History and Culture

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 (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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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.


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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Road Trip Through Ireland: Cashel, Cobh, Blarney

We planned our road trip through Ireland to start in Dublin and then Kilkenny where we had a great couple of days! After our time in Kilkenny we drove 45 minutes to Cashel to spend the night. From Cashel, we drove to Cobh, Cork, and finally Blarney Castle. This day would end up being one of our favorite days of the whole trip!

Cashel – The Rock of Cashel

Our purpose for visiting Cashel was to see The Rock of Cashel, which we had wanted to visit first thing in the morning. We arrived at our bed and breakfast and were greeted by an odd, but very friendly fellow who showed us around the b&b and to our room.

It was a Saturday night when we arrived and we must have spent about an hour walking around in circles trying to find a restaurant or pub to eat in. There was NOTHING open! It was so weird. The one restaurant we wanted to go to didn’t have anything free until 10pm. I guess that’s where everyone was since the town was dead. It was a complete 180 from what we just saw in Kilkenny a few hours prior. We finally found a pub where we had some stew and beers. There wasn’t much activity, but it had food! The town was a bit of a disappointment and I wish we had stayed in Kilkenny. But at least we still had the ROCK to see.

The Rock of Cashel is a set of medieval buildings dating back to 1100. It’s literally built on a rock and the site rises up from the rolling plains making it dominate the landscape from below. It really is quite a site to see from the town. The Rock of Cashel includes a chapel, a round tower, a cathedral, and a graveyard. It has a rich history and most of it is in its original rustic condition, though they were doing renovations while we were there. Since we arrived right when the site opened we were able to see everything pretty quickly.


We got on the road and drove to Cobh, about an hour away. We hadn’t planned on going to Cobh, but someone on our Kilkenny tour strongly suggested that we stop there and we are SO glad we did! It ended up being one of our favorite stops!

Cobh (pronounced Cove) is a pretty seaside town on the southern coast of County Cork. It served as one of the main transatlantic Irish ports, transporting 2.5 million of the 6 million Irish people between 1848 and 1950. It was also the famous final port of call (then called Queenstown) for the Titanic when it set out of its tragic voyage.

We walked around the town for a while and went to a small market on a plaza on the water. Next to this market was the “Titanic Experience“, a unique experience detailing the history of the ship and its unfortunate journey. It’s located in the original White Star Line Ticket Office, which was the departure point for the final 123 passengers who boarded the Titanic. The first part of the experience retraces the steps of the passengers who boarded on April 11, 1912. We experienced what life would’ve been like for the different classes of passengers and saw replica set designs of rooms. The second part examines what went wrong the night the Titanic sank. The tour was extremely informative and we really enjoyed it!


We left Cobh and drove to Cork for lunch. We went to a delicious restaurant where they use most of their ingredients gathered from The English Market (it’s closed on Sunday, otherwise we would have visited it). Afterward, we walked along the water a bit, but we didn’t get to spend much time here at all. We wanted to stop at Blarney Castle on the way to Killarney and we had to continue our road trip through Ireland as we were running out of time before it closed! Oh well!

Blarney Castle

We were excited to visit Blarney Castle and its famous Blarney Stone. The castle was built nearly 600 years ago and has become one of Ireland’s most visited treasures. Blarney Stone has a lot to do with its popularity – the Stone of Eloquence stands at the top of the tower. Legend has it that if you kiss the stone you’ll never again be at a loss for words (the gift of eloquence or the skill of flattery). The word blarney has come to mean clever, flattering, or coaxing talk sweetened with humor or wit. We were fortunate that we arrived later in the day and had no crowds to battle since August is their busiest month – sometimes the line can be up to two hours to get to the top of the castle, but we walked right up!

The ritual of kissing the stone has been performed by millions of people, and luckily there are now safeguards in place to prevent people from plummeting to their deaths, which did happen. I was very hesitant to kiss the stone; not because of the height, but because of the millions of people who had kissed it before me. I had planned to get into position and put a tissue between my lips and the stone, but I needed both hands to hold onto the railing upside down. Nowadays though, they actually have people cleaning the stone with antibacterial spray after each person’s kiss. It still skeeved me out a bit, so I didn’t exactly touch it, but came close enough! *This was before Covid so I’m not sure what has changed, if anything, with kissing the Blarney Stone!

More Than Just a Castle at Blarney Castle!

There’s a lot more to this castle than meets the eye. The grounds have expansive gardens, each with different names and purposes. Behind the castle is the poison garden, which contains a collection of poisonous plants from all around the world. The plants are labeled with information about their toxicity and traditional and modern uses. Some of the plants are so dangerous here that they are kept in large cage-like structures.

We also walked around Rock Close, which is an enchanting and magical area to be in. As you walk through you can find yourself in a shaded nook, standing on a terrace above a creek with slivers of sunlight peeking through old trees. Here one can find an ancient sacrificial alter, a druid’s circle, a hermit’s cave, a witch’s kitchen, and wishing steps. It was definitely an unexpected find and one that we’re glad we stumbled upon.

Jon made a wish, closed his eyes, and went up and down backwards in hopes his wish would come true.

Road trip through Ireland

This was one of our favorite days out of our whole trip to Ireland. Taking a slight detour from our plans to visit the small and delightful city of Cobh was so special! Having lunch with fresh market ingredients in Cork, and exploring an old castle while engaging in a centuries old tradition, really stood out during our time in this exquisite country. Our road trip through Ireland was well underway! Next up, County Kerry in Southwestern Ireland!

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New Year’s Eve in Venice

Venice is quite an interesting place! Small canals run through the city, with small bridges stretching across the water for pedestrians. The Grand Canal, Venice’s most important waterway, runs in an S-shape throughout the city nearly splitting it in two. The streets can be so narrow, that, at times, you have to walk single-file in each direction. Additionally, there are no cars or scooters anywhere. The mode of transportation throughout the city is by boat or on foot. We even took a boat from the airport to Piazza San Marco, and then walked about five minutes to our hotel, which had two entrances: a water entrance and a walking entrance! Overall, we took this opportunity to relax, unwind, and explore at our leisure. We thought Venice would be the perfect place to spend New Year’s Eve.

Taking our Time

Jon and I had no agenda other than to walk around to each of the six different sections of the city and to have a blast spending New Year’s Eve in Venice. Though we have been here four times, our New Years trip was our first time here. At the time there was no Google Maps to help us out with directions! We relied solely on a paper map to help us navigate the streets (the horror)! It was fun wandering the city with no real plan and seeing where each path would take us. We quickly learned that there is always something new to find in Venice!

We walked through the different streets, alleys, and piazzas, passing gondolas, boats, and many glass and mask shops along the way. Oh, the shopping! I’m not a big shopper, but even I couldn’t resist going into some of these beautiful shops to buy gifts and souvenirs.

We also rode in a gondola through the small canals, passing hotels and old buildings, and going under the cute bridges. Our gondolier was excellent and talked about the historical significance of buildings that we were passing, legends about the bridges we were going under, and general information about the city.

Naturally, we indulged in a ton of food and wine, too…

No trip is complete for us until we see a city’s Jewish area. In Venice it is called the Jewish Quarter, located in the section of Cannaregio. We enjoyed seeing a mix of Hebrew and Italian on the buildings. While here, we saw the Holocaust Memorial, which was very moving. In addition, we went into a glass shop where they had a plethora of Jewish goods. We decided to buy a lovely glass mezuzah that they personalized with our last name.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations!

For New Year’s Eve, we had made reservations at a restaurant that offered a seven-course meal for the night. Seven courses! Four hours and two bottles of wine later, we made our way to Piazza San Marco, where a large crowd had formed, a concert was taking place, and people were dancing. It was crowded, but not scary crowded as we had plenty of room to get out if we needed to!

We soon settled ourselves among the diverse crowd and waited for the countdown. Dieci, nove, otto, sette, sei, cinque, quattro, tre, due, uno, Buon Anno! It was fun counting down in another language in another country and it was interesting to see that New Year’s traditions around the world are pretty similar.

We made our way towards the Grand Canal where a beautiful fireworks display was lighting up the sky. We couldn’t help but think how lucky we were to be spending New Year’s Eve in Venice.

More Adventures to Come…

We spent the rest of our time checking out the different walkways and getting lost in the maze of narrow streets and bridges. It was different and refreshing to have no plan and to just wing it. We also knew that at some point in life we would be back with friends or family so we didn’t feel a need to do more. Spending New Years in Venice was special and a trip that we will always remember!

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Spending the Morning at Pearl Harbor

Visiting Pearl Harbor was an educational and moving experience for us! There are so many ways to spend your day here. For instance, you can go to the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri, check out the aviation and Pacific Fleet Submarine museum, walk through the exhibit galleries, and so much more. You could easily spend the entire day visiting all of the different sites. However, because there were ten of us with varying attention levels, we decided to just spend a morning at Pearl Harbor. We tried to get tickets to the USS Arizona, but they sell out everyday online within a couple of minutes and it was impossible to get ten at the same time. So we opted for the impressive USS Missouri!

USS Arizona Memorial spend the morning at Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona Memorial
USS Missouri. Spend the morning at Pearl Harbor
USS Missouri

The USS Missouri

The USS Missouri is located on Ford Island. From the visitor center you take a quick shuttle and you’re there! It was quite an impressive sight! The battleship is ripe with history featuring exhibits, historical information, and free guided tours. We were impressed with the amount of things to see and do on the ship. Each deck has different areas to read and learn about, and we were able to explore at our leisure. It was an incredible feeling knowing that we were standing in the very spot where the signing of Japanese surrender happened during WWII. It is also important to note that this was the last battleship ever built. The USS Missouri was launched on January 29,1944 and remained active for over 70 years since then.

The kids had a blast looking at the massive size of the ship. In addition, they were fascinated with how the military lived and worked onboard. Some of the bunk beds had three beds each to them! The workers even had a small scavenger hunt for kids which had them hunting for certain objects around the ship. It kept them entertained and happy! They even learned a bit about WWII and the sacrifices that our military makes to defend our country.

We spent over two hours on the ship, going up and down very steep staircases and dodging low hanging doorframes. I definitely could have spent more time reading all of the information at the exhibits and exploring a little more. There was so much interesting stuff to comb through. However, we managed to see every deck and room, and we made it out of there before it got too hot!

Food and Pool

Since the temperature was quickly rising and we were just a little parched, we bought some amazing shaved ice from one of the food trucks just outside the Missouri. This provided a nice break and relief from the heat!

We took the shuttle back to the Pearl Harbor visitor center and couldn’t believe how crowded it had gotten. The line for the shuttle to the USS Missouri was wrapped around the bend. This was one of many benefits to our early rising because of the time change… we beat the crowds and the heat!

On the way back to the resort we went into Pearl City and picked up some poke bowls to go from Poke On Da Run. They were divine! Spending the morning at Pearl Harbor was a great option for us as we then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the pool. It was the perfect day filled with education, awe, and pool time.

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Castle Dwelling in Perugia, Italy

Castle Dwelling in Perugia, Italy

Our travels took us to the beautiful city of Perugia, which is the capital of the Umbria region of Italy. It’s known as a university town and as home to annual chocolate and jazz festivals. In addition, it’s also where the story of Amanda Knox took place (for anyone who followed the news in 2007!).

This trip was made extra special because my parents joined us from the States!

Exploring Historical Sites in Perugia

After picking up my parents in Rome, we drove to Perugia and checked into our castle hotel, the Castello di Monterone. (When we researched where to stay in Perugia, this caught our eye immediately — and it was an excellent choice!) Then, we made our way to the city center and walked around town. This experience was a great opportunity to explore the cultural and historical sites at our leisure…

… and enjoy a few surprises, too! 

We came across Piazza IV Novembre, which forms the center of Perugia. It consists of a large 12th-Century fountain named Fontana Maggiore, and the 15th-Century Cathedral of San Lorenzo.

We were also fortunate to be in Perugia for an international arts festival. Because of this, we were able to browse through multiple vendors selling their products and crafts. Plus, several musicians were playing sweet-sounding tunes as we strolled through the crowded streets.

At the same time, we came across beautiful views of the Umbrian countryside from the city center. In just one day, we got to immerse ourselves in the city’s rich culture, and take in its beautiful landscape!

Castle Lodging

When we were deciding where to stay in Perugia, we loved the unique accommodations of the Castello di Monterone, as well as its history. In the past, the castle was a military base. But, nowadays it sees visitors from around the world looking for a different kind of hotel or B&B experience. 

The grounds are spectacular, and the views of Perugia and the rest of Umbria are breathtaking. There is a separate rose garden, with 20 different varieties of roses, overlooking the city. It’s the perfect place to relax within the castle walls. I mean, who gets to stay in a real life castle?!

Dining in Perugia

Before dinner, we enjoyed a bottle of wine on the castle terrace. This was a comfortable spot for the four of us to relax, talk, and take in the Perugian ambiance. 

Later, we ate dinner at a restaurant called Il Postale, which was within the castle walls.  Il Postale served traditional Umbrian food. I highly recommend the Ragu d’agnello and Pasta alla Norcina.

Next Stop!

We would have loved to have spent more time here, but we had many other places to show the ‘rents! Next up are the Tuscan cities of Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, and Lucca!

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10 Days Trip Madrid, Spain

10 Day Trip to Spain: Madrid

Plaza Mayor

After finishing our stay in Toledo, Spain, my husband, his parents, and I packed up the car and started the short drive to Madrid. The capital of Spain, Madrid is the country’s largest city and the third largest city in Europe. There are so many things to see in Madrid – we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

The interesting thing about Madrid is that there’s not one specific thing that people flock here to see or one specific thing that it’s famous for. There’s something here for everyone! For instance, Madrid is well known for its art museums, nightlife, parks, and first-class restaurants and tapas bars. 

We took full advantage of everything!

Must-See Museums in Madrid

One of the first things to see in Madrid is its wealth of museums. We first went to Madrid’s most famous art museum, the Prado Museum, which has one of the largest art collections in the world. It features artists such as Velasquez, Goya, Rembrandt, El Greco, Picasso, and many others. There were so many rooms to explore and countless pieces of art to view.  Even though it was a little overwhelming, we were impressed! 

Overall, we found the museum elegantly designed. The pieces of art were very interesting, and even controversial at times. We spent a long time admiring everything  here. Unfortunately, the museum didn’t allow us to take any pictures. 


A Church right outside the Prado

We also went to the Reina Sofia Museum, which is a modern art museum. Our main goal here was to see Picasso’s famous painting, “Guernica,” and to see more of Picasso’s well known (and not so well known) paintings. But, Picasso wasn’t the only artist represented here. We also enjoyed seeing work by Dali.

If you ask me to evaluate the museum in general, I’d say it’s … interesting. Similar to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, some of the modern art pieces left us questioning the sanity of some of the buyers and admirers of the pieces. 

The outside of the museum

Madrid’s Magical Ambiance

In between our time at the two museums, we walked through Retiro Park, which provided us with shaded areas to sit and enjoy the scenery. The park was full of joggers, bikers, families picnicking, and couples reading on blankets. It reminded me a lot of Central Park in New York.

Before aperitifs and dinner, we walked to the Royal Palace of Madrid. The building was lit up beautifully  against the dark sky. This is definitely one of the best things to see in Madrid, and we wished we had time to go inside. But, we decided to sit outside and share a bottle of wine instead. It was the perfect way to spend our last night in Spain. 

Not surprisingly, dinner was fantastic and was one of our best meals throughout the whole trip.

Sad to Leave…

The next day, we packed up the car for the last time and headed to the airport. We thought that ending our trip with Madrid was fitting, since we’d started out in a large city. 

During our ten days in Spain, we didn’t have one bad or average meal. The food was excellent, and the variety and flavors made it a new favorite cuisine of ours. 

All in all, we saw nine unique and incredible cities filled with history, art, and charm – and we explored it all in a van that was way too big for most of them. 

The best part about the trip, though, was that we got to spend it with family. Thanks for a fantastic trip Lori and Joe!

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10 Day Trip to Spain: Seville

After we left, Valencia & Granada, we continued our 10 day trip to Spain with a stop in Seville. Seville seems to incorporate everything that you might be looking for in a Spanish city: history, culture, romance, and beauty. 

It has many monuments, a grand Gothic cathedral, art, and a ton of festivals catering to all interests. Jon and I had been here before in 2009 and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! We couldn’t wait to share it with his parents, Joe and Lori.

#1 Thing to Do in Seville

One of the top things on our list to see here was a Flamenco show. Flamenco is a traditional genre of Spanish music that includes singing, dancing, guitar playing, and palmas (handclaps). 

We were mesmerized by this show! Seeing the women dancing in their traditional flamenco dresses, hearing the beautiful singing of the men on stage, and listening to the magnificent guitar playing, made this without a doubt, one of the top experiences we have had in Europe! 

We were so enraptured that the two hours passed rather quickly! 

Exploring the Alcazar

The next day we went to the Alcazar, a royal palace built in 913. The Alcazar was home to many kings and caliphs, though it was originally built as a Moorish fort. Throughout the decades, they have expanded and rebuilt it many times. 

You can easily spend a few hours here, marveling at the well-kept grounds and palaces. The detail of these ceramic patterns was mind-blowing and the gardens were big and beautiful.

Next Stop!

After the Alcazar, we spent the rest of our time in Seville strolling the streets and window shopping. There is so much to see and experience, that it’s easy to lose track of time. 

We were no exception! Time ticked away quickly… Before we knew it, we were packing up the van and preparing to make our last long drive of the trip. 

Next stop: Toledo!

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10 Day Trip to Spain: Cordoba

After our time in Granada, we continued our 10 day trip to Spain with a drive to Cordoba, Spain. This was about two hours by car from Granada. Let me tell you, the historical sites in Cordoba should be listed as “must-do” on your itinerary! 

Historical Sites in Cordoba Don’t Disappoint!

The main attraction here is the Mezquita, which is an enormous former mosque founded in 785. In 1236, the mosque was turned into a Catholic church after Cordoba was captured by King Ferdinand III. It is one of the only places in the world where one can worship Mass in a mosque. This is the centerpiece of Cordoba and no trip here is complete without visiting it.

The architecture of the building is unquestionably stunning. Onyx, jasper, marble, and granite make up the many columns here. Similarly, they used double arches, which allowed for higher ceilings, and alternated between the colors red and white. We continued to stand in awe as we gazed at the beautiful building. We hadn’t seen anything like it before.

After our time in the Mezquita, we went through a web of winding streets, including the Jewish quarter and 14th century synagogue. Jews were among the most prominent citizens during the time of Islamic Cordoba, and they left their mark on this city. 

Today, the Jewish quarter is a series of whitewashed buildings adorned with colorful flower boxes. Many of the streets had Hebrew inscriptions written into them. It really was a cool sight to see!

Later, we found a fantastic restaurant for dinner. We also had some time to get a few drinks beforehand at a fun rooftop bar. Not surprisingly, the food in Cordoba, like the rest of the cities that we went to in Spain, was delicious. Of course, I had to order some foie gras…

A Narrow “Escape”

Getting our car out of Cordoba was a difficult experience since the streets were too narrow for our van. It took Jon and Joe an hour to drive from the parking area to our hotel to pick us up. And it was only a third of a mile away! 

After squeezing through a couple of side streets that left barely an inch of room on either side of the van, we were finally on our way. That is, until Lori realized she left her iPad in the lobby, and we had to go back and do it all again! 

After a stressful escape, we pressed onto the next adventure on our 10 day trip to Spain: Seville!

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10 Day Trip to Spain: Valencia and Grenada

After a great stay in Bilbao, we pressed on with a visit to Valencia and Granada. After packing the van with all of our luggage and backpacks, we drove 3.5 hours to Valencia. Valencia is Spain’s third largest city and is known for its excellent paella (which of course we feasted on).  Soon after we arrived we unloaded, changed, and set our sights on walking through town.

A Quick Spree through Valencia’s Top Spots

The first location on our list was Valencia’s central market. But, when we got there it was closed for the day. So, we decided to grab a late lunch before we explored the rest of the places on our list. 

After lunch, we walked towards the old town, taking note of the medieval buildings and the old cathedral. Later, we made our way to the Torres de Serranos, the only remaining part of the city walls. Then, we took a walk through Jardin del Turia park, and we headed back to the hotel.

Immersing Ourselves in Valencia’s Science Museum

The next day we went to the City of the Arts and Sciences, which is a huge complex consisting of five different areas. It includes an opera house and event space, an IMAX theater and planetarium, a walkway and garden, an open air oceanographic park (home to Europe’s largest aquarium), and a science museum. 

This place is a city of its own, with very futuristic buildings and beautiful grounds. Unfortunately, we only had time for one activity so we spent our time at the science museum. The great part about the science museum is that you are encouraged to try (and touch) everything! With that in mind, it wasn’t a hard decision to choose this particular place. (If you have kids, this should be a top spot on your list!) 

This museum is geared towards learning science through hands-on experiences and we were very excited to try it out! We were practically running throughout the museum, excited to explore the exhibits and touch and play with as much as possible. 

Some of the cool things we discovered were how many centimeters high we can jump, how hard we can kick a soccer ball, how well we can balance, and how many decibels loud our screams are. 

It was truly an immersive experience, and we were so glad we went there! We spent a good two hours inside, but soon had to leave. 

Granada was calling our names, and it was a five-hour drive away. 

Soon after leaving Valencia, we were again driving through the countryside of Spain. The drive from Valencia to Grenada is gorgeous, with flat land around us and mountains from the Sierra Nevada in the distance. 

During our drive, we passed beautiful sunflower fields. Plus, we saw metal bulls on top of nearby hills that seemed to show us our way…

Royalty Like None Other in Granada

Grenada is located in the south in the region of Andalucia. We first noticed that, while the city is big, it still had a quaint feeling to it. Grenada also seems to be a young and vibrant city, with many people dressed nicely, sitting outside having sangria with some tapas before dinner. You can really relax and enjoy yourself here, completely undisturbed.

Our hotel was located down a very narrow, car-free street with restaurants and small boutique shops around the corner. A shop filled with new and fresh spices and teas caught my eyes, and I purchased some excellent products!

The day after we arrived, we went to the Alhambra, an Islamic palace and fortress built in the 9th century. It sits on top of a large hill named La Sabika. It has gardens, streams, fountains, a mosque, and a palace, all within a fortress wall and bordered by 13 towers. 

Jon and I have been to our fair share of palaces, castles, and fortresses in Europe, but this was so very different from all of the others we’ve visited. The decoration of the Alhambra was particularly distinct, consisting of Arabic inscriptions, colorful geometric patterns, and many columns and arches. We were truly impressed with the palace’s intricate designs and decor. We can’t begin to fathom all of the man-hours it must have taken to complete the beautiful details, let alone the sheer scale of the grounds. 

Later, after our tour of the Alhambra, we strolled down the long winding path to the city center. There, we stopped for a delicious lunch, topped off by incredible sangria, to fill our stomachs for the drive to our next destination. 

Our 10 Day Trip to Spain Is on a Roll! Next Stop…

As always, we were sad to leave. Our visit to Valencia and Granada gave us such a wonderful experience! But once again we found ourselves on a beautiful drive through the countryside, making our trip to Spain even more memorable! 

Next stop: Cordoba and Seville!

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A Memorable Day Trip to Salzburg, Austria

From Munich, you have so many options for great day trips. After weighing our options between the amazing beauty of Innsbruck or the beauty and cultural attractions of Salzburg, we decided that a day trip Salzburg was the way to go. 

The drive to Salzburg from Munich was just 1.5 hours, and we couldn’t wait to begin exploring this magical city. Salzburg is famous for its rich history. It’s a common destination for music lovers of all kinds, as it’s the birthplace of Mozart and the setting of The Sound of Music.

Still, there’s even more to experience…

Walking in Mozart’s Footsteps

First, we walked through the Mirabell Gardens on our way to the Old Town. The gardens are well maintained, with bright red flowers blooming in circular patterns, dynamic sculptures, and gorgeous fountains. The space seemed to direct everyone’s attention to Hohensalzburg Fortress perched high ahead of us.

Next, we went to Mozart Wohnhaus, which is a house where Mozart lived. The house is small, and the items on display are sparse, but we learned a lot about his life. The museum does a good job immersing you in the life and experience of Mozart.

The outside – no pictures allowed inside

After that, We crossed the river and headed over to Mozart Gerburtshaus. This is Mozart’s birthplace and home for the first 17 years of his life. Throughout the museum, you could explore artifacts and explanations of his history, family, and the development of his talent. We walked away with a thorough understanding of Mozart as a family man as well as a composer. 

Next, we strolled around the crowded Old Town, wandering through the streets that seemed to remain untouched since Mozart traipsed through them. The architecture is beautiful and the cobblestone streets are full of cozy cafes, shops, lanterns, and churches.

After lunch we made our way to our last stop of the day, the Salzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg). The fortress is around 900 years old and is one of the best preserved castles in Europe. We rode the fast funicular (which is like a tram) up the hillside. This gave us a wonderful view of the city. But once we arrived at the top, even more stunning views of Salzburg welcomed us.

The fortress has many points of interest, including small museums and exhibitions. You can also access some rooms that were once occupied by military and church figures. As we explored the fortress, we couldn’t help but imagine what life would have been like for people hundreds of years ago. Overall, we found it truly amazing to realize that we were walking exactly where they once walked…

A Day Trip to Salzburg Well Spent

We had a nice day in Saltzburg, Austria and enjoyed our time there. We learned a lot about Mozart’s life and about some of the history in this beautiful city. 

With some areas of the city looking so unchanged and with classical music playing in the streets, we felt transported back to another time.

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hilltop towns in italy

Charming Italian Hilltop Towns

High in the mountains of northwestern Italy lie many small and unique towns. After our trip to Nice, we spent the day checking out the unbeaten paths in Italy’s Ligurian towns.. All we knew about them was that they were quaint and beautiful. What we came away with was a deep love and appreciation for two charming hilltop towns.

First Stop: Dolceacqua

Our first Ligurian towns stop was the town of Dolceacqua, which is very close to the border of France. It is divided into two sections linked by an ancient bridge.

Impromptu Visit to Charming Hilltop Towns

At first, you probably wouldn’t know what to expect as you make your way towards the older part of “La Tera.” But, what we found were very narrow, stone streets, shadowed by three-story high stone walls. Just a peak of sunlight streamed through here and there. Stone archways connected the walls. The narrow streets led us upwards, where a medieval castle sits. It actually felt like we were already walking through the walls of the castle. Tucked into the walls of each street are small shops selling food, artwork, and wine from the area.

Moving on to Apricale

We set our sights on Apricale, which means “exposed to the sun” in Italian. Because it is located in a steep valley, you can see Apricale for miles away. Along with Dolceacqua, Apricale forms the La Strada dell’Olio (The Olive Route) because these villages see an exorbitant amount of sun where olive trees can flourish.

The small streets were similar to Dolceacqua, and surprisingly everything in this small town was open during the 1-4pm time slot! We strolled around the car-free town, losing ourselves in the small alleyways, churches, narrow tunnels, and bridges. After a number of turns, we came upon the piazza, which was preparing for a small festival.

Never in my life have I seen a frying pan as big as the one in the town center.

Ticking Clock in Sanremo

We planned to drive to Sanremo and then to Genoa with enough time to make it to the airport for our flight back to Naples, but our GPS had other plans in store for us. What should have taken 40 minutes to get from Apricale to Sanremo took over two hours!

We were led through the mountains on a curvy, one-lane road with nowhere to go if someone came from the other way. At times we were laughing at the ridiculousness of this makeshift road, but most of the time I was white knuckling the door handle. Luckily, no one came from the other side the entire time! As a result of this little detour, we got to Sanremo very late and had only ten minutes to walk around before our flight.

Naturally, we walked around Sanremo much longer than that. The city sits on the Mediterranean coast and is a popular tourist destination. We walked along the water, some streets of the city, and unsuccessfully searched for the casino. With the clock ticking we really didn’t have enough time to explore and take in the city like we wanted.

Leaving Sanremo when we did put us into Genoa airport 45 minutes before our flight. But there was a ton of traffic, which made us get to the airport 25 minutes before the flight – yikes! Thankfully, Genoa’s a pretty compact airport and we made it to the gate with a few minutes to spare and had a fast flight back.

We’re glad we took the time to visit this part of Italy that seems to be rather untouched by tourists. Not only were we pleasantly surprised by the small Ligurian towns of Italy that we saw, but we find it pretty incredible that these types of towns are spread throughout Italy, each having their own special character.

You never know what you might find if you take the time to look!

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french riviera

The French Riviera: What to See in Nice and Cannes

The Promenade di Anglais in Nice

During our time in Europe, we wanted to experience the French Riviera. September was a perfect time to go. Summer weather is still in full force, but the huge crowds have dissipated (though there were plenty of people there). The French Riviera (aka Côte d’Azur in French) is the Mediterranean coastline of southeastern France, including the small country of Monaco. We stayed in Nice, but we explored well beyond it, finding a lot of incredible sites to see in Nice and Cannes, as well as Eze and Monaco.

Site-Seeing in Nice

As we made our way to the Old Town from our hotel, we came across a lively market selling fruits, vegetables, spices, soaps, paintings, and anything else a local or a tourist might need. We picked up some Herbs de Provence and some other spices that would be fun to cook with.

After browsing the market, we spent our time in the Old Town (Vieux Nice), walking through the old pedestrian passageways and alleys. We made our way to Parc du Chateau, a hilltop park with great views over Old Nice and the beachfront. We also came across an old Jewish cemetery next to the park. 

The water seemed to be calling out to us as we made our way back towards the seaside. We soon realized why so many people were wearing crocs or other water shoes. The beach was not sandy as it had appeared, but was made of medium sized stones that weren’t comfortable on our bare feet. Nevertheless, we took a swim in the clear water and hopefully maintained our subtlety when we caught glimpses of bare chested women on the beach.

Fame in Cannes

After our swim, we got in the car and headed towards Cannes. Cannes is mainly known for its celebrity film festival that occurs during two weeks in May. But this town attracts tourists year round, as people hope to get a piece of the glitz that the celebrities leave behind.

Jon and I aren’t into the whole celebrity and high-end shopping scene, but felt we should get the experience. We looked at the festival theater and walked along a path where celebrities imprinted their hands into concrete. Next, we ate a spectacular lunch on the waterfront consisting of our favorite French sandwich (Croque Madam) with some white wine. We also went to Cannes’ historic quarter, and took in some nice views from the top of the hill. 

We had a ball exploring all there is to see in Nice and Cannes. But, there’s still more fun ahead of us on the French Riviera! Next up: Eze and Monaco!

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visit to prague

Prague Castle and Royal Grounds

During our first full day in Prague, Czech Republic, we went to the Prague Castle and Royal Grounds. Our hotel provided direct access to the castle, and we were able to take in some nice views of the city that we might have otherwise missed.

Exploring Prague Castle

Prague castle is the biggest castle complex in the world. It was founded in the year 880 and took almost 700 years to complete. It is now the seat of the Czech government. Without delay, we bought tickets for the long route, which included the Old Royal Palace, the Story of Prague Castle exhibit, the Basilica of St. George, St. Vitus Cathedral, the Convent of St. George, the Prague Castle Picture Gallery, and Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower.

We entered the grounds in the third courtyard, where St. Vitus Cathedral dominates the square. When we came up those stairs, we had never seen anything quite like it; I think it might be one of my favorite buildings so far. The cathedral looks as if there had been numerous candles that had dripped wax on it, with rose and gold colored glass and frescoes. Furthermore, the cathedral is visible from many places in Prague, making a key part of its skyline.

The Old Royal Palace sits next to St. Vitus Cathedral. It dates back to the 10th century and has been home to many princes and kings. Every president of the republic has been sworn in there.

Vladislav Hall in the Royal Palace

We then walked to St. George’s Basilica. It has a simple design that separates itself from other churches in Prague. Inside, it holds the tombs of Prince Boleslav II and Prince Vratislav I from the 10th century. Next to the basilica is the National Gallery (which used to be a convent) and showcases many Gothic art pieces.

Other pictures of our walk through the palace grounds include:

Strolling through Prague’s Royal Garden to our Hotel

On our last day we spent some time in the Royal Garden. It used to be an area where the king and his family would relax, play games, and raise exotic plants. There are some pieces of architecture in the garden that are inspired by Italian influences.

Since our hotel provided direct access to the Prague Castle and royal grounds, we were able to go straight back to the hotel without having to make our way through the crowds (though the gardens were pretty empty).

Our hotel was beautifully situated in a quiet location away from the hustle and bustle. They presented us with a different dessert each night, as well as a cheese plate and a bottle of wine when we first arrived. They definitely spoiled us at our hotel during our time in Prague. We also ate very well, trying the traditional Czech cuisine of meats, goulash, and potatoes.

All in all, we had a fantastic time in Prague and wish we could have stayed longer. We know that we will definitely return to this beautiful city and experience parts of Prague that we didn’t get to see. Perhaps in the winter? 

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A Walk through Prague’s History

Oh Prague… how we love thee! Prague, Czech Republic has to be one of the most beautiful cities we’ve ever seen. It is definitely included in our top five places in Europe. The city boasts an assortment of remarkable architecture, ranging from Renaissance, Gothic, and baroque, to neoclassical, cubism, and art nouveau. Looking out over the city we noticed that many spires dot the city in what seem to go on forever. All of these magnificent buildings tell the history of Prague throughout the centuries and made an imprint on us as we visited. Of all the places we visited, the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, and the Jewish Quarter in Prague topped the list.

Charles Bridge & Old Town Square

We walked our way across Prague’s famous Charles Bridge. It is a very touristy and crowded spot, and from what I’ve heard, it’s like that year round. As we made our way across the bridge, dodging other tourists trying to get their pictures and presents from vendors, we took notice of the different statues that line the unique bridge.

Next, we made our way to the Old Town Square where we saw the 500 year old Astronomical Clock and the rest of the Old Town. Men were playing accordions, and women were singing opera making the streets sound very lively.

The Jewish Quarter in Prague, Czech Republic

During our second day in Prague, we spent time in the Jewish Quarter and so we’ve termed it our “Jewish Day.” The Jewish Quarter consists of many historic and preserved Jewish buildings and synagogues. This includes the Prague Jewish Museum, whose collection only exists because the Nazis gathered objects from 153 Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia in order to plan a “museum of an extinct race.”

We weren’t allowed to take pictures in any of the synagogues, except for one. And we saw so many synagogues! We started with the Pinkas Synagogue. This is now a memorial to the Holocaust with the names of 77,297 Czech Jews inscribed on its walls.

Next to this synagogue is the Old Jewish Cemetery, which holds 12,000 visible tombstones with as many as 100,000 people buried there (12 layers deep!) dating back to 1439. The cemetery is full to the brim with tombstones, with some right on top of each other, showing partially erased Hebrew inscriptions.

We ended up seeing so many more synagogues within the Jewish Quarter of Prague. The Old New Synagogue is the oldest still-functioning synagogue in Europe, dating back to 1270. We saw the Klaus Synagogue, which contains many items pertaining to the everyday life and customs of Jews. Similarly, the Maisel Synagogue exhibits old Jewish items. Finally, the Spanish Synagogue, which was built in 1868, is very ornate with old Moorish architecture. We’ve never seen a synagogue with decor quite like this one and spent a lot of time gazing up at the intricacies and detail. 

Old New Synagogue

Our last stop was the Jerusalem Synagogue, built in 1906, and also known as the Jubilee Synagogue. While this isn’t located within the Jewish Quarter, we’re glad that we spent the extra time finding it. Sandwiched between two buildings, the synagogue is very unique with Moorish influences and a variety of patterns and colors.

John Lennon Wall

At this point, we decided to leave our Jewish self-guided tour and head back over the Charles Bridge. Given that we had seen about six synagogues, I think we were done! To end our stay in Prague, we went to the John Lennon wall.

After his murder, Lennon became a pacifist hero for many Czechs. Subsequently, the Czechs painted an image of him on this wall along with Beatles lyrics and political graffiti. Even though the police tried to paint over the wall numerous times, it became a focus for the youth of Prague who weren’t allowed to listen to Western pop music.

Later, after the fall of communism in the country in 1989, visiting tourists began to make their own contributions. It was only a few years ago that the city gave into the inevitable and “allowed” tourists and locals to leave their mark on the wall. Locals state that it never stays the same for long and you should leave your mark while you can. Naturally, we wrote a loving message from us on it.

All in all, we saw and did so much on our trip to Prague, Czech Republic that we found it impossible to put it all in one post. We really managed to pack a lot into four days! My next post will talk about the Prague Castle, cathedral, and gardens.  Stay tuned!

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