Out in Croatia and Montenegro

It’s funny how we ended up choosing the different places to visit on our trip.  Our choice for Croatia came from a conversation on top of a mountain in Alaska the summer before.  We had hiked up to the top of a small mountain with a grand view of Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park and met up with a couple of other hikers who were from Europe.  It seemed a long way to come from Europe to Alaska and as we talked with them we asked them where a favorite place was for Europeans to travel?   They both responded the same way…Croatia.  They talked of beautiful beaches, affordable prices, and enthralling history.  Before this conversation, I wouldn’t have been able to pick Croatia out on a map and certainly didn’t think of it as a beach destination.  But as we planned our trip, this conversation came back to us, and as we did further research, we realized many people considered Croatia at the top of their travel list.  I would like to say “Thank you!” to our European friends from Alaska for putting Croatia on our travel radar, because it exceeded our expectations every step of the way.

As we posted on Facebook about our adventures in Croatia, I had multiple people say it is now on their bucket list to visit someday.  Since we now have some experiential knowledge of what it is like to travel there, I am going to write this post as if I was your travel agent (I know they are obsolete at this point, but humor me).  Unfortunately, I got sick with the flu a couple days into this leg of the trip.  I was fevered, aching, and nauseous most of our time in Croatia, so I feel like I really need a do-over.  So, if you would like to invite us along on your trip when you go, we would be happy to join you!

I am planning “your trip” as a two week vacation because it is usually hard for people to get much more time off than that, and I think it would allow you to do all the things that you should, without moving at a frantic pace.  As a side note, all three cities we visited and that I have you visiting in my plan are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  This means that they have been designated by the United Nations as a site that has cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance, and they are protected by international treaties.  UNESCO regards these sites as being important to the collective interests of humanity.

Day 1:  Split, Croatia

Fly in to Split, Croatia airport.  We stayed in an apartment and the owners picked us up from the airport.  They were super accommodating the whole time.  They gave us a tour of Diocletian’s palace and when we left they knew we were driving and so gave us a bunch of candy for the kids on our drive.  I would definitely stay somewhere very near, or inside Diocletian’s palace.  We use tripadvisor.com and booking.com to compare places, look at pictures, and pick the one that feels right to us.  If you use these websites with real reviews by former customers, you can almost always come up with a great pick with almost no surprises.  We have stayed in over 20 places so far and have not had any issues to this point.

Spend the afternoon resting (you will be jetlagged) and then wander over to have dinner somewhere in Diocletian’s palace.


Day 2:

Morning:  Tour Diocletian’s Palace.  As I said, the owners of our apartment we were renting gave us a tour of Diocletian’s Palace, but if you don’t stay there, there are many companies offering tours.  Diocletian was a Roman Emperor in the 4th century AD.  He built this palace to retire in and it is the world’s most complete remains of a Roman palace.  It’s not what you would envision as a palace, because it is more like a walled fortress and over the past 1800 years, it has been lived in by the people.  So it is a mixture of ancient ruins, shops, restaurants, small hotels, and even banks.  I would highly suggest getting a walking tour because you are able to learn a lot of history that would be hard to get any other way.  I would also do this in the morning because it gets quite hot walking around later in the day.


Afternoon:  Head down to the beach for the afternoon and eat dinner down there at sunset.  Honestly, the beach isn’t that great and it was really crowded when we were there, but we had fun playing on the blow up playground out in the water (much more difficult than it looks!) and you have to watch the locals play this game of what is essentially paddle ball without the paddles in the water.  I really wish we had been there longer so we could have given it a try as it looked like a blast!


Day 3:

Take a boat out to Hvar Island.  We didn’t do this because we didn’t have time, but I am giving you more time than we had so you should do it.

Day 4:

Rent a car and drive out to Plitvice Lakes.  It is a series of lakes cascading into one another that will simply take your breath away…again and again and again.  The roads are very easy to navigate and GPS took us right there.  While the mountains and water are beautiful in Croatia, the landscape is very dry without much vegetation (at least in the areas we drove through).  So when you enter into this park, the dichotomy between where you were and where you are now is incredible.  You can easily spend the whole day hiking around looking at the hundreds if not thousands of waterfalls throughout the park (I was pretty sick by this point, so we didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked).  There are two different sections and it is worth it to do both.  I guarantee you have never seen anything like this before.  It lives up to it’s reputation of one of the most beautiful places on earth.



Day 5:

Head out to Krka Waterfalls and swim in the waterfalls.  We didn’t get to do this.  We had planned to do it the same day as Plitvice, because we didn’t realize how extensive the area was there.  Our travel style is to do one thing really well instead of trying to pack a bunch of things in and not really experiencing anything completely.  So when we realized that Plitvice would take the whole day, we decided we would have to Krka “next time.”

Day 6:

Book the “Extreme Canyoning” trip through Iris Adventures and have an adventure you will never forget!  This looked like so much fun but the age limit said 8 years old.  I emailed asking if Luke could go and they said if we thought he could do it, they were fine to let him try.  Because we had the boys we could only book the “Canyoning” trip, but we learned that the only real difference between that and the “Extreme Canyoning” is that you don’t do the rappelling.  Everything else was so amazing, we didn’t even notice.


Here is what you can expect.  We were picked up near our apartment and driven out to a little house about an hour away that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.  I didn’t see water anywhere, and I was hoping it would live up to the reviews.  We got there and they outfitted us in wetsuits, life jackets, and helmets.  I thought it seemed like a little bit excessive considering it was almost 100 degrees outside, but we got ready to go and headed out.  We hiked down a gravel road and then came to the edge of a beautiful canyon.  It wasn’t very wide at all but had crystal clear water running through.  The hike to get down was intense and let us know that this trip was no joke.  Fortunately, one of the guides stayed with Luke the whole time because I was just trying to keep up myself.  Parker and Tyler were, of course, right in their element and enjoying every second of the adventure.

We spent the next 4 hours hiking, climbing, and floating down the canyon and the rapids!  There were even 10-30 foot cliffs to jump off of along the way!  It was incredible!  It didn’t take long for me to realize that the wetsuits were as much for protection from slamming against rocks as to keep us warm, as we were rushing down natural waterslides and through rapids.  I was so impressed with the boys for being able to keep up with all the adults.  I was struggling a bit myself and was feeling like I was getting old, but realized that night that I was feverish and weak because I had the beginning of the flu, not because I was getting too old for this kind of fun!  As a side note, this was the most intense thing I had done to this point on my hip I had surgery on last September.  I was so pleased that, besides a few limited range of motion issues, it didn’t give me any problems at all!

I told you this was no joke! This is Parker under water.
Tyler!
Luke being thrown off the cliff. I promise it was his choice!

All the guides were especially impressed with Luke.  He was the youngest ever to go through the canyoning trip and he did it with a smile!


This day was so much fun for all of us!  It was the highlight of our time in Croatia and will, I’m sure, be on the list of our most memorable days on our whole trip.

Day 7:

Spend one more day exploring Split.  Go to the park, spend more time at Diocletian’s Palace, or just relax by the beach.

Day 8:  Dubrovnik (stay inside the walls, it’s worth it!  Try Air BNB for more affordable options that will often have kitchens so you can have breakfast and/or lunch at home)


Morning:  Drive down the coast to the walled city of Dubrovnik, with the well deserved nickname, “The jewel of the Adriatic.”  On your way down you cross briefly through Bosnia, which is kind of fun to check off as a country you have visited (if you count driving through for a few miles).

Border crossing from Croatia to Bosnia
Bosnia!

Afternoon:  Wander around the beautiful city.  It’s like nothing you have ever seen.



Day 9:  Dubrovnik, Croatia

Morning:  Wake up early and do your obligatory walk around the walls of Dubrovnik.  I hear it’s beautiful from my family.  I started up the stairs, almost passed out (remember I had the flu), then headed back to the room to sleep the entire day.



Afternoon:  Take a boat over to the island and spend time at a much less crowded beach and explore.


Day 10:  Kotor, Montenegro

Don’t feel bad if you have never heard of this place, neither had I until we started planning this trip.  The reality is, it’s only been a country for about 10 years, as it was part of the former Yugoslavia, and it only has a population of about 600,000 people.  We discovered Kotor because it was voted as the number one city to visit in 2016 from Lonely Planet (another great website for travel advice) so we thought we had better check it out.  Also, it’s just a few hours drive from Dubrovnik so it fit in perfectly  with our schedule and with yours!  It was a quaint little walled town next to the Bay of Kotor and surrounded by towering mountains on every side.  Just above the city high on the mountain sits Kotor’s Castle of San Giovanni with walls climbing up to it that make a stunning backdrop to the town.

Spend the afternoon wandering around the small city having lunch at a cafe and get your bearings.

Cats, cats, everywhere! Holy cats!


Day 11:  Kotor, Montenegro

Morning:  Hike up to the top of the magnificent walled castle (we didn’t do this because I was still too sick and Jeromy and Luke had unfortunately, caught it from me at this point).

Afternoon: Either hire a boat (the owner of our Air BNB offered to take us on his boat) or go on a group boat to see Our Lady of the Rocks Island.  The story goes that it was created when two shipwrecked fishermen found a rock with an icon of Mary with the Christ child and promised to build a church dedicated to this icon.  Fisherman would throw rocks on the island to show their thanks for a safe journey and that is the foundations of the church.  When we were there, there was a wedding at the church so we couldn’t go inside, but it was so fun to feel a bit like we were part of the celebration on the island.    From there you can visit the quaint town of Perast, and then find an isolated beach to swim.


Day 12:  Kotor, Montenegro

Spend the day driving into the mountains, shopping, swimming, or just relaxing.  The beauty of Kotor is that there isn’t much to do but relax and enjoy the majesty of your surroundings.

Day 13:  Split, Croatia

Drive back to Split.  Get a map to make sure you go the right way.  Our GPS took us up through the mountains on dirt roads, one lane roads, and abandoned towns in Bosnia.  I have to say, we did end up back in Split eventually, but there were times I wasn’t sure we would make it!


Day 14:  Fly home after an amazing stay in Croatia and Montenegro!

I loved our time in Croatia and Montenegro so much!  It exceeded my expectations the whole way.  I think one of the things that made me like it so much, is that I didn’t have any idea what to expect. In the rest of Europe where we visited, I knew a lot more about the places and had already visited many of them previously.  I was especially surprised at all of the ancient history that was there, which I had never learned about before our visit.  I can’t wait to go back when I am not feeling so sick, because it definitely caused us to miss out on a few things I would really like to have done, but when you are traveling for a year, that’s bound to happen every once in awhile!

 

Out in Bavaria, Austria, and Budapest

After our time in Switzerland, we rented a car again and drove through Bavaria, into Austria and took a train into Hungary.  We were moving pretty quickly through this period so I thought I would combine this part of our journey into one post and give you the highlights of each stop.

The Castle Road in Germany

When we planned our trip around the world, Parker’s main thing he wanted to do was stay in a castle and also see castles.  Well, by the end of our time on the castle road, he would hardly look up when we were driving past a castle, we had seen so many.  Germany (especially central Germany and Bavaria) is full of them.  Almost every town had a sign for Schloss (Castle) Something.  It was really cool to see all the castles though and we were able to stay the night in one again!

Heidelberg Castle

Inside Heidelberg Castle is the world’s largest cask of wine!  It holds over 50,000 gallons!    


We also stopped off in Rothenburg, a quintessential German town, although our route to get there was not exactly direct.  We used our handy GPS to map to Rothenburg from Heidelberg and headed out.  After about an hour drive through beautiful country we arrived in Rothenburg.  We drove around a bit and although it was a fine town, there wasn’t anything special about it.  It took us a little while but finally we realized that we had mapped to the wrong Rothenburg!  Ugh!  Back in the car for another 3 hours and finally we arrived in the right Rothenburg.  It was a little disappointing because we ended up arriving so late that most the shops were closed, but those are the things that sometimes happen when you are travelling.  Although we missed most the shops, we were able to try the famous Rothenburg Schneeballs.

Does this look familiar?  It was said to have inspired the town in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Schneeballs!

After Rothenburg we headed to Schloss Colmberg to stay the night.  It was a really fun experience, with great food, and Tyler made a new friend!

Colmberg Castle.  A great place to stay the night!

Beautiful view from the castle 
The next day we headed South along The Castle Road ending in Innsbruck, Austria late that night.  We saw many castles that day as we drove, with the culmination being our visit to Neuschwanstein Castle.

Hohenschwangau Castle
Hohenschwangau Castle
Fernsteinsee Castle
Neuschwanstein is a beautiful castle and the one that Walt Disney was said to have based the Sleeping Beauty castle on.  The funny thing is though, it never really functioned as an actual castle.  It was really just for show, which was why it is so beautiful.  It was only built in the late 1800’s by the reclusive King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat.  Parker, who had taken Medieval History last year, was quick to point out all the reasons this would never be an actual castle from Medieval times (the bottom part wasn’t slanted, it didn’t have arrow loops, etc.)  Unfortunately, when we got there it was pouring down rain.  I mean pouring.  We had our tickets to go in with over an hour wait, but everyone was tired and cranky and we heard the tour wasn’t that great anyway, so we bailed on the tour and headed down the hill to our car and drove the remaining way to Innsbruck for the night.

Neuschwanstein Castle
It was rainy and cold and we had grumpy kids

A bright spot on our way down was discovering the delicious treat quarkballchen!  Look how much happier Parker is in this picture!


Innsbruck

Innsbruck is considered the capital of the Alps.  We stayed in a hotel that has been functioning as a hotel since 1483!  Fortunately for us, it has been renovated since then. It was right along the river and near the old town.  We enjoyed exploring the town and had a great time.

Our hotel.  Hotel Mondschein.

The Golden Roof completed in 1500 with 2,738 copper tiles for Emperor Maximilian on his wedding day.
Of course we had to get some authentic apple strudel.  Yum!
A funny story in Innsbruck (well funny for me, not for Jeromy).  We were FaceTime-ing with my brother James and his family one night while walking around old town.  As we stood there talking I smelled a horrible smell.  It was bad!  All of a sudden Parker said “Mom and Dad, look!”  We looked down and saw a huge pile of human feces and Jeromy had stepped in it!  Glamorous Europe right?!  The reason I bring this up is that although Europe is great there are a few things that could be improved upon.  One is their public restrooms situation.  Often, the public restrooms, if they even have any, cost money to enter.  So the homeless people have to use the streets as their bathrooms, which can lead to unfortunate incidents like this one.  As a side note, that is why whenever I smell urine mixed with cigarette smoke it will remind me of Paris :). Don’t worry, I am not going to post a picture!

Having fun in Innsbruck…


Throughout Europe we have seen our fair share of street performers.  In Innsbruck, we saw my favorite one of any I had seen, and they had the best bubble guys!

He has no head…But he’s wearing glasses and a hat!  I found this so incredibly funny!

So excited for the most monster sized bubbles you have ever seen!



Bad Reichenhall Salt Mines

We stopped off on our way to Salzburg at the Bad Reichenhall salt mines in Berchtesgaden.  It was a really awesome tour that took us deep into the mountain to see how they mine out the salt.  We even got to ride down the miner slides.  We all had a lot of fun, learned a lot about how we get our salt, and of course we got to wear some pretty sweet jumpsuits!


Salzburg

Salzburg is a beautiful city, but we really came here for one reason only.  The Sound Of Music Tour!

Across from these crazy kids is the place where the Von Trapp children row up in the boat when there father gets home with the Baroness and then fall in.
Hanging off the trees just like in the movie!
The original gazebo used in the movie.  They do not let you dance around inside like Liesl and Rolf.  Apparently an 80 year old lady fell while she was trying it and now they have shut it off to the public.  Also, in that actual scene in the movie, they recreated the gazebo in California and made it bigger to allow for the dancing.
 

Although we watched the movie together the night before coming on the tour, the boys were not as excited as I was about seeing all the sights.
This picture and the next are of the church Maria and Captain Von Trapp were married in

The gardens the children were in while singing “Do Re Mi”
We were also able to indulge in the local dessert the Salsburg Nockern (A meringue type top with berries underneath).  Yum!


We saw where Mozart was born and lived.


And in true Dixson fashion, we found a really fun playground!


Vienna

We had lots of fun in Vienna.  The pictures can really say it all.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Schonbrunn Palace…The Imperial summer palace for the Habsburg monarchs.  

1,441 rooms!
Beautiful gardens

The zoo on the palace grounds has been around for centuries and is the oldest Zoo in the world.  The kids couldn’t help but dab for this picture. (Panda…Panda…Panda…) a frequently played song on our journeys
Twin baby pandas had been born right before we were there.  We didn’t get to actually see them, but they had a live feed that was shown to the public.
A friendly tortoise
This garden maze has been recreated just as it was during the days of the Habsburg dynasty.  It took us a while, but we made it!

Time Travel Vienna.  We learned a lot about the history of Vienna in a really fun and engaging way.


#1 Playground so far on our trip! And we’ve been to a lot of them.

Jeromy and I even joined in on the fun!

Prater Amusement Park…so fun!

5 loops in this roller coaster! It almost made the boys pass out. Pretty intense!

Date night! Jeromy and I had a date night out to a Mozart concert and a wonderful dinner.  It was so nice to have some time to ourselves.

Budapest

We had heard great things about Budapest and after visiting there ourselves we would have to agree with all of the things we heard!  Budapest started as two separate cities, Buda and Pest that were divided by the river and then later combined into one city.  We stayed on the Pest side which is more lively.  The Buda side is nicer and has the castle on it.  At night, the city was glorious.  The buildings were lit up so beautifully and as you walked along the river it felt magical.

Parliament Building
The beautiful Chain Bridge

Buda Castle

During the day we headed to The Central Market for some shopping and to get their famous langos.  They are like an elephant ear, but are traditionally served with sour cream and cheese.  We of course had to get one with Nutella too because…well, just because everything is better with Nutella.

We then headed to the waterpark and thermal baths on Margaret Island.  We had so much fun, but while we were there, I somehow lost a sandal.  Stolen by some one-footed woman I presume ;).  So I had to walk home from the waterpark and ride the subway half barefoot!  Subway floors are never pretty, and Budapest’s were on the sketchier side, but I made it through with no foot diseases to speak of!


The only time we have seen DP in our travels so far. Jeromy was very excited.

Wow!  All that in one week!  We were moving fast.  It is at this point we all started getting really excited to slow down for awhile in our upcoming time in Greece.  But first…Croatia and Montenegro!

 

10 Hair-raising experiences in Switzerland

As the train pulled into the valley in Grindewald, we were awestruck.  After 6 weeks of mostly cities and towns it felt like coming home, to see the mountains, the trees, and all the green.  We were all almost giddy as we walked to find our AirBNB.

Look at that happy face!

 

Our Air BNB


Switzerland is one breathtaking view after another and I couldn’t stop taking pictures! Not only is the landscape gorgeous, but the houses are so quaint, the food is good, and they have so many amazing playgrounds!

At the top of the Mannlichen Gondola

Half way up the First cable car

Overall, Switzerland has been my favorite place so far (although I usually feel like wherever I am is my favorite place at the time) and probably the kids too.  Everyone just seemed so happy there.  We are outdoors people and being able to be out in nature again really rejuvenated us.


While being back in nature was very relaxing, we had some experiences that really made our hair stand on end too!  Literally. These were sometimes nerve racking and sometimes exhilarating.  So, here is my list of the 10 hair-raising experiences we had while visiting Switzerland in order from the least to the most.

10.  The Prices

Switzerland was so absolutely gorgeous. I told Jeromy that I thought maybe we should have made our month stay there instead of Greece, but when we saw the prices we payed for dinner, transportation and lodging, I realized that we would probably have to cut our trip short if we stayed a whole month here if we wanted to stay within our budget.  The prices were probably similar to Norway, but we had gotten used to the lower prices in the rest of Europe so every time Jeromy got the bill for dinner, it was a hair-raising experience for him. 😀

9.  Almost Dyeing A Whole Load of Laundry Blue

This one is a little embarrassing, but when you are navigating your way through the world using products you don’t recognize, you’re likely going to have a few mix-ups along the way.  This hair-raising experience for me was when I did laundry at our apartment.  The host for our house said there were laundry capsules in the cabinet in the bathroom that we could use.  Great!  We had some concentrated liquid soap we brought, but this was better so we could conserve that precious commodity.  When I went to the cabinet and opened it up, I saw a few bottles of some kind of cleaning supplies and there were some blue capsules.  I tried to read the box, but it was all in German.  They definitely looked different than the usual ones we would use, but we were in Switzerland so that’s probably how they make them here, right?  WRONG!

Can you tell what this is?

I threw the capsule in, started up the washer and walked away.   A little while later when the cycle had completed (they have machines here that wash the clothes and then dry them too) I took them out to fold them.  When I opened the door I was sick!  Anything that had been any color but black had turned a DARK shade of Royal blue.  Oh no!  These were the clothes that were supposed to last us for the next 10 months and I’ve turned a whole load of them blue!  Not only were they washed that way, but they were dried that way too!  I grabbed the first thing I saw and quickly ran in under water hoping it would rinse out even a little bit.  To my delight, the blue washed out very easily!  I am not one of those people who has a huge mess and takes a picture.  Like, if you’re the kind of person that when your baby spills nail polish all over and you pause to take a picture, you are much more relaxed than I am.  So by the time I took a picture, the last thing was almost rinsed out, but believe me, they were bright blue.


So what was this mystery capsule you ask?  Were you able to guess better than I did from the picture above?  Upon further inspection I realized that I had put toilet bowl cleaner in my washer and there was another cabinet I didn’t notice in the bathroom with, what were clearly, laundry capsules.  Fortunately, it wasn’t a lasting problem, but for a few minutes there, I was pretty freaked out.

This quote is true about so many places we have been. In the laundry incident above, I guessed wrong!

8.  Going On Hikes

There were endless hikes to take while we were there.  They were amazing with incredible views, but with incredible views often come incredibly high cliffs!  The boys kept us on our toes climbing up rocks and over canyons.  It was so much fun, but a little hair-raising as well.

Bachalpsee Lake

Looking down to Lauterbrunnen
The top of the Mannlichen Royal Walk

Parker…taking the bull by the horns!

7.  Riding Up Gondolas and Cable Cars of All Shapes and Sizes

Grindelwald is basically a valley surrounded by huge mountains with a variety of options for getting up them to hike in the summer and ski in the winter.  We bought a 3 day pass to go on all of them (I would suggest this if you come) because there were different activities depending on which ones you went up.  While this was mostly fun, it can still be a little hair-raising especially with a 6 year old.

6.  Riding Trotter Bikes Down The Mountain

Luke wasn’t old enough so Jeromy took Parker and Tyler on this hair-raising adventure.  This looks simple enough, just riding scooters down a path.  Apparently, it was a really steep path!  I think it was good.  I wasn’t there, or this may have made it higher on the list.  Jeromy said it was pretty intense and Tyler isn’t one to do things half speed so there were a few close calls!

5.  Getting Rammed On a Toboggan (Alpine Slide)

Our first day there we headed up first thing to the toboggan, or what we would call an alpine slide.  It was a lot of fun, but on one of our runs down, as happens sometimes, someone in front of me was going super slow.  We waited as long as we could before starting, but we still caught up to them.  So we put our brakes on and had to stop in the track for them to keep moving.  As we were sitting there, I could hear the person behind me coming down and rounding the corner.  There was plenty of time for them to stop if they were paying attention.  The operative word there is “if” they were paying attention.  It was young kid, probably about 10 years old, and he wasn’t paying attention at all.  He was actually using his foot to push down the lever that makes you go…and makes you stop.  I sat there and watched him come hurtling toward me and Luke and at the last minute seeing us, but not being able to do anything.  He rammed into us hard and went flying off his toboggan and into the grass off the track!  In typical kid fashion he hopped up quickly and got back on, but I am pretty sure if that was me they would have had to take me off on a stretcher!  As it was, I was sore the next day from getting rammed (I think that means I’m getting old!).

At the top of the Pfingstegg gondola! Lots to do including the alpine slide!!

4.  Walking Along The Cliff Walk And Looking Out At The End

This was an awesome thing at the top of The First gondola.  They’ve attached a metal walkway to the edge of a cliff that you traverse until you walk out on a glass platform that hangs over the valley below.  I’m not scared of heights, but walking on things like this with my kids adds a whole other level of anxiety.  The boys were not phased by it though, and made it out easily to the edge of the cliff  walk.  It made for some pretty spectacular pictures!

3.  Going Paragliding

This is a bucket-list thing for me so when we saw we could go paragliding in Switzerland, I knew Jeromy and I were going to sign up.  I was nervous before hand, but as my guide clipped me in I was holding it together pretty good waiting for the instructions.  Well, there weren’t really any instructions.  All of the sudden he just said something like, “Ok, we are going to start running forward and I just want you to keep leaning forward until we’re in the air.  Ok. Go!” And all of the sudden we were running and then we were flying!  Once you get in the air it is really pretty relaxing and peaceful.  I can’t imagine there is anywhere in the world with a better view!

2. Watching Parker and Tyler Go Paragliding

At first, I never really intended for the boys to go paragliding.  It didn’t even occur to me as an option.  Surely they would need to be 18 I thought, but when I went up to ask them about Jeromy and I going, Tyler and Luke happened to be with me.  When I asked about it, the worker at the ticket counter said, “You know they need to be at least 10 to go.”  Immediately Tyler was jumping up and down saying “We only have to be 10!”  “We can go…We can go!!”  I told him that just because he could go didn’t mean he would be allowed to go.  That lady didn’t know what she started!

Well, Jeromy and I talked about it and talked to the people we would be going tandem with and found that they were really experienced and so, decided to let them have this epic experience!  They weren’t nervous at all, just incredibly excited.  Parker stayed up most the night in anticipation, so you can imagine their disappointment when we got to the meeting place the next morning and the weather was too bad to go.  We had to cancel and reschedule for later in the day, hoping the weather would clear.  We were leaving early the next morning so our only hope was this day and even worse weather was supposed to be coming in the afternoon.  The boys were devastated, but tried to be hopeful.  While I was sad for them, I was glad they took the weather seriously enough to not risk my children’s lives.  We went home praying for better weather in the afternoon and fortunately, defying the norms (according to our pilot), the weather cleared in the afternoon and we were able to go!

The closer we got, the more nervous I got about them going, but they weren’t nervous at all!  They ran off the edge of the cliff and had the time of their lives!  Parker’s instructor even let him steer for awhile.  This will definitely be a highlight of not only this year, but their lives!

READY…
SET…
GO…
TAKE OFF!

READY…

 

SET…
GO…
TAKE OFF!

And the #1 most hair raising experience and the reason for the name of this post was…almost getting struck by lightning!

I am not exaggerating here! We rode The First gondola up, did The Cliff Walk then hiked up the mountain to Lake Bachalpsee.  As we sat up by the lake eating our Swiss chocolate, we could see the rain clouds rolling in and got up to head back.

Yum! Swiss Chocolate is delicious!

As we were walking quickly back, Parker turned his ankle jumping off a rock.  Since we were going to be slow going and the rain was starting, Jeromy and Tyler ran ahead and Parker, Luke, and I walked more slowly back.  As we walked in the rain with Parker limping along next to us, he suddenly said, “Mom, your hair is standing up!”  What is he talking about I was thinking, is my hair a mess?  I reached to feel it and realized that my hair was standing on end, just like when you put your hands on those neon glowing balls at OMSI.  What?!  This can’t be good.  We start to hear thunder and the rain picked up.  We wer walking faster, but Parker could really only go so fast.  Pretty soon, Parker’s hair was standing up all over too!   I was freaked out!  I was going to get struck by lightning!  The only solace I had was that I was taller than Parker and Luke so if lightning struck it was hopefully coming for me and not them.  I made Luke stop holding my hand and walk a ways away from me.   Soon I started feel my skin start to tingle.  It literally felt like electricity was coursing through my body.  We said a prayer, not the kneeling down kind of prayer, the going as fast as you can and praying as you limp/run kind of prayer.

No one else was really around except the cows, and as we looked around, we saw the cows, who were sitting around lazily eating grass on our hike up, running full speed for lower ground.

This picture was on the way up.

Once we saw the cows running and our hair standing up taller and taller, we started running as fast as we could.  The adrenaline helped Parker’s ankle not hurt quite as badly and we were able to go much faster.  I don’t know if I have ever been more relieved in my life, as when we finally made it under the cover of the gondola station!

As we waited out the storm under cover, we looked up exactly what your hair standing on end means in a storm and you live to tell about it.  Here are a few quotes of what we read, “A lightning strike is imminent.” “Be glad your alive,” “You just missed getting struck.” “You just missed death.  When your hair stands up on end like that it means that you have just became a negative charge and there is a positive charge in the clouds ready to connect with you.”  Yikes!  I thought it was something like that, but to read it in black and white made it really hit home!

The bright side of this hair-raising experience was that we had a fabulous opportunity to “Road School”.  That night we answered questions like, what causes lightning?  What to do when you are in a thunderstorm? And how to survive a lightning strike? (Prayer and running weren’t on the list)

Overall, Switzerland was a highlight for us and we were sad to leave.  We knew we had more exciting adventures ahead though, so we grabbed our bags and headed to the train for more adventure and probably some more hair-raising experiences ahead (but hopefully not the literal kind).

Out (or should I say in) in Milan

It’s hard for me to really say this is a post about Milan because quite frankly, we didn’t see much of it.  When we originally planned on stopping there, it was definitely, a stop over.  We were going to go to Venice on our way up and then stay in Milan two nights, but we were just too tired to try and squeeze Venice in.  I’m sure it’s easy for you to think, “Man, they were so close, how could they possibly skip Venice?!”  To that I say, “Try backpacking around Europe for 6 weeks with three kids and see how you feel then!”  Plus, Jeromy and I had been to Venice just a few years ago and the kids were done with cities, ready for a break.  It would have just been forcing it, and we have found on this trip, and in life, if you have to force something it probably isn’t a good idea.

The boys on the train ride up to Milan from Rome. Great views of the Italian countryside, not that they could tell.
“La Mela Reintegrata”. The translated name of this statue is “The Reintegrated Apple.” This statue was just outside the train station and I thought it was very clever…even as Jeromy took a picture of us with his iPhone.

 

Also, it is a long way from Rome up to Switzerland and we needed a good stopping point. When we realized the next day was a Sunday we decided to add another night so we didn’t have to spend Sunday traveling.  Why? You may ask.  It is in respect for the Sabbath Day.  Anyone who knows our family probably knows that we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and like most Christian churches we believe in keeping the 10 commandments, one of which is keeping the Sabbath Day holy.  While everyone has a little bit of a different interpretation of what that means exactly, a simple definition we use is “The Lord’s day set apart each week for rest and worship.”  I thought I would use this post to let you know how we spend every 7th day on our adventure around the world!  Since I am pretty far behind on my blog (We are busy and wifi can be sketchy!), I’ll be talking about the first 3 months of church on the trip, not just up to the point of when we were visiting Milan.

As a family, we realize we are so blessed to have this opportunity to travel the world together, and we know who to thank for that…Our Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ.  So, as we planned our trip, we knew an important part of our planning was finding a way to continue to keep the commandment of “Keeping the Sabbath Day holy.”  This was brought home to me as I sat in church one Sunday a few months before we left, listening to a talk on this very subject.  When the person was speaking, they quoted a scripture I had not heard before in Doctrine and Covenants 59:16.   In the lead up to this verse it talks about how we should keep the Sabbath Day holy, and then comes many verses of promises we will receive if we do so.  One promise struck me to the core as the speaker said it, “Verily, I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fullness of the earth is yours…”  What?  That is awesome!  That is just what we want!  The fullness of the earth!  And I have to say that as we strive to keep this commandment, that is what has been happening for us.

To do this, we tried our best to not plan any major travel days on Sundays, not plan any major sightseeing on Sundays, and to attend church wherever we could.  We knew that if we did this and made this effort, that we would be blessed.  It seems like by cutting a day out of every week we would be seeing less, but I truly believe our abilities are being multiplied on the other days so that we are actually seeing more.

Waiting for the tram in Amsterdam on our way to church.

 

Now logistically, the idea of finding a local congregation of our particular denomination might seem difficult.  There is a talk from President Henry B. Eyring where he talks about how his father, many years ago, really wanted to go to church when he was in a foreign country but he didn’t know where to go.  So he decided to say a prayer and start walking.  He wandered around praying and walking until he heard singing.  He followed the voices all the way to a local congregation meeting in an apartment.

We are lucky to not have to rely on such drastic divine intervention to find a church each Sunday.  We just login to our LDS Tools App and we have the location, time, and language spoken of all the meeting houses in the area.  We can even link to Google Maps to get directions!  I can’t believe how easy it actually is (although public transportation has made us late a couple times).

Using this fabulous technology, we have easily been able to attend church in 6 countries.  Our first stop was in Selfoss, Iceland in a small upper room in a strip mall.  There were probably 20 people there.

In front of church in Selfoss, Iceland

 

We assumed we would not be able to understand much of the services we attended (obviously they were held in their native language), but we would be able to partake of the Sacrament and worship in our own way.  So you can imagine our surprise when we walked in and were immediately greeted by English speaking missionaries from Arizona and Calgary, asking us if we would like headphones for translation of the services into English.  Yes!  We each got our headset and listened while the missionaries translated, real-time, into English.  I imagine this is very difficult, and over the months some have been better than others at it, but it has been such a blessing to be able to understand the messages being given.  I think my boys pay closer attention on the road than they do at home!

Headphones at church!

 

As we attended different congregations across Europe, we were so pleased to have that welcoming experience repeated everywhere we attended.  Each congregation had someone who could interpret for us and in Paris, they had multiple languages going so they had everyone with headphones watching from a separate room.  It was so funny to hear the hymns being sung in at least 4 different languages at the same time.

In front of church in Paris with our good friends Abe and Holly Smith from La Center

 

The size of the congregations varied greatly, with Iceland being the smallest and Paris being the largest so far.  In each congregation we felt welcomed and received a little piece of home. Parker even got teased by a German guy for falling asleep in church!  Just like if we were at home!

Church in Bremen, Germany

 

We haven’t had the chance to stay for all three hours of church because as we split up into classes they aren’t able to interpret for us, but we are looking forward to an English speaking ward in Dubai and then in Africa!

Of course, we weren’t always able to find a church close enough for us to get to and on those days we held our own church of sorts with each of us taking a different responsibility.  Jeromy would ask someone to give a talk, we would sing hymns, Parker was in charge of teaching Sunday school (his favorite mode of teaching is for us to act out the stories from the scriptures), Luke was in charge of singing time (He taught us sign language to I Feel My Savior’s Love and we played his favorite game, Hot and Cold, to learn I Love To See the Temple) and Tyler gave us some great sharing time lessons on missionary work.  It has been so fun to wake up and spend the mornings preparing to teach each other the Gospel!  The boys love it, and it is giving them a greater appreciation for the efforts their teachers and others put in to provide them with great experiences at church when we are at home.  What a wonderful experience it has been to be taught by my children!

Having church at home in Naxos, Greece

 

Not only being able to worship has been great, but having a day to physically rest has been a blessing we didn’t anticipate before leaving.  We have been walking miles upon miles everyday, trying to make the most of our time, and we are exhausted.  Knowing we have a day to rest coming up really helps.  I think the boys consider Sundays one of their favorite days now.  They know that besides church, they don’t have to do any sightseeing or schoolwork.  We will stay home and literally rest and if we try to sneak something in, they are quick to remind us that it’s Sunday and we shouldn’t have to do anything!

img_2312

While we didn’t see much of Milan, we were able to see one of it’s great treasures, the Duomo.  It was magnificent!  Probably the most impressive church we saw in Europe.  We will have to make our way back to Milan someday and explore the city further, but for the time being we were grateful for a nice apartment to sleep in and a day of rest and worship.

Inside the Duomo