Saturday, January 27, 2018

Big Travels Part 2: Europe

Here is a continuation of the travel adventures from December 2017. You can read the first part here. Also, stuff happened on the flight from LA to Budapest (namely a stopover in Oslo, Norway) that you can read about here. Brace yourself, this is a long story.

The view from our Airbnb

Budapest. Stop one in Europe. We got in late at night, and thankfully, managed to sleep fairly well. We woke up lateish and Steve went out to forage our breakfast. Aside from the great location of our Airbnb (close to public transport and the city), the best news was that it was also on a pokéstop and the GPS would sometimes bounce us to the gym on the other side of the building. If you don't play Pokémon, sorry, but to those of us who do, this was excellent luck.

We then dressed up in many layers and ventured out for a walk. The girls were excited to be wearing their snow gear for the first time, and while they were warm, they were still shocked by the cold. They also disappointed that even though it was so cold, there was no snow to be seen.

We had fun wandering around Vajdahunyad Castle and the associated green spaces. No idea what we saw really, and the actual castle was closed for winter (this almost became the slogan of our trip. Even though snow is cool, I'd not advise Europe in winter for this very reason).

The girls tired quite quickly this day, still getting over the jetlag and adjusting to the new temperature, so we headed back home and got some takeaway dinner. The next day we again slept in (thanks jet lag) and woke up at 10 to head out pretty quickly after to meet up with some of Steve's Hungarian relatives. I said to Steve afterwards that family is pretty strange, because here we were meeting people we were practically strangers with to have lunch together and talk about our lives with, and that's totally ok, because we are family. Does that seem weird to you?

They were lovely people and lunch was delicious. They had booked a Hungarian restaurant for us to eat at and the meals were great. Steve had catfish stew, while I had some pork medallions in paprika sauce. The girls were pretty high maintenance here (jet lag I shake my fist at you!), so Steve carried most of the conversation with translation help from some of the better English speaking members of the family. Must learn some Hungarian if they ever want to come here!

After lunch we went on a bus tour of Budapest city called the River Ride where the bus actually drives out onto the Danube River and becomes a boat for the second half of the tour. The girls were really excited about this (we had told them about it in advance) and were practically screaming with excitement when it actually happened.

We hopped off the bus around four in the afternoon, which was around sunset, so we wandered through the Christmas markets, ate some food and headed back to our Airbnb for the night. The next day we had a train to catch to Bratislava, in Slovakia, but the girls had a terrible nights sleep and we all ended up sleeping in. Thankfully, my family did a video call at 8am which woke me up in time, or we would have missed it for sure.

The train station it self was stressful too, because it was not well signed and some parts were under construction. We found the most efficient way to do things was for the girls and I to wait with all of the luggage while Steve raced around finding the right way to go. We did make the train, with about 10 minutes to spare, which was ok, but meant we didn't stop for breakfast at all. Good thing I packed snacks. Lots of snacks.

Actually, on snacks, that was the best tip I had before we left from my friend Megan, was to get a pack of zip lock bags from the shops to take with us. Then, when we got carrots or cucumber that I cut up for snacks, I had an easy go to container for them. Or when we had left over food. Or the girls broke something and we needed to keep the bits safe. If you are going on a trip with kids, take a box of zip lock bags. You won't regret it.

Bratislava turned out to be a real highlight of our trip. The weather was cold, but lovely clear days. The first day we didn't do much. The train from Budapest and getting to our new Airbnb meant we didn't really get in till around two, and the girls were pretty exhausted. Luckily our new place was right near a coffee shop called Barcelona, so that was a win. Steve did some shopping for us, while the girls and I chilled in the arvo and we just ate a rather boring dinner in (chicken, rice and veggies - the girls really appreciated the familiarity). Rachel fell asleep on the chair at the table after eating dinner that night; travelling took it out of all of us.

Our first full day, we went out to Bratislava Castle, which was a restored castle and was beautiful. The view from the top tower was fabulous too and the girls got a kick out of exploring the place too.

After that, we wandered back home through the Old Town, looking at more Christmas markets, eating some fantastic food from a place called Fetch. Our Airbnb in Bratislava was again in a convenient place for public transport, and had the added bonus of being really spacious.

The next day we took the bus out to the zoo which also had a dinosaur park in it. Pretty exciting for the girls, and us, if I'm being honest. Tickets were discounted because it was winter, and a lot of the animals were hibernating, or off exhibit. Also, some of the dinosaurs had animatronics that didn't' work in the winter either. It was still fantastic, though I did feel sorry for the animals, especially the kangaroos.

It was a really cold day when we were there, and very faintly snowing, but you had to really focus to be able to see the infrequently flakes falling. We didn't bother telling the girls, because it was rather underwhelming. They were busy with the dinosaurs anyway. It was really nice to be out in a place where they could run and explore too.

Here they are having an in depth discussion about the map. I'm not kidding.

Our next day saw us get up really early to catch the bus to Vienna, Austria. Country number three for Europe. We found some lockers at the train station and stored our bags for the day while we wandered around. Vienna is pretty crazy impressive with it's churches and towers and fancy stuff. Steve, after an hr there, said he could totally live there and loved the old cool stuff. He was singing a different tune though, when the weather turned bad and reminded him of the dark days in Seattle.

We stopped at Wienner World for for lunch, where Steve was sure he could get a sausage of some kind, but was disappointed with there was nothing on the menu. We had ribs and schnitzel instead, and steamed veg for the girls.

We took an afternoon train to Salzburg, seeing snow for the first time out the window (though I was so tired at this point that I really missed most of it) and again were excited to find our accommodation (this time a "family room" in a hostel) was on a pokéstop. I have to say, that despite Salzburg being the place I was possibly looking forward to most in Europe, it was probably my least favourite. The weather was terrible (I know, I know, that's not Salzburg's fault!), and even though it was the home of the Sound of Music and Mozart, it kind of felt like it had nothing else.

We did do a Sound of Music tour, of which, many parts were closed for the winter (though, unlike the dino park in Bratislava, you didn't get a discount ticket - you were still paying full fare!). We tried to make the most of it, although I think Rachel's devastation when she realised she wouldn't actually get to see Maria and the children on the tour must have rubbed off on me, because I was really underwhelmed. The girls and I did sing our way through the park at the end though, so that was something.

Salzburg was our shortest stop in Europe (two nights, rather than three or four) and I'm a little glad. We picked up a car the next day and drove off to Innsbruck to meet the family.

When we tell people that we went to Austria and had Christmas with my family, they promptly ask how many of my family live there and do we get to see them often. It's a little... I don't know the word, confusing maybe, to explain that no, actually, all of my family are in Australia, but we all went over to Austria for Christmas. You can see this post if you want to know more about how that happened.

Anyway, everyone did their own thing, travelling to different places on different days and what not, before all of us meeting in Innsbruck to head to Kolsass (a little village outside of the city) for the four days over Christmas. A White Christmas. We arrived in Innsbruck first, and again checked out some Christmas markets - this one had a carousel! Total highlight!

Steve and Rachel ate a pretzel and the girls watched a kids puppet show entirely not in English. It was interesting to hear the other kids singing along and calling out at appropriate times, while we were all a little clueless. Fun none the less.

Sarah, her Steve, Fiona and Hugo met us at the markets. Hugo was delighted to see his cousins again. We were all really happy to be together actually. I think especially for me, I'd had six weeks doing solo parenting while Steve was in Seattle, then to LA, which was kind of relaxing, being with Steve again, but ended with a bit of a rush (last two days at Disneyland!) and then the first week of Europe was pretty full on. The girls didn't sleep well until Salzburg (look at that, Salzburg was good for something after all), so I was really fatigued just from that too.

Here we were at last, with family, looking at four days of just being together with nothing planned. So nice. And with the shops closed over Christmas, and a house with a full kitchen, we would be cooking some home made meals. And by we, I really mean mostly Mum. Who could go past a nice Mum-cooked meal when you've been travelling hey!?

We had an amazing house in Kolsass that was obviously owned by people with kids. It had toys and a garden area that was covered in snow. This is the view from the bathroom as the sun rose over the mountains at 8am. Beautiful.

The first day, Christmas Eve, we left mum and dad relaxing to go check out a ski slope. By the time we got to the bottom of the mountain, organised ski gear and made it to the bottom level of the top, it was already 10:30, so really, the day was half over. Steve didn't get to ski, which was a shame, because there were no group lessons available, being early in the season. There were kids lessons though, so we booked the kids in and played in the snow until lesson time.

We were really unsure as to how the kids would go at skiing, but they did fabulously! It has really made us consider a snow holiday in the future. They didn't even mind falling down, because of the novelty of the snow. We headed back home around four and had a quiet dinner in.

Christmas Day!

We went to a church in the village that was all in German, but was nice. It was strange not to hear any Christmas Carols though. The service had songs, but not recognisable ones. Anyway, even in another language, it was familiar and comforting to be reminded of Jesus on Christmas day.

The rest of the day we chilled out at home, finally ventured out into the snowy back yard to play and have snow fights. Fiona, Steve and I go excited building snow men. The kids tried to help, but it's a lot of hard work. They named the first snowman Bob and we quickly made him a very Olaf-shaped friend.

The next day was more of the same, chilling together, playing in the snow and resting before we would be parting ways. The Steves made the kids an ice house by making blocks of snow with a large plastic tub they found in the garage. And there were lots of rides down the slope in the large plastic tub too.

We left the next day and Steve dropped us at the train station before returning the hire car and walking back to meet us. The girls and I sat around in Maccas (with all our luggage) using their free wi-fi to catch pokémon. Fiona made sure that Mum and Dad were on their train and then came to say goodbye to us too. Then we were on the train to Munich!

This random photo of houses is something I loved about travelling. I can't imagine houses painted such striking colours in Brisbane, let alone buildings that are right next to each other like that. The girls had fun saying the different colours of houses as we went past too. Green, Red, Pink, Blue, Green, Yellow, Brown, Pink. So good.

After catching the train to Munich, we had a little trouble finding the Novotel because we went out the wrong exit from the train station and ended up walking the wrong direction for half a km before realising. Sigh.

This was one of the hardest parts of travelling with the kids. We were all lugging bags (kids included), and Steve and I had suitcases. We were all tired, but had to keep encouraging the girls and saying things like "we are nearly there!" a million times. When we realised we had gone the wrong way, we couldn't just jump in a taxi, or order an Uber, because kids means car seats, which we didn't have. So our only option was to turn around and keep walking.

We did make it, and chilled out for the evening. Luckily, there was a supermarket just down the road, so we didn't have to go far to get cheese, meat and bread for dinner. The next day we woke up to some quality snowing, so after breakfast at the hotel, we wrapped up and headed out.

The girls ran around in front of the hotel for a while, basking in the snow falling and being excited (who am I kidding, so did I!) Then we jumped on the train to the main parts of Munich to see all the touristy things. We saw a toy museum and the clock tower in the main square, but the cold weather was pretty rough on us, and we ended up heading home pretty quickly. 

After getting home, it became apparent that Sophie was indeed getting sick. She had a fever and her throat was sore. Steve stayed with her in the afternoon to look after her, and I went out again with Rachel to see a few more things and pick up our last souvenirs. I have to say, even travelling with just one child is totally different to all of us going out together! 

Kids being sick while travelling is the next hardest thing. Especially in a non-English speaking country, even one as fancy as Germany. Sophie had a really bad nights sleep that night, and we used up all of the kids paracetamol that we had bought from home. Her poor throat was so swollen she could barely talk and wouldn't eat much of anything. So the next day, we set off to find a doctor. 

We were amazingly blessed in that down near the local supermarket was a pharmacist. Steve had already been in to get some throat lozenges for Sophie, and they were really helpful, so we just went back there to start our search for a doctor. They were amazing. The pharmacist on duty spoke great English, told us of a kid doctor that was a 10 minute walk (with children) away. She gave us the address, directions and called ahead and made the booking for us too. Such a blessing. 

The doctors were great, and after a little wait, they saw us. Turns out Sophie had a virus, so there was really nothing we could do, but it was good to hear that from a professional, and know there wasn't anything else we could be doing. Here is Steve giving Rachel a lift home from the doctors.

When we got back to the hotel, Sophie (and Rachel, who was also coming down with the virus, though not as bad) just chilled out, so this time I stayed with them and Steve went exploring. He got to see lots of churches and buildings and cool old stuff around Munich, as well as eat some local fare before coming back.

And then, the end had come. We were packing up and getting ready to leave. Trying to make sure the suitcases were under 20kgs, looking for things we could leave behind rather than lug home again, ensuring that breakable things were securely wrapped, and that all the wooden stuff was easily accessible for customs inspections in Australia.

The flights were long, and hard with two little sick girls, but we made it. And everyone got some sleep. The girls watched the most recent pokémon movie pretty much back to back the whole way home, between sleeping and eating. Singapore airport is as cool as everyone says, and I wish I had more photos, but somehow in the transfer of photos from phone to computer, they got lost. 

I'm so thankful for our neighbours. One lot drove us to the airport and then our car back home, and then others who drove our car out to the airport to pick us up, on New Years Eve, none the less! And who looked after our house by collecting mail, putting bins out and watering plants. And Steve's brother who came and mowed the lawn. These people are amazing to me.

It was relief to be home. I love Australia, even more now than before. Sure we've got our problems, but it's beautiful and it's home.

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