving to Italy and she told us to take the train part of the way. We thought that sounded like fun, so that's what we did. We drove down towards Italy, and then all of a sudden, you have no option, but to drive your car onto these train cars. It was so cool! We drove off at the end and made our way through the mountains, down towards Milan.

M I L A N , I T A L Y

We parked our car just outside of Milan and took the train into the city. Before getting on the train, we could not find a place to buy a ticket, ANY WHERE! A train had just unloaded a bunch of people, so I asked someone and they pointed to a closed booth. We got on the train and never ran into the conductor, so we got a free ride into Milan. I really had low expectations for Milan and was imagining it to be a gross downtown area, but it was really lively and beautiful. The Duomo was gorgeous. 

Seeing the Last Supper was breathtaking. I honestly didn't know what to expect, but then I walked into the room and saw how massive and beautiful it was, it was overwhelming. I can't describe what I felt there. I've grown up seeing pictures of the artwork, and with my beliefs in Christ and the story behind the piece, it felt incredible to finally be standing in front of it. I'm glad that we reserved tickets back in April!

I think we had gelato just about every day, and the pizza in Milan was the best! We took the train back to our car and drove to meet our next host, Patrizia. She was so sweet and had bought all this food for us. I loved hearing her speak English, because she had the best italian accent and would add an a to the end of things like car and garage. It was fun to hear how well people spoke English and it was a little embarrassing that the only thing I knew was, ciao and grazi.

V E R O N A , I T A L Y

The next day we packed our bags and drove to Verona. The drive to Verona and the city itself, was probably my favorite part of Italy.

We had to at least go see the Romeo and Juliet balcony. There were so many people there, it was crazy!

We stopped in this beautiful Tuscan town, I don't even know where we were, but we walked up this cobblestone path to another castle. It was incredible. I need to find some new adjectives, but it really was so pretty.

Below is the castle. It's kind of hard to see. 

V E N I C E , I T A L Y

I have a love-hate relationship with Venice, it's beautiful, but so expensive and it was a nightmare getting there. Here's what happened. So our brother-in-law gave us a mini Rick Steve's book about Venice, and we didn't read it, and we should have. Somehow Jeff and I did not do our best research on Venice. We parked in some random parking lot that cost 16 euros to park overnight. That was fine, except we didn't have any coins and there were hardly any businesses around us. We noticed that there was a color run happening close by, so I walked, what felt like an hour, to find vendors to exchange my bills for coins. I waited in line at a concession stand, got to the front and started explaining that I needed change. The girl I was talking to didn't speak an ounce of English and I didn't speak Italian, so I just kept pointing at my bill and then at her change, then she finally realized what I wanted, and all was good. I trekked back to our car, at this point I felt like I was on the amazing race, met up with Jeff, who had gone in the opposite direction and was able to find someone to give him change, and then we paid the parking meter. Hallelujah!

We knew we were renting a car while in Europe, so we didn't pack lightly. We both had two huge suitcases and two smaller ones. We decided it would be best if we put the things we needed in one carry-on, since we were only going to be there one night. I set out the luggage and we were on our way. We looked around and realized there were no taxis and no buses, so we started walking down the road. We walked for about a mile, sweating and frustrated that we hadn't planned our transportation to Venice better. If we had just read that Rick Steves book, he tells you the exact parking garage and water taxi to take. Anyway, we finally made it to the bus stop, got on a bus and took the highway over to Venice. Jeff and I started walking, but then he decided he better look at his phone, and figure out where our place was. While he stopped, I decided to put something in our suitcase. I opened the suitcase to find our stash of chocolate, and that was when I realized we had brought the wrong one. I was so frustrated. I was sweaty, hot, and so mad at myself for setting out the wrong suitcase. Jeff was so sweet and told me it wasn't my fault, but it totally was. We walked back to the taxis and took a 35 euro cab ride to get our luggage and come back. UGH!

We got back to the island, still having no clue about the convenience of the water taxis, so we walked, what we thought was in the right direction, towards our nice apartment that we would be staying in. We stopped for some gelato, which was so delicious, but of course, in true Ashton fashion, I spilled the chocolate that was mixed in it, on my dress. Boo. We continued our journey and got to where we thought our apartment would be. It was no where to be found. We then realized when we had typed in the address on our gps, it had taken us to the area that our apartment was in, not the exact address, but that area spanned a great distance. There was no one around us, so we walked until we found a woman who lived there and helped us out. She called the "apartment" and spoke to someone who gave her directions. We were on the west side and needed to walk to the east side. After a while, we finally made it to realize we were not staying in an apartment; I had booked us a shared room at a hostel! I was in charge of finding all the places we would be staying for this trip, and unfortunately, when I was using Airbnb for the first time ever, I booked Venice first and had no idea what I was doing, obviously. I thought we were staying in an apartment with a blonde lady, named Fortunada. I sat down on the bed and started crying. I was so frustrated. Our magical day in Venice, had just been a series of avoidable mistakes. This is so silly, but I had gotten up that morning, curled my hair, put on my cute red dress, thinking I was going to look nice in Venice, but by that point, I was just a sweaty mess. It was pathetic. I would have been totally fine staying in a hostel, it just wasn't what I had expected. I took a shower, and Jeff and I were able to laugh about our crazy day and we decided to make what was left of it the best. It turned out to be a nice, romantic evening and then we came home to our two twin beds, that we had pushed together, and our sleeping roommates. haha. I definitely won't ever forget Venice.

We found roof top access at the hostel and it was beautiful. We had the whole place to ourselves.

My dream come true; a gondola ride with my handsome husband and Marco.
But really, it was wonderful and Marco told us all about the history of Venice.


Sometimes, you just don't get that glamorous shot on the gondola like you always wanted. Not my best moment, but gave us a good laugh. 

It was a little sad leaving Venice, but we were excited for our adventures in Croatia. 
We had a long drive ahead of us, so we spent some time learning about the history of Croatia and the former Yugoslavia. I had heard bits and pieces of things that had happened between Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, etc., but I had no idea what each of these countries had endured. The things that happened among the people in that area were horrific, this article was very informative, definitely worth the read.

P U L A , C R O A T I A

P L I T V I C K A  J E Z E R A , C R O A T I A

Zjelko was our host here. He was awesome! We couldn't find where he lived and he came and found us. When we got to his place, he gave us a plate full of apple strudel that his mother had made for us. He was so kind. I wish he would have stayed here for a week. Too bad we didn't have others with us, we had the 3 bedroom house to ourselves! There was a play set, a river to swim in and it was so peaceful. 

While we were in Croatia, Plitvice was as far south as we went. I would love to come back and spend a week here, what we saw of the country was gorgeous and it was much cheaper than the other countries we had visited. 

B L E D , S L O V E N I A

After our awesome day in Plitvice National Park, we drove to Slovenia. Bled was so great, we went and got dinner, and on our walk home, we picked up the famous bled cream cake. We took it back to our room to eat out on the balcony. It was so good, we went and got more the next day. 

Jeff, he's the best, rowed us out to the island in the middle of Lake Bled and it was so fun. 
I attempted to row, but it was not working for me, so I handed it back over to the pro. 

We took a break from rowing, ate our lunch, and jumped into the freezing cold or as Jeff put it, refreshing, water. We had a blast spending our afternoon here together. Jeff described it being like summer camp, and it was, we had too much fun.


I love this guy. 

S C H L A D M I N G , A U S T R I A

Here is my beloved kasknodelsuppe! I was so happy we got to get it again at the top of the lift! 

Jeff and I saw these mountain karts in Innsbruck, but they weren't open on the weekdays, we were so happy we found them again just outside of Salzburg! 


S A L Z B U R G , A U S T R I A 

M U N I C H , G E R M A N Y

We ended our long, but awesome day, in Munich, by visiting the Hofbrauhaus. It was crazy inside. I can only imagine what Octoberfest is like. We found a table among the madness and ordered some dinner, our waiter wasn't too happy with us when we told him we didn't drink alcohol, but oh well. The food was actually pretty good and it was fun listening to the band play and people cheering every ten minutes. 

This was as good as my panoramic picture was going to get.

How great is this face?

After Hitler's failed attempt of trying to overthrow the government in 1923, which resulted in 16 Nazi's dying, he came back to Munich 10 years later and built a memorial to honor those who had died.  Any person that passed the memorial was required, by law, to face the statue and salute it. People who broke the law were to be arrested by the guard watching over the memorial. Those who did not want to give the Nazi salute, and knew what Hitler stood for, avoided being arrested by turning down Viscardigasse before they reached the memorial. Munich has painted a cobblestone path of gold down this alley way to honor those brave people,

We had a great view of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel and watched the 10 minute jousting performance by the life-size statues. We were a little bored by the end, but I'm glad we watched the whole thing and we had an amazing view of the city!

D A C H A U , G E R M A N Y

After exploring Munich, we drove to Dachau to visit the concentration camp. It was incredibly humbling. Jeff and I spent maybe 5 hours there and we still weren't able to read everything. I have been to the holocaust museum in DC, but standing in the gas chamber and seeing the places where these poor, innocent people were abused and tortured was something else; It was heartbreaking. It made me even more grateful for my life and the freedoms I have.

R O T H E N B U R G , G E R M A N Y

 After Dachau we drove to Rothenburg. This was my favorite German town. It was adorable. I would have loved to spend more time here. The town is surrounded by a wall that you can climb up and walk around, we weren't able to do that, but I wish we had. This place was also filled with Christmas shops. They had all closed a little before we got there. On our way to the airport we came back, so that I could buy an ornament. I love decorating my Christmas tree and being reminded of all the fun adventures we've been on, so I had to get an ornament from Germany, it was my last chance!

I love this photo! As we were driving away, I looked back, and as the sun was setting, it hit Rothenburg in the perfect light. We pulled over to try and capture the beauty of it all. 

Our last night was spent in Niederstetten, with Astrid and her family. She had the best German accent and was so great. She had a beautiful downstairs apartment for us to stay in and surprised us with homemade jam and pastries in the morning. It was sad packing up our bags for the last time, but we were excited to see our babies.

Hope to go back again someday!