Dubrovnik at Night

Our family had been touring Rome for four days and it was time to move on to the next destination: Croatia. I’d been wanting to visit Croatia since we arrived in Germany. It seemed like I kept hearing people talk about it and what a beautiful destination it was. I think our family was a little skeptical when I first brought up the idea to them. I think for their first trip to Europe they probably were thinking, “what is in Croatia?” But they are amazingly awesome and open-minded so they went with it. By the end of the trip, I don’t think there was any disappointment at our choice.

We hopped a short flight from Rome to Dubrovnik, rented cars and drove to our vacation apartment that we rented high above the old town. We had a beautiful view out to the ocean from there. By the time we were settled, we really only had time to walk into town for dinner. We walked about 10 minutes down small alleys and staircases to the walled old town.

If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you are now fully aware that Dubrovnik is a filming location for the show. You might recognize parts of it as King’s Landing. It is a gorgeous city. Made of all white travertine stone. The streets are gleaming, like someone polishes them every night. It does feel a bit touristy, but for good reason. It is a beautiful, charming, ancient city with a character all it’s own.

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We wandered until we settled on a place for dinner. A restaurant serving seafood and other grilled meats set against a gorgeous staircase. Our daughter was still a new walker, and the stairs were very tempting to her. We made a couple trips up and down. A year or so later while watching Game of Thrones, I recognized exactly where we had eaten.

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GoT fans, can you hear it? “Shame!”

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There she goes, up the stairs! And with a watchful audience.

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A peek at the seafood platter for two. It doubles for food and entertainment!

That was it for night one. More around the wall of Dubrovnik later! Have you been to Dubrovnik? What did you think?

Trastevere Food Tour

If you’ve followed along with me, you may have read about a food tour we did in Florence. One of our favorite things we’ve done in Europe. So we thought we’d try another one 🙂 This time we booked a tour with Eating Italy Tours.

Our party had 4 adults and 4 kids (ages 1-12). We didn’t pay for the baby because she wasn’t eating her own portions, but the other kids we did pay a discounted rate for. The kids did great on the tour. We all got a little bit of history and the kids were kept entertained by all the snacks and treats! Our tour was in the Trastevere neighborhood on the south side of the Tiber river. It was wonderful to be guided around the area, because we probably wouldn’t have do it on our own and our guide knew exactly where to go for the best stuff!

Here’s a peak at some of what we sampled.

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Here we are being led through the back part of a bakery. Seeing where the pizza and foccia are made! And yes I’m pushing my stroller right through there.

Not pictured here are the artisan gelato spot, ristorante where we ate spaghetti carbonara and ravioli, the ancient wine cellar, and the cookie bakery. Definitely come hungry to a food tour. By the end, my husband’s stomach hurt so bad because he hadn’t moderated his portions well at the beginning. Take your time and sample everything, but be careful not to overdo it. It isn’t a cheap thing to do on your trip, but from my experience food tours are well-worth the money! Our nephew grew very fond of our guide Francesca. He was a little heartbroken to say goodbye to her.

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Francesca and our nephew, best buddies!

As a side note, in Rome these water fountains are everywhere. It is fresh running drinking water. I found them to be a life saver, especially when in most other european cities water is only purchased by the bottle and often more than beer or wine! Bring water bottles around with you and fill up whenever you see one!

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Our nephew demonstrating how to turn it into a water fountain you can drink straight from if you don’t have a bottle.

After all the walking during the food tour, we decided to find a place to sit down and sip some drinks. IMG_1295

And baby girl decided to test out a Vespa.

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Later that evening, we miraculously made room in our tummies for some dinner. We chose a restaurant not too far from the Trevi Fountain. We put some tables together outside, and after being in the stroller most of the day, my daughter was ready to move around. She set off crawling down the street and sidewalk. Of course, she ended up covered in dirt and dust. Before I could sit her down to wipe her down with baby wipes, this sweet Nonna scooped her up and practically bathed her in the bar of the restaurant. It was so cute. I’m not used to getting help like that from strangers, and in this instance I did really appreciate her helping me out!

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Wondering why she’s getting washed off by Nonna.

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Getting some water before dinner.

We closed the night by wandering back by the Pantheon, isn’t it gorgeous at night?! I just love going back through these pictures, Rome is a wonderful place to visit! Food, architecture, history, so much to offer!

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Wandering Rome

After touring St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning, we spent the rest of the day wandering the city. The beautiful thing about Rome is there are churches, ruins, monuments, fountains, something to see around almost every corner. Not far from the Vatican is Castel St. Angelo.IMG_0705

Exploring Rome can be quite exhausting. There’s lots to see, and if you’re there in the summer it’s hot, hot, hot! Rome is very walkable, but all that walking can wear you out. Make sure to slow down and stop for breaks! Enjoy a cold one or some gelato, then head out again!

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Beer time for the mamas!

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Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona.

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In the ancient Roman Forum.

A note on strollers in Rome. I’m not sure if there’s a perfect answer on this one. This rickety umbrella stroller wasn’t ideal for the uneven cobblestones, and gravel paths through the forum. But it was ideal for easy folding and carrying up and down stairs. My daughter did ride in it most of the time and I was glad to have it to give her somewhere to nap. Carrying her in the Ergo the whole time would have been really hot and tiring for me. So take it with a grain of salt, and realize there’s no perfect solution sometimes. Just make the best of what you have!

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Eventually, the sun started to go down on the city. Rome is magical at night. You absolutely have to walk around and enjoy the charm in the day and in the evening.IMG_1400

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Famous gelato spot.

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Vatican Revisited

My hubby and I had visited Rome and the Vatican on a previous trip in 2012, but it was our family’s (who was visiting from the states) first time. The best thing we did on our first trip to Rome was to wake up early to get to St. Peter’s Basilica right before opening time. IMG_0511

Getting a picture without hoards of tourists around is a big bonus to getting there early. Also, you will be able to wander the basilica without being crammed in a crowd. The crowds start arriving a couple hours after opening time. So take it from me, get there early and be done looking around before everyone else gets there! Just a quick FYI, it is free to enter the basilica but to tour the Vatican museum you need to purchase a ticket. And it is highly recommended you make a reservation online or book a guided tour to avoid waiting in extremely long lines in the hot Roman sun!

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The family decided to climb the dome. Because I tend to have issues with heights, and tiny spiraling staircases, I opted to stay down below with my daughter. I had a terrible time climbing the tower at the cathedral in Cologne. I felt sick after what seemed to be never-ending twisting stairs, and had a hard time enjoying the view. Since then, climbing towers and domes has been very low on the priority list for me. But if you don’t have the same issues, you should absolutely do it! I mean look at this view…incredible!

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Photo credit to my brother in law!

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The dome on the left is the Pantheon.

While everyone was ascending the magnificent dome on St. Peter’s, I was below trying to manage a 15 month old. If you haven’t visited St. Peter’s you should know that it is a quiet atmosphere. It is a holy place where people come to not only tour, but worship. It is really important to be respectful. I was doing my absolute best to keep my toddler happy and quiet. The last thing I needed was a crying fit. So when my daughter decided she wanted to crawl instead of walk I had 2 choices: 1) repeatedly pick her up and put her on her feet, risk crying outbursts OR 2) just let her crawl. I chose the latter.

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In case you were wondering, the floor of the basilica is not clean.

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We ended up leaving the basilca shortly after the crawling episode and waiting outside for everyone to descend. I thought that a bit more appropriate than letting her crawl all over the place. What are you gonna do? Pick your battles when traveling with a baby!

We spent the rest of the day wandering the city, more to come!

Colosseum

In the summer of 2014 we had some very special visitors from Texas, our family! They met us in Germany, then we flew all together to Rome for four days. I never actually wrote a post about it (shame, shame)! So of course almost two years later, the details are a little foggy…oops! However, I’ll still share some of the pics and how we spent our time. Enjoy!

We stayed in a two bedroom apartment and were within walking distance to the Colosseum. Not bad for a morning stroll…

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We spent one day touring the colosseum. The big kids seemed to like it as much as the grown ups. Even our little girl enjoyed toddling around the ancient ruins. My biggest take away for visiting the colosseum is to pre-buy tickets online or purchase the Roma pass. Both of those should allow you to skip what can be a very long line at the entrance. On our first visit to the colosseum it was just my husband and I, we downloaded a free audio tour via Rick Steves. It was nice to get some more detailed information about what we were looking at. Highly recommend it!

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After touring the colosseum, we walked a little further to the Trastevere neighborhood and this riverside strip of restaurants, market stalls, and entertainment. It can really be a lively area, lots to see and do. If you haven’t checked it out yet, put it on your list for next time!IMG_6119

Ayutthaya

The Ayutthaya historical park was another stop on our day trip away from Bangkok.  Ayutthaya was a city founded in 1350 and was the second capital of Siam.  It was one of the world’s largest capitals by the 1700’s but it too was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767.  The ruins that remain are truly stunning.  Hubby and I are used to seeing castle ruins in Germany but this was a completely different style of architecture and very interesting for us to see.

Still rockin’ the “happy new year” look!

Look closely, we’re on the stairs 🙂

Buddha in the tree.

When the Burmese army went through the area destroying everything, they would chop off the heads of the Buddha statues.  This Buddha wasn’t found until the 1950’s.  No one is sure how it became entwined in the tree’s roots.  One theory is that the roots grew around it while the area was in ruins and unattended.  There are several rules posted at each of these sacred sites.  One of those asks that people not place their heads in the place of a missing Buddha head on a statue, it’s considered very disrespectful.

Even though the day was sweltering, it was great to get out and see these different places.  They are so different than anything else I have seen.  Apparently these kind of temples and ruins are easy to find through out southeast Asia, probably similar to how castle ruins are found all over Europe.  It really added another dimension to our trip and I think it was well worth it to go out and do this day tour.

Day Trip Around Bangkok

After several relaxing days on Koh Mook, we went back to Bangkok for a few more days before our trip came to an end. One night we went out to an elegant and unique restaurant, the Medici Kitchen & Bar at Hotel Muse.  The interesting part about this place besides the high quality, delicious Italian food was the intermittent opera performances right in the dining room.  Every so often a professional opera performer would come out and sing a piece of music.  The performances built as the evening went on, and the final performance we saw was performed by a quartet of singers and was absolutely show stopping.  It was dinner and a show in one.  It was really fun to be in such an intimate setting with such powerhouse singers.  I’ve never seen an opera but these vocalists made me want to.

Not a great picture, but you can see one of the singers performing behind our table.

After dinner we took the elevator up to the top of the hotel to enjoy some drinks with a view.

 The next morning we had a big day trip planned.  We hired a private van to take us around to several different spots.  The first spot was Ba Pa-in Palace.  In several of the palaces in and around Bangkok, women are not permitted to wear shorts or tank tops.  If you show up in inappropriate attire, they will happily rent you a sarong so you can enter the grounds without being offensive.  They were actually really pretty!  This palace was originally created in the early 1600’s but was destroyed by Burmese raids in 1767.  The palace was rebuilt and restored by a couple different kings in the late 1800’s.

Matching Thai sarongs!

After a stop in the gift shop, and some fresh fruit slushies, we were all wished a happy Thai New Year with swipes of white powder on our faces.  Feeling refreshed and laughing about our new facial decorations, we were ready to get back in the van and move to the next stop.