Volcanos of the Hawaiian Big Island-  From the Sky

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

For the big 4-0 birthday and 4th of July weekend, we headed to the Big Island of Hawaii for three nights in the town of Volcano.  Yes, that is actually the town name, located just out the gates of Volcano National Park.  I have always wanted to see the volcanos of the Big Island, but especially since Indi became fascinated with them at age 3.  She is interested in all sorts of science and geography and went through a phase where we had to watch a video of lava crushing a coke can every night for a week.  So we headed there in July, flying into Hilo and making the hour trip to Volcano to see it for ourselves.

We landed in steamy Hilo on a Saturday Morning and visited the very busy farmers market and an excellent Mexican restaurant, Lucy’s Taqueria, for lunch.  The farmer’s market was a little cheaper than on Oahu and did have some different things at it, but it was very crowded and was a horrible setup for kids (crowded, hot, no aisle ways for strollers and too hot for the carrier) so we didn’t stay too long.  


The drive from Hilo to Volcano is very interesting as you slowly climb from sea level to 4000 feet with markers every 500 feet along the way.  It also cools a few degrees every 1000 feet and went from 85 down to 72 degrees along the way.  The weather in Volcano was perfect with a high of 75 and lows in the 50s every night…we were very chilly at times!  Being used to sleeping with every window open we tried this the first night in our vacation house- and woke up freezing! The VRBO A-frame had everything we needed such as cooking supplies, a nice yard and garden, and even electric blankets and space heaters.  We spent the first day in Volcano Park exploring crater rim drive, stopping at the steam vents, viewing the Kilauea crater, and the Jagger Museum.  The museum is small but is one of the best locations to view the crater from above.  We could barely see some lava which everyone was excited about, especially Indi!  For dinner we ate at the Volcano House which offers a different view of the crater and has a diverse menu with reasonable prices.    We liked it so much we headed back the next night for dinner as well.

Sunday it was back to Hilo and a helicopter tour!  The Blue Hawaiian 45 minute flight took us over a different section of Volcanos Park, the Pu’u’o’o crater and lava flows to the sea as well as some nice waterfalls in the Hilo area.  The scenery from above was so striking as it changed from green to gray to black in a matter of minutes.  Kilauea overall has been erupting for hundreds of years, but this particular crater has been flowing with lava since 1983 and has covered entire towns and roads on its path to the sea.  We saw lots of lava in the crater and also windows where it would peek through along the way. 

The end of the road!

Don’t worry- they both had fun!

After the ride we drove the chain of craters road, a 20 mile jaw dropping trek from the park down to the sea through the giant lava fields.  Many of these are marked by the year of the flow and you can stop at several points to walk over the lava flows. At the bottom you can park and view the Holei Sea Arch.  This is as close as you can get to the lava entering the ocean unless you hike the 4 miles to it (future note when the kids are older!)

The Sea Arch


Monday we drove south past Mauna Loa volcano and stopped at the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach and the town of Naalehu.  We had a nice breakfast at Hana Haou Restaurant, which has the claim to fame of being the southernmost restaurant in the USA (Hawaii is further south than Key West).  The black sand beach was a little out of this world and there were several lazy sea turtles hanging out on it. The sand being black makes it quite toasty on the feet!  Constantly looking up at Mauna Loa is very humbling, knowing that it could erupt again at any time.  The last was in 1984 and some over the past decades have spread all over the island and all the way to Hilo.  It was so interesting reading more about the volcanos while on the trip and learning that the same lava flow feeds Mauna Loa, Kilauea, and also Loihi which is still underwater and will surface in about 50,000 years.   We had our last dinner at Ohelo Cafe in Volcano, highlighted by Indi’s first chocolate mousse.  Somehow we made it through a somewhat fancy dinner with two crazy kids and only a few awkward glances from the crowd.  

Family picture in front of Kilauea

A perfect ending to our Big Island trip was an evening hike to the Jagger museum viewing area at dusk. Just a warning that it gets pretty crowded and we had to park a 10 minute walk away, but it was so worth it! The lava is glowing and lighting up the sky. You can see much more clearly than during the day. What a sight; it’s no wonder the ancient Hawaiians said there was Pele the fire goddess inside.

The Big Island is highly recommended and especially Volcano National Park.  With older kids you could certainly do more in the way of hiking and exploring, but for us it was a perfect getaway weekend and so very different from Oahu where we live.   Safe travels! 

Maui – Beaches, Blue Water, and a bombed out Island View

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Three months into our move to Hawaii from Germany, we ventured off the island of Oahu for the first time.  So far there has been no feeling of being trapped on an island, rock fever, or anything like that, and we have enjoyed exploring the many diverse parts of Oahu on the weekends.  But as the holiday weekend approached we decided to check out a neighboring island and decided on Maui…and why not?

Flights are quick and easy between the islands with flight times around 30 minutes and multiple flights per day between Honolulu and Kahului, Maui.  They aren’t the cheapest given the flight time (about $130 roundtrip per ticket) but the prices fall in line with just about everything else here in Hawaii.  The price is totally worth it and besides there are just no other ways to get there besides swimming.  There used to be a ferry but it was closed in 2009 because of an incomplete environmental impact assessment which was really the doing of Hawaiian Airlines and Matson, the main shipping company on the island.  Kahului is a small and practical airport which they are adding onto now and building a new parking garage.  The downfall is having to take a shuttle to the rental car area which hopefully will improve with the new garage.  


Maui is essentially two mountains formed by now dormant volcanos with a large valley running down the center between them. We decided to stay in Maalaea, in south central Maui, given that it was close to beaches, boating options, and nice areas to explore.  Our VRBO apartment looked over the ocean with a spectacular view of Haleakala, Molokini crater, and the island of Kaho’olawe.  It was the weekend of king tides and the waves were pounding the shore and even coming up over the marina in some places, an awesome sight!  Maalaea is known for the Maui Ocean Center which has a nice restaurant, Seascape, with great views of the harbor.  There is also a BBQ grill we ate at and also a general store to get basic supplies.  The prices are high and even a little more than Oahu in some cases.  

Molokini Crater

Lanai

The highlight of our trip was a charter boat ride which took us out past Kihei, Wailea, and towards Molokini crater.  The girls had a great time on the boat!  We were fortunate to have rare southerly winds that day which allowed our captain to take us around and into the crater which was simply amazing!  It was afternoon and no other boats were around, all having packed up from the morning snorkel excursions.  We saw many kinds of fish and birds, some of which had an over 6 foot wingspan!  Along the way back we could also see the islands of Kaho’olawe, Lanai, Moloka’i, and even a small part of the big island….and with Maui that made 5 of the 8 at once!  Kaho’olawe is perhaps the most striking and interesting of all of the islands given it’s history of goat and cattle raising, deforestation, and finally bombing by the DoD which has left the island uninhabitable.  

Sunday we drove 30 minutes west and around the Maui Forest reserve and to the pretty town of Lahaina.  An old and historic whaling town and former capital of the region, the town was a great day trip for shopping and a nice lunch with a view.  There are outlet stores within walking distance to the historic downtown which has several local stops to choose from.  The restaurants have rooftop decks with amazing views of Lanai.  There is also a ferry to Lanai which we didn’t take but is on our list for our next trip.  

Stargazing was another highlight of the trip and our vacation apartment even had a telescope in it.  After much trial and error, we were able to find both Jupiter and Saturn and these were incredible sights with the moons and rings in view!  

Certainly the takeaway I had about Maui was just how different the islands are on many levels.  Geologically, they are all different ages which is reflected in the landscape (the big island is the youngest island while Kauai is the oldest due to their volcanic creation and shifting of the earth’s plates over time).  Maui also has a much different and relaxed feeling from Oahu.  And though there are still some tourists, there are just less people living on a much larger island, so it feels less crowded.

Much more to see like the road to Hana, drive up Haleakala, Kapalua, etc…until next time!

From K-Town to K-Town

Tags

, , , , , ,

I know all of our loyal readers out there may have been wondering about us… no travels since January in Ireland? Odd. Well, we moved! I think moving to new countries and faraway places is kind of like childbirth, you don’t remember how hard it is so eventually you want to do it again. It was sad, happy, scary and tiring all in one. We can now call this blog K-town to K-town because we are now residing in Kaneohe, Hawaii – aka K-Town to the locals. I’ll start at the beginning, January 31, 2017. I’ve blocked out some of the hardest parts in my mind so I’ll give you the abbreviated version that won’t scare the kids.

In truth, the story starts January 23, 2017 when the Federal Government Hiring Freeze was signed. This Executive Order changed our lives forever. We knew we had to leave Germany within a year and a half because of what is called the “5 year rule” for overseas civilians. You can only stay employed overseas for the federal government a maximum of 5 years and then you must return to the US. Because of this rule we had both been actively looking for jobs in Hawaii as we had decided that was where we wanted to land in late 2017 or 2018. Jeff had a tentative offer for a job and we planned to move in April or May timeframe. However, once the hiring freeze was enacted we found out on January 31st that we need to go now or risk potentially not going… well we said yes, let’s do it. The anxiety of not knowing when/if the freeze would end was terrifying and we needed to go rather the risk our future plans and possibly end up back in DC (no offense to DC but it’s not where we want to raise our girls). That said, we had 21 days to depart Germany and land in Hawaii – with our household goods being shipped, car shipped, van sold, utilities turned off and a plethora of other items that I can’t even recall now because I’ve blocked them out.
One of the most challenging items was that I had shipped a crate of stuff from our storage unit in DC when we were there in December to our house in Germany so that we would have all of our stuff together to move to Hawaii… in the Spring. The crate was due in at the beginning of March… and we had to have everything shipped by February 18th. The math was not looking good. I called and begged the shipping company and came just short of renting a semi to drive to the port in The Netherlands to get the stuff, but it arrived. On the last possible day. It was a modern miracle and proves that European bureaucracy can be overcome if you put your mind to it (and cry and beg and demand).

Leaving Germany was so hard, our friends, house, neighbors, jobs, the girl’s school – it was all hard. Our 4 year old did not take it well at first and we all cried (to put it mildly) at the Frankfurt airport that last morning. She still asks to go back and we tell her that we will, and I do believe we will. Travel is a part of our family and moving around the world seems to be too, but for now we are settled… at least until the girls are in high school and they can pack and carry their own stuff! Everything happened so fast it is a miracle we ended up with everything we needed and arrived safely.

Upon arrival in Hawaii, after a short stop in Maryland, we have had wonderful luck – we both have great new jobs, the girls have a wonderful new school and the best part is we found a perfect house and are all moved in (and it has a pool!). The final traumatic event was shortly after we landed in Hawaii and were getting our new US cell phones. Jeff got an email that our VW was on a ship that was involved in an “incident” off the coast of the UK. Well, we signed our new phone contracts and I quickly used said new phone to Google “ship incident off UK” and of course… the ship had caught on fire and many cars were damaged. Awesome. It’s not an expensive car, but it’s one we like and the thought of buying a second new car was exhausting. It did arrive a couple of months later though and is just fine; doesn’t even smell of smoke. I do wish he could tell us about his journey though. I should note that this was after we were notified we had been flagged for possible money laundering when the money we received for the sale of my van in Germany was wired to our account. I mean seriously, it’s like the Sunscreen song – there is no sense in worrying because “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindsides you at four P.M. On some idle Tuesday”. I was pretty much worried about everything with this move except an accusation of money laundering. But we can laugh about it now!

We have adjusted well to life in Hawaii. We wear “slippers” aka flip flops pretty much all the time and enjoy time outside. There is not really any air conditioning in a lot of places (similar to Germany), including our house, but the trade winds more than make up for that and we just love being warm all the time now. The food here is amazing, Jeff loves all the seafood options especially. I thought I hated rice for 36 years but nope, turns out I hate bad rice… good rice is delicious! I also ate a cheeseburger pretty much every day for a week or two when we got here; Europeans just don’t know how to make a good burger like Americans do! We are planning some trips to Asia and the South Pacific in the coming years as it’s a continent we have not explored as a family and we are all excited to.
We are off to Maui soon so our travel blogs will continue, but if anyone needs any tips on moving around the world with small children feel free to ask. My first tip is this however, don’t do it with only two and a half weeks to prepare.

Ireland – Best Napkins in Europe!

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Large and durable napkins softer than a bed sheet were just one of the many things we loved about County Kerry, Ireland.   There was also, of course, the beautiful scenery, rolling green hills, jaw dropping coastline, mild January weather, high tundra-like mountains, amazing seafood and thousands of years of history to take in as well. 

Inch Beach looking south

We decided on Ireland because it was one of the travel destinations on our short list which had affordable (very cheap!) flights and good weather. The winter in Germany has been the worst in four years with temperatures below freezing for most of the past month, and therefore partly cloudy and 50 degrees sounded about like summer to us. 

The start of the trip from Frankfurt Hahn to Kerry Ireland was a little rough to say the least.  Snow and high winds that morning made the drive through the mountains difficult and we had to carefully pass though several snow drift areas.  Flights were grounded that morning from Hahn so there was a backlog and delays for departure.  Parking was an absolute adventure, as the P1 parking area was literally an ice skating rink due to the blowing snow inside the garage.  We watched people sliding all over while exiting the garage, so instead we chose P2 and the freezing family walk up unplowed streets and sidewalks.  All was well, finally, when we took off about an hour late and arrived to Ireland safely.  

Saying tschüss to the wind and snow!


We stayed the holiday weekend in Killarney, a beautiful city of about 10,000 set against the backdrop of the mountains and a great hub to explore the coast.  Killarney has dozens of restaurants in the downtown area and is home to more hotel beds in all of Ireland with the exception of Dublin.  During peak summer season we heard that restaurants are packed every night, but in January we often had the places all to ourselves especially during the “early bird” 5-7 PM time before the girls were ready to hit the bed.  Our personal favorites were the seafood (chowder, fish/chips, and these yummy salmon wrapped avocados), mashed potatoes, and pancakes…lots of pancakes! What made it better were nice amenities we don’t usually get in Europe such as pitchers of water, ice, and of course nice napkins!

Killarney and Foley’s Restaurant

Ready for our first Irish Meal!

 

Dingle Peninsula. We started our tour of Dingle with breakfast at the Coast Guard restaurant just outside of Dingle town and enjoyed the great food and view.  From the town, we headed to Slea Head Drive, traveling counter clockwise as advised.  The views along Slea Head get better and better as you approach the Blasket Islands passing beautiful vantage points and historical bee hut sights.  The highlight was the Dún Chaoin overlook where you can see water on all sides with a steep drop off to a gorgeous beach below.  

Slea Head

Daddy check this out!


We drove on to the rest of Slea Head drive passing a few small towns and signs about the filming of the next Star Wars Movie.  Back in Dingle, we walked around and did some shopping, picking Indi and Dagny up stuffed Lambs and a t-shirt to bring home.  We also had a true “Irish Pub” experience at Murphys.   The food was so delicious and you could not beat the atmosphere inside.  

Dingle and Murphy’s Pub. Packed inside!

The pretty streets of Dingle

Sisters in Ireland and winners of the bright fleece contest


Heading back to Killarney (about 1 hour) we saw some incredible rainbows along the way and got a few pictures.  

Rainbow!! In Ireland the signs are in Metric but they drive on the left. Part of EU but not Schengen. Confused? I was.


Kenmare and Killarney National Park

Day 2 took us south to Kenmare, where we started with Breakfast at Mick and Jimmys.  After a crab sandwich and pancakes (delicious!), we walked off breakfast in the town.  Kenmare is small, just a few downtown streets, but very picturesque and what you would imagine an Irish postcard street would look like.  

Kenmare


The drive back took us on the famous ring of Kerry and through Molls Gap and the Mcgillcuddy Reeks, the highest mountains in Ireland.  Heading into Killarney National park we saw lakes, mountains, and lots of sheep! Some were even in the roadway which makes for a fun driving adventure (especially while driving on the left!) 

Killarney National Park


Day 3 we visited the grounds of Ross Castle and Mucross House which were very green even in January.  

Walking the Grounds of Muckross House. Pretty even with some rain.

Ross Castle, built in the 1500s


We certainly enjoyed Ireland and all it had to offer.  Though there were many reminders of American culture, the Gaelic references and signs (it’s the second language) made it still feel very different and European.   The scenery, food, and people were all wonderful and we are looking forward to visiting again and seeing more sights someday.  

Christmas Markets of Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Where to even start after an amazing four days over the Thanksgiving Holiday! We stayed in Sopron, Hungary to see a new country while traveling inexpensively and also being central to Vienna Airport and Bratislava, Slovakia.  After four Christmas markets in four days….in three countries…we certainly maximized our weekend and had a wonderful time! Some of the trip highlights included:

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria

The quick flight from Frankfurt to Vienna gave us time to explore Vienna the first day and we visited the lovely Christmas market at Schönbrunn palace.  Sarah had played drums here in high school and was looking forward to visiting again.  The scene was incredible and crowds were down given it was mid day on a Wednesday when we arrived.  With only about 60 booths it is not a huge Weinachtsmarkt, but the shopping and food options were still great.  We enjoyed a loaded baked potato, pasta dish, and some kartoffel creme soup. Drink options are so many at the markets, with dozens of hot drink varieties, each coming in a very cool souvenir mug to keep (or return for €2.50 but seriously?).  We didn’t tour the castle but did stop in the gift shop to pick up some souviners.   

The girls at Schönbrunn Palace

Yummy!

Bratislava, Slovakia

From our vacation house in Hungary, Bratislava was just an hour 20 minute drive which we did Thanksgiving day.  Intresringly, both in Slovakia and Hungary there are toll requirements on Autobahns,  but instead of a vignette you must pay and give your plate number at any gas station after which you keep the receipt with your car.  

Border Crossing from Austria to Slovakia

Bratislava was such a nice place to visit, starting with dramatic and out of this world entry to the city.  Crossing the Danube you pass under a Soviet era UFO structure while seeing a mix of medieval, communist era, and modern tech structures.  We easily found available parking right in old town at the parking garage and set off to see the capital of Slovakia. 

Bratislava is filled with historic buildings


The Old town of Bratislava was small, historic, and full of embassies.  Indi loved seeeing the Flags and we saw the US, France, Greece, Japan, and Spain to name a few.   

Old town Streets

We visited two separate Christmas market areas, one in the main square and one along a park towards the Danube.  FOOD was the main attraction here, especially the Lokše (potato pancakes) and Cigánska pečienka  (meat sandwich). Both of these are both incredibly tasty and messy.  We also checked out the Chocolate shop in the main square which has a nice second floor sitting area and view of the square.  Indi really loved Slovakia with all the flags and really wanted a scarf to take home, which she proudly wore the rest of the day!

Indi says “There’s Malta”!

Great view from 2nd Floor of Chocolate Shop


Forchenstein Castle, Austria

We found this amazing gem only by reading a brochure in our vacation house. The castle is not open this time of year except for this particular weekend which was the Advent festival.  The cost was only €3.50 per adult (kids under six free) which was actually cheaper than the normal entry fee!  Both the castle and market were simply amazing, and probably my favorite in three years of experiencing the markets in Europe.  There was just something for everyone – a kids art and crafts area, live music, castle museum with original art and artifacts, tons of shopping, and of course food and drink.  There was even Austrian ORF TV filming and we think Dagny maybe made an appearance.  

Kids craft area

Beautiful setting!

Rare photo of the Family courtesy of some nice volunteers


Sopron, Hungary

Sopron’s market (pronounced Show-pron we learned) was just setting up this weekend and we visited it on Saturday, our last day in town.  Much smaller than the others on our trip, it had about 40 stands with mostly shopping and some food vendors.  We bought a few ornaments and souviners before heading into the old town to explore.  

Fun at the Sopron Christmas Market


The Old town of Sopron is very nice with the fire watch tower looking over the town square.  We climbed the tower which gave a good view of the city and also served as a museum with photos and history of the town.  Interestingly with the Proximity to Austria the town even had a german name at one point, and we noticed town signs in both languages on both sides of the border.  Following WWI, Sopron voted to join Hungary over Austria, and the Fidelity gate which passes under the Fire tower commentates that 1922 vote.  We did some shopping in the town and then headed to the Harrer Chocolate factory outside of town for dessert, highly recommended!

Sopron town square


Some other interesting observations about the area…

  • Hungary is cheap! They use the Forunt which was trading at 295 FNT to one dollar, so the math is tricky.  Meals ranged from as little as $13 dollars to $30 for us two adults and two kids for lots of good food
  • We liked the goulash and cucumber salad.  We also had garlic cream and fish soups and stuffed pancakes which were all delicious. 
  • Many people did not speak English and we reverted to lots of pointing at times in shops and restaurants or using our German which is far from perfect.  The language is very different and difficult as Hungarian has 46 letters in the alphabet.  
  • Watch out for pedestrians! Lots of crosswalks and people coming out with out looking.  It’s interesting seeing the differences in something simple like crosswalks within Europe. Hungarians take theirs very seriously!

Exploring Empty Rothenburg

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

After over three years living in Germany we made it to Rothenburg ob der Tauber! The timing was great with the Veterans Day weekend, and the normally touristy town was just about empty this time of year.  

Indi loved the snow!


Our Apartment was inside the walls and originally from 1499.  It was so beautiful inside and out and the owners could not have been more friendly, even helping us carry our luggage in from the car.  Parking was just around the corner at 5 euros per day in the P1 lot which makes a great location to park when visiting the town. We stayed on the Spitalgasse, just inside the large Southern gate, which also has access to the town walls And our favorite part was being able to park the car and walk everywhere for two days!

View from town wall. Our apartment was on this street (Spitalgasse) and a great location to explore.


Rothenburg is simply a beautiful historic german town.  The highlights include the intact town walls, various gates in each direction and some cute restaurants and shopping.  There are also many historic churches including St. Jakobskirche with its gothic towers rising above the town.  Inside the church, up stairs, is an original carving from 1501.  

St. Jakob Church Nave and Altarpiece from 1501


The streets themselves are cobblestones and they do allow local traffic, but the sidewalks are wide and smooth which works well for pushing a stroller.  At this point with our 8 month old and three year old, we use a combination of options including the 3 year old walking or stroller, and the 8 month old in the carrier or stroller.  

Marktplatz – It was snowing!

 

The marktplatz is certainly the center of it all with the historic Rathaus and Kathe Wohlfahrt stores just off the square.  We seemed to end up in the Marktplatz about 10 times in just two days exploring the town.  

Plönlein at dusk

Perfect for a short weekend, we highly recommend the town during the offseason!

Germany Fall Festivals

Tags

, , , ,

Everyone has heard about Oktoberfest, but it was surprising when we moved to Germany just how many festivals of all varieties there are.  This is true throughout the year with Fall having its fair share of Pumpkin fests, town fests, harvest fests, farmers fests, and more.  Here are a few we had a nice time attending over the last month.  

Hitcherhof Pumpkin Festival

This is a large festival in a small town 30 minutes southwest of Kaiserslautern.  There are small pumpkins, large pumpkins, Pumpin soup, pumpkins waffles, you name it.  There is also a shopping area with several stands selling everything from arts and crafts to fruits and vegetables. Recommend you get there early if you want to get any pictures without throngs of people in them.  

Pumpkins Everywhere!


Scheneckenhausen Farmers Fest

The entire Main Street of Scheneckhausen fills with shopping stands and various food vendors.  We did some shopping and had a plate of cheese spätzle and some drinks.  There were ponies and other animals for the girls to see and pet also along with a display of vintage tractors.  We bought our 6 month old daughter a painted Mickey Mouse from the same stand we bought our older daughter a Donald Duck two years earlier…a parent has to be fair after all!

Small town not so small today

Horses!

 

Olsbrücken Kerwe Parade

These parades are so much fun, especially for the kids.  The Kerwe is a town celebration that just about each town in our part of Rheinland-Pfalz celebrates for one weekend each fall.  Our town of Sulzbachtal used to have a parade, but we think it was cancelled due to money, so Olsbrücken is the next closest thing.  The first Sunday of October there is a parade with about 15-20 floats, bands, and other groups marching and handing out candy, drinks, and other goodies.  There is a tent celebration (Zeltkerwe) and a central area with food and rides for the kids.  Our three year old had her first ride ever on a small carousel.  

Here comes the parade!

Indi’s first ride!

 

Echternach Vis Fest (bonus!)

We stumbled onto this one visiting Luxembourg over the Columbus Day weekend.  The historic square of Echternach had some food and shopping vendors, and at the center was a homemade apple juicing operation.  The result was all types of Apple drinks for sale.  It was simply delicious and we took a bottle for the road which we enjoyed all week.  

Echternach, the Oldest town in Luxembourg

Apple Pressing!


On any given weekend there are literally hundreds of these types of festivals in Germany and across Europe, you just have to find them! Until the next one…tschüss!

Where is Malta? 

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

We decided on Malta after hearing about it from some co-workers. First question was where the heck is Malta? Located South of Sicily (and the toe of Italy), and north of Tunesia, Malta experiences hot and sunny weather most of the year. We wanted a warm destination for our Labor Day trip to have more beach and pool time for our two young girls and with cheap Ryanair flights we made our choice. We decided on Gozo Island, the smaller of the two main Maltese islands, as it is more spread out than the main Island and less crowded. The trip to Gozo was amazing and had too many highlights to even describe, but we will mention a few. 

Gozo Farmhouse

street in Sannat

back of Villa Palma

1 baby, 1 swaddle, 1 big bed

Villa Entrance

20+ marble steps up to 2nd floor!

Entryway

In our search for a vacation apartment we settled on a Gozo Farmhouse named Villa Palma, located in the small town of Sannat. It was suprising to see how many Farmhouses are on Gozo as there must be at least 30 that come up on various websites and hotel searches. The houses all have similar features such as limestone construction and interior features such as beams and arches, courtyards, tiled floors, and best of all pools! We booked on AirBNB as the apartment was less than the same one on booking.com and were so pleased to have a comfortable and spacious home for the week. 

Some incredible features of Villa Palma were the massive entryway with stone arches and columns, three balconies, rooftop terrace, courtyard with BBQ and pool, and amazing 360 views of the island. 

We enjoyed waking up to the sunrise, relaxing outside by the pool multiple times per day, cooking dinner at home, and watching the countless stars come out at night. As a bonus we were able to see the Fireworks display from three miles away at Xaghra the days leading up to September 8th. That day is a special one in Maltese history, being a religious festival of the birth of Mary, the day the siege of 1565 ended, and the day on which the Italian Army was defeated by the British in WWII. 

 History

Gozo has been inhabited for thousands of years, and we saw evidence of this by visiting the Ggantija Temples. The UNESCO site was well worth the visit and takes you through both a museum and into the ancient temples themselves. The oldest part of the temples dates back to 3600 BC, over 5600 years ago!  

Wow daddy this place is OLD!


A feature of Gozo that is impossible to miss are the many Churches on the Island. Each town has at least one, and these are visible for miles away. The largest of which is the rotunda of St. John the Baptist in Xewkija. Completed in 1978 on the grounds of the previous church, it is now the second largest unsupported dome in Europe after St. Peters in Rome. We did a quick tour of the church which includes a museum and observation deck with some great views! Each church is uniquely different and is the centerpiece of the town.  

Massive John the Baptist Church (from house terrace)


Azure Window

This incredible natural limestone arch was breathtaking and we visited twice to get different perspectives and pictures. There is parking close by and countless hiking and viewing options for the Azure window, fungus rock and the surrounding cliffs and sea. This area was filmed for several movie and TV shows including Game of Thrones. We also had a wonderful dinner at the Azure window restaurant which was surprisingly not touristy, had great and friendly service, and delicious food. 

 

Xlendi Bay

This lovely little inlet can get quite crowded, as we found out during lunch on Sunday, but otherwise is an ideal spot for great food, activities, and views. There are several restaurants lining the U-shaped inlet including a nice little spot, Churchill’s, that we had lunch at while watching the inlet. We saw several types of fish and even a jellyfish! There is some shopping in Xlendi also, mostly trinkets from the area and beach supplies. The main shopping areas on the Island are on the main street just east of Victoria. We went for a nice walk around the harbor also and got some great pictures.

Woah Mommy its Xlendi Bay!


Boat Ride

Our trip highlight, by far, was our boat tour of the southern and eastern part of Gozo. We rented a private boat with driver for a very affordable price and saw so many amazing sights during the two hours. First of all, the water around Malta, Gozo, and Comino is some of the bluest you will ever see. You can’t see this in the deep spots but when you approach the coastline, any shallow water, or caves, it turns a bright blue. The coastline southern Gozo is all massive cliffs, some as high as 470 feet at Ta Cenc, and this was incredible to see from the water (note – I also saw these running as well and the view is scary to say the least!). The boat trip took us through several caves where the driver pointed out coral just below the water surface. We went into the inlet at Mgarr Ix-Xini, where the film By the Sea starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt was filmed. Better to visit this by boat as we read the roads down to the Inlet were terrible (as were many roads in Gozo!) We traveled passed Mgarr where the Gozo ferry line lands dozens of times per day, as the standard means on and off the island. Our driver pointed out Fort Chambray on the hill over Mgarr which was an important means of protection throughout history. Finally we approached Comino Island, the smallest of the three Malta Islands, and home of the Blue Lagoon beach area. The water was incredible to see! The crowds not so much and we were much happier on the boat instead of having to navigate through hundreds of young beach goers all competing for sunbathing space on the rocks. 

Driving in Gozo

Driving is more than a little challenging in Gozo. The roads are terrible, you drive on the left, GPS/Google Maps/Apple Maps don’t work well, there are tiny streets and several one ways, some streets are under construction and not marked well, and there is this island mentality to slow down (note: speed kills signs were everywhere…really?) while competing with the locals and tourists trying to get to places efficiently. Not much more to say other than it was quite an adventure! By day 3 we were pretty used to it and it helped that the furthest point to drive was only 20 minutes away, so eventually you learn the best ways to go. 

Ramla Bay

Beautiful red sand beach area on the northern coast. We visited one morning to walk the beach and take pictures. Parking at 0930 was easy and close, though imagining it fill up during peak times would make for a parking and traffic nightmare (one way in and out). Our 3 year old loved the red sand and walking in the water! 

In summary, we would highly recommend Malta as a travel destination, even for families. The people were very friendly and English is spoken literally everywhere, making it much easier than some of our prior destinations. We certainly recommend staying in a Farmhouse as this gives you nice amenities at a great value. We hope to be back someday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flachau, Austria

Tags

, , , , ,

We spent one night in Flachau en route from Germany to Croatia.  It is an Austrian town situated an hour south of Salzburg.  Situated right off the A10 Autobahn, Flachau made for a perfect stopover point.  We had pizza from a local place and packed it in early at our hotel, Aparthotel am Reitecksee.   A few pictures of Area and Austrian alps…

Summer escape to Rovinj

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

We spent an amazing and HOT week in Rovinj the first week of July exploring the beautiful town, beaches, and surrounding area of Istria, Croatia.  Having visited Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coast last summer, we were determined to visit Croatia again having such a wonderful time there.  We planned our second Croatia trip to the nearest point drivable from Germany, as with having a 3 month old, we were not quite ready to take to the skies.  Istria, a peninsula jutting out into the Adriatic, is more known for its Venetian architecture, truffles, and olive oil than its beaches (though they were pretty amazing in our book)!.  During our week in Rovinj we explored the local area, the Roman town of Poreč, medieval hill town of Motuvun, and four beaches in the area. 
Let me just say Croatian beaches can be pretty hard to find.  We always do our internet research for locations and addresses and are not bad with directions.  We also always use our Apple or Google iPhone maps as insurance.  Given that, we still ended up in the middle of a construction site (with foreman asking us to leave), on a private resort FKK (look that up) beach, and on a secluded rocky beach with no amenities…before we figured out actually where to park and/or walk to the beaches we planned on visiting.  Below is a little more on each adventure.  

Beaches

Lone Bay

By far our favorite beach, it is set on a cove of crystal clear water directly south of Rovinj.  To access the beach you drive and park at Zlanti Rt park and walk to the northwest.  It is about a 10 minute walk and there are very few signs in general and no signs specifically to Lone bay.  You just have to use GPS or trial and error.  Needless to say we hiked at least a mile in the heat before finding it, but it was certainly worth it!

View from Lone bay to Katherina Island and Rovinj (with Jeff and Indi)


Lone bay offers both plastic chairs for 30 kuna (about $5) and very nice wooden chairs with umbrella for 200 kuna ($30).  There is a snack bar with drinks, ice cream, and our ham & cheese sandwiches which were a hit with our 3 year old Daughter.  Best part of the beach is the family friendly setup with small pebbles and the ability to sit right along the water with your kids.  Most efficient for us!

Walk to Lone Bay

Snack bar




Valdaliso/Figarola beach

Having wanting to visit Valdaliso, we first ended up at the construction site and after a U-turn instead took the turn at the Konzum which takes you to an excellent shaded parking area next to Rovinj beach bar.  Our landlord, Ante, said this was technically Figarola beach.  The shore was a combination of some natural rocky with plenty of pebbly areas for kids.  The view of Rovinj from the North is just spectacular.  The sun is very hot on this beach so it is recommended to get there early to get some of the shaded spots under the pine trees.  We actually lucked out when a family packed up and left one afternoon after we arrived.  With barely any clouds in the sky and 88 degrees every day, the shade is necessary! 

Our setup with baby beach tent

Beach bar Rovinj is a full service bar and restaurant.  We even had dinner there one late afternoon, complete with scallops, tuna salad, pizza, and spaghetti.  Delicious, like all the food in Rovinj, and not very expensive! Most meals were about 30 euros for our family of two adults and two kids.  

Cuvi Beach

We found this beach after the wrong turn to the FKK campground, but left after a short time because it was not the cleanest  and did not offer a great setup for families.  Mostly rocky with only one pebbly area without any shade.  

Cuvi Beach

Porton Biondi Beach

Best view of Rovinj, just a stones throw away from old town.  Not much shade here and not the prettiest beach.  We snapped some pictures and had lunch at the pizza restaurant which was typical of the area.  

Portion Biondi and Rovinj

Motovun

Highly recommended! Motovun is the most famous of the Istrian medieval hill towns.  We arrived by 0930 and parked as high as possible, at the grass lot under the cemetery.  The weather was hot and 1/2 mile walk up not the easiest, but because of the narrow streets most of it was shaded.  The town is not very stroller friendly so we were happy to have our 3 month and 3 year old in carriers for the day.  We found a great restaurant with a view that was open, Montona Gallery, where we had chocolate pancakes and sandwiches with an amazing view.  From the town you can see 360 degrees for miles! We enjoyed tasting olive oil and seeing the town sights including town gate, church and square, town wall, and birthplace of Mario Andretti (note this is hidden down Ul Borgo street then a left turn). 

View of Motovun

Town Arch with Indi in Tow

Mario Andretti Birthplace

Oh the view!


Had the weather been cooler or a different time of year we would certainly have visited the other hill towns of the area including Grožnjan and Oprtalj. 

Rovinj Old Town

We walked around parts of old town twice with another “Kuna binge” shopping spree (only because rest of Europe uses Euro and we are not sure if we will be back), and I was able to get two early morning runs through old town during the week.  The town is just amazingly striking to look at with the pastel colored buildings, beautiful harbor, and St. Euphemia church tower high on the hill.  In terms of the town itself it was nice, but difficult with small children to do the hills during the summer heat.  We stayed mostly along the harbor with our daughter Indi picking out the country flags on the boats (she is a big fan of the Croatian flag).  We also did some shopping at the markets entering the town.  Not much else to say except wear your walking shoes and go either early or late in the day.  

She found a Croatia flag

Rovinj from main parking area

Pretty Building with Croatia Flag

Archway into Old Town


Poreč
For a change of pace, we spent a 1/2 day in the Ancient Roman city of Poreč, 35 minutes up the Adriatic coast from Rovinj.  Poreč is much easier to walk because it is basically flat, so we were able to cover most of the city in a morning.  We had lunch outside of the Basicalla and did some shopping, picking up our girls Croatia dresses and some Christmas ornaments.  Rovinj is definitely larger and prettier to look at, but Poreč is very much recommended because of historic aspects and ease to get around.  

Remains of house in Poreč

Basillica from 6th Century

Decumanus Street – pretty but hot!

Pentagonal Tower from year 1447

View of Poreč

 

Food

Istrian food is so diverse and there is a little bit for everyone! I personally enjoyed the seafood options on every menu, unlike Germany, and just about every corner has a steak or pizza grill that is open from 10 to midnight every day.  This makes mid day meals much easier for us, where in other countries like Italy or Germany there is the dreaded “downtime” between lunch and dinner.  Olive oil is very popular here with government subsidized farms everywhere around Istria.  We came home with five bottles! 

Istrian Olive Oil and Truffle Spread


To summarize, we absolutely loved Istria as a drivable destination from Germany to visit amazing beaches and historical towns.  With weather over 85 degrees F (30 C) and days full of sun, it is a perfect summer getaway from the weather of Central Europe most of the year.  We hope to visit Croatia again soon! To see more, check out our trip video…a new tradition we have: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxBZIgu5YwI&sns=em