Long Interlude…..

Soooo… its been a while. When we last left off we were enjoying ourselves in Collioure, wishing our two day stay was much longer. It’s like we never left right? Well, sadly we did… in fact, I am writeing this today from an Air BnB in Tel Aviv, off on the latest adventure.

To the gap on what we missed here… After Collioure we made a quick stop in Carcassonne on our way to the Dordogne region of France where we stayed in the gorgeous medieval town of Sarlat, and then finished out the trip in San Sebastian, one of our favorite European Cities.

Then our party of 4 became a party of 5, and we embarked on our (now typical) maternity/paternity leave international trip. This time, the destination was Australia where we visited our Australian friends in Sydney and even got to see our Melbourne friends when they flew up to meet us in Palm Beach. Our crew has multiplied quite a bit since our original trip together!

The original Trip in July 2011 – Sailing together in the Aeolian Islands 🌴 (Pre Blog travels…)
November 2018, we are going to need a bigger sailboat next time

Finally, because that is not enough travel for baby’s first year (ha), we schlepped the crew to Europe again, this time with my brother and his family and our au pair who returned to Germany last august, Ina.

Our itinerary was similar to our 2014 Europe trip with Imy. We began in Colmar, France (new destination for us), then visited Munich (another favorite European destination), the Dolomites, and then ended and flew home via Zurich.

Here are a few favorite pictures from that adventure…

Colorful Collioure

The next stop on the trip got the “Why the heck didn’t we stay here longer?!?!” award.  After Arles we headed to the coast to spend a few days in Collioure, a lesser known town along the French Mediterranean coast which Rick Steves and crew seem to love (and as you know, we have a thing for things Rick Steves likes)

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Our visit to Collioure started stressful, but as soon as we unpacked it started to feel really good…but before we get to the highlights, let’s talk about our arrival so maybe you can do a better job than we did… or we can do a better job next time…or maybe its just part of the travel game and nobody can do a better job even with perfect planning.

Due to poor planning and/or an attempt to allow for two beach days, we arrived in Collioure during the busiest and hottest part of the day, having missed Imogen’s naptime (i.e. cranky toddler), with a car full of luggage and kids who must be pushed or carried, to a town that does not allow cars into the center where our apartment was located. Whoops.

Luckily the “airline losing our stroller debacle” came in handy here because we were at this point traveling with a second stroller and our solution to too many bags and not enough (helpful) hands was to strap the baby into the BECO carrier and load up the two strollers with all the non wheeled baggage and miscellaneous items like wheelbarrows.  We navigated the windy old town lanes with our caravan of gear and people (quite a spectacle I am sure) and found the entrance to our apartment and discovered 1) the big stroller would not fit through the front door and 2) the apartment was on the third floor (with no elevator).  By this point in his tenure as “Dad,” Dennis is well accustomed to becoming the family pack mule (on the job description this falls under “other duties as required”) and carried most of the bags up before we could blink.  He has started to think of bag carrying as his vacation exercise routine.  It certainly helps him rationalize that third scoop of gelato…  Lickity split, the bags and kids were up three stories and Dennis was back to the car with the empty double stroller to move it to the long term parking spot where we could leave it for the duration of the stay.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the apartment we instantly felt better.  The apartment was big, clean, cool, bright (and thankfully dark in the bedrooms).  We settled Imy down for a nap, got some laundry started then took turns staying behind to supervise naps while the others walked around for a bit of exploring.  This is when the “why are we only staying here two nights???” realization hit.  Due to our arrival time and the fact Imy refused to nap in the car, we missed out on our first of two possible Collioure beach days.  Collioure felt so perfect for us.  Totally walkable (now the apartment location was making a lot of sense), beautiful harbor and beaches (5 to choose from?! what!), warm, clear Mediterranean water, delicious restaurants, cute shops, and gorgeous views. I never wanted to leave, but we only had one more day!!!

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Although short, we did thoroughly enjoy our (just shy of) 48 hours in Collioure.  Favorite things included:

1) Strolling along the promenade circling the bay

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2) visits to the beach side playground (great for adults and kids)

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3) Swimming at the beach

4) Morning visits to the bakery downstairs from our apartment

5) Long casual dinners and ice cream outside

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5) perfect weather and last but not least… 6) Sunny with a low UV index (we are a fair skinned crew)

Now, all we need to do is figure out how to get back to Collioure because I have some unfinished business…

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Very Pleasant in Provence

I have concluded that traveling with a 2 and a half year old is a bi-polar experience.  (As opposed to traveling with the happiest baby in town.)

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When we sat down to reflect on our favorite Provence moments as we ate market goodies during our last night in the region, Dennis, Jen and I all discovered that our favorite memories from the trip thus far are all related to moments in time with Imogen.  On the flip side… our darkest moments also typically had something to do with her as well, however, a few days later its nice to realize I can’t remember the specifics of those low points as my brain has conveniently decided those were not worth keeping.  Oh the wonders of the human brain…or maybe its just Mommy brain?

Favorite Memories:

Dennis: Wine tasting, and by wine tasting, he means not wine tasting and instead running around the winery grounds with Imogen, through a grape vine tunnel while eating grapes off the vine, collecting little rocks, running full speed across the grass, and discovering a pond full of giant coy fish (All while an ancient french woman scowled disapprovingly from a window in the house above.)  There were no signs permitting running and laughing about the grounds, but perhaps it was against stern french decorum to have so much fun.

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Jen: As we piled out of the car at the HARIBO museum parking lot we laughed and rolled our eyes at the people departing the museum with huge armloads of HARIBO plunder from the museum store, thinking who the heck would buy so much candy! Little did we know what would soon happen to us…  The museum itself was very cute, favorite sights in the museum included 1) Imogen: viewing ducks in the stream outside from the elevator 2) Robyn: the room that discussed the history of candy and smelled like Licorice and felt like a visit to Willy Wonka’s factory 3) Jen: watching me try to drive a forklift on the interactive fork lift game (because it was hilarious how terrible I was at it) and watching Imogen stack HARIBO stuffed bears in the stroller basket as I pushed Maeve around the shop and 4) Dennis: putting a coin in the giant candy machine and watching the gears and knobs turn and out come 4 packages of candy.  5) Maeve: Finally meeting life sized Harry the HARIBO bear.

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Me: Just being THERE, sitting in a Arles cafe by the old forum square just like in “Cafe Terrace at Night,” starting with an aperitif and staying through dinner, watching dogs, kids, people pass by, the sun slowly dim and the lights come on, giggling and giggling and giggling… And then, to wrap up the evening, taking the scenic route back to the car, running along the river wall with Imogen while the stars and lights twinkled on the water – just like the van Gogh painting Starry Night.  But really, van Gogh painted the scenes we lived and enjoyed.  That yellow cafe was next door to the one we sat in and that is actually a painting of this vary same river at night.  Other than the fact that the river holds motorized water crafts, the women are not quite so modestly dressed, and the addition of electric lights and the Euro as the favored currency, the scenes today hold very much the same feeling you get from the paintings.

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Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh – image from Wikipedia

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The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum – Vincent van Gogh Image from: wikipedia

Mahoney, Party of 4.

It is time to properly welcome the Maeve, the newest member of our family, to Team Mahoney via our annual trip to Europe!  Our itinerary will take us across Southern France and Basque Country to Provence, Collioure, the Dordogne and San Sebastian over a little longer than 2 weeks.  First things first we had to get there…

Lucky for us we had a short practice flight five days before the long journey to Lyon France (via Houston and Frankfurt) where we picked up our car for a 3 hour drive to Arles, France. Flying as a family of 4 wasn’t so bad on the practice flight!  Imogen is just old enough at 2 and a half to be fully distracted with hand held devices playing Frozen on back to back to back to back repeat, and Maeve is probably the easiest baby we have ever met.

A few bloody mary's results in a successful practice flight!

A few bloody mary’s results in a successful practice flight!

Being the experienced family of travelers that we are, we strategically selected our seats, downloaded a ton of kids videos (season two of Super Why was the show of choice for this trip), tested our gate check bags on our new double stroller and prepared our carry on bags the night before (even Imogen has one now).

The biggest challenge we faced was dealing with our travel nemesis, United Airlines. We have had a love/ hate relationship with United for the past 10 plus years, based on the fact that we live near a United Hub airport (San Francisco), have minimal status, get 50k miles every few years when we open up their credit card (and 10k miles when we annually threaten to close it), numerous experiences of the non stop poor travel and un-creative customer support.  This years United issue involved Maeve’s tickets.  A few months after Maeve was born (and 5 months after we booked Imogen, Dennis and Robyn’s travel on miles- 180k in total for three round trip seats SFO-Lyon and Bilbao – SFO), we called and after 45 minutes of on and off hold,  were told Maeve’s fare would be $148.  Not a bad price for a lap child as United requires us to pay taxes and 10% of the adult ticket fare for international travel of a lap child.  Well unfortunately two weeks later we were told “the pricing agent made an error” and the actual fare would be $655 for the lap infant.  Are you kidding me????  That is more than half the price of an actual ticket?!? Lots of (calmly worded) questions, requests to speak with managers, and threats involving the chamber of commerce, and we ended up paying the $655 for Maeve.  Why did this cost so much? Well United’s policy is that since we booked our flights as two one way tickets using miles, they would have to price the lap baby as 10% of a one way fare (which came to $655 of a $2600 and $3900 fare).  Unfortunately there is nothing we could do about this (United did offer to cancel our tickets for free and reimburse my miles, but that doesn’t get us to France!). Things like this also happen to people traveling with lap infants on first class international tickets (10% of the first class fare, which often adds up to $700+ from SFO to London).  The good news is we were able to secure a bassinet seat for Robyn and Maeve on our longest flight.  And after some seat trading, Dennis and Imogen were able to join!

OK enough complaining about United.  Some more highlights of our travels to France:

  • The bassinet seat is much better than we expected.  It literally was a full size bassinet and Maeve basically had her own seat (still mad about the $655!).  We were on a fairly new 787 plane, and this was a huge bonus for us! This made the overnight portion of our travels much easier.
  • The Frankfurt airport is AWESOME!  We ended up missing our connection to Lyon (because our flight from Houston was delayed 30 minutes due to the fact that United “Did not have all the in flight supplies they needed” for a plane that had been located at our gate for 12 hours!!!).  In the extra time we had we found some super useful and clean $6 showers (no airport lounge required for us!), two awesome in airport playgrounds, and some delicious German beer spots.

Almost missed our flight!  Always hard to pul Imogen away from a great playground...

Almost missed our flight! Always hard to pul Imogen away from a great playground…

  • Imogen ended up with more Lufthansa toys (so far our favorite airline to fly with little kids), and we all made it safely and quickly to France to kick off our trip.  Turns out flying with a 2 year old and a 4 months old wasn’t so difficult for us after all!Wait a second... thats not Maeve!

Munich!

Authors note: It has been five months since we got back to the US. We were in Munich for October 30-November 2, 2014…these blogs just don’t write themselves! But don’t worry – this one is looong on words to make up for all the missed time. Enjoy – any let us know if you want any Munich travel tips!

We were really looking forward to Munich, one of our all time favorite cities to visit. Munich is the first European City I visited (in 2000 while on a family trip; fantastic introduction to the worlds best beer!), and the raison de’ ente for my original Passport (now on #2 and even the extra pages are filling up!). Munich hosts the world’s best festival, and if we spoke German, Munich was the city we were going to move to in 2009. We have been to Munich each a total of five times, including a few Oktoberfest and non-Oktoberfest visits, and we were looking forward to showing Imogen around!

We decided to stay in the Schluss Nympenburg neighborhood, a few miles North West of the main train station and old town. Hotel Laimerhof, our hotel, is the top rated hotel on Trip Advisor and the price was right at $105 per night! We were looking forward to being in a neighborhood rather than near the train station hotel scene, within walking distance of the Hirchgarden (Munich’s largest beer garden and awesome park) and within a number of public transit links to our favorite bits of the city.

We quickly dumped the car back at the airport then were off to do some early Christmas shopping. Our German neighbors back in California gave us a great list of the top toy shops in Munich, mainly just off Neuhauser Strasse in the old town. First stop: Kids level in the Galeria Kaufhof. We loaded up our basket with sleep sacks (which go up to age 10 size! The Germans have this one right!), wooden toys, awesome games that we’ve never seen in America and even a few German kids books (to help Imogen with her language skills when she comes back for Oktoberfest in 20 years). Next stop: beer o’clock at the Viktualienmarkt beer stand, dinner at der Pschorr, one of the many Munich homes to the best large Munich Brewery – Hacker- Pschorr. After that it was time to take the nightly “lets get Imogen to fall asleep while we enjoy walking around the old town of ____ city, possibly with an adult beverage” walk. Main tourist sites checked off our list, we were ready to explore new things!

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Enjoying the Obatzda at Der Pschorr

 

One of the things we really enjoy about visiting Munich is that Munich is much more of an experience City for a tourist, rather than a gotta see all the Museums/ Cathedrals/ Mosques/ etc city. There are some great sites worth seeing once (Residence, Dachau, BMW Museum, Deutsches museum) but there are many more sites worth going to over and over again (Beer gardens in the English Garden, Schlosspark Nymphenburg, the Hirschgarten, Biking around the city, Viktualienmarket, and yes, the Hofbrauhaus)

The next day we decided to earn our food and drinks with a mega bike ride around Munich. In pulling together the map below this ride seems to lose some of the impressive-ness as it was only 16 miles or so, and mostly flat. But then I remember we had a 1 year old strapped to the back of a bike! Also this took wayyyyy longer than the 1 hour 19 minutes Google Maps recommends!

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May have also been the stops at the English Garden, the Olympic Park, Schlosspark Nymphenburg (no bike riding allowed in the park apparently! We learned that one the hard way), and the Hirschgarten beergarden (our new favorite in Munch!), but we clocked in at a very reasonable 6 hours and change.

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Dup dee doo… nothing to see here… certainly not a sleeping baby under that jacket…

 

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Uh Oh! Pacifier must have fallen out!

 

 

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Still going at the Hirschgarten!

 

Mega bike ride day happened to be October 31, which all you American readers will also know as Halloween. What you may not have known is that Halloween is actually an ancient German tradition, as back in the pre-Roman days the German children would dress in ….. Juuuust kidding. Halloween is mainly an American tradition to celebrate All Hallows Evening (Yes we dressed up in “fancy dress” while living in London in 2009-2011, but our awesome Homemade Batman and “Robyn” costumes got more weird looks then complements on the London Tube, so while Halloween is spreading around the globe, the US will always be the place to be on 10/31). Ok enough background – back to the story… so I had done some research and found a message board with details of a neighborhood that hosts Trick or Treating in Munich. Yatzee! “Robyn – pack Imogen’s Costume – we are going German Trick or Treating!” Best we could muster up was a fairly basic Duck costume, improved massively with Imogens “Quack – Quack”. Lucky for us the neighborhood was a few Bus stops north from our hotel. Off we were… it was fairly quiet at we got close, but then… wait… is that Michael Jackson’s Thriller??? Yes!!! We had arrived! And arrived we had! Now I cant say every house in the neighborhood was into it, but wow, if Halloween is a concept you have maybe heard about a few times, and some American women* asks you if you want to hand out candy to a few neighborhood kids when the sun goes down, then you may just go all out. Now we’ve got bubbling cauldrons and decorated houses in our California neighborhood, but some of these houses did it right! Imogen cleaned up, and after a handful of houses (a good mix of awkward German – English trick or treating) our bag was getting heavy and our child was getting tired – time to go home!

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Quack Quack and Trick or Treat took quite a bit of practice!

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We were all scared by the decorations

 

*This neighborhood near Memminger Platz in the North West corner of Munich has been hosting Trick or Treating for the past few years. Apparently an American Mom walks around and hands out flyers to the neighbors in early October explaining the tradition of Halloween and asking if people want to participate. If people respond that they want to participate in Trick of Treating on 10/31 then they are included on a google maps posted to the message board in last October. Sounds like a lot of work – but worth it! Over 50 houses participated in 2014!

Our last full day turned out to be a Saturday Holiday in Bavaria, so good thing we did our shopping earlier! We had blocked this day off to check out the Munich Zoo – recommended to us by our native Munich friends as a great place for Kids. Crowds were a little bit bigger than normal as it was a holiday weekend, but the Munich Zoo did not disappoint. Highlights include the monkeys, petting the goats, and the amazing playground complete with beer garden to please all family members (and yes – this is one of the many reasons why we love Germany!).

Last stop on our trip was one of our favorite beer gardens – the Augustiner Keller, and our new favorite beer garden – the Hirschgarden. Both have great playgrounds, though the Hirschgarden playgrounds are a bit far from the tables, while the Augistiner Keller playgrounds are on the grounds with the traditional picnic tables all around them. Both of these gems serve Augustiner Beer (difficult to find in America, and by far the most popular of the main six Munich breweries: Spaten, Hofbrau, Augistiner, my current favorite: Hacker- Pschorr, Lowenbrau, and Paulaner). These are both off the beaten tourist track, even though Augustiner is only 3 blocks west of the main train station at ArnulfstraĂźe 52 and the Hirschgarden is located at Hirschgarten 1, which is a 5 minutes walk from the Romanplatz tram stop, 15 minutes from the main train station. They each have fantastic settings, and while Hirschgarten wins in the summer with the deer (Hirsch) and setting in a huge open park, Augustiner Keller’s actual Keller (basement) is a fantastic brick beer mecca to visit on poor weather days, or in the winter. When coming from London we used to book our flights early enough to arrive in Munich for last call at the Augustiner Keller, so while the Keller holds a special place in our heart, the Hirschgarten is our new favorite spot!

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So… it was the end of November, after day light savings time ended… even so we were able to use the Augustiner Keller playground.

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Hirschgarten (also a bit empty this time of year, but it was only 50 degrees out)

 

The next day we were back to the US of A!

Bavaria

Now entering the “we have been here before” stretch of our trip; we were excited to be back in two areas of Europe that are home to some of our favorite memories and experiences.  That does not refer to the Sound of Music sites Salzburg is (in)famous for or visiting the mountain top retreat Hitler build in the 1930’s above Berchtesgaden – we are referring to the Obersalzburg Salt mines and the Stiegl brewery!

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For the second time we missed the hours/season to visit Kehlsteinhaus – the mountain hut built for Hilter in the 1930’s.  Apparently we did not miss much other than a killer view (that is usually cloud-ed in), but like a lot of Nazi era sites across Germany and Europe, we, like many American travelers, have trouble explaining why we have an interest in checking out these sites. I do believe you see a higher proportion of Americans at these sites then you do across the cities that host them. I think it has a lot to do with the legacy WW2 holds in our countries recent history, and the actual distance from the US to the European locations WW2 and the various tragedies related to it happened.  Ether way we were bummed that snow at the top of the mountains had closed the road to the Kehlsteinhaus.  We salvaged our afternoon and did make it to the Documentation Center, which was similar to the Nuremburg documentation center in how it presented the facts of the Nazi rise to power in the 20’s and 30’s, and the role that Berchtesgaden played in many of their propaganda campaigns.  We were amazed at the engineering and defense built into this remote mountain fortress system of underground bunkers constructed by the Nazi’s for the final defense .  We also had a nice picnic in the parking lot…

Ok enough history – we are here to hike and drink beer!  Next stop was the scenic trail overlooking Konigssee (and a bonus walk past countless trinket stores).

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Berchtesgaden was bigger than we remembered, with a few good restaurants, but shoulder season is quiet in the mountains. Early season snow had closed most of the hiking trails, and it was a bit patchy in terms of what was open and what was not, so we made our way 30 minutes north for a day trip to Salzburg the next day.

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Salzburg is another place we have been a few times.  Highlights from our past Salzburg visits include the Augustiner monastery beer garden, Sporer schnaps store (and wine bar!), the hike along the old town ridge to the fortress, and the unique blue/ green color of the river.

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Imogen and Dennis 2014

Salxburg playground

Robyn 2011

We arrived right at lunch time and immediately tired out the little one with a picnic/ playground combo.  Luckily we knew a playground from our Christmas Market playground scouting trip in 2011!

Next up – rent bikes and ride along the river.  Uh oh – its nap time and Imogen cannot keep her head up straight?  Not a problem – we have a handy device for that!

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Head stabilizing device

After nap time we made our tri-annual Jones/ Mahoney family pilgrimage to Sporer where 3 generations of Jones/ Mahoney women have samples the specialty spirits (well Imogen didn’t really sample, but you can appreciate the pattern!)

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Jean Jones – 2010 visit

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Robyn Jones Mahoney and Imogen Mahoney 2014

We finished off with a beer at the Augustiner Monastery to warm up for Munich!

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Daddy, what is this delicious elixir?

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Prost!

Next day we were off to our final stop!

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“Get me out of this car!!!!! I have heard ‘Shake It Off’ one too many times!”-Imogen

Ljubljana The “Next Next Prague”?

IMG_1870We really had no idea what to expect during the three days we planed in Ljubljana and Slovenia. We had heard great things about Slovenia from our London friends who had traveled there, we had been to all the neighboring countries, and even read our travel guru Rick Steve’s refer to Ljubljana as “the next next Prague” (more on that later). In 2011 we tried to work Slovenia into our Christmas Market road trip but just couldn’t make it work (and the representative who introduced us to our car at Audi in Ingolstadt told us there was a lot of auto theft there which is not a theory someone with a 1 week old car is interested in testing out.)

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Ljubljana did not disappoint! We stayed in a B&B just below the castle, right in the center of old town. We had easy access for exploring the city center, helping us discover great kid parks. We did an amazing Ljubljana food tour with a fantastic guide (we even got a private tour – yeah off season travel!), and found some great restaurants.

View from the Castle

View from the Castle

Day Trip to Lake Bled

Takes after her dad with the map skills

Takes after her dad with the map skills

On our second day we skipped town, dodged police setting up roadblocks for the Ljubljana Marathon, and made the 30 minute trek to Lake Bled. Lake Bled is a Slovenian get away destination with a few small towns based on a scenic 2 mile by half mile lake surrounded by mountains. We opted for the walk around the lake side path tour rather than the tourist train or renting bikes in 50 degree weather.

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There is a theme to this trip if you look hard enough...

There is a theme to this trip if you look hard enough…

Good choice and we loved the hour and a half stroll around the lake complete with duck feeding spots and playground for Imogen. Bled would be great in summer (as our friends Johnny and Anna showed on their 2011-2012 trip around the world), and we hope to come back someday to check it out in the right weather!

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Ljubljana, the next Prague?

While we really liked Ljubljana, its actually a bit unfair to Ljubljana to refer to Ljubljana as the next Prague. What do people mean when they refer to the “Next Prague”? We think they are looking for an up and coming Central European city with cheap food and drinks, good historic sites, and a feeling that you are in on a secret amongst tourists who have found an undiscovered city. Well to be clear Prague lost all of that about 10 years ago. Now most of the main areas are crowded with tourists, it is hard to find beer under $3, and there are a saturation of trinket sellers. Ljubljana, however, does tick all of these boxes. So, if this is how one identifies the “Next next Prague,” (Krakow was the “Next Prague), then Ljubljana is it.

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So, Ljublijana….what we really liked about this city is that it had a very interesting recent history as part of Yugoslavia, had tons of Italian and Austrian influence in the food and drinks, was fairly bare of tourists (especially English speaking tourists), everyone was nice and extremely helpful, and just about everyone spoke fantastic English (the consequence of having a language with only a few million speakers, and TV/ radio programming from the UK and the US which often is not dubbed but subtitled). We loved the river scene lined with cafes, the mix of medieval street layout in the historic old town, and the new feel of the restaurant and café scene (Café Most and Apertivo were some of our favorites). You can still find a beer for $2 (though, in my humble opinion, Slovenian beer is not as good as the Czech Republic’s Pilsner Urquel, my personal favorite), most of the people walking around town are actually locals who live and work in the city, and there are awesome views of snow capped mountains from the castle!

While Prague still deserves to be on a Central European itinerary, adding Ljubljana or Krakow gives a great contrast to a city that was under communist rule until the 1990’s, has a mix of the old and the new, and hasn’t yet been overrun by tourists and the tourist dollar.

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You say Pa-do-ua, I say Pa-Do-va

Padova entered our itinerary because we needed a stop between the Dolomites and Ljubliana, the city is a Rick Steves favorite (clearly a selling point for Dennis), and Aperol was invented there and it is the Spritz capital of the world

Padova, home to Italy’s second oldest university (and alma mater to Copernicus, Galileo, and other heavy hitters) feels like a university town, tons of students out an about at night, loads of bicycles, and a great people watching scene in the three main piazzas.

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We had two nights in town and a fairly basic itinerary: see some art, drink Aperol spritz, and eat good Italian food. Check check and check!

Italian boys love my blue eyes

Italian boys love my blue eyes

We took Imogen to the Scrovegni Chapel to see Giotto’s frescoes. This was one of our all time “in situ” art experiences. We had to book a reservation to enter the chapel which is limited to 25 people entering for 15 minutes in total to control crowds and humidity levels in the chapel. We booked a 730 pm entry time hoping Imogen would be asleep by the time we entered and we could just wheel her in, then wheel her out while Robyn and Dennis explored the frescos. Well that plan failed and instead Imogen ran up and down the aisle of the chapel giggling out of control, dodging our fellow visitors while we took turns examining the frescos with our brought binoculars (thanks for the binoc suggestion Rick!).

On the Piazza

On the Piazza

We still cant figure out why Aperol and Aperol Spritz have not become a hit it in America as it has across Australia, Germany, Italy, and most other culinary destinations. Ordering an Aperol Spritz in the US often gets you a drink with Aperol and soda water, or Aperol and some glass of sparkling white wine with the wrong proportions (recipe is actually printed on the back of every bottle, so this part is especially confusing – for reference it is 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol and a splash of soda water served in a large glass with ice).  In the US it is also mispriced as a glass of processo with a shot (often $12+). In Padova things are very different, EVERYONE drinks Aperol Spritz, its made the correct way and priced at 2-3 euro’s.  And its delicious and perfect while sitting in a ancient piazza as the sun sets, so we took full advantage!

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The good Italian food part was a breeze.  Bonus points for Padova: Imogen is a fan of Italian food and the dark, narrow cobblestone streets were perfect for Imogen sleep inducing pre-dinner walks.

And of course we hit the playground too!

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Dolomites are Dynamite

The Dolomites (Italian Alps south of Austria) have been on our travel to-do list since my parents returned from their 2010 trip raving about it. The Dolomites are in the Tyrolean region, which, while located in Italy, feels very much like it is in Germany or Austria due to its roots as part of the Austrian Empire, with lots of dirndl wearing locals, majority German speakers, and amazing mountains. Its Italian influence brings hearty pasta dishes to the menus and of course, our favorite pre dinner Aperitif, the Aperol Spritz.

We based ourselves in Castelrotto, Castelruth in German, all towns in South Tyrol (Alto Adige is the Italian name of the region) have both a commonly used German and Italian name. There are tons of small towns and villages in the area to choose from, as well as many agrotourisim options; we chose Castelrotto since it is Rick Steves’ top place to stay (and we all know how Dennis feels about Rick Steves) 

To ease into this trip we pushed ourselves outside of our typical whirlwind MO and stayed in the same place for four nights (this is a travel record for us). This turned out to be a very wise plan as it allowed us to adjust to the time change, recover from less than restful overnight flights, and not feel super rushed about seeing everything as soon as possible all at once, which is not really how we fly these days with the smallest member of the family in tow. She was pretty quick to adjust to the biggest time change of her life (9 hours…which is about 1/1000 of her life!). The first night she did wake up at 2 AM and kept Dennis entertained with snacks and Sesame Street until around 7 when they both went back to bed, but the second night was pretty much normal.

Day One, (after that sleepless night with Imogen,) we hit the slopes and headed out for a long hike on the Alpe di Suise, Europe’s largest Mountain meadow. The day started with a long gondola ride 3000 feet up the mountain. We told Imogen we were riding in a blue egg, she loved the egg, all the other eggs we passed on the ride, and all the moos (cows) and “baas” (sheep and goats) we saw grazing in the mountain pastures below. In reality our hike was not that aggressive (due to our late start) and the main goal was to make it to one of the alpine Huts before lunchtime ended so we could enjoy a mountain beer (and eat lunch), and, to our surprise, a playground with the best view of any playground anywhere. The route we took home was a bit more adventurous and by the end we did not feel like we had taken a wimpy hike after all (especially Dennis with 25 lbs of baby strapped to his back).

Ladies that lunch

Ladies that lunch

Playground with a view

Playground with a view

Team Mahoney on the Alpe di Suisi

Team Mahoney on the Alpe di Suisi

Riding in a "big blue egg"

Riding in a “big blue egg”

The next day we explored Bressone (which, Dennis pointed out, Jack’s hipster magazine “Monocole” highlighted as the “arts capital of South Tyrol”). However, the hipster art scene was not our primary motive for the visit, Dennis and I both came down with a wee case of Tonsillitis and had to find a medical clinic for antibiotics – don’t worry though, we quickly recovered and the trip was not ruined! While we didn’t see much art, but it was a cool historic town and German heritage of Brexon (German name for Bressone) was very apparent (compared to Bolzano which we visited the following day). The visit with the non English-speaking doctor was certainly an experience. We weren’t completely sure if he really didn’t speak a word of English or if he was just pulling our leg the entire time… luckily, “tonsillitis” is the same word in German and English and he understood international sign language for sore throat. He also prescribed a special gargle that made the throat pain disappear… and thus, we have discovered another international pharmaceutical to import and horde along with the others we accumulated while living in London.

Finally, on our third full day, we ventured down the mountain to Bolzano to rent bikes and cycle along the river. Its also possible to start a similar journey from Moreno but Bolzano made more sense geographically for us. The ride was lovely in crisp fall air and the apple orchards along the river were all mid harvest. The river valley is also home to many northern Italian wineries so lots to stop and sample. We stopped in a small village with both wine and apple industry and had a delicious pasta lunch (Bolzano is one of the few areas in the region with more of an Italian influence than German) and delicious local apple juice and wine. We concluded the day with a stop at a winery in the same village. We didn’t really know how tasting here worked, so Dennis asked to taste one particular wine, and the next thing we new there were 11 wine glasses (and one sippy cup) lined up along the bar in front of him. We were a little worried that this might come with a huge tasting fee, but we should have known…we are not in Napa anymore, the tasting was free (and wine delicious)!

Biking through apple orchards

Biking through apple orchards

Just a sip or two...

Just a sip or two…

The morning following our fourth night we woke up to a winter wonderland. It had snowed enough over night to leave a few inches of slushy snow on the ground. Imy had a chance to slosh around in the snow while we packed up and then as we drove off down the mountain towards Padua we discovered that the snow line was just a few meters below Castlerotto so we were pretty lucky to get the winter wonderland morning surprise!

Winter wonderland morning!

Never bring Play-Doh on a plane!

After 2 years, 2 months and a few days we are picking up the pen again!

Since we last posted Team Mahoney has grown.  It is time to introduce the newest member to our traveling lifestyle.  Well too late for that – she is already been to Costa Rica (age 4 months), Chicago (8 months), Hawaii (1 year) plus countless trips around California, but NOW, its time to take her to Europe at the wise old age of 21 months.

On this adventure we are heading to some of our favorite places from our time living in London 2009-2011 (Munich and the Austrian/German Alps) plus some new places (Slovenia, Padua Italy, and the Dolomites).  But first some lessons learned on our trip from the SF Bay Area to Munich.

First flight of the day, looking well rested Team Mahoney!

First flight of the day, looking like we got up at 4am!

1) Make sure you know where your car seat says its approve for airplane use BEFORE you board the plane (at least when flying on Lufthansa…)

2) Never try to bring Play-Doh on a plane….

What? Child seats are specifically approved for airplanes?!?  We thought car safe translated into air safe (provided it fit between standard arm rests) but apparently if you want to bring a car seat on a plane for the little one to sit in it should be specifically approved for air travel – so check before you go!  We made this discovery after boarding our second flight at JFK.  All our junk was crammed into the 3 across middle regular coach seats and we were sweating profusely after running across the entire airport and re-passing security when the flight attendant  popped by to let us know she needed to check the seat.  Seriously?  You are possibly going to tell me that it is SAFER for an under 2 year old to sit with a lap belt than in a carseat?  How could something safe for car travel, which is 100000000s of times more risky than plane travel NOT be ok for a plane?  Thankfully that only had to be an internal monologue.  FINALLY, after what felt like eternity, she found a tiny note in raised plastic in the underside authorizing plane use.  Whew… nobody on that plane was going to be happy when the overtired toddler on the flight never went to sleep because she didn’t have a seat her size to sit in!

Regarding the play-doh: Our flight from SF to Munich connected in New York (JFK) with an hour and a half between flights we felt tight, but generally ok on time.  One diaper change and one food pouch later we were staring down a looooong security line at the international terminal (at JFK you have to exit then reenter and go through security again while transferring planes).  Finally we made it to the front of the line with about 5 minutes to spare before boarding, however, since nobody seemed to be working there, we didn’t get to mention that we had over the limit “traveling with a small child” liquids with us and were subjected to a thorough screening of our carry on materials.  This means all liquids and most other things are run through some sort of explosive detection device.  All was good until the Play-doh came up from the bottom of the bag….  All sorts of alarm bells went off, and the security officer asked us “what is this?”.  Well it was Play-doh.  And fairly well labeled Play-Doh at that.  All sorts of travel forums and travel blogs recommend play-doh as a GREAT toy to bring on a plane…except that it looks like the putty in home made explosives (i hear) and there is an ingredient in it that sets off an alarm in the bomb ingredient detector machine.  Right.  Dennis put on his nicest smile and convinced the TSA agent that he was only carrying the doh for the innocent blond haired toddler across the room, and after subjecting him to a full body pat down, he believed the story.  The Play-doh provided about 15 minutes of entertainment from SFO to JFK and gave us each about 15 new grey hairs from the panic of missing our flight…or being arrested?!

So, if we have one piece of advice for you, it is DO NOT BRING PLAY-DOH through TSA security!  May still be safe for private jet travel.

2nd plane ride: lot of sleeping!

2nd plane ride: lot of sleeping.  Thank goodness for that car seat!

Other than that our flight with young child tips are fairly standard: check your carseat with your bags (unless you have a seat for the child), don’t try and carry on too much, bring good toys, put your stroller in a gate check bag, and tire your youngster out before the flight with multiple laps up and down the terminal.

Arriving in Munich at 7am local time  (10PM SF time, 15 hours after leaving our house) was relatively painless and actually a lot of fun.  Being back in Europe with some familiar aspects and some very foreign aspects is a blast and we cant wait to write about our adventures over the next two weeks!

Packing light!

Packing light!