Back To America

Right now I am sitting in my parents’ house in Washington state–the very same house that we spent our last night in before we left for Ireland just over one year ago. It’s strange and surreal and altogether wonderful to be back. Back to the familiar, back to our loved ones, back “home” (whatever that means…I’m still trying to figure it out). The journey back to America had its ups and downs but, if I have learned anything this year, it’s that the best adventures rarely go according to (my) plan.

We left Cork on Friday night, July 25th. This also happened to be Jon’s last day of work in Ireland, so he basically got home and we loaded up the taxi with our 12 bags, double stroller, travel crib, and two car seats for our ride out to the airport. It was a crazy feeling to be leaving one adventure for another, to say our final goodbyes to this wonderful place that we had come to know as home:
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The plan for Friday night was to fly on the last flight of the night out of Cork, spend the night in London, then wake up early to catch the first flight of the morning into Seattle. After we got checked in, however, we realized that our flight to London had been delayed an hour. Oh well, we thought, that will give us time to eat some dinner before we board. As we were eating our dinner, an announcement came over the speakers to notify us that our flight was delayed again. And again. And finally, at the time we were supposed to be drifting off to sleep in our hotel in London, our plane arrived:
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The hour-long flight to London was uneventful, and we even landed at the brand-spanking-new Terminal 2 at London-Heathrow. It is a beautiful terminal that had only been open for about two weeks:

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Unfortunately, if you land at 11 PM at a brand new terminal that has only been open for two weeks, there are no signs or people to direct you on where to go once you land. It’s nothing more than a brightly-lit, stainless steel-encased ghost town. Which wouldn’t be a problem if you knew where you were going. We did not know where we were going.

Well, we knew where we were going, we just had no clue as to how to actually get there. We knew that our hotel was at Terminal 4, which we thought would be easy enough to find since it’s IN THE AIRPORT. Silly us. Turns out, London-Heathrow has a circumference of 25 miles. Nothing is easy to find. Nothing. Especially a hotel that is in a totally different terminal from where you are and it’s now 11:30 and the shuttles have stopped running for the night and the only person you can ask for directions is a cleaning lady who’s texting while she pushes her mop aimlessly down the corridors. So, what do you do in this situation? You ask the cleaning lady for directions. And she tells you to go through the underground tunnel. So you do. For 45 minutes:

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Just when you think you’ve entered the tunnel that someone finally dug all the way to China, you pop out at Terminal ? where there is an exit to a street. You spy a “Hotel Hoppa” bus and run frantically for it with your two small children and arms full of luggage. The driver says he’s on his last round for the night so you push your way on and find the only available space in the middle of a crowded aisle. It’s at this point that the bus driver tells you he does not go to your hotel, but he’ll take all of your cash and drop you off there at the end of his round anyway. So you empty your wallet into a fanny pack he has hanging off a bar at the front of the bus and hope he can actually manage find the elusive hotel at Terminal 4.

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So you ride the Hotel Hoppa bus to every other hotel in this city-within-a-city-airport and curse your decision to choose a “convenient” hotel. Eventually, just after midnight, you arrive at the hotel. Thankfully the children have already fallen asleep in the stroller so you just wheel them up to the room and dump them into bed. No screaming, thrashing, arguing bedtime tonight, thankyouverymuch.

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You hardly sleep because the hotel room is too small to set up a crib, so your squirmy toddler has to share a bed with you. He likes to lay across you and pull your hair in his sleep. Oh well, at least somebody’s sleeping. You’re actually thankful when the alarm goes off at 6:00 because you know you can get up and take a hot shower, and hopefully that will wake you up enough to make it through the next 12 hours of travel.

So, you see, the first part of our journey was the “downs” of the “ups and downs”. But every down must have an up…right? From here on out it was up, up, up–all the way up to the magical world of Business Class travel.

Now, we are normal people. Coach-Class people. People who have only ever wondered and dreamed about what it would be like to be Business-Class people. And, for the first and probably last time in our lives, we found out. Our Business-Class experience began with a visit to the exclusive British Airways lounge where we feasted on freshly-baked pastries and fruit and lattes and whatever else we fancied:

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After our tummies were full we got some wiggles out in the play room before it was time to jet out (no pun intended).

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This day was also Jacob’s 2nd birthday. We told him he was a very lucky boy to travel around the world on his birthday because he would have the longest birthday ever (32 hours, to be exact). Jacob posed for a quick birthday photo before we boarded our plane:

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Jacob loves Things That Go, so his big birthday gift this year was a trip on the Big Plane. He was pretty stoked:

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When we found our fancy-pants Business Class seats they greeted us adults with champagne and our tiny travelers with orange juice. They were already speaking my Love Langauge:

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After I got the boys situated in their seats I reviewed the 4-page guide that explained all of the wonderful things about flying in Business Class. Wonderful things like a gourmet menu (I chose the Caprese salad, steak, and chocolate mousse) and a fine wine list. Wonderful things like a gift bag full of spa essentials to keep you refreshed and fuzzy socks to keep your toesies warm. Wonderful things like outlets at your seat so your iPhone battery stays fully charged throughout the flight. First among the Wonderful Things, however, is the fact that the seats lie down completely flat to make full-length beds. And there are dividers you can raise so you don’t even see your children. And you can put on a movie for your kids while they’re lying in their comfy beds eating the free jelly beans and candy bars and whatever else they fancy and they’ll fall asleep. For 5 hours. Ahhhhhhh….

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So, yeah, Business Class is amazing. And I’m glad that I got to do it at least once in my life so that now every time I pass those seats on my way back to Coach I’ll know exactly what I’m missing.

Before we knew it, the flight was over and we were touching down in Seattle. After we got through passport control and customs (an hour-long ordeal) we finally made it to baggage claim where we were greeted by our much-missed family. Many hugs and kisses and high-fives were exchanged.

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We managed to collect all but one of our bags–the missing one, David’s suitcase, was mistakenly claimed by some unsuspecting passenger. I’m sure she was quite surprised to get home, open up the bag, and find nothing but 3-year old boy clothes and a wet towel that I had shoved in at the last minute when we were rushing out the door. When she realized her swap, she returned the bag to the airport and they promptly drove it down to us. David didn’t really mind, though, because he was too busy playing with squirt guns in his undies to notice some missing clothes:

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We all slept well that first night and our jet lag was nearly non-existent (thanks to our super-comfy flight over).  The next day, Sunday, we had a family celebration at my parents’ house for Jacob’s birthday. And, this being our first full day back in America, we ‘merica’d it up with burgers and corn on the cob and watermelon and Goldfish crackers and Funfetti cupcakes and all kinds of wonderful American goodies.

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Jacob (and by Jacob, I mean David) had fun opening his birthday presents:

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It was an all-around wonderful day with friends and family and food and fun.

 

The next day, Monday, we drove up to Everett to take care of some business at our house. While we were there we met with the U.S. moving company that will be moving our THIRD shipment of STUFF to California (how do we have so much stuff?!?!). In addition to our business, we also had some time for a bit of fun. And, as you can tell by our faces, it was a LOT of fun:IMG_7954Yep, that’s right: Costco. Oh, how I’ve missed the gallon-sized jars of peanut butter and the adorable children’s pajamas and the num-num-nummy jalapeno-artichoke dip. Seriously, I missed Costco more than just about any other U.S. location. And now that we have visited Costco, it’s official: we’re back. Back in the land of the big and the plentiful and the unusual. Back in America.

It will take some time to get settled in again (especially since we still have months to go before we can finally settle into a house in California), but I can say one thing for certain: it is so very good to be back.

 

Dingle

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When we first moved to Ireland almost a year ago we made a bucket list of sorts with all of the places that we wanted to visit while we were living here. We’ve made a pretty good dent in the list so far and have already crossed off most of our “must see” locations: The Cliffs of Moher, Dublin, Newgrange, Belfast, Killarney, the Ring of Kerry, Kilkenny, the Rock of Cashel. However, there was still one Big One–maybe THE Big One left on our list. It seems like every person we’ve ever talked to who has visited Ireland or who lives here says the same thing: You must, must, must go to Dingle.

It’s supposed to be spectacular–in fact, National Geographic once cited the area as “the most beautiful place on earth”. That’s quite a statement from anyone, let alone National Geographic (because, you know, they’ve actually seen a lot of the earth). We were saving our Dingle trip for nicer weather and a special occasion, both of which lined up perfectly this weekend. We decided to continue our celebration American Mother’s Day this weekend with our special trip out to Dingle (I say continued the celebration because I actually thought Mother’s Day was this weekend when I booked the trip–that’s what I get for celebrating a holiday in a country where nobody else is celebrating said holiday).

We knew that Dingle was going to be incredible when the drive into town was a treat in itself. When we were a few miles out of town we crossed over Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in Ireland–which, coming from the Cascade-rimmed Pacific Northwest, is a bit of a deceiving term. By “highest mountain” pass, they actually mean that it’s just the tallest hill on the island. Regardless, the views from the top of Conor Pass weren’t too shabby:

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We arrived in Dingle at about noon on Friday and checked into our AirBnB apartment in town. The apartment was over a shop, both of which were run by Kathleen McAuliffe, a relatively well-known Irish designer and milliner (her shop had lots of cute hats, jewelry, dresses, and artwork made by herself and my favorite Irish designer, Orla Kiely. I exercised great restraint in not sneaking down each day to buy up her stock).  That’s our apartment on the top floor of the blue building:

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After we got our car unloaded we walked into town for lunch. There was a small farmer’s market set up in the middle of town so we booked it over there for some local fare. Jon and I ate lamb burgers (the lamb came from a farm up the hill, the bun was made in a bakery in town, and all of the veggies came from farms in the area). The boys, however, went with a less-conventional approach to lunch. They both passed up crepes and sausages and bread and cheese. Why, you ask? Because they wanted to eat the world’s largest carrots. David literally ate his carrot all weekend–we just carried it with us wherever we went and he kept nibbling away at it. Here’s Bugs Bunny in action:

IMG_4551 After lunch we walked through the little town to get our bearings. The blue shop on the left is called Murphy’s Ice Cream and we stopped by there for a treat. It was some of the most delicious ice cream I’ve ever eaten (on the same par with Mallard’s and Molly Moo’s for you Seattleites who might be reading). I had the Dingle Sea Salt ice cream (kind of like a rich salted caramel flavor)–the cream came from the local Kerry breed of cows (they are more rare than Giant Pandas!) and the sea salt came from Dingle Harbour. Yes, they actually go out to the harbour, collect sea water, and produce their own sea salt for the ice cream. If you ever find yourself in Dingle, stop by and give it a try–you won’t be sorry!

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After our walk we drove a few miles out of town to Ventry Harbour where we could play on a nice sandy beach. We spent a couple of hours building sand castles, climbing sand dunes and dipping our toes in the Atlantic:

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When we’d had enough of the beach we decided to get back in the car and continue driving out of town along Slea Head Drive, a scenic road that makes a 40-Kilometer loop around the Dingle Peninsula. A few miles into the drive we came to a tourist stop at some famine cottages (cottages that were abandoned in the 1850’s during the Great Irish Famine). While walking up to the cottages we visited several animals: horses, sheep, rabbits, and a very friendly donkey:

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The cottages themselves were very interesting. There were three cottages set up so you could see how people might have lived in them (let’s just say I’m glad I wasn’t born in 19th century rural Ireland…). There were displays with information about the famine and how it affected people in the region–about 2 million people died or immigrated during a time period of about 10 years as a result of diseased potatoes and the starvation that ensued. Learning about the famine is terribly saddening, yet strangely intriguing.  IMG_4632 From the cottages, we continued along Slea Head Drive. We made a quick pit stop at a little roadside cafe so we could use the toilets and eat some pie. I don’t know if it was the stunning view or the home-baked goodness, but that was some of the best darn pie I’ve ever had:IMG_4657 We took hundreds of photos and videos along Slea Head Drive, but none of them do it any justice. We were there on a rare day of perfect weather with sunshine and blue skies that reflected off the ocean water. It was almost magical. Every turn we went around was more stunning than the one before and I literally had my breath taken away several times.

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Besides the incredible views, the drive was also uniquely Irish. We were stopped several times to allow livestock and cars to pass on the single-lane, cliff-lined road:
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When we got back home from our drive around Slea Head it was dinner time. We made pizza back at our apartment and enjoyed a relaxing evening lounging around. At 8:00 we heard the church bells ringing at the church across the street from our apartment and we told the boys that was their “bedtime bell”. So, off to bed we went.

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We decided to do a little experiment this weekend having the boys sleep together in the same room (they’ve always slept in separate bedrooms due to their strange sleeping patterns and my unwillingness to deal with cranky sleepers). The sleeping part actually went remarkably well. They enjoyed sharing a room. In fact, they enjoyed it so much that one night they were playing together after bedtime, but it was so cute and harmless that we decided to let them play until they fell asleep. Harmless. Right? Wrong.

Jon went to do the nightly check-in on the boys before we went to bed only to discover that the door to their room was locked. LOCKED. With two sleeping children inside. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it wasn’t our house and we weren’t worried about actually having to break down the door to get them out. Or if we could have woken David up to coerce him to try to unlock the door. Or if we thought the boys wouldn’t completely FREAK OUT when they woke up in the morning and realized they were locked in their bedroom-dungeon. Or if we could have found a key to unlock the door. Or if we could have made anything–a clothes hanger, a paperclip, my earring, the inside of a pen–that would budge that dang lock. So, after about half an hour of trying everything we could think of to open the door we were ready to give up and call a locksmith. I said a little prayer and decided to send a quick text to Kathleen, the lady who rented us the apartment, to see if she had any ideas. Just as I was about to hit “send” I heard Jon yell, “Hey, it’s open!”. For no apparent reason, he tried to open the door one more time and it just opened. The only explanation I have is that my prayer was answered…and the kids slept through the whole thing:

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The boys woke up bright and early the next morning (per usual) so we decided to walk around the corner to the bakery for some breakfast treats. Colleen’s bakery had the best doughnuts I’ve had in Ireland, hands down. They were on par with Laffeen’s, for those of you in the know. The apple turnover was also delicious. So was the coffee cream puff. So was, I’m sure, every other edible thing in that bakery:IMG_4696

After our doughnut gorge-a-thon we walked over to the town park for some wiggle time (see our “bedtime bell” church in the background?):IMG_4710

Then it was off to the marina for a special excursion. We managed to (by luck and by prayer) score another perfect-weather day in Dingle (seriously, if you’ve ever been to Ireland, you know how very, very rare this is). I’d heard about these boat tours that take you out to the Great Blasket Island and I reallllllllyyyyyy wanted to go. The remote Blasket Island is the westernmost point of land in Europe. The island had been inhabited since prehistoric times by up to 200 people (and many more sheep) at a time. When the Great Famine hit, however, almost all of the inhabitants perished or immigrated. By the early 1900’s only about 20 people remained on the island. In 1953 the government deemed the islands unsuitable for human habitation and they moved the last residents off the island. Today you can visit the island to see what remains of the village and the abundance of wildlife that have made the island their home.

The thing about visiting the island, though, is that the boats that get you out there only sail on perfect-weather days. Which are oh-s0-very-rare. In fact, right up until 20 minutes before the day’s scheduled sailing we were unsure if the boats would be running due to high-wind warnings. But, we lucked out and they decided to go ahead with the sailing. Hooray!

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Our boat was run by a small company called Great Blasket Experience, and it was wonderful. There was room for 12 people on the boat, so it was our family, another family with two boys from Houston, two men from London, and a couple from I-don’t-know-where (they didn’t talk much). Once we all clamored aboard our little vessel we fitted the boys out with life vests, and then we were off!

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On the way out of the harbor we stopped for a few minutes to visit Dingle’s resident dolphin, Fungie. By choice, this dolphin has lived in Dingle Harbour for over 20 years. He’s very friendly and came up to our boat several times. He’s a fast little bugger, though, so I only managed to snap a photo of Jacob pointing at the water where Fungie had just surfaced:

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After our boat left the sheltered harbor and entered the open ocean I began to see why they only sail out to the Blasket Islands on perfect-weather days. The high-wind warnings they had been concerned with that morning had died down, but the water was still choppy. And by choppy, I mean that it felt like we were on a roller coaster. A wet and wild roller coaster on a tiny orange dinghy. I was white-knuckled the whole 45-minute ride out to the islands. The boys, however, thought that this ocean roller coaster ride was some sort of lullaby and they both (yes, even David-who-never-naps) fell asleep on our laps, life vests and all:

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When we (finally) pulled up to the island our captain set anchor and we took turns piling into a little motorized raft so we could shore up on the island:IMG_4739Then we got to climb up this treacherous cliff that was covered in slippery algae. While carrying a squirmy toddler and an independent preschooler. We made it, though, and our time on the island was worth every terrifying experience that it took to get there.


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We spent two and a half hours walking around the island. We went up in the lush green hills around the village:

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Into 2,000 year-old stone “beehive huts”:

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And we ate our picnic lunch inside an abandoned 19th-century farmhouse:

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Although no people live on the island any more, many animals have made the rolling hills and beaches their home. There were herds of sheep grazing freely (leftover from the people-populated days, I’m guessing), sea birds dive-bombing into the ocean for fish, snails (lots and lots of snails. David and Jacob spent a good 15 minutes just sitting in one spot picking snails off a wall), and hundreds of seals basking on the sandy beaches:
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We thought the seals had the right idea, so we did a little basking of our own:

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As we were walking back to the boat launch (if you could really call it that) I snapped this photo of our waiting boat (ours is the small orange one on the left, the boat on the right was the other passenger boat that made it out to the island that day):

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The ride back to the mainland was much less roller coaster-y and much more smooth sailing-y. We said hello to Fungie the dolphin one more time before pulling in to the marina. After our busy day on the island we were all pretty wiped out. We went back to our apartment to take naps. When we woke up at dinner time, none of us wanted to go out or make anything so we ordered Chinese take-out from the restaurant 2 doors down.  It was a truly memorable day.

On Sunday we woke up (or, more accurately, Jacob woke us all up) before the church even rang it’s first “good morning bell” at 6 AM. Since it was Sunday in Dingle, a small town in Ireland, this meant that nothing opened until at least 10:00. Not a cafe, not a coffee shop, not a park…nothing. So, we spent a good 4 hours on Sunday morning just hanging out in our apartment eating cereal, watching movies, and packing up our things.

When it was a reasonable hour to venture out into the world we drove over to the marina to watch the big boats unloading their cargo:
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Our last stop in Dingle was to the Oceanworld Aquarium. It was a small but well-stocked aquarium with sharks, tropical fish, touchable tide pools, genial manta rays and penguins. The penguins were my favorite. They were Gentoo Penguins, a breed found in Antarctica. There was a display near the penguins about Tom Crean, a locally-born County Kerry man who was one of the sailor/explorers on the Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic exploration ship, Endurance. A few weeks ago I read the book about the 1912 exploration, appropriately titled Endurance. Spoiler alert, but Endurance shipwrecks and all of the passengers spend several months floating around on the Antarctic ice floes. The book talks extensively about the seals and Gentoo Penguins that the men encountered and survived off of, so it was fascinating to watch these creatures up close:

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After our morning at the aquarium we walked down the street to a chipper for some fish and chips (or, in my case, chicken and chips!). Then it was time to hit the road and find our way back to Cork. We took a different route on the way home–not so much by choice, but because our SatNav likes to take us on new adventures every day. Instead of driving through the mountain pass we winded our way along the coast on the Wild Atlantic Way. It was a beautiful drive and the two-and-a-half hour journey passed quickly with the boys napping and playing in the back seat.

We had an incredible weekend in Dingle exploring all that the area had to offer.  I count myself blessed that I got to experience such a remarkable piece of God’s creation. And, by the way, I think National Geographic was spot-on: Dingle is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Belfast: From Ships To Sheep

This weekend we took a roadtrip to a foreign country: Northern Ireland. Yes, this is still part of the island of Ireland and, no, there is not a physical border crossing that you pass through (much to my disappointment…I really wanted another stamp in my passport!). Nevertheless, The North is part of the U.K. and is, therefore, a separate country. Our destination this weekend was Belfast, a city rich in history  and conflict. A city, we happily discovered, that is well worth a visit. When we told David that we were going to Belfast, he quickly retorted that he wanted to see “ships and sheep” there (not sure why…guess he just thought that would be cool to see). So, we had our mission set before us: get to Belfast and see ships and sheep.

The drive from Cork to Belfast is just over 4 hours. We loaded up our car with snacks and iPads for the kiddos and left town early Friday morning. We made one stop along the way, just north of Dublin. The Gas Station Oasis (as I’m now referring to it) that we stopped at was amazing–it had shops, restaurants, free wifi, and indoor and outdoor playgrounds for the kids. It was the perfect place to stop, refuel, and get some wiggles out before getting back on the road.
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Our journey went smoothly and both kids did great during the long drive.  We arrived in Belfast at about 2:00, and that’s when the most stressful part of our trip began. First, we missed a turn and got onto a Motorway going the opposite direction of where we needed to be. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be such a big deal but, since we were now in a foreign country, our cell phones weren’t working yet with the local network. Which means that the GPS we were using for navigation went out. And the physical maps we had were not detailed enough for us to find our way out. Which means we were a bit lost.  In the end, Jon’s keen sense of direction got us back on track and we found our destination–a bit frazzled and a bit later than we had hoped to arrive, but all in one piece. And that leads me to our next problem.

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Jon had a Very Important Meeting that he had to attend for work that afternoon at 3:00 (so the driving aimlessly around lost in a city we’ve never been to before really didn’t help things). We had originally thought we could check in to our accommodations in time for the Very Important Meeting so Jon could use the wifi. Unfortunately, our host was out of town until later in the evening and we couldn’t be let in until he got back. Long story short, we found a business center just in the nick of time that Jon could go in and pay (a lot of money) to have a conference room so he could use the wifi and take his phone call for the Very Important Meeting.

Unfortunately for me, I was now stranded in a city I’d never been to before, without a car or navigation, with two hungry and very tired children. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, so I just started walking toward the big buildings that I assumed represented downtown. Thankfully my instincts were right and we quickly found our way to the central train station. We hunkered down at the train station for awhile so we could eat a snack and get our bearings.

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There were lots of maps available at the train station so I picked one up and we headed back out to explore the city. Belfast is a beautiful city. Most of the buildings were built of brick in the mid-1800’s, so everywhere you look there are these rich red-brown buildings towering over you:

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After wandering around the city for awhile we found our way to the waterfront where we watched boats cruising up and down the river (and where the boys could participate in their favorite activity of all time, throwing rocks into water).

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Finally, the Very Important Meeting was over and our host was available to let us in to our house. For me, the house we stayed in was actually one of the coolest parts of our trip. The house was originally owned by Anthony “Artie” Frost. Artie was an engineer for Harland and Wolff, the company responsible for building Titanic right here in Belfast. Artie was a member of the Titanic Guarantee Group, which basically means that Harland and Wolff were so sure their ship was unsinkable that they sent a team of their own engineers to ride on its maiden voyage as a “guarantee” of how sound she was. Artie perished in the sinking of Titanic, leaving behind a wife and three children (and, consequently, his very cool house):

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As we were walking around Belfast we came upon this Titanic memorial at City Hall. On the base of it there is listed every Belfast resident who lost their life on Titanic:

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And right there, 4th name from the top, is our friend Anthony Frost:

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The house was quite spacious. The boys each had their own room on the 3rd floor, we had the master suite on the 2nd floor, and the living space was on the 1st floor.  David and Jacob loved all of the stairs and they had races to see who could slide from the top floor down to the bottom the fastest:

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The view from the landing between the 2nd and 3rd floors of the house was pretty amazing. The house backs up to a church and, if you look into the distance, you can see the yellow gantry cranes of Harland and Wolff that still stand at the same shipyard where Titanic was built. I can just imagine Artie Frost standing here in his house and looking out this window to see the building of this unsinkable ship he had helped to design:

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After we got settled in that night we walked around the neighborhood and found a great little pizzeria for dinner. We were all pretty wiped out from our big day of travel so we just got our pizza to go and brought it back to the house to eat. And then, it was off to sleepy-land for all of us.

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The next morning (Saturday) we started our day in a neighborhood right down the street from where we were staying. Jon and I really wanted to come here because this is where one of our favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, got his start. C.S. Lewis holds a special place in our hearts because Jon and I actually met when we were in college studying one of his books together. We just had to see where the beginning of our beginning was.

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C.S. Lewis was born in this house, “Little Lea”, in 1898. He lived in this house until he joined the service during World War I when he was 19 years old:

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We couldn’t actually go inside the house because it is a private residence, but it was still fun to see it and picture where little C.S. (well, they called him Jack back then) used to roam. C.S. Lewis told his biographer that he used to spend hours upon hours playing in an upstairs room in this house when he was a boy–an empty room with nothing but a wardrobe–and that this was his inspiration for “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”.  Here is a photo that I found in a book in a library in Belfast of C.S. Lewis with his family standing on the front porch of Little Lea when he was a boy (C.S. Lewis is second from the left in this photo, wearing the black outfit):

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After our walk around C.S. Lewis-land we drove into the city for some exploring. We started at Victoria Square, a large shopping center in the heart of the city center. We got some coffee and then made the obligatory stop at the Belfast Apple store. Then we took the lift to the dome at the top of the shopping center where there were some amazing views of the city:

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Our shopping spree continued down the road at St. George’s Market, the oldest public market in Belfast. The market has a very interesting history that is shown in a series of photos that line the walls of the market. Apparently, during the Belfast Blitz of World War II this space was even used as a temporary mortuary to house the bodies of those who perished in the attack.

The Saturday morning market was buzzing with vendors selling everything from produce to meats to spices, baked goods, preserves, artwork, handicrafts, and toys. David got a new stuffed animal there, a hippo that he has named “David Junior”. As an added bonus, the boys also got to pet goats, rabbits, and baby chicks:IMG_2060

From the market we continued on to the Linen Hall Library, the oldest library in Belfast. Books were quite a rarity in Ireland when this library was built in 1788, so it was quite a landmark for its day. The library had a nice children’s area where the boys could play and read, and there was an amazing collection of Irish works on the top floor (including several written by and about our favorite Belfast-born author, C.S. Lewis):

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We spent our afternoon exploring the Titanic Belfast museum. The museum opened about 2 years ago, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. It is a beautiful modern museum with incredible exhibits. The museum is in the dock area of Belfast, on the actual site where Titanic was built in the early 1900’s. The building is even meant to resemble the shape and size of Titanic, so you really get a good idea of how massive the ship would have been:

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We spent several hours exploring the museum. There were lots of interactive exhibits that could engage even the fidgety-est of 3-year olds:

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There was even a ride in the museum that took you through the ship-building process. We got to ride in our own little pod that was suspended from the ceiling, almost like a gondola that went up and down and all around. It was hard to get a good photo on the ride because it was dark and moving, but we all had a great time!

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Wandering through the museum we even came across several places where “our” former house-owner, Anthony Frost, was mentioned:

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After seeing the entire Titanic Museum we decided to continue on to view one more piece of Titanic history, the pump house and docks where Titanic was fitted out for sea. On our way to the docks we passed Titanic Studios, a production studio where the T.V. show “Game of Thrones” is filmed:

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The Pump House (the area that housed machinery for pumping sea water in and out of the docks) was pretty much left exactly how it was in the early 1900’s when Titanic was housed outside its windows.  There were lots of big levers and wheels and buttons that the boys could touch, and lots of loud gangways that they could run (er…walk…) up and down:

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The docks themselves were amazing. Just this huge, huge pit in the ground where enormous ships would have sat until they were ready for sea. This photo shows Titanic sitting in the dock, with the empty dock behind it:
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We were able to go all the way to the bottom of the dock and stand where the bottom of Titanic would have sat. Being in the massive dock with towering walls rising 4 stories above your head gives you an appreciation for the people who would have been down here working on the ship every day. Let’s just say I’m glad that wasn’t my job!

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Suffice it to say, we saw lots of ships and “ship stuff” in Belfast. Alright, David, one down, one to go on the “ships and sheep tour”.

Our final excursion for the day was to drive by the “Peace Walls” that separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast. During The Troubles that scarred this city for nearly 40 years, these walls were erected to keep peace between warring groups of Protestants and Catholics. Even though city officials have tried to take down the walls in recent years, the residents living inside them insist that they remain standing. Many of the walls are covered in colorful murals:

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…and other sections of the walls just look like prison barriers, complete with barbed wire and police watch towers:

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This house even has a cage covering their entire back yard–just in case someone tries to throw a petrol bomb or something over the fence:

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It was crazy to see how some people in this city still live in fear–and even hatred–of their own neighbors.

The next day (Sunday) we made one more stop before heading out of town. We visited a unique “museum” called the Ulster Folk Park on the outskirts of Belfast city. The folk park consists of historical buildings from around Ulster (the region of Northern Ireland where Belfast is located) that have been relocated to the park. Each building was taken apart, stone-by-stone or brick-by-brick, and moved here to the park. The park is set up to look like a city and a rural community in Ulster during the early-1900’s. Guests can wander through the town, go inside the buildings, and even see actors dressed in period costume who demonstrate what life would have been like 100 years ago:

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I enjoyed sitting the boys down in the 1-room school house–boy am I glad I never had to work in one of those! One teacher, up to 100 children aged 6-12, 1 coal-burning fireplace for heat, 1 outhouse, and very few books or learning materials available. At least the pupils were cute:

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There were beautiful old farm houses that we could explore both outside:

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…and inside:
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There was even a man demonstrating how a printing press works–we were all very impressed:

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We found our way out to the “rural” part of the museum where there were working farms. We saw all sorts of animals, including donkeys, chickens, pigs, and SHEEP! Sheep: check.

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Our last stop at the folk park was the town sweet shop so we could pick up some treats for the looooong drive back to Cork. David chose the largest, most ridiculously-colored rainbow lollipop in the store.

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The folk park was huge–we were there for over 3 hours and we still didn’t see everything. Alas, it was time for us to say goodbye to Belfast and hit the road. We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Belfast, and we’d love to come back to Northern Ireland again soon to explore the Northern coast and surrounding areas. For now, though, I think we can leave saying that we saw all that we came to see–even ships and sheep.

Beach Day in Youghal

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This week Jon is away on a business trip in the Ukraine so it’s just me and these two munchkins holding down the fort:

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I wanted to take a special “field trip” this week to help break up the time. We actually got some nice sunny weather in the middle of the week which reminded me of summer which reminded me of the beach…so, we went to the beach! Yes, it’s January and it’s still frigid out there, but the boys were up for the adventure. I decided to check out the beaches in Youghal (pronounced “yawl”) because they’re not too far from our house and I’ve wanted to go back there ever since we visited  the town’s medieval festival in August.

Our day started with a picnic lunch on the beach. Jacob approved.

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After lunch we spent a couple of hours playing on the beach. David had fun digging in the rocks and the sand:

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And the boys made themselves a “house” on top of this rock. David collected a few dozen rocks that he used as the “fire” and the “plates”. Jacob mostly just stomped around destroying everything that David tried to build.

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Once he’d tired of his menacing brother, David moved on to “sand sliding”. He loved climbing up this little sand dune and then jumping and sliding back down.

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After we’d had our fill of beach fun we decided to drive through the town before heading back home. Youghal is an ancient walled city and there are still some pretty cool relics from its medieval past.

We drove through this, Youghal’s clock gate. It was built in 1563 on the former site of Trinity Castle, one of the five principle gates into the walled city during the late 14th century.

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As we continued down the road we passed Tynte’s Castle. Now set among shops and restaurants on the main street of Youghal, Tynte’s Castle is a 15th century urban tower house–the last tower house that remains in Youghal today.

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Finally, we came upon the crowning glory of the medieval town: the town wall.

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The Youghal town wall was built in 1250 and it is the second-longest surviving stretch of town wall in Ireland. The sections of wall that still remain stretch for about 1 Kilometer–not bad for a fortress nearing its 800th birthday!

We had a grand time climbing to the top of the wall and peering out through the windows where guards used to patrol with bows and arrows.

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The view wasn’t too shabby, either:

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And, since David’s newest obsession is the Disney movie Tangled, we had to check out the tower to see if Rapunzel was hiding out inside (she wasn’t).

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After walking along the top of the wall we decided to climb back down and see what was on the other side. Just inside the wall is St. Mary’s Collegiate Church and Cemetery. What? A medieval cemetery? I just had to see this.

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While we were wandering through the cemetery we came upon this section of the medieval wall. See the coffin-shaped cutout in the stone work? A coffin actually used to reside there. This was the former location of the “pauper’s coffin”. When someone too poor for a proper burial would die, their family would first put their body into the pauper’s coffin. Then the body would be wrapped in a shroud, buried, and the pauper’s coffin would be returned to the wall for the next body. Craaaaazy.

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From the cemetery we continued down into St. Mary’s Church. The first church built on this site was a monastic settlement in the year 450. The church that stands today was begun in the year 750 and completed in 1220. The original Irish Oak roof is still intact and the timbers have been carbon dated to the year 1170–which means the roof was constructed before saw mills were even invented. Somebody (rather, somebodies) went out into the woods with an axe, cut down giant trees, and hewed each piece by hand to an exact size and shape before fitting it into the roof.  It’s incredible, really. And the church is beautiful–stained glass windows, intricate stone work, and fascinating tombs line the walls.

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After exploring the church it was time to go home. As we were heading out of town we passed by this restaurant, The Old Thatch. This restaurant has been in business since 1662. People have been drinking beer here since about the time the Mayflower set sail for the New World. I wanted to go in for a snack but, seeing as both boys had already conked out in the back seat of the car, I decided it was best to just keep driving.

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It was a wonderful day exploring with my two little sweeties. And now we’re one day closer to Daddy coming home!

7 Tips and Tricks for Parents Traveling With Littles

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We recently returned from an epic family vacation to London and Paris. We brought along our children: Little Guy (age 3) and Tiny Guy (age 1) and, not only did we survive, but we actually enjoyed our time together. Here are a few reasons why our trip went as smoothly as it did:

1. Bring help.

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I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner, but having a helper along for the ride can make all the difference when you’re traveling with young children. We brought our family friend, 14-year old Jillian, on this last vacation and it was amazing. Incredible. Fantastic. Really, really wonderful. Not only was she an extra set of hands and eyes while we were navigating busy cities, but she was also an at-the-ready babysitter. Having a helper allowed us to have extra hours (sans-children) every day to explore and to go out for grown-up excursions. Ask around, and you just may have a friend or grandma or auntie of your own who will happily accompany your family for free room and board!

2. Allow routines to be broken.

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When we are at home, I am a strict routine follower. When we are traveling, though, I make allowances. We try to keep to a rough schedule, but the nature of travel is that things are just…different. So, we encourage our kids to nap in the stroller instead of in their beds and we also allow a bit–ok, a LOT–more screen time than we would at home. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

3.  Choose family-friendly lodging.

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We love, love, love airbnb.com for family lodging. We were able to find 3-bedroom apartments with full kitchens (saving us loads of time, money and stress at meal times) and laundry facilities (because little kids require laundry duty even on vacation) for less than most 2-star hotel rooms in the cities we visited. Our apartments didn’t have pools or spas or room service, but they sure were more comfortable for our family–and, in the end, that’s all that really mattered.

4.  Make time for the kids.

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I was tempted to pack a million excursions into our travel itinerary, but I managed to hold myself back (a bit) so we could make some time for the smaller half of our family. Time every day where we just hung out and did kid stuff. Travel can be rough on little ones, so I tried to make sure there were downtimes for the kids (and kids-at-heart) to just be kids.

Otherwise, you just might start to go a bit crazy…

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5. Pack the right gear.

There are a few baby items that we had with us on this trip that I could not have lived without. First, this little pop-up travel crib tent by Sun Essentials:

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Our little guy loved his tent and the only reason he looks sad in the photo is because I took him out of the tent to take his picture. There is a blow up mattress that zips into the bottom of the tent, so it’s actually very comfortable and cozy. And, the best part is, it folds down into a little bag that you can stuff into your suitcase.

Another essential travel item is a great baby transportation device. We had an Ergo baby carrier and a double Phil and Ted’s stroller–both of which we used every single day. When you are spending hours and hours wandering around every day, it’s helpful to have a good way to get your kids from point A to point B. It’s also very helpful to have a buff husband who can carry said stroller down to undergound subway tunnels and up to the top of the Eiffel Tower on his back.

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6. Keep a close watch on valuables.

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This is Mimi. She is my 3-year old son’s best friend and, I recently discovered, the woman he hopes to marry some day. He loves her dearly. And we nearly lost her forever. We had Mimi with us one night as we were walking around London. Somehow baby brother got a hold of the monkey and, without any of us knowing, he threw her right out of the stroller onto the dark street. An older woman literally chased us down through the streets of London just to return Mimi–I think she is my guardian angel because I seriously would never be able to live with myself if we lost Mimi in a foreign country. Lesson learned: keep a close watch on your valuables.

7. Splurge for some extras if it makes your life easier.

We had the option of traveling to and from the airports on public transportation. You see, we could have taken the above-ground train to the M8 subway to the M3 subway to the 216 bus and arrived at our apartment 3 hours later. Or, for twice the cost, we could have a guy meet us at the airport baggage claim and drive us (and our 5,000 bags) to the front door of our apartment in 30 minutes. We chose the guy at the airport. And do you know why? Because it is never worth it to drag two children under the age of 3 and 5,000 bags through 4 modes of public transportation just to save a buck. Never. If you can afford a family vacation, you can afford a taxi. Just do it. The kids may even enjoy the ride.

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So, there you have it. Travel with little kids is possible, maybe even enjoyable. I wouldn’t trade this trip or the memories we made together for anything.

Well, except for maybe a quiet week on a secluded beach in the Bahamas. Sorry, kids, looks like the next vacations is just for Mommy and Daddy 🙂

* For more practical tips for traveling with kids, read my posts on pre-travel arrangements, getting through the airport, and surviving your flight

I’ve Seen London, I’ve Seen France


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We just returned from an epic vacation: 2 weeks with 2 little kids in 2 different countries.  One of the main reasons we wanted to move to Ireland was for the opportunity to travel and see places we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see, and this vacation was the first of several that we hope to take in the next 2 years. Our trip included visits to London and Paris–must-see cities on any European travel itinerary.

This was the longest vacation we’ve ever taken (see, we really are embracing the European way of life!) and it was…incredible. The boys traveled great, everyone stayed (mostly) healthy, we saw incredible sites, we ate delicious food, we had great accommodations, and we all had fun. Really–lots and lots of fun. While we were planning this trip I actually had a lot of anxiety about how the boys would do and how we would manage the logistics of a trip this big. And, in the end, it was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had (proof again that worrying is never worth it).

One of the biggest reasons this trip was so successful was because of this girl. Meet Jillian:

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Jillian is a family friend of ours (and one of our all-time favorite babysitters) from our church in Seattle. She flew all the way out here to help us with our kids on our trip. Jillian’s mom works for an airline, so she was able to get a killer deal on a plane ticket–plus, I think she was just a little bit excited about the prospect of an all-inclusive trip through Europe!–so we pulled some strings and got her out to Europe. It was great having an extra set of hands and eyes as we were traversing the cities and she also provided babysitting for us so that Jon and I could go out and do some exploring on our own. It was so, so very wonderful. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll ever be able to travel without a helper again. Thank you, thank you for everything, Jillian!

London:

We began our trip in London. Here we are in front of Buckingham Palace. Jon and I both agreed that the palace itself was not quite what we’d expected. I had pictured this big palace set apart from the city with beautiful grounds for us to meander, but no. The palace is right smack in the middle of a busy intersection in downtown London, surrounded by busy streets and people walking by at all hours. It was beautiful, just not quite as grand and serene as I had imagined.

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We did get to watch the spectacle of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. There were bands and horses and fancy soldiers marching around. The whole thing lasted about an hour, so we sat there and ate our lunch while the guards did their thing.

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While we were at Buckingham Palace we also visited the Royal Mews (the stables where they keep all of the royal horses and carriages). This is one of several royal carriages that was on display–definitely fit for a king!

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After visiting Buckingham Palace we walked down the street to Westminster Abbey, one of the largest, oldest, most fascinating churches in Europe. This is the church where Wills and Kate and Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married. It’s also where many famous people are buried. In addition to almost every monarch to ever set foot on the British throne, many “commoners” have found their final resting place here: Charles Darwin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charlotte Bronte, Winston Churchill, and Handel to name a few. I like this photo of me with Westminster Abbey because it’s so very London: the Abbey, a red phone booth, and a double-decker bus.

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Since our first day in London was a “grown up day”, the next day was a “kid day” . We visited the London Zoo,  a beautiful zoo and one of the largest that we’ve ever been to. We spent all day exploring the zoo and watching the animals. In addition to the standard zoo animals, there were some pretty unique ones: Okapi (a cousin of the zebra), camels, a pygmy hippo (David’s favorite animal by far), and huge Galapagos tortoises (disclaimer: David is not sitting on a real turtle, but they were really that big!).

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We got to be quite the experts at navigating the public transportation systems in both cities on this trip. While the subways came frequently and got you anywhere in the city within minutes, we found them a bit difficult to navigate with a stroller. You see, subways are underground. And to get underground you go down stairs. Lots and lots and lots of stairs. And then, when you arrive at your destination, you have to get back above ground. And that means–you guessed it!–lots and lots of stairs.  Luckily Jon is like the Incredible Hulk when it comes to lifting and we managed just fine (minus a few thrown-out backs–collateral damage, I guess).

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Another highlight of our time in London was Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.  The original Globe Theater burnt down hundreds of years ago when the actors shot a real cannon during a performance, but the theater that stands today gives you a pretty good idea of what it would have been like. They still perform Shakespeare plays in the theater, but seeing as it was the middle of November and we had two rascally boys with us, we decided to play it safe and just do the theater tour. The tour was informative and entertaining. And now, for some reason, I just want to read Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet…

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From The Globe we walked onward to see more of the city. We found London Bridge which, to my great disappointment, is just a bridge. Not a fancy bridge or a beautiful bridge or a quaint old bridge. Just a bridge with 5 lanes of traffic driving over it. At least it wasn’t falling down.

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Not too far away, though, there is a bridge that is actually worth seeing: Tower Bridge. This is the one you picture when you think of iconic London landmarks:

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At the base of Tower Bridge is the Tower of London. The Tower of London is not a tower at all–it is a huge, sprawling castle with lots of towers and lots of history. The Tower of London was the royal castle of the British monarchy for several centuries. Today, visitors can go inside the castle to explore the bedrooms, throne rooms, secret passages and even the dungeon.

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This is also where the Crown Jewels are on display–they even have special jewel guards here called “Beefeaters” (not sure where the name came from, but they were all very cute in their fancy uniforms).  It was quite fascinating to see all those glittering  jewels and gold, and to picture how they would look on top of my head if Wills had chosen me instead of Kate (I have to say, though, I think we all fared better the way things worked out).

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One of the best perks of having our helper on this trip was that Jon and I were able to go out on several dates. We had lovely (quiet) dinners, stayed up until grown-up hours exploring the city, and even took in some shows. Our favorite date of the entire trip, though, would have to be riding on the London Eye. The Eye is a huge ferris wheel with pods instead of seats. One rotation takes about 45-minutes, so you get to see a lot of the city from a unique perspective. It was so fun to see all of the glittering lights of London as we rode up in the sky. Really spectacular.

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Our last day in London was a free day: all of the attractions we went to were free and open to the public (a notion that we welcomed with open arms after realizing how stinking expensive everything is in London). We started the day at the Natural History Museum. It is a HUGE museum with many different sections to explore.

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Our favorite part of the Natural History Museum was the dinosaur exhibit. There were several full dinosaur skeletons on display, and Jacob even got a birds-eye view of them:

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After a few hours in the museum we needed some fresh air, so we headed over to Hyde Park. The boys had fun playing on the playground and throwing rocks in the lake. It was a beautiful day to walk around and spend some time outside.

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Our final stop of the day was a giant toy store called Hamley’s. It’s 5-stories tall and there are oodles of toys to play with. We ended up spending over 3 hours in the toy store and, sticking to my guns on the whole “free day” thing, we didn’t buy a single toy. The boys were so tired at this point, though, that I don’t think they even noticed.

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London was incredible, and we all agreed that we must return soon. For now, though, it was time to move on to Paris.

Paris:

We rode the Eurostar train from London to Paris through the Chunnel. It was a pretty quick ride (less than 2 hours) and I actually didn’t even notice when we went through the Chunnel. I guess we were just going fast (or I was just out of it, which I probably was).

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For our first day in Paris, we made a beeline for the biggest Paris attraction of all: the Eiffel Tower. There it was, in all it’s majesty, just as grand as you think it is. We posed for some nice photos to prove that we really were in Paris:

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And then Jon did what we’d kinda been wanting to do all week:

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(Don’t worry, Grandma Doreen, the boys were laughing the whole time and no children were harmed in the process of taking this photo)

After waiting in a very long, VERY cold line, we took the elevator all the way to the top deck of the Eiffel tower. We even celebrated our time in Paris with a champagne toast at the top of the tower:

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The view from the top of the tower is spectacular. It was a bit cloudy on the day we were there, but you could still see for miles. It was amazing being able to see the whole (gigantic) city from one spot.

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The next day we headed over to another Paris landmark: The Louvre Museum.

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It was, shall we say, interesting navigating an art museum with two small children. But we were determined, and we made it happen. We may or may not have snuck the boys snacks in the “no food allowed” areas, we may have allowed David to watch a movie on the iPad instead of marveling at the world’s greatest masterpieces, and I may have timed our trip so that Jacob was exhausted and fell asleep shortly after our arrival. At any rate, we had a successful 3-hour tour of the Louvre.

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The building itself is incredible–the walls, the floors, even the ceilings are pieces of art in themselves:

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And, of course, there is plenty of “real” art to look at, too. Like this little piece you may have heard of, the Mona Lisa:

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Mona Lisa was interesting to see just because, well, it’s the Mona Lisa. Other than it being famous, though, Mona Lisa isn’t all that impressive. One of my favorite pieces in the whole museum is this painting that is on the wall directly across from Mona Lisa. It’s a HUGE painting of the Biblical scene where Jesus turns water into wine. Standing in front of the painting you feel small, like you are actually a part of the painting itself. It’s all very cool.

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Another stand-out piece in the museum is this mummy. He’s an actual Egyptian mummy, thousands of years old and still fully intact. Craaaaaaazy….

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Since we visited the Louvre on a Wednesday, they were open late until 9:30. After dinner we dropped the boys and Jillian off at our apartment so Jon and I could return for some child-free time at the museum. It was great to have a bit of time to wander the halls and not worry about who needed to eat or where we could find a potty NOW. It was also nice to break up the visit a bit–there’s only so much art museum you can handle in one go.

The next day we visited Notre Dame Cathedral. It was every bit as huge and beautiful and incredible as you think it is.

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We (and by we, I mean me and Jon. No kiddos on this one.) also climbed hundreds of stairs to the top Napoleon’s great monument, the Arc de Triomphe.

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Jon and I also had a date out at the infamous Moulin Rouge. This was both what we expected, and not what we expected. Long story short, you need a reservation (which we did not have),  despite offering children’s tickets this is NOT a child-appropriate venue (good thing we left ours at home with Jillian!), and the show is actually quite spectacular when you get past the risque attire of the performers.

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The most unusual place we visited in Paris was the Paris Catacombs. Hundreds of years ago, the Parisians realized that their graveyards were getting full and something needed to be done. There were already miles and miles of underground quarries in the city, so they decided to move all of the bones into the quarries to create the catacombs. The bones are all stacked and arranged beautifully (can you say that about bones?). The catacombs go on for miles through all of these underground passageways–it’s really crazy to see!

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We spent some time later in the week doing some kid stuff. We visited a children’s museum within the City of Science and Industry (a huge complex of museums and fairgrounds). This was an incredible children’s museum, designed specifically for kids aged 2-5, and the boys (my husband included) had a blast! We probably could have spent all week there, it was that good.

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We also went to a huge children’s park called Jardin d’Acclimatation. There were animals, playgrounds, a children’s theater, a water park (we’ll have to return when it’s warmer!) and even a little train that you can ride on.

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There were also carnival rides, and David insisted that he had to ride on the cars. Here he is driving his little truck, in all his bundled-up glory:

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Our final day in Paris was spent taking a River Seine boat tour.

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The boat tour took us past all of the famous Paris landmarks and gave us a different perspective on the city.

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And, then, just like that, our vacation was over. Two weeks flew by at lightning speed–good thing we took (literally) tens of thousands of photos to remember everything! Our time in London and Paris was amazing–so many incredible things to see and do and experience. We will cherish all of the memories of this trip for the rest of our lives.

Until next time, bon voyage!

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P.S. We learned a few tips and tricks for traveling with little kids while we were on this trip. Check out my post here for some insight on how we managed the madness!

Dublin, Day 5: Viking Museum and Kilmainham Gaol (Jail)

Today was our last full day in Dublin–tomorrow morning we will get up early and go collect our weary dog from her overseas travel (poor thing, she didn’t even know what she was getting herself into joining our jet-setting family). There were still several attractions we wanted to see but, alas, time was running out.

First thing this morning we walked down to a restaurant my fellow traveler-friends have been raving about: Queen Of Tarts.

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And now I see why. The shop sells every sort of baked scrumptiousness that you could ever hope to find in one space. For a sweets addict like myself, this place could be big trouble if I lived close enough to visit every day (because I’m pretty sure I would go there just about every day). This morning We all had raspberry scones with raspberry preserves and cream. They were simply divine.

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After breakfast we walked across the street to Dublinia , a Viking and Medieval museum. Since Jon comes from Viking lineage, he really wanted to learn a bit more about his barbarous ancestors and their role in Irish history.

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The museum was really great. There were lots of interactive exhibits and period actors who kept things engaging for even the squirreliest of toddlers (mine). David got dig for Viking artifacts, sit in Medieval gallows, and try on Viking helmets.

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When we’d had our fill of Viking paraphernalia, we walked down the block to Dublin Castle. Dublin Castle was built in about 1200 and it was later used as the seat of British rule in Ireland until the 1920’s. It is now a major Irish government complex.

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We looked into going on a tour of the castle, but the wait was several hours. In my experience, waiting and little boys don’t typically go well together, so we counted our losses and moved on.

Our next destination was the Kilmainham Gaol (Jail). The gaol was built in 1796 and housed many of Ireland’s most notorious criminals (and loads of other people who did terrible things like steal bread when they were starving…). Several leaders of Irish rebellions were imprisoned–and executed–here.

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We were able to snag spots on one of the last tours of the day. When we purchased our tickets we were forewarned that if our kids were being disruptive during the tour that we’d be locked in a cell and left overnight.

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Just kidding (kinda). Thankfully Jacob fell asleep in the Ergo halfway through the tour and we kept David busy with videos on my iPhone so we could actually make it through one whole tour on this trip. Hey, don’t judge. It worked.

The iPhone came in handy again after our tour when we boarded our bus back home. We barely managed to squeeze on to the overcrowded hop-on, hop-off tour bus–it was so full that we literally put David up on a shelf. He was seated between some boxes of tour pamphlets and a nice Swiss woman (who also managed to find a perch up on David’s shelf. Did I mention those dang “convenient” tour buses were crowded?). Anyway, Nice Swiss Lady let David play with her iPhone the whole 30-minute ride back to our bus stop. She taught David how to use this ridiculous app that makes all sorts of obnoxious sounds. David, of course, loved it.

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And just like that, our whirlwind tour of Dublin was over. We had many new experiences, a few incidents that I’d like to forget, and many great moments. I’m glad that we live close enough to return to Dublin some day, because it really is a wonderful city.

Until next time, Dublin!

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