Author name: Cheryl Roth

Auschwitz – A Visit from Krakow

Growing up, we learned extensively about the Holocaust. We heard stories from survivors, saw videos and images of the horror of the camps, had personal connections to people who survived it, and recognized Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remember Day) each year. However, nothing prepared us for the profoundly moving and troubling experience of visiting Auschwitz. It felt like the suffering and evil seeped into the ground and walls, where it was felt all around us as we walked. It took me a few days to recover from what we saw there. (The following contains some upsetting and graphic descriptions and pictures.)

Arbeit Mache Frei

We started at Auschwitz I, which is less than an hour drive from Krakow,. The entrance bears the sign “Arbeit Mache Frei” … “Work Makes You Free”, an ironic message to those arriving to the camp, though Auschwitz I started as a work camp for political prisoners. With a tour guide we walked through the preserved camp and prison blocks, where some have been turned into small museums holding everything from eyeglasses, hairbrushes, clothing, shoes, and hair. Real human hair that the guards shaved from the dead, later to be turned into blankets, clothing, and other textiles.

Auschwitz sign

We also saw many photographs that gave us a human connection to the empty rooms and barracks that we saw. Our guide said that less than an hour after the following picture was taken all of these people were dead. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t able to get this particular picture out of my head. Did they know what was about to happen to them, or were they still hopeful at this point?

People at Auschwitz

Our guide took us to many parts of the camp. We saw the places where prisoners slept, one of the gas chambers, and one of the crematoria. It was hard to be in a place where so many people had died.

Birkenau

Birkenau (Auschwitz II) was where the majority of Jews died. In fact, 90% of the people on the trains were killed in the gas chambers (and then the crematorium) within one hour of arriving at Auschwitz. A selection process determined whether you would become a forced laborer or would be killed. Those who could not work, looked like they couldn’t work, the elderly, pregnant women, young children, infants, and many others were sent to the gas chambers straight away, although these were disguised as shower installations to mislead the victims. The others endured immense suffering with long hours, little to no food, unsanitary conditions, disease, torture, and horrific medical experiments.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp was the largest of its kind. There aren’t definite numbers, but it’s agreed upon that about 1.3 million people died at Auschwitz. 90% of them were Jewish. Though upsetting, we’re fortunate that we had the chance to see a part of history that should never be forgotten. The world needs to remember the atrocities that happened here and at other camps. To quote Elie Wiesel, author of Night and a Holocaust survivor, “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time”. Never forget.

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Exploring Iceland’s South Coast

Exploring Iceland’s South Coast is a must for any visitor to Iceland! It was something that we thoroughly enjoyed both times we visited this amazing country, and it’s one of the most beautiful and unique areas we’ve ever seen. Waterfalls, glaciers, and black sandy beaches await you as you drive the Ring Road away from the “big city” of Reykjavik.

After a very early landing in Keflavik we got our car and hit the road old school with no GPS and only a map at our disposal. The roads are so easy to navigate (there aren’t too many!) and the signage is pretty well posted. We passed through lava fields surrounded by not so distant mountains speckled with tiny waterfalls. At times it felt like we were alone on the road in a vast sea of lava. Iceland looks like a completely different planet. Simply spectacular!

Lava fields

Waterfalls

The first stop on the drive was to a beautiful waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. The Icelandic term for waterfall is “foss” and this waterfall did not disappoint. We were able to get up close and personal since we could climb up and walk behind the waterfall. The mist of the water sprayed on us as we walked around, looking at it from all directions. A very cool sight indeed!

We walked about 1/3 mile to another waterfall called Gljufrabui, which means “Dweller of the Gorge”. We were able to get very close with this one! It’s about 40 meters high and because there’s a big rock in front of it (and a little bit of a walk from the more popular waterfall) not many people notice it. You can wade through the gorge and jump on the rocks on the river or walk up the rock to see the top.

More Exploring

During our second time in Iceland we decided to explore a little more. We drove up and up and up, and then around, hoping to see the Seljalandsfoss from a high angle. However, we couldn’t find what we were supposed to be looking for, which was the view from the top of the waterfall. Nevertheless, we saw some great views and it gave me a chance to practice my bathroom skills next to the car!

We continued on and drove to the impressive Skogafoss waterfall, which stands about 60 meters tall and is about 25 meters wide. The waterfall has a lot of power to it and you can hear the thundering at the bottom of it from afar. We were surprised that we were able to get so close to the base given how forceful it is. We walked up to about as far as we could get without getting soaking wet. Stairs and a path next to the waterfall led us all the way to the top to some precarious views down below. These stairs also mark the start of one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland, taking you 55 kilometers to Landmannalaugaur.

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Next we drove about 20 minutes to Sólheimajökull glacier. This glacier snout is part of the much bigger Mýrdalsjökull glacier. They say that Sólheimajökull is shrinking and retreating, and has retreated about a kilometer in the last decade. As you walk towards the glacier you can even see where it used to be since it is either covered by water or rough stony ground. It was pretty cool looking at a glacier that has probably been there since the Ice Age.

An Interesting Find

Our next stop is a really interesting and random find. On November 24, 1973, a U.S. Navy plane was forced to land on the black sand beach of Solheimasandur in Southern Iceland. The crew survived, but the plane was abandoned, rather than recovered, and it rests there still. Extreme weather (and looters?) has taken its toll on the plane, but the shell and half of both wings still remain.

The plane was somewhat of a challenge to get to. At the time, this site wasn’t in your Lonely Planet or Rick Steves’ books – we just happened to find it on a blog a few days before we arrived in Iceland and it gave very detailed instructions on how to find it. There are no signs from the main road and when you do come to the subtle turn off the road, there is a teeny tiny sign pointing that the site is about 5 km away.

Plane - Iceland's South Coast

The “road” to the site (packed gravel and rocks) is bumpy and full of potholes! Rocks were kicking up into the tires and metal and I was afraid that we were going to puncture something as we drove very slowly towards the south. It took a good 15-20 minutes to get down towards the water, but when we came around a small corner you couldn’t miss this incredible site. FYI, you cannot drive to this site anymore! There is a small parking area at the beginning of the gravel road and then you must walk about 45-60 min to the site.

Black Sand Beach

Continuing on we went to Reynisfjara Beach, about five minutes from the tiny town of Vik. Reynisfjara Beach was voted as one of the most ten beautiful non-tropical beaches on Earth. It was easy to see why! There’s a lot to see at this fascinating and eerie beach. In the distance off-shore you can see the Reynisdrangar rock formations, which look like spooky spindles of rock sticking out of the ocean. Legend has it that three trolls were pulling a three masted ship to shore, but were caught at dawn by the sunlight and were turned into rocks.

On the beach there are stunning basalt columns. They were created when magma cooled slowly and then cracked into columns as the surface area decreased. These were just spectacular to look at!

Also in the area of Vik is Dyrholaey. Here we saw views of the empty black sand beach. The Arctic waters crashing on them was a gorgeous sight. We spent some time just taking in the scenery and relaxing.

Exploring Iceland’s South Coast was a wonderful experience.. so much so that we did it twice! It’s a must for any visitor to Iceland. You could spend a few days in the area or make a day trip out of it from Reykjavik. Combine your trip with The Golden Circle and The Westman Islands for a great stay in this gorgeous country.

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Exploring Slovenia

Despite being such a small country, Slovenia has an incredibly diverse landscape and is home to some of the friendliest people we have ever met in our travels. Slovenia borders the northeast corner of Italy and is about 90 miles from Venice. A lot is packed into this country, which contains everything from snow-capped mountains suitable for skiing, beaches on the Gulf of Trieste, and acres of hills and plains blanketed with grapevines. It has some of the cleanest water in the world due to its many lakes and springs, has half of its total area covered in forest, and is abundant with various types of wildlife. We had so much fun exploring Slovenia!

Ljubljana

We flew into Venice, rented a car, and drove about two hours to the capital, Ljubljana. This small city has plenty of museums, universities, greenery, and a castle overlooking the city on its highest peak. We walked into the old town and through Presernov Trg (Preseren Sqaure). This is where the life of the city is! There is a river running through it with quite a few small walking bridges crossing the water. Many restaurants and cafes line the riverbank. Even though it was about 25 degrees there were a lot of people sitting outside, sipping their coffees with friends.

We took the funicular up and made our way to Ljubljana Castle. From below, the castle looks extensive and is the city’s focal point, but while we were up there it seemed surprisingly small. We went across a small courtyard to the watchtower and climbed the stairs. We saw wonderful views of the city here!

Our ticket also included entrance to the Slovenian History Exhibition. It led us through the country’s past exhibiting significant objects and video explanations.

After taking the funicular down we walked through the central market area, which has an outdoor and indoor market selling everything from meats, cheeses, vegetables, and honey, to items like magnets, paintings, and wooden kitchen accessories. We walked through the market along the river and crossed the Dragon Bridge. It is “guarded” by four sculptures of dragons, which are now the city’s mascots.

Lake Bled

After our time in Ljubljana, we drove 40 minutes to the town of Bled. Bled is situated right on Lake Bled, a picturesque, emerald-green lake that has the scenery of a postcard. The lake has some of Slovenia’s highest mountain peaks as a backdrop, a medieval castle on a small cliff, and a church sitting on a tiny island in the middle of it all. In the summer Bled gets incredibly busy, as there are many rowing, swimming, and boating competitions, while in the winter – though not empty – one can walk around the lake without the chaos and noise of tourists.

We walked the four miles around the lake, capturing pictures, petting dogs on walks, and admiring the natural beauty. Seeing the snow-covered Julian Alps in the distance was stunning and the entire landscape was just breathtaking.

Kranjska Gora

About 40 minutes from Bled is the more well-known ski resort of Kranjska Gora. This resort has been used for the European Winter Championships and open air events. Not ony can you downhill ski, you can also toboggan, snowshoe, and cross-country ski.

We arrived to a huge parking problem at the resort! There was only one big parking lot and it had already filled up, with people double and triple parking cars into makeshift spots. All that was left was street parking in town, which we drove aimlessly around looking for. We got pretty lucky after we squeezed into a spot right in front of a ski rental place, which ended up being closer than the main parking lot. Win!

Kranjska Gora was more akin to east coast skiing in the USA than the west coast or the Alps. There weren’t too many runs, it was very icy in parts, and it was more crowded with people, especially beginners. Despite that, we enjoyed skiing here very much.

Postojna Caves

In Postojna there is a large cave network under the surface, consisting of 21 kilometers of fantastic tunnels, halls, and passages. It’s very similar to Lurray Caverns in Virginia. Remnants of rivers and pools of water can be seen from the indentation in the rocks. There are big rock chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites of many sizes and shapes, some of which have taken tens of thousands of years to form. The caves were enchanting! Each area that we saw offered a different view into this remarkable underground world. We felt like we took a journey to the center of the earth, where time is counted by the drops of water and the art of mother nature is on display.

We started with a ride in a miniature train for two kilometers through small archways, large halls, and tiny passageways. Afterward, we were led through different areas of the caves, each with their own unique name. The Hall of Tubes (aka Spaghetti Hall) was so named because of the white, needle-thin tubes hanging from the ceiling. The Concert Hall holds events and concerts a few times a year and can accommodate several thousand people. The White Hall is named because all the stalactites are extremely white from pure limestone. The whole experience was magnificent and it gave us a magical view of the underground world of the Postojna Caves.

We’re so glad that we visited this lovely country. The charm of Lake Bled, the relaxed atmosphere of the capital city of Ljubljana, and the various types of terrain and natural beauty, make exploring Slovenia a wonderful experience. It truly is a terrific place to visit and unwind!

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Eating Our Way Through Bologna, Italy

Ah, Bologna… the food capital of Italy! Located about 50 miles north of Florence, Bologna is a wonderful alternative to the more crowded and touristy cities of Italy. It doesn’t have the art museums of Florence, the canals of Venice, or the ancient monuments of Rome, but it does have some stunning architecture and food. The city is famous for its cuisine and is known as the culinary capital of Italy. In fact, Italians refer to Bologna by three names: La Dotta, La Rossa, and La Grassa; the educated, the red, and the fat. “Educated” refers to the city’s university which is the oldest university in Europe (since 1088). “Red” refers to the red bricks that most of Bologna’s buildings are made from, and because of its leftist political views. “Fat” refers to Bologna’s culinary history, making it the food capital of Italy, which held up to its name.

We were excited to taste Bologna’s delicious food and explore a new part of the country. We were also excited to meet up with good friends, Sera and Martin. After a lunch filled with glorious truffles and ravioli, we wandered the streets of the city center of Bologna. We took in sights like the Asinelli Tower, Piazza Maggiore, and the Neptune Fountain, as well as indulging in the wine and food from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

Reggio Emilia Tour

During our second day in Bologna we went on a private food and wine tour of the region. After our guide arrived early in the morning, we went to a Parmesan cheese factory in the Reggio Emilia region. Here, we watched the daily process of making Parmesan cheese straight from the cows, along with a taste of the final product at the end (aged 15 months). Yum!

Next we went to the home of a traditional balsamic vinegar producer in the area. Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is made only from the Emilia Romagna region, is aged at least 12 years, and is different from the balsamic vinegar of Modena label that we often see. The two are distinct products in their manufacturing, composition, and price. After a tour of the facilities and an explanation of the process we tasted six different traditional balsamic vinegars. We could definitely tell the difference between the traditional and the other balsamic vinegars. They were thicker, creamier, richer, and much more expensive!

An Afternoon at a Winery

The final stop was our wine tasting at a vineyard in the region. The owner (whose real name we never found out, only that he wanted us to call him Jim because his favorite singer is Jim Morrison) showed us the vineyards. We tasted 8 (or 9?) wines and he did not skimp! He poured the wine so high in the glasses that it became more of a wine party than a tasting. It was fun and we don’t remember leaving the winery!

After a little rest and recovery back at the hotel, we ventured out to a local restaurant in Bologna. This trattoria uses only local products and cooks traditional cuisine from the region such as spaghetti bolognese, tortellini al brodo (tortellini in a broth sauce), and lasagna. Dishes in Bologna are less about olive oil and tomatoes and more about butter and cream sauces. The addition of truffles, chestnuts, mushrooms, and a variety of meats, makes for a perfect cold winter night in December. Simply delicious!

Jon and I definitely could have used another day in Bologna and we would love to go back again. We took advantage of the fantastic food opportunities in the region while being able to enjoy the city itself. The people are so friendly, they seem to enjoy life, and are respectful of things and people around them. The weather is great, and the food is fabulous. It’s one of those cities that we could see ourselves living in or around and it got us thinking yet again… can we please live here?

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Yosemite National Park with Kids

We recently returned from an awesome nine day road trip with our kids. Starting in San Francisco, we drove to Yosemite National Park, then drove to Sequoia National Park, and eventually made our way to Las Vegas where we did some fun things inside and outside of the city. We hadn’t done a national park trip with the kids since Banff in 2019 and Acadia in 2018 so we were really excited to hit these parks and tackle some family friendly hikes. The park was stunning! We were in awe of its natural beauty and we were rewarded with breathtaking sights at every turn! Yosemite National Park with kids was a magical experience! They loved looking at the majestic waterfalls and were impressed by the gigantic natural wonders in front of them.

Where We Stayed

We stayed at Rush Creek Lodge and Resort, which is only a mile outside the gate of the park. This resort has it all: swimming pool, pool bar, hot tub, game room, playground, ziplines, fire pit (with free smores every night), convenience store, a restaurant, and plenty of hiking and running trails to explore. We spent our afternoons relaxing here after a couple long mornings at Yosemite. It was really incredible and exceeded our expectations. We stayed in a two bedroom villa and it was a perfect way for everyone to get their own space and keep our own food in the room. We were here for two nights, but I really wish we stayed for three so we could spend one day to just enjoy the resort and grounds.

Family Friendly Hikes & Sights

Since we were still a little bit on east coast time we were able to get early starts at Yosemite. This really helped as this is such a popular park, especially on the weekends. We stopped by the convenience store for some yogurt and cereal, and we were in the car by 7am! Our first stop was to Bridalveil Falls. This is often the first waterfall you see as you enter Yosemite Valley. This is a quick 0.3 mile walk from the main road. But once there you are able to climb up the rocks to get a closer look, which of course we did! Climbing rocks on trails is the kids most favorite thing to do when we’re hiking and it was great that we got to start with it! We spent a lot of time here exploring the different paths up and admiring the beautiful waterfall.

Next, we went to Tunnel View. The view here is incredible as you look at El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, and other landmarks. The pictures don’t do it justice! And if you come from the Wawona Tunnel it is the iconic view that everyone sees when coming out.

We walked across the street and hiked a trail to Inspiration Point. Distance wise, this wasn’t a long hike at all at 1.2 miles roundtrip, but it was steadily – and during the first half mile, steeply – uphill. This offers a similar view of down below at Tunnel View, but it is higher up and way less crowded (we only saw one couple on the hike the entire time).

After this we decided to drive to Glacier Point, about an hour away. This is an overlook with a powerful view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra. It’s a short walk to the viewpoint from the parking lot. Standing at an elevation of around 7,200 feet we had a clear view of the beautiful sight in front of us.

The next day we went into Yosemite Valley and started our day with a hike to Vernal Falls. This was only a 1.6 mile roundtrip hike that we thought was family friendly… and in some ways it was. But it was a VERY steep uphill from the get-go and it didn’t let up until we got to the falls. We did it, but there was definitely a certain nine year old that wasn’t happy! Had I known it was that steep I probably wouldn’t have done it with the kids, but there were other families out there as well. However, it was worth it when we got to the falls! And knowing that we didn’t have to go uphill on the way down helped a lot too. And the ice cream we promised afterward!

That hike kinda set the tone for the day and the kids were wiped, understandably. We took the shuttle to Yosemite Village where we had parked the car, and took a long rest with snacks and a bathroom break. From there we walked the one-mile Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, starting with Cooks Meadow Loop. I loved this walk, especially the part on Cooks Meadow Loop where we had a view of the falls the entire time, along with Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. The kids took a lot of pictures with their cameras. It was all just so… impressive!

Tips

Some of these are obvious tips and apply to most national parks, but they are worth repeating because they work! Even though it wasn’t too crowded since it was the last week in August we still followed these tips to get the best experience.

One, go early! If you’re going in the summer time then get there before 7am. Parking usually fills up before 8am on the weekends in the summer.

Two, take the shuttle during the high season. Otherwise, you will be stuck in your car for hours waiting to park and you’ll just waste your day. We parked at Yosemite Village because it was the last parking lot on the way out of the one-way road. In our case it ended up not mattering as much because it was a Monday, but it all worked out.

Three, if you want to go in the summer then go during the last week in August. We found it wasn’t that crowded since a lot of kids start school by then.

Four, try to avoid the weekends. No explanation needed!

Five, make a plan! We knew exactly where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do. This saved time and energy as we went about our day. Of course we adjusted when needed, but this saved us from questioning what to do.

Final Thoughts

Yosemite National Park with kids was such an exciting and rewarding experience! I am still in awe of the beautiful sights that we witnessed. My one regret is not staying longer. I definitely would have eliminated a night somewhere else in order to add on a third night here. We not only would have had a little more time to see the park, but also more time to just enjoy all that the resort had to offer. But I guess that just means we’ll need to return in the future!

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Visiting Vienna X-mas market

Visiting Vienna

Vienna is consistently ranked as one of, if not the best, livable city in the world. And with good reason! Green parks take up almost half of the area, the public transportation system is convenient and reliable, and the cultural aspect can’t be beat. Stately and imposing buildings line the streets, with dramatic entrances, windows, and designs. Opera houses, theaters, museums, and parks are abundant. We thoroughly enjoyed our time visiting Vienna!

Noteworthy Buildings & Museums

We took our time looking through the city, coming across a variety of noteworthy buildings, including the Hofburg Palace. The Hofburg Palace started construction in the 13th century and is the former imperial residence. Now it serves as the official residence of the President of Austria.

Vienna has more than 100 museums containing everything from very famous and historical paintings, to museums that simply show furniture. We went to the Belvedere Museum (housed in Belvedere Castle), which holds paintings and art from Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Claude Monet. We were able to see Klimt’s famous painting, “The Kiss”.

The Opera

Music is one of Vienna’s legacies so we thought it would be the perfect place to see our first opera. The famous Vienna State Opera House was sold out of tickets two months prior, so we opted for the showing of the Italian opera Tosca at the Volksopera theater on Friday night.

So we didn’t hate it, but we didn’t love it either. We knew the storyline, but we were surprised it was sung in German and not in its native Italian. I know, we’re in Austria and we shouldn’t have expected anything but German, but not being able to understand the words, especially during the slower parts of the opera left us a little bored. The singing, the acting, the lavish costumes, and the story of Tosca were fabulous, but overall, we were meh. We’re glad we tried it though… how do you know something isn’t really for you unless you try it out?

Christmas Markets

Because we visited in December there were numerous Christmas markets that we could attend. This is one of my favorite things about Europe. A lot of countries have these markets, but each one has its own uniqueness and charm. Stands sell everything from from ornaments, to wooden toys, to local food. We sipped on numerous amounts of gluhwein (hot mulled wine) and browsed the different vendors. Each time you get a cup of gluhwein it comes in a decorative glass souvenir mug unique to the market that you’re visiting. We also went to Vienna’s famous year round market, Naschmarkt, which has a variety of different foods, spices, and cuisines to taste.

Visiting Vienna was an experience that we loved! We really enjoyed the different atmosphere that it provided us. We took pleasure in passing the large buildings, listening to the classical music playing in the streets, and wandering through the different areas of the city.

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Hiking Cinque Terra

The Cinque Terre (meaning Five Lands) is an area that consists of five towns that are in close proximity to each other and are dotted along the Ligurian Coast of Italy. Each town has its own charm and unique characteristics, but they all still hold onto the quaint fishing village feeling of the area. We visited Cinque Terre knowing that we wanted to hike to the different towns, something the area is known for. There are different options for hiking Cinque Terre – you can hike one section of the trail, or make a day of it and do the whole thing. I’m sure you already know what option we went with!

Monterosso Al Mare

We flew into Genoa, spent the afternoon in the city, and continued our drive to our base, Monterosso al Mare. This town is Cinque Terre’s most northern town and is divided into two parts, the old and the new. It is also home to Cinque Terre’s most extensive sandy beach. This is the town to go to if you want a traditional Italian beach experience. Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five towns and also serves as one end of the hiking trail between them.

The Hike to Vernazza and Corniglia

There is a cliffside trail that connects the five villages, while also providing stunning views of the sea and coastline. The first part of the hike is from Monterosso al Mare to the next town of Vernazza. This is actually the most challenging section of the coastal hike. This is because there are very steep inclines and declines with pathways so narrow that at times only one person can fit at once. It took us one hour and five minutes to hike to Vernazza (the average is 1.5 hours… go us)! When we made our way down to the town we browsed the shops and refreshed ourselves with some water.

After a short break we left the pretty town of Vernazza and walked up towards the trail to Corniglia. Corniglia is the smallest of the five towns and is the only one not accessible by water. Because it is on top of a hill, no matter which way you come from you have to head up. We had a very steep uphill start from Vernazza and from there it was a mix of uphill with small breaks of flat path for us to follow (though still pretty narrow). This section took us about 1.5 hours.

By the time we made it to Corniglia we were out of water and were famished! We found a cute restaurant that served the traditional food of Liguria, trofie with pesto, and had a delicious meal. Afterward, we spent about 30 minutes walking around the town. Corniglia feels smaller and quieter, but is just as charming as the other towns, if not more. There’s a little piazza with a tower where people sit to pass the time, narrow car-free streets to wander through, and an overlook to take beautiful pictures of the sea.

The Hike to Manarola and Riomaggiore

Now we had a decision to make. Because of landslides from the previous year blocking the trail, the 1.2 mile coastal section between Corniglia and the next town, Manarola, was closed. We wanted to keep hiking so we decided to take a route that would take us UP and around the other trails in order to get to Manarola… about 2.5 miles. It winds up to the small town of Volastra and then all the way down to Manarola. So up we went. We went up so much that we really didn’t think it was possible to go up anymore. And when we thought “this has to flatten out soon, right?” we would turn a corner and see another set of treacherous rocks to climb up. There was no other option but to keep going! Hiking Cinque Terre was going to be a lot harder than we thought!

After making it to the top, the trail then consisted of small ups and downs, a nice reprieve from climbing. We made it to Volastra, followed the signs to Manarola, and finally went down. It seemed like we were descending way more than we had ascended in the beginning. After going down 1,200 narrow steps we finally made it to Manarola, two hours from when we started in Corniglia.

We really wanted to check out the most famous (and easiest) part of the hiking trail, Via dell’Amore, or the Love Trail. This is a 1km path carved out of the hard rock face overhanging the sea. It’s supposed to be one of the most romantic paths to walk. Unfortunately, because of those same landslides the year before this path was still closed. It is finally reopening in July 2024.

Our only option to get to the last town, Riomaggiore, was to take the very quick train ride. We spent some time in the town and refreshed with some water, but we didn’t stay long. We were beat!

Getting Back

After, we took the train back to Monterosso al Mare. But our hike didn’t end there. From the train station it was at least a mile uphill to our bed and breakfast. We calculated that we hiked a total of 12.15 miles that day (half of it pretty uphill), including walking in the towns a little bit – not bad for me being 14 weeks pregnant at the time! But we still had to walk down to the town for dinner later on…

Hiking in Cinque Terre is still one of our favorite hiking experiences in Italy. Not only does the hike give you stunning views of the sea during the trek, it was pretty cool being able to hike to the different towns and take in the scenery and characteristics of each one. 

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Off The Beaten Path in Rome

There’s something that happens when you visit a city for the second or third time and you’re not trying to see all of the regular touristy sites. You walk a bit slower, take in the sights and sounds of the locals going about their day, and notice just how beautiful the city can be when you’re not standing in line with the crowds. Around every corner and down every street are magnificent buildings; and in no way are they well known or famous, and people don’t go out of their way to see them, but they are striking, majestic, and stunning to admire. This is not to say that you shouldn’t see the main sights in a city. I think you’d be pretty disappointed if you didn’t visit the Colosseum or the Vatican while in Rome. But if you add on a couple more days to a trip, or make subsequent visits, you can truly get off the beaten path in Rome and have a completely different experience.

Aventine Hill

This isn’t totally off the beaten path in Rome, but it’s something different and away from the hustle and bustle. Aventine Hill is Rome’s southernmost hill and walkable from the city center. It’s a quiet residential area with a lot of historical churches and monasteries. One thing we sought out was here as well – the Knights of Malta keyhole in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. Here, there is a keyhole through a door that gives a rather impressive view of St. Peter’s Basilica. When we visited during the winter there was no one there, but now you can expect to wait 15-30 minutes. This off the beaten path in Rome activity isn’t so secret anymore! Nonetheless, it is still away from the crowds and it’s an opportunity to go to a different neighborhood in Rome.

The nearby piazza and gardens gave us a wonderful view of the city stretched out before us.

The Jewish Ghetto

The Jewish Ghetto in Rome was built in 1555 and was the mandatory home for the Roman Jewish population for more than 300 years. Most of the ghetto has been torn down, but you can still discover some remaining structures of the Jews’ notable past and modest present.

Portico d’Ottavia

Portico d’Ottavia, a big ancient ruin, is just next to the ghetto. These are the remains of an ancient gateway, which used to house a flourishing fish market. It was later turned into a church and was subsequently used by the Christians at that time to force the Jews to pray in, in hopes of converting them. Within the archeological site we walked behind an ancient theater, now with more modern buildings built into it. The back is the original rounded portico with arches, reminiscent of the Colosseum and other Roman theaters.

Trastevere

From there we crossed the Ponte Girabaldi into the Trastevere region. This is a very charming area of the city where a lot of young locals live. Small narrow streets dominate the neighborhood and restaurants and bars line the piazzas. After walking around here for a bit we had a fantastic lunch in a cute restaurant and had the best ravioli we’ve had in all of Italy!

Santa Maria in Cosmedin

We crossed back over, this time over Ponte Palatino, and stopped by the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The Roman statue called “La Bocca della Verita” (The Mouth of Truth), is here and legend has it that if a liar or a sinner puts his hand in the mouth they will lose it! The thrill of putting our hands in the statue’s mouth was strong and we couldn’t resist! We stuck our hands in and hope for the best. Alas, the harmless, but unnerving stone did not eat our hands.

Whether you’ve been to Rome ten times or only one, the Eternal City has so much to offer! No matter how many times you visit there is always more beauty and culture for you to discover and enjoy. We can’t wait to go back and discover more hidden gems when you go off the beaten path in Rome!

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Hiking Zion National Park with Kids

Hiking Zion National Park with Kids is easy and fun to do! We took this trip when our kids were 3.5 years old and 6 months old and this was our first major hiking trip with the both of them. Later on we would tackle Joshua Tree , Acadia, Banff, Hawaii, and more! Our plan had us flying into Las Vegas, driving to Zion National Park for a few days, then driving to the Grand Canyon for a few days (with stops along the way at Horseshoe Bend), drive to Las Vegas for one night (stopping at Hoover Dam), and ending in Los Angeles for four days to visit with my brother and his family.

You know when a trip is seamless and everything goes right? That’s how this trip was. It was a fabulous ten day trip that is still one of my favorites to this day.

Along the Pa’rus Trail

Getting There

We flew into Las Vegas, grabbed some lunch, and headed to Springdale, Utah just outside Zion National Park. It was a long day of traveling, but the girls were SO good! The kids went to bed at their normal east coast bedtime so they were asleep by 5:30pm. Jon and I followed a couple of hours later. These early nights and early mornings would end up working in our favor since Zion gets very crowded and incredibly hot very early in the morning during the summer. A little planning goes a long way here – knowing which hikes are at which shuttle stops, when the shuttles start, and what to expect at each hike, were key in making sure that we used our time efficiently and without crowds and crazy heat.

Pa’Rus Trail

We were all up around 4:30am the next morning so we packed our gear and headed to the park. We parked at the museum and headed to the Pa’Rus Trail. This trail is accessible from the Visitor’s Center, the Zion Museum (shuttle stop 2), or at Canyon Junction (stop 3). It is a 1.7 mile out and back flat, paved trail that is best done in the early morning or early evening. It is perfect for strollers, bikes, and wheelchairs, and also has a great sunrise view of the Towers of the Virgin, which is a large collection of peaks including the West Temple, the Sundial, the Altar of the Sacrifice, and Meridian Tower.

M took her first nap in the stroller while we walked to our sunrise spot. J played in the red sand while Jon and I marveled at the first sun’s rays hitting the mountain. What a gorgeous site! And it was so special to share it as a family.

Emerald Pools Trail

We walked back to the museum, put the stroller in the car, and caught the already packed shuttle to the Zion Lodge stop which is where the Emerald Pools Trail started. We grabbed a second breakfast and then set off! The great thing about this trail is that there are different points where you can turn around and head back if you need to. It is 0.6 miles to the lower pools, 1 mile to the middle pools, and 1.5 miles to the upper pools so our plan was to evaluate how everyone was doing at each stop.

At the lower pools we took a break to feed M and enjoy the scenery. This is also when we decided to put the hiking harness on J as she was scaring us a bit with getting too close to the edge. The harness can reel the little ones in, but it is also extremely helpful in getting them over rocks that might be too big for them, while allowing them to attempt it themselves. She LOVED it!

We made it to the middle pools and decided to keep going up! The upper pools was another half a mile up, with all of it climbing rocks and steps. We fed M (again), set her up in the travel bassinet and white noise, and she fell right to sleep! Yes, I carried a travel bassinet on my back and held M in a front carrier. We rested and J played for about an hour and then we packed up and started our descent. Many people were coming up at this point (it was pretty hot by now) and were impressed that we did this hike with two very young children.

Once we reached the middle pools we took the Kayenta Trail down to get a change of scenery. J had enough of hiking so she went into the hiking backpack that Jon was carrying. She did over three miles of hiking/walking on her own!

We caught the shuttle from the Grotto stop and got off at the museum where our car was. It was 11:00am and we had already put in a full day. And it was HOT. We grabbed lunch on the way back, watched a movie, and then played in the pool in the afternoon.

Riverside Walk to The Narrows

The next morning we got to Zion at 5:45am to catch the first 6:00am shuttle and there was already a line. Fortunately, we made it onto the first set of buses that we were taking all the way to the last stop, Temple of Sinawava. Here, there is a very popular hike called The Narrows that we were not doing. But you can do the Riverside Walk, which leads to the start of The Narrows. This is a very pretty, serene walk showcasing flowers, imposing rocks, the river, and animals. This walk normally gets really crowded, but because we were so early, we had the walk to ourselves. It was pretty relaxing and quiet. We hung out at the start of The Narrows a little bit – J had a blast playing with the rocks in the water and we enjoyed the cool morning air and water on our feet.

Weeping Rock Trail

Next up was the Weeping Rock Trail, which is stop 7 on the shuttle. This is only a 0.4 mile trail. M needed her second nap (can you tell I’m a stickler for naps?) so Jon took J on the trail and I sat with a sleeping M. The hike was a little steep in places, but nothing a 3.5 year couldn’t handle! At the top you are surrounded by a moss and fern covered overhang that looks over a cliff. The cliff has tiny waterfalls misting over the edge of it that end up in little pools below.

Heading back

We went to the Zion Lodge for some real breakfast and to rest. Everyone was pretty tired so we decided to call it a day (a pretty successful one)! When we got back to the visitor center to grab the car we couldn’t believe how long the lines were. At this time of day they can be over an hour long… and it was 105 degrees by this point. Get out early and you’ll have a pretty cool morning!

Hiking with kids at Zion National Park was such a great experience. While M was kinda just along for the ride, J proved to be a future hiker in the making! We plan to go back in life to tackle some hikes that weren’t appropriate for our kids’ ages, namely Angel’s Landing and The Narrows. But the trails we chose for this trip were great for all of us and we were still able to see Zion’s diversity and beauty with what we did.

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Walking to Waimea Falls with Kids

Need another idea of what to do while on the island of Oahu in Hawaii? Take a day trip to the North Shore and visit Waimea Falls! Not only is this an experience where you will see the natural beauty of magnificent gardens and a lovely waterfall, but it is also a cultural experience as well. Waimea Falls with kids is a great activity to do on the North Shore!

Waimea Valley is about an hour from Aulani Disney Resort where we made our base. We arrived around 8:30am and had the place to ourselves! One of the things that we were really looking forward to was swimming in the falls. When I had visited in 2005 I was able to swim and go under the falls (you are still allowed to do that now, but you MUST wear a life jacket, which they will provide). So we all wore our swimsuits and had our towels with us. But, much to our dismay, there were signs saying that the water levels were too low and that there was no swimming allowed! That was a huge disappointment!

Waimea Falls with kids. No water!
Where’s the water??

Walking the Path

The path to the falls is full of beautiful flora and historical and cultural information on Native Hawaiin history. It is about a one mile walk on a paved path and in the morning hours is pretty shaded. There is a shuttle that you can pay for if someone is not up to walking that amount. We took it slow since there are many side paths one can venture to in order to learn more about the native plants and area. It’s very well done and we learned a lot!

So we knew that the water in the falls was low… but we didn’t realize that there wouldn’t be any falls at all! It was completely dry! No wonder no one was allowed to swim! We used the opportunity to take some family pictures, rest and recharge, and let the kids play a little bit. We walked back at a faster pace and there were a lot more people headed in the direction we just came from.

Food Trucks

After our time in Waimea Valley we were in search of some delicious North Shore food trucks! My father-in-law, Joe, really wanted to stop by Da Bald Guy food truck in Kahuku. We went there as well as tried many of the other different food trucks along side it. And oh my, the food was superb! Poke bowls, garlic shrimp, pineapple juice, and so much more FRESH grub. We sat at the benches and enjoyed our amazing lunch.

We drove back to the resort and rested a bit before spending some time at the pool. Despite the falls not being full, we had such a great time exploring another part of the island!

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Hiking Diamond Head with Kids

One of the activities we wanted to do while in Hawaii was climb the Diamond Head crater. This is a moderate 1.6 mile roundtrip hike up to the top of Diamond Head where you are welcomed with the most beautiful views of Waikiki and beyond. It is suitable for all ages – we had a group of ten between the ages of five and 74 and everyone was just fine! Hiking Diamond Head with kids was fun and rewarding!

Hiking Diamond Head with Kids
Hiking Diamond Head with Kids

As of May 2022, Diamond Head requires reservations for parking and for entry. We picked the earliest time slot, 6:00-8:00am and got there around 6:15. Because of the time change we were still waking up pretty early and because it was August we wanted to beat the heat and the crowds, which we did!

Hiking Diamond Head with Kids
Before the start

The path is well maintained and paved in some areas. It is uphill the whole way and has sets of stairs at different points throughout the journey. The kids had a really good time hiking up the crater together, despite some normal complaints along the way. It probably took our group about 45 minutes to climb it. But when we got to the top we were met with the most incredible views of the ocean and Waikiki. There are several viewpoints to look out onto, some with steep steps, but all were accessible. While we were there you could feel it starting to get crowded. We admired the view, took our pictures, and headed back down! This was much faster!

Waikiki

After a stop at the bathrooms at the bottom, we drove into Waikiki for some breakfast along the water. We ate outside and felt the nice breeze from the ocean. Filling our bellies with some local grub and relaxing along the water was exactly what we needed after our hike.

Later on, we drove back to the Aulani Disney Resort and spent the rest of the day playing in the pool and lounging at the beach. We had such a great time hiking Diamond Head with kids!

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The Aulani Disney Resort in Hawaii

In August 2022, my husband’s parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and took the entire family to Hawaii to celebrate. While this was a huge milestone to be celebrating, we were also celebrating the end of a hard year (or two), life, family, and love. Because all of the adults had been to Oahu previously, we didn’t feel the need to run around the island trying to get everything in. We had a nice balance of relaxing at the Aulani Disney Resort, while visiting sights around Oahu.

Travel and Relaxation

We had an 11 hour direct flight from Newark to Honolulu and it actually went by relatively quickly. While my in-laws had glorious first class seats that allowed you to lay down, the eight of us in the back watched movies, colored pictures, and ate a ton of snacks. Some of us slept. You would never know that there were five kids ages 5-13 sitting where we were… that’s how good they were! Nevertheless, it was a long day of travel and everyone was done by the time we checked into the hotel. My family of four was in bed by 5pm!

Surprisingly, everyone woke up close to 4am, which is a huge win considering we were on a six hour time difference. Our first full day in Hawaii we devoted to staying on the resort and relaxing. 

Infinity pool at the Aulani Disney Resort

The Aulani Disney resort was the best thing for everybody. Not only did it cater to the kids, but to the adults as well. There were six pools, a lazy river, two slides (meant for adults and kids), a spa, and a peaceful lagoon on the Ko Olina beach that was just perfect. There were plenty of restaurants on site, as well as many delicious options that were walkable from the resort.

We had a beautiful one bedroom with a kitchen and seating area. The living room not only had a pull out sofa, but also a pull out twin bed so the kids could have their own space. We also had 1.5 bathrooms. It really made the trip so much more comfortable having all of that room to spread out!

Character Sightings

I have never seen a resort so lively so early in the morning! Since there are so many mainland USA visitors, everyone here wakes up super early. We had to wait in line for breakfast at 6:50am, but we got a nice table outside where we were visited by Mickey & Minnie Mouse and Chip & Dale. 

Family at the Aulani Disney Resort

We had several Moana sightings that my five year old was absolutely enthralled with. She had to go and meet her every time there was an opportunity. And even though my eight year old won’t admit it, I know she enjoyed seeing her as well. 

Beachy Drinks and Food

Pina coladas, cucumber fritzes, and mai tais were staples for the adults while we relaxed at the pool. The waiter soon learned to just keep the drinks coming!

The Beach

It’s rare when I let my young kids play in the ocean without me holding onto to them. They’re pretty strong swimmers, but the big waves scare me with kids. The lagoon at the resort allowed the kids to play on their own without fear coming from my end regarding waves and rip tides. The water was calm, clear, warm, and just beautiful. I often started my days by taking a run at sunrise and was taken aback by the beauty of it all.  

Beautiful view on my run at the Aulani Disney Resort

Of course we took many day trips throughout the island. We spent some days at Pearl Harbor, Waikiki, the North Shore, Waimea Falls, and tried many local poke bowls!

One of the things that I loved about this trip is that we had such a nice balance between relaxing at the fun resort and exploring the island. Not only did the kids love all of the amenities that the Aulani Disney Resort had to offer, but the adults desperately needed some down time to relax in Hawaii as well. This was a spectacular trip that we will always remember!

Family fun at Aulani Disney Resort

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Exploring the Westman Islands

The day we arrived in Iceland, our first day, we drove 2.5 hours to the ferry terminal in Landeyjahöfn to head to The Westman Islands, known as Vestmannaeyjar. My cousin, who lived in Iceland, highly recommended that we make a stop there as part of our trip. So off we went, bleary eyed and tired, but full of excitement and adrenaline! Exploring the Westman Islands turned out to be a great decision as we learned so much about this island that we never would have otherwise.

What to See While Waiting for the Ferry

We arrived about two hours before the ferry was due to leave, but knowing this beforehand we had planned to go to the nearby waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui. The Icelandic term for waterfall is “foss” and these particular waterfalls did not disappoint. We were able to get up close and personal as we were allowed to climb up and walk behind Seljalandsfoss. The mist of the water sprayed on us as we walked around looking at it from all directions. About 1/3 mile down the path is Gljufrabui, which means “Dweller of the Gorge”. It’s about 40 meters high and because there’s a big rock in front of it, not many people notice it. You can wade through the gorge and jump on the rocks on the river or walk up to the rock and see the top.

Onward to the Island

We drove about 15 minutes to the ferry, parked the car, and walked on. The weather wasn’t the best so we decided to stay in and chill, where we ended up passing out for just about the whole 30 minute trip. The rest of the day is a little bit of a blur. We went right to the hotel, checked in, and had a delicious lunch at a local favorite restaurant. We were so tired we went back to the hotel for a little nap to catch up on some sleep before we had a spectacular dinner.

After getting about 10 hours of sleep (!) we awoke to a gorgeous, sunny, and warm day. Luckily we were able to sleep through the daylight the night before since we brought our eye masks – the hotel (or any other place we stayed for that matter) didn’t have blackout curtains. At this time of year (July 2) the sun doesn’t set until almost midnight and then rises again around 2:45am. During those few hours the sky doesn’t even come close to being black!

A Brief History on the Westman Islands

The Westman Islands are a series of islands south of the mainland formed by eruptions about 10,000 years ago. Only one island, Heimaey, is inhabitable, and it came to international attention with the eruption of Eldfell volcano in 1973. The eruption last about 6.5 months and destroyed about a fourth of the island, while increasing the size about 20%. Luckily, everyone was evacuated quickly so no one was killed. Families came back to the island to rebuild, and now climbing the volcano and visiting the museum is a pretty big attraction there, along with puffin watching.

Exploring the Westman Islands View

Eldfell Hike

After breakfast we set out on a clearly marked path towards the volcano Eldfell. They call this area the “Pompeii of the North” due to so many houses and other structures being buried (and most likely preserved) in mounds of lava. We walked past those memorials of houses and schools that were buried 16 meters below where we stood. We continued to get nice views of the town as we walked through 40 year old lava on either side of us along the way to Eldfell. On our walk we learned that heat from the volcano provided the town of Heimaey with geothermal energy from 1976-1985!

We started the somewhat steep climb on the collapsed northern end of the volcano taking breaks to snap pictures of the gorgeous view.

We made it to the top and wow, what a view! Once we got up there the wind hit us and all we could do was stand out facing the ocean with our arms stretched way out. We could basically see the entire island, including the teeny tiny airport. We were also able to see the other small islands that make up Vestmannaeyjar. This was such an incredible view and a great way to start out week in Iceland.

Eldheimer Museum

We made our way to the town and walked to Eldheimer. This is a museum detailing the 1973 eruption, and life on the island before and after it. The museum incorporates one house that was excavated and is still intact, including toppled household items left behind. The museum is beautifully done and we learned so much about the island.

Before we knew it we had to board the ferry again so we could continue our journey (but not before stopping at a delicious restaurant for some lunch)!

We’re so glad we spent some time exploring the Westman Islands. Plus, we got to learn some history about it that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about! After we disembarked we continued eastward on our Iceland journey. Starting our week with this beautiful island was just what we needed!

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Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Golden Circle is by far Iceland’s most famous attraction. It’s conveniently situated near Reykjavik and stretches for around 186 miles hitting top sights such as Gulfoss Waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, and the Geysir geothermal area. Along the way one can also see the colorful Kerid Crater Lake, Bruarfoss Waterfall, and the Laugarvatn hot springs. Since the Golden Circle is so popular it can get pretty crowded with buses and tourists. But driving the Golden Circle in Iceland doesn’t have to be a crowded mess! When we drove it we did run into crowds in one area, but because of timing and our direction we were able to peacefully enjoy a lot of it!

Kerid Crater

Since we were coming from the east, Kerid Crater was our first stop. Kerid Crater is a volcanic crater lake that has milky blue water and red volcanic rock surrounding it. The pictures don’t do it justice! The singer Bjork actually held a concert in the middle of the lake about 10 years ago. We walked around the rim at the top to get the best views of it, but you can also take stairs down and walk around that way too.

Gulfoss Waterfall

We drove a little bit north and went to Gulfoss Waterfall. The waterfall is on the Hvita River, which is fed by Iceland’s second biggest glacier, Langjokull. It was pretty crowded when we arrived here and we could see why. The falls are very powerful and were rampaging over the sides.

We went out to different view points, all in an attempt to get away from the mobs of people, but it was hard to do. It’s a great stop to have on a tour bus route. but we much prefer the quieter bus-free areas. We did very much enjoy looking at the intense waterfall though!

Geysir Geothermal Park

The next stop was only five minutes away, the Geysir Hot Spring Area. Because we went to the waterfall first (we had passed the hot spring area on the way) we were able to park in a small empty parking lot away from the tour bus area. The hot spring area is a large open area that has more than a dozen hot water blow holes and has been active for more than 1,000 years. Geysir is the original hot water spout after which all other geysers are named. Unfortunately, the original geyser no longer spews water into the air, but Strokkur is a very reliable geyser within the same area that shoots water 50-100 feet every 5-10 minutes. We watched Strokkur blast some hot water into the air a few times!

Laugarvatn Hot Springs

We continued counter clockwise on the Golden Circle and made a planned stop in Laugarvatn. The small town of Laugarvatn is known for its geothermal baths (Fontana) and we wanted to experience them! We stopped for a quick bite to eat and then headed to the baths. The Fontana is a small and intimate area consisting of several choices of shallow and deeper baths, each marked with a temperature rating. You can also go into the lake (with a sign that says “Dangerous Nature”)! And if you’ve had enough of the baths you can go into the sauna that’s fed by a naturally occurring geyser-like vent below.

This was a really nice place to go and unwind after a long day of driving the Golden Circle and sightseeing. The temperature outside was in the 50s and it was nice to sit outside in the hot water and check out the scenery. We also ventured into the lake a little bit, but didn’t go in that far since the bottom was rocky and it was a bit cold!

Driving the Golden Circle - Laugvartn

Thingvellir National Park

Moving on from Laugarvatn, we drove to our last stop of the day, Thingvellir National Park. Because we arrived later in the day, in addition to its large size, we were able to avoid the masses and explore this park in peace. The park has a lot of historical significance as the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament here in 930 (Thingvellir means “Parliament Plains”). Now it is a protected national shrine. The national park is also located on two tectonic plates of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and it’s possible to stand (and snorkel) in between the two plates.

There is so much beauty in this park! There were a lot of trails, paths, and other walkable areas for us to explore, as well as a beautiful lookout spot that had a stunning view of the park and surrounding area.

Tips

The Golden Circle is a really popular area to visit in Iceland, and that brings a ton of people. Here are some tips to best enjoy driving the Golden Circle in Iceland:

  • Almost all of the tour buses and large groups drive the Golden Circle in a clockwise direction. If you are driving yourself then drive the circle in a counter clockwise direction. You will avoid a lot of the congestion and large buses!
  • If you go in the summer you have the sunlight for almost the entire day. You can visit these places at 8pm when the tour buses are gone, but there is still plenty of sunlight!
  • Like with any major tourist area, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
  • Definitely take time to do some off the beaten path stuff like the Laugarvatn baths we found. It won’t be crowded and it will recharge you for the next part of your Golden Circle trip.

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland is a quick and efficient way to see the top spots. Even though the sights can get extremely crowded, knowing when and where to go can greatly diminish the amount of people you come into contact with. There are plenty of off the beaten path stops in between the “must sees” and this can all be done in one day. It’s a great thing to add to any Iceland itinerary!

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Hiking with Kids at Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is such a unique and diverse national park. From its incredible rock formations, to the “glowing” cholla cacti, there is something for everyone to enjoy. We were lucky to spend a few days here while on a trip to Los Angeles to visit my brother and his family. The five kids ranged in age from 2.5 to almost 8 and everyone had a great time. We found trails that all of the kids could do and we went back later in the night to watch the sunset and see the stars. Hiking with kids at Joshua Tree proved to be a special and fun experience!

Kid-Friendly Trails

There are SO many trails that are appropriate for a wide range of people. We tackled five of these, but listed here are seven that are appropriate for kids. Some of these are more like walks, rather than hikes, but the beauty can’t be beat!

Arch Rock Trail: This was the first hike we did when visiting the park. It is a 1.4 mile out and back trail that is doesn’t have much of an elevation change, but has a ton of large rocks for the kids to climb on and over. They love trails like this and had so much fun!

Cap Rock Trail: We went here on the recommendation from a ranger at the visitor center. It is a 0.4 mile walking path loop where you can see various rock formations, plants, and information placards talking about the different types of vegetation along the way. Overall, we found it to be very informative and great for young kids. It was an easy walk to do after the Arch Rock Trail.

Keys View Lookout: This isn’t a hike or trail at all, but rather a 0.25 mile loop up to a beautiful vista overlooking the mountains and valley. You can see Palm Springs and the Salton Sea on a clear day. Without a doubt, this is a sight to be seen!

Skull Rock Trail: This 1.7 mile loop has a TON of rock formations to climb on. Skull Rock is right at the beginning of the trail and can even be seen from the road. But I highly recommend continuing on the trail, even if you don’t do the whole thing.

Cholla Cactus Garden: Lastly, we finished with a 0.33 mile walk through the most unique garden we’ve ever seen! The cacti looked like they were glowing in the sunlight. The kids loved looking at these different plants.

Barker Dam Nature Trail: A 1.3 mile “lollipop” loop. We didn’t do this one, but it was on our list! There is a lot to explore here and many side paths that you can do from the main trail. Additionally, there are many rock formations for everyone to climb on!

Split Rock Trail: This is a 2 mile loop that is not as trafficked as some of the others, but provides similar beauty!

Sunset and Stargazing

After some rest time in the afternoon we went back into Joshua Tree to watch the sunset in the Californian desert. The kids played in the sand and climbed on the rocks while we tried to get some great pictures, but also just to enjoy the scenery and calmness of it all. The beauty of a sunset in the desert, with the unique Joshua trees as a backdrop, is hard to beat. We set up camp at the Hidden Valley Campground near the Hidden Valley Nature Trail and waited. As the sun set, we were met with the most amazing colors, clear skies, and gorgeous rays emanating from behind the rock formations and trees. It was undoubtedly, a spectacular site.

We stayed a little while longer to get some views of the amazing stars above. But by this point the kids were getting a little restless, so we packed up and left. Later on, Jon and Dan went back out after the kids’ bedtime with a telescope and great camera and saw the most amazing scenery.

All in all, we had such a great time here! Between its unique desert landscape, beautiful oases, and striking rock formations there is scenery for everyone to enjoy. Plus, hiking with kids at Joshua Tree was extremely fun due to all of the fun boulders to enjoy. We’d love to return and tackle some of the areas we didn’t get to.

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