Europe Trip: Skanzen

Europe Trip: Skanzen

The boys posing next to the sculpture outside of Skanzen.

The boys posing next to the sculpture outside of Skanzen.

David’s aunt Kati is a teacher and for years she has taken her class on a field trip to this awesome museum called Skanzen not far north of Budapest in Szentendre. It is an open air ethnographic museum examining village and farm life from the 18th to early 20th centuries. It is so much more than your standard brick and mortar museum. They currently have close to 400 reconstructed buildings (they actually take the buildings from villages and reassemble them at the museum just as they had been in the village) and several hands on activities for kids. The boys had a wonderful time learning how to tool leather and how to making key chains.

Kati showing off Skanzen.

Kati showing off Skanzen.

Watching the leather demonstration and Skanzen's wind mill.

Watching the leather demonstration and Skanzen’s wind mill.

This kind gentleman was demonstrating  how to tool leather.

This kind gentleman was demonstrating how to tool leather.

Little Man was excited to watch Big Guy make his key chain.

Little Man was excited to watch Big Guy make his key chain.

Story time with lamb puppets. David translated for me and Mat as the lady told the story.

Story time with lamb puppets. David translated for me and Mat as the lady told the story.

These bee hives were on display at a bee keeper's home.

These bee hives were on display at a bee keeper’s home.

Skanzen has a large restaurant by the main entrance and a few places where you can buy refreshments, but you have to be on the lookout because several exhibits have small bites that you can sample (we tried both a traditional Hungarian bread and a gingerbread). The boys decided that their favorite area was the Great Plains exhibit. I’m pretty sure this was thanks in large part to the working bakery that sells traditional Hungarian pastries. I can assure you that we purchased and consumed more than our fair share of baked goods that day!

The bakery (our favorite spot)

The bakery (our favorite spot)

Walking through one of the regional exhibits.

Walking through one of the regional exhibits.

The boys praying in one of the churches (this one was tiny).

The boys praying in one of the churches (this one was tiny).

The museum paints a clear picture of what it would have been like living in the villages more than 100 years ago. You get to see how homes were laid out and decorated and volunteers help explain how a family would have lived depending on what part of Hungary they were from and what sort of job they had within the community. We were even encouraged to sample fruits growing on the fruit trees. It was cherry season, so David was in Heaven!

A cherry tree full of fruit.

A cherry tree full of fruit.

Outside of the blacksmith's shop.

Outside of the blacksmith’s shop.

Using one of the blacksmith's tools.

Using one of the blacksmith’s tools.

Mat decided that he liked this house the best.

Mat decided that he liked this house the best.

And this is the one my guys picked.

And this is the one my guys picked.

Posing in one of the regions.

Posing in one of the regions.

Big Guy too.

Big Guy too.

The museum is huge and can easily tie up a whole day but if you’re in Budapest with kids or if you like history this might be the perfect place for you. In addition to their permanent exhibits, they also have great temporary exhibits, a cool shop with souvenirs that you won’t find anywhere else and festivals throughout the year.

Of course, the horses were a hit with Big Guy (he asks for one nearly every day)

Of course, the horses were a hit with Big Guy (he asks for one nearly every day)

There were a bunch of piglets resting in the mud.

There were a bunch of piglets resting in the mud.

The boys enjoyed all of the hands on experiences.

The boys enjoyed all of the hands on experiences.

One last shot of my main guy.

One last shot of my main guy.

Things I Love: November

Things I Love: November

I know, I know. We’re more than halfway through November so this is a more than a little late. I had a hard time narrowing down the things I love this month but I’ve finally done it! I’m seriously obsessing over every item on this list. I hope you like them as well!

Jennifers November Picks

1. Elements of Style:  I don’t know a single person in college who did not own at least one tattered copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (I clearly hung with the Humanities/Arts crowd – I’m not sure this was a huge hit in the science and math departments). If you were going to take any sort of writing class you needed three things:  a dictionary, a thesaurus and The Elements of Style. So, when a friend told me that her favorite new read was Elements of Style, I thought she had gone off her rocker. I mean, sure the book was a great reference and all but I couldn’t quite see it being anyone’s favorite thing to read. She laughed, explaining that Elements of Style is a lifestyle blog written by Interior Designer Erin Gates. I checked out the blog and was hooked instantly. That was a few years ago. This year Erin came out with her first book, Elements of Style: Designing a Home and a Life.  I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical at first – There have already been a lot of great bloggers that have attempted to put out a book and most of them have fallen flat. Honestly, no one wants a hard copy regurgitation of what has already been published on a blog. I was skeptical, but hopeful that maybe this one might be different. It is. The book is full of beautiful images (that haven’t already been plastered all over her blog), sound design advice (like seriously useful information, not just “advice” meant to build herself up and show how she knows so much more about design than you do – there are a lot of those design books out there, thankfully this isn’t one of them), personal essays on life’s struggles and a voice that is so relatable you feel like you’re sitting down for a chat with a close friend. It is written in a way that even someone with absolutely no design experience can understand what she is talking about yet fascinating enough that seasoned designers will appreciate what she has to say. I cannot tell you how rare that is. Ms. Gates clearly put in a lot of hard work and effort into the book and it has paid off. Elements of Style is beyond perfect for anyone that has an interest in interior design – professional or not.

2. The Nudes by Maybelline: I am always on the lookout for a great eye shadow palette that looks natural and blends well. Usually a palette will have one or two good shadows, but the rest never get used. Not so with this one. The Nudes by Maybelline has great options for everyday makeup and others that are perfect for nighttime looks and every single color is useable.

3. Maleficent: This film tells the story of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty from the iconic villain’s point of view. I didn’t get around to seeing it in the theater and I wasn’t planning on buying it on DVD until my kids watched it ON Demand with my parents last week and have not stopped talking about it since. I seriously haven’t seen them excited about a movie in a very long time and for two little boys that are constantly refusing to watch what they have deemed “girl movies” I was surprised that something so female-centric has made them this excited. Big Guy seriously deemed it one of the best movies he has ever seen and both boys put it on their Christmas wish lists. Maleficent comes up in conversation at least once a day and usually a lot more. And when they watch it, they really watch it. They don’t just half-watch while fighting with each other or playing on their iPads. I judge movies based on how well they hold my kid’s attention and this passes that test with flying colors.

4. Starbucks Chestnut Praline Latte: Pumpkin spiced latte who? This drink takes the cake. I’m not generally one for coffee drinks with syrup or sugar (give me a café latte or iced latte any day of the week – nonfat and unsweetened of course), but this is a rare treat. You might not catch me drinking it every day but it is great for those nights when you’re decorating the Christmas tree or going out to see Christmas lights.  According to the Starbucks website the Chestnut Praline Latte is: “Espresso, steamed milk, and flavors of caramelized chestnuts and spices. Topped with whipped cream and spiced praline crumbs.” I leave off the whipped cream and praline crumbs but the effect is still delicious.  This drink has a great Christmas-y feel (like chestnuts roasting on an open fire) and it has a certain European flair that is reminiscent of the dessert coffees I’ve had in Hungary. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up (I just have to be sure to hide it from Big Guy or he will chug the whole thing).

5. Snack Factory White Chocolate and Peppermint Pretzel Chips: These are like crack. I cannot open a bag when I’m alone or I will eat the whole thing. THE WHOLE THING! Not kidding. It is probably a good thing for my waist line that they are limited edition. They make me giddy like Will Ferrell in Elfwhen he’s talking about the North Pole. They are salty, sweet and covered in crushed candy canes. Need I say more?

6. Supergoop! CC Cream: This was one of my fantastic Birchbox finds. It is the best! CC stands for Color Correct and It is a bit heavier than a BB Cream (BB = Beauty Balm) but it isn’t as nearly as heavy as a foundation. It is perfect for everyday wear and it actually lasts all day, which I love. Supergoop! CC Cream comes in three different colors (I get the light-medium) and the color is self-adjusting so just minutes after putting it on it seamlessly blends into your face. And did I mention it has SPF 35? You will look like yourself but better.

Europe Trip: Budapest and Challengeland

Europe Trip: Budapest and Challengeland

challengeland11

We spent the day in Budapest with David’s cousin, Ákos, his wife Valerie and their son who is not only one of Big Guy and Little Man’s cousins, he is also one of their best buddies. After strolling around the mall for a bit and having lunch while our car window was being fixed (Ákos knew a guy that could fix it – and for a lot less money than they had wanted in Italy), Ákos asked if we wanted to visit an adventure park with a ropes course. It was no surprise that Big Guy and Mat were on board immediately, but I was surprised at the enthusiasm both Little Man and David expressed, especially considering David’s substantial fear of heights.

David and Mat getting ready to go on the ropes course.

David and Mat getting ready to go on the ropes course.

Big Guy, Best Buddy and Little Man listening to instructions.

Big Guy, Best Buddy and Little Man listening to instructions.

The three amigos before they started their journey.

The three amigos before they started their journey.

Challengeland Kalandpálya is located in Budapest’s 12th district (on the Buda side) and it is in the middle of a densely wooded area that makes you feel as though you are deep into the forest when you’re actually still in the middle of the city. Valerie and I weren’t exactly dressed for a ropes course (they don’t really consider flip flops – or any other type of sandal for that matter– to be proper footwear) so we chose to watch and follow the little boys around. Watching actually turned out to be pretty fun albeit a bit hands on. This was especially true when it came to Little Man, who was absolutely terrified yet determined to finish the course. At one point I told Little Man that he was very brave and he said, “No I’m not, Mommy. I’m so scared.” I explained that being scared but still doing it anyway was exactly what made him so brave. It isn’t bravery if you aren’t scared.

Little Man doing the course.

Little Man doing the course.

Little man being brave

Little man being brave

Big Guy and Best Buddy rest on a platform in between challenges.

Big Guy and Best Buddy rest on a platform in between challenges.

Best Buddy got the hang of things quickly.

Best Buddy got the hang of things quickly.

Little Man lives for this kind of adventure.

Big Guy lives for this kind of adventure.

This is one of those rare moments that he actually looks back to make sure I'm watching.

This is one of those rare moments that he actually looks back to make sure I’m watching.

Little Man was only big enough to do the smallest course, but Big Guy and Best Buddy were tall enough that they could go a lot higher and after mastering the first few courses, one of the instructors actually walked them through a far more difficult course that took them a bit out of their comfort zone. Despite being incredibly high in the air, they were not nearly as concerned as Valerie and I were. If the little guys were a bit out of their comfort level, the big guys were way out of theirs. They completed their first course with no problem at all so they decided to skip a few levels and go straight to one of the harder courses since we didn’t have much time before the park was closing. They got about half way through the course and really wanted to quit, but there was no way they could do it without retracing their steps, which they felt was out of the question. Their only other option (aside from falling) was sucking it up and finishing the course. They worked together as a team coaching and encouraging each other all the way to the finish. Each guy had a look of absolute relief as he repelled down his final rope. If you are an adventurous person, this might be right up your alley.

This is David right around the time they started wondering what they had gotten themselves into.

This is David right around the time they started wondering what they had gotten themselves into.

Here he is looking relieved that he has made it to a platform.

Here he is looking relieved that he has made it to a platform.

All three guys agreed that this challenge was one of the worst

All three guys agreed that this challenge was one of the worst

Meanwhile, Valerie and I watched as the younger boys were having the time of their lives.

Meanwhile, Valerie and I watched as the younger boys were having the time of their lives.

This is so his idea of a good time.

This is so his idea of a good time.

Their final descent.

Their final descent.

They were so ready to be done.

They were so ready to be done.

Free!

Free!

Europe Trip: Lake Balaton

Europe Trip: Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton - Yes, it really is that blue

Lake Balaton – Yes, it really is that blue

David’s aunt and uncle have a weekend retreat in Balatonfüred which is located on the north shore of Lake Balaton (Hungarians simply call it Balaton) and they insisted that we stay at least one night and enjoy life on the waterfront.  They took us out to dinner at a charming lakeside restaurant along the Tagore Promenade called Borcsa Étterem (étterem simply means “restaurant” in Hungarian). Our food was phenomenal, the views beautiful and the service wonderful. I cannot recommend this place highly enough.

Sitting down to dinner

Sitting down to dinner

Dédi with David’s aunt, Kati and uncle, Bandi

Dédi with David’s aunt, Kati and uncle, Bandi

Bandi and David

Bandi and David

After dinner Dédi returned to Budapest with David’s aunt and uncle while David, Mat and Big Guy all took to the water for a swim. Little Man was still feeling a bit under the weather so the two of us stuck to the shore. They had a great playground and I was proud when Little Man was able to use his Hungarian language skills to befriend two adorable sisters who were playing on the nearby swings. We enjoyed the beach (which is known as a “strand” in Hungarian) until after sunset and then we picked up some water and snacks before returning to the apartment where we watched American movies dubbed in Hungarian on TV before drifting off to sleep. We had been going like crazy on our road trip up until this point so it was nice to have a night of nothing but relaxation.

The big boys (and Big Guy ) enjoying the water

The big boys (and Big Guy ) enjoying the water – it is really warm

Little Man dipped his toes in the water, but decided to stay dry.

Little Man dipped his toes in the water, but decided to stay dry.

Playing on the playground

Playing on the playground

Europe Trip: Vienna

Europe Trip: Vienna

vienna

Our original itinerary for our Europe trip did not include Austria, but I am so glad that we tacked it on. Aside from Payerbach, the place I most wanted to see was Vienna. David had to make reservations for a hotel in Vienna on the go and our lodgings were some of the most interesting of our trip. David booked a “suite” in a hotel in the middle of the city. When we arrived we were surprised at the number of young people going in and out of our hotel. David assured us that it was a legitimate hotel and not a youth hostel and even showed us the hotels.com listing. He booked a room for six with three double beds, except in Austria apparently “double beds” means bunk beds.  That explained all of the young people! Both little boys immediately claimed top bunk spots and then David had to spend several minutes reassuring Dédi that it was totally safe to sleep under Mat and that the bunk beds weren’t going to collapse (this actually involved pointing out exactly how many screws were holding the beds together and David physically showing her that no matter how hard he tried to shake them, the beds would not move. Meanwhile, the little guys were celebrating saying that it was the, “Coolest hotel ever.”

The view driving into Vienna

The view driving into Vienna

We've arrived!

We’ve arrived!

Dédi's reaction was priceless!

Dédi’s reaction was priceless!

Happy boys.

Happy boys.

Morning getting ready to go on our tour of Vienna

Morning getting ready to go on our tour of Vienna

Another view of the room

Another view of the room

It took a bit of convincing to get them to leave the bunk beds behind.

It took a bit of convincing to get them to leave the bunk beds behind.

After a great night’s sleep, in the surprisingly comfortable bunks, we set off to explore the city of Vienna., which is also known as the “City of Music.”  We had breakfast at Starbucks solely so I could get the Starbucks Austria mug to add to my collection. I have matching mugs from Colorado, California, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Budapest and Hungary – they have one that says just “Budapest” and another that says just “Hungary,” sort of like the “California” and “Los Angeles” mugs. Unfortunately they were all out of the mugs that read “Vienna” so I’ll have to try to get it on my next visit.

David takes candid shots at the most random moments.

David takes candid shots at the most random moments.

Breakfasting in Starbucks

Breakfasting in Starbucks

After breakfast, David was ready to explore the city.

After breakfast, David was ready to explore the city.

Vienna is filled with gorgeous landmarks and museums (and some of the coolest architecture in Europe) and one day is not enough time to see everything (not even close).  We concentrated most of our time in and around the Hofburg Palace, which had been the primary winter residence of the Hapsburg dynasty (the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and it currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria (it also houses the Austrian National Library and the Imperial Treasury, among many other things – the complex is huge). I could have spent the entire day touring the gardens alone (they now serve as a public park).

Hofburg Palace from the gardens

Hofburg Palace from the gardens

Mat in front of the Mozart statue in the Hofburg Gardens and the Vienna City Hall

Mat in front of the Mozart statue in the Hofburg Gardens and the Vienna City Hall

Little man was still not feeling great so I carried him most of the day

Little man was still not feeling great so I carried him most of the day

Little Man pointing out the swords and shield motif in the Hofburg Palace architecture

Little Man pointing out the swords and shield motif in the Hofburg Palace architecture

Hofburg Palace

Hofburg Palace

More of the Palace and the Lions out front

More of the Palace and the Lions out front

Hofburg Palace Statues

Hofburg Palace Statues

Once inside the gates of the palace we found ourselves witnessing first-hand the welcoming ceremony of a top dignitary from Armenia (we got conflicting reports on whether it was the president or the prime minister). The boys were excited to see such pomp and circumstance from their front row seats and they especially enjoyed hearing the military band.

Ceremony welcoming the Armenian Diplomat

Ceremony welcoming the Armenian Dignitary

David under the Saint Michael Gate

David under the Saint Michael Gate

Dédi really wanted to see the Sisi Museum which is an exhibit dedicated to Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Our tickets to get inside also covered a tour of the Kaiserappartements (The Imperial Apartments) and the Silver and China Collection. I was actually surprised by how much the little guys enjoyed this part of the tour. Part of it may have been because it was so hot outside and the museum was gloriously air conditioned, but they were also completely fascinated by the china and the fact that the royal family commissioned new dining sets for each visiting dignitary. Dédi and I loved getting to see Empress Elisabeth’s dress collection, especially the exquisitely made Hungarian Coronation Dress. Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures in most of the museum. The one part of the museum that we were allowed to take photos was in the Silver and China exhibit and I have literally thousands of “research” shots that David, Mat and I all took.

Dédi enjoying the china exhibit.

Dédi enjoying the china exhibit.

The boys enjoying the air conditioning.

The boys enjoying the air conditioning.

The boys in front of the Bust of Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) in her Hungarian coronation gown.

The boys in front of the Bust of Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) in her Hungarian coronation gown.

The stairway leading to the Kaiserappartements

The stairway leading to the Kaiserappartements

My guys on the stairs

My guys on the stairs

Me taking research shots and posing at the top of the stairs.

Me taking research shots and posing at the top of the stairs.

Just outside of the Palace’s Saint Michael’s Gate is Michaelerplatz. Between 1989 and 1991 archaeological excavations in the Michaelerplatz uncovered a Roman settlement  which is now accessible to the public.

St. Michael's Church and the Roman ruins in the Michaelerplatz

St. Michael’s Church and the Roman ruins in the Michaelerplatz

The Power by Land Fountain and Saint Michael's Gate at the Hofburg Palace

The Power by Land Fountain and Saint Michael’s Gate at the Hofburg Palace

Posing in front of Saint Michael's Gate

Posing in front of Saint Michael’s Gate

Saint Michael’s Church (Michaelerkirche) is also located at Michaelerplatz  just across the street from Saint Michael’s Gate at the Hofburg Palace. The church was absolutely stunning. The present façade was constructed in 1792 but the church dates back to the 1200s.

High altar with Fall of the Angels and the Maria Candia icon and the boys praying in front of Marble statue of the Deposition of Christ

High altar with Fall of the Angels and the Maria Candia icon and the boys praying in front of Marble statue of the Deposition of Christ

The organ

The organ

Ceiling frescoes

Ceiling frescoes

The boys lighting candles

The boys lighting candles

We had planned on taking a tour of the Vienna Opera House but they were having a performance, so we had to make to with taking pictures outside. It will have to be on the agenda for our next visit. Vienna is so close to Budapest that we should be able to visit whenever we go to Hungary.

The boys pretending to be Pinocchio in front of a toy shop.

The boys pretending to be Pinocchio in front of a toy shop.

Neptune Fountain next to Albertina Museum

Neptune Fountain next to Albertina Museum

David and Big Guy in front of the Vienna State Opera Building

David and Big Guy in front of the Vienna State Opera Building

Europe Trip: Payerbach

Europe Trip: Payerbach

payerbach09

Our road trip through Austria was entirely too short. When you can look in every direction and feel like you have been dropped right smack in the middle of a scene from The Sound of Music, it is nothing short of magical. Even the gas stations have gorgeous views! It’s unreal.

David at a random beautiful Austrian roadside gas station.

David at a random beautiful Austrian roadside gas station.

Driving through Austria.

Driving through Austria.

We had to take a detour off of the highway because a closed tunnel was causing a major traffic backup. Our new route took us down small country roads and past open fields and farms and through quaint alpine villages. We drove up winding mountain roads and past seemingly endless groves of pine trees.

A farm raising domesticated deer.

A farm raising domesticated deer.

Bales of hay in the Austrian countryside.

Bales of hay in the Austrian countryside.

More Austrian farm land.

More Austrian farm land.

Driving into the mountains.

Driving into the mountains.

We were constantly surrounded by beautiful groves of trees.

We were constantly surrounded by beautiful groves of trees.

One of the places we most wanted to see in Austria was the tiny mountain town of Payerbach. It is a popular vacation destination because of its proximity to Vienna and because it boasts many summer and winter activities, but that was not why we wanted to see it. Our reasons were much more personal. We wanted to visit Payerbach because it was David’s home for a short time when he was a small boy. After fleeing communist controlled Hungary, David and his parents lived in a home for refugees in Payerbach for six months while they awaited word on whether they would receive asylum from Australia, Canada or the United States (they would eventually end up in Australia, but that’s a story for another day). The family has fond memories of their time in Payerbach and Dédi was even able to visit them while they were living in the tiny Lower Austrian town.

Pulling into Payerbach

Pulling into Payerbach

We posed in front of the building where David and his parents lived and Dédi showed us the church they attended while they were there and the exact bush where David hid and began to cry once he learned that Dédi and his grandfather would be returning to Hungary without him (whether or not it is actually the same bush is debatable, but Dédi insisted that regardless of whether it was the same bush, it was definitely in the same spot so David and the boys reenacted David crying).

David calling his parents to tell them where we were.

David calling his parents to tell them where we were.

Posing in front of David's former home.

Posing in front of David’s former home.

A closer shot of all of us.

A closer shot of all of us.

The church David attended with his family

The church David attended with his family

The bush where David cried

The bush where David cried

As we were pulling out of Payerbach, Dédi became extremely emotional. The following day would mark the 29th anniversary of when David and his parents fled communist Hungary for their new life. Dédi insisted that she wasn’t sad but that she gets so emotional because at the time her whole world was turned upside down. She spent her whole life knowing things a certain way and imagining her future and how it would be. When David’s family fled all of those future dreams vanished in an instant. Sure, they were replaced by new dreams, but at the time the sudden change was both startling and upsetting, as most uncertain things can be. She insisted that she wouldn’t trade her reality now for what might have been if they had stayed because it would mean a world without Big Guy and Little Man and that would be unacceptable.

The boys playing in Payerbach

The boys playing in Payerbach

Little Man

Little Man

Europe Trip: Straßburg

Europe Trip: Straßburg

strassburg

Straßburg, Austria located in the Gurk valley of northern Carinthia situated in the Nock Mountains along a bend in the Gurk River. We found ourselves there by chance after following a road sign that read simply “Schloss” (castle). Intrigued, we followed a road that led along the river until we found an adorable, albeit tiny, alpine village with a grand castle sitting atop one of the highest hills. Straßburg has only about 2300 residents. It is made up of rolling hills with an active logging industry along the river and pastures of grazing horses nestled in the hillsides alongside alpine style houses and large groves of trees. While staring out at the countryside Mat remarked, “You could definitely get your Robin Hood on out there!”

David posing on the side of the road

David posing on the side of the road

Hills of Straßburg

Hills of Straßburg

Posing in front of Schloss Straßburg

Posing in front of Schloss Straßburg

Again in front of the castle

Again in front of the castle

Just outside the castle gates

Just outside the castle gates

Castle gate

Castle gate

Schloss Straßburg sits atop a high, winding hill. It was first constructed as a fortress in the 1100s and was later expanded into a castle where it served as the seat of the Prince-Bishops of Gurk until the 18th century. Today it houses a museum with rotating exhibits. The museum was closed on the day we visited but we were able to tour the exterior of the castle and enjoy the remarkable views of the countryside. While both little boys napped with Dédi in the car, the big boys climbed castle walls and explored trenches, clearly living out the Robin Hood fantasies of their childhood. It was a lovely experience.

The castle walls

The castle walls

More of the walls

More of the walls

Views from inside the castle

Views from inside the castle walls

Views from a different angle

Countryside views from a different angle

Mat posing in front of the scenery

Mat posing in front of the scenery

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for long but we will have very fond memories of Schloss Straßburg. I’m sure that the guys could have explored for hours on end, but we had much more to see and do in Austria.

Exploring the castle walls

Exploring the castle walls

Taking in the views

Taking in the views

Mat and David could have seriously stayed forever

Mat and David could have seriously stayed forever

David protecting the fort

David protecting the fort

Mat waves through a window

Mat waves through a window in the wall

David scaling the walls

David scaling the walls

The guys looked tiny next to the castle walls

The guys looked tiny next to the castle walls

One final shot before leaving the castle

One final shot before leaving the castle

Europe Trip: Pörtschach am Wörthersee

Europe Trip: Pörtschach am Wörthersee

The drive from Northern Italy into Austria is absolutely stunning. The Alps are truly magical and even more gloriously beautiful in person than they are in pictures. As we crossed the border into Austria Mat and David burst into song, “The hills are alive with the sound of music,” they crooned. We stopped at a gas station to fill up on gas and Kinder Chocolate (chocolate specifically for children – and loved by adults – made by Ferrero). If you’re not familiar with Kinder Chocolate, it is one of our favorite confections! The boys get some from Mikulás every December and they savor it for as long as possible (it also usually makes its way into any care package sent from Hungary).  Anyway, it was so beautiful at the gas station that the boys wanted their picture taken and I was more than happy to oblige.

Entering Austria and posing at the gas station

Entering Austria and posing at the gas station

Another gas station shot

Another gas station shot

Our next stop was in Pörtschach am Wörthersee, a town located on Wörthersee (Lake Wörth) in Carinthia, Austria (Carinthia is the southernmost state in Austria). It is a popular tourist destination and the region around the lake has even been deemed “Austria’s Monte Carlo.” The crystal-clear water is a rich turquoise-blue color and during the summer the lake can be as warm as 27 degrees Celsius (that’s 80 Fahrenheit). That’s actually warm enough for me to venture into the water! We were actually just driving by on the highway when we saw the lake and decided that it was too beautiful not to take a closer look. I am so glad we stopped!

Posing in front of Wörthersee - the pictures don't do it justice

Posing in front of Wörthersee – the pictures don’t do it justice

Another group shot

Another group shot

And one more (from my iPhone) because it was so pretty

And one more (from my iPhone) because it was so pretty

After driving and then walking a bit through town we had lunch at the wonderful Joainig Gasthof. Mat and I got to practice our (somewhat limited) German. Mat took German in high school and I studied it in college. Mat definitely retained more and at the very least we were able to remember common pleasantries, which our waitress seemed to appreciate. When lunch arrived we feasted on Austrian specialties like Wiener schnitzel, and stewed meat with spaetzle. Austrian food is extremely similar to traditional Hungarian dishes and since we are all huge fans of Hungarian food, the Austrian cuisine made us all feel right at home. Mat and David enjoyed a sampling of Austrian beers while Dédi, the boys and I all had Apfelschorle (apple juice spritzer – also known as “alma fröccs” in Hungarian). Big Guy and Little Man were very good about remembering to always say “danke” (thank you) and Big Guy surprised us when he worked up the courage to ask our waitress “Wo ist die Toilette, bitte?” (Where is the restroom, please?).

The adorable Joainig Gasthof

The adorable Joainig Gasthof

David and Dédi sitting down for lunch

David and Dédi sitting down for lunch

Our table was in the back corner of the restaurant

Our table was in the back corner of the restaurant

David and Mat enjoying their food

David and Mat enjoying their food

My lunch

My lunch

We were sad that we were only able to enjoy Pörtschach am Wörthersee for such a short time but David and I plan on taking a more thorough trip through Austria on our next visit to Hungary and we will make a point of returning to Carinthia.

On the road in Carinthia

On the road in Carinthia

Europe Trip: Aunt Debby to the Rescue

Europe Trip: Aunt Debby to the Rescue

Someone asked me about our car’s window and how we got it fixed, especially in the middle of a road trip. Well, it’s kind of a funny story. If any of you have ever had to get anything on your car fixed, you’re probably familiar with the concept of needing to order parts and I’m sure that you’re also well aware that said parts usually take two to three days to arrive. This is exactly the sort of thing we were running into in Rome after our window was broken and there was no way that we could stick to our itinerary or our budget if we were going to have to wait around in Rome for three days while the car got fixed (plus, it would have cut out Tuscany and Verona and that was beyond unacceptable). Also… have you ever driven at high speeds on the highway with the window down? That was not exactly something we were looking forward to either.

Anyway, long story short, we were able to find an auto glass repair shop on the outskirts of Rome that was willing to put in a temporary window so that we could continue on our trip (David’s cousin had a glass shop in Budapest that was going to be able to fix it once we made it back). We were super excited. The only drawback was going to be that the window would not roll down so the person sitting behind the driver (me) would have to pay all of the tolls along the way (if you’ve never been to Italy, they have A LOT of toll roads), but that wasn’t really a problem.

Everything started out great. We had a new window, the toll booth workers thought it was hilarious that I had to lean out the back window in order to pay them a toll, we were laughing that we were going to have a great story to tell when we got home. Then it happened. It started out as a little squeaking sound. Then the window started rattling a little and then the rattle became increasingly violent and started to pull away from the car. At the rate we were going, we would lose the window before we made it ten miles. David pulled off at the first gas station we came across and our problem was immediately evident. The temporary window was secured with electrical tape. Like the black kind that you put on the end of your electrical cords when they start to fray. No wonder it wasn’t holding! I can’t get electric tape to stick to my cords half the time, could we really be surprised it wasn’t holding together the car at high velocities? We needed something strong. We needed something durable. We needed duct tape.

Examining the window

Examining the window

We went inside the gas station in search of duct tape but they didn’t have any at all (they did however have a wonderful selection of chocolates and various snack foods that we decided we NEEDED to bring along on our journey). We were waxing poetically about how nice it would be if we only had some duct tape when Mat piped up and said, “You guys are going to think I’m crazy but I think my mom might have packed duct tape in my suitcase. I thought she was a little nuts when she wanted me to throw it in but she kept insisting that you never know when you’re going to need duct tape.”

It was like the clouds opened up and angels were singing in the sky. Lo and behold, there was a small roll of duct tape in the front pocket of Mat’s suitcase. It was just enough duct tape to secure the window both inside and out. We used every last bit of it to secure the window in place and went about on our merry way. The duct taped window held all the way through Italy, Austria and back to Hungary.

Using duct tape to repair the temporary window

Using duct tape to repair the temporary window

Checking out their tape job.

Checking out their tape job.

Moral of the story? Never leave home without duct tape… and Aunt Debby is kind of a genius.

 

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Almond Butter Cookies with Maldon Salt

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Almond Butter Cookies with Maldon Salt

Someone pointed out that I haven’t done a recipe post in a really long time, so I thought it was about time that I did one. I’m no stranger to dietary restrictions. I’ve mentioned before that both my mom and my brother are gluten free. I have several friends whose children have allergies to everything ranging from tree nuts to soy or corn and I even have a friend who is allergic to avocados. When I’m entertaining or I have people over I hate for anyone to feel left out so I do my best to try and make sure that there is something that everyone can eat. My latest challenge was two-fold. Everyone was congregating at my parents’ house to watch football (Go Broncos!) and I wanted to make a dessert. As both my mom and my brother would be there gluten was already out of the question. Well, my sister-in-law recently gave up dairy because she is nursing and it was adversely affecting my niece. So whatever I made needed to be gluten and dairy free, which was totally doable. I thought I might make some pavlovas or macrons. Then David hit me with a zinger. He has cut out all white sugar.

Now before you tell me that there are a lot of great paleo desserts out there that meet all of these dietary restrictions, let me tell you that I have tried a lot of them. Usually I like them, but I don’t have a big sweet tooth. My husband and my children are a different story. They don’t usually like my “healthy” desserts and rarely tolerate them. Nothing like slaving away in the kitchen only to have a child take one bite and spit it out with a resounding “blech.” I needed something that they weren’t going to think was healthy.

Enter Gwyneth. I’ve made several of Gwyneth Paltrow’s recipes from both of her cookbooks and they’ve all been a hit with my family. Her second book really focuses on clean eating (the first one is pretty clean too) so I flipped immediately to the sweets section. There was a recipe for Almond Butter Cookies with Maldon Salt that I decided to take for a spin. They were extremely easy to throw together and I’m not exaggerating when I say that they were a huge hit. These puppies are gluten-free, dairy free, vegan and sugar free (though unfortunately not calorie free). I’m hoping that these will work like a gateway drug and get everyone on board with healthy (or at least healthier) desserts in the future. These were successful enough that I’ve already successfully worked out my first adaptation! This also makes phenomenal cookie dough, and the best part is that since there are no raw eggs you can eat the dough to your hearts content without ever having to worry about getting salmonella.

Almond Butter Cookies with Maldon Salt

From Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good
Makes about 2-3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups gluten-free multi-purpose flour (I used King Arthur for these)
  • ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup natural almond butter (the only ingredient should be almonds)
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Maldon sea salt, to taste (the original recipe says ½ teaspoon, but I just sprinkled a little on top of each cookie. You can also sub your favorite coarse sea salt – this is the one I used)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, fine sea salt and baking powder together in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. In another, larger bowl combine almond butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract, mixing until combined.
  5. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, combining thoroughly.
  6. Spoon the dough onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart (any amount will work, but I like the cookies best when I used about 1 Tablespoon) and press down on each cookie to flatten it into a small disc (you can wet your fingers if you want, but it isn’t really necessary).
  7. Sprinkle each cookie with a little Maldon salt.
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and allow them to cool before serving.
Pre-baking... the dough is delicious!

Pre-baking… the dough is delicious!

The final product.

The final product.

I’ll be back soon with more from our European adventure!