Europe Trip: Florence, Part One

Europe Trip: Florence, Part One

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Florence, or Firenze if you’re Italian (or Hungarian for that matter), is often considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance. It just so happens that it is also my favorite of the big Italian cities (that we visited anyway). I’m not even sure where to begin. I have wanted to visit Florence since I first saw While You Were Sleeping. In the film, Sandra Bullock’s character says that if she could go anywhere in the world, it would be Florence and the more I learned about it, the more I wanted to visit Florence as well. I was not disappointed (except that we didn’t get to stay longer). We took hundreds of photos of the Duomo alone so narrowing down which to share with you has been a bit daunting to say the least. Two days was not enough time in Florence, but I don’t know that two months would have been enough time either. Every corner you turn reveals something new and exciting. There are far too many pictures for one post so I’ve split them into a few. Today I’ll start with food and accommodations.

David is the king of hotel accommodations and our hotel in Florence was no exception. We stayed at Palazzo dei Ciompi which is located in Piazza dei Ciompi in Florence’s Centro Storico. The hotel is literally just a few blocks from Piazza del Duomo so it is in a prime location. Just outside of the hotel stands Vasari’s Loggia del Pesce and beyond that is the Piazza dei Ciompi Flea Market. The market is open daily and while the stalls are a bit run down it almost adds to their appeal. The shop keepers are also very friendly and even attempting to speak Italian will endear you to them. David, Mat and I spent a good deal of time perusing the little shops but unfortunately we didn’t come away with anything as everything we wanted was either too large, too breakable or too heavy to return in our suitcases.

Vasari’s Loggia del Pesce in the Piazza dei Ciompi

Vasari’s Loggia del Pesce in the Piazza dei Ciompi

Piazza dei Ciompi Flea Market looking back toward our hotel.

Piazza dei Ciompi Flea Market looking back toward our hotel.

Our hotel suite was huge. I was expecting a small suite with tiny rooms but was greeted with a sprawling apartment that was much larger than my first apartment (like at least three times the size). We had three bedrooms , two bathrooms, a living room/dining room (that also had two sleeper sofas), an eat-in kitchen and a large storage room. Dédi loved it and even made us dinner in the kitchen our first night in Florence.

Hotel Suite: Bedrooms and eat-in kitchen dining.

Hotel Suite: Bedrooms and eat-in kitchen dining.

Living room, kitchen, bathrooms and dining area #2.

Living room, kitchen, bathrooms and dining area #2.

Even the stairwell was cool.

Even the stairwell was cool.

As far as food is concerned, I don’t think we had one bad meal in Italy. The little restaurant attached to our hotel was great for pizza and snacks so we ended up eating there a lot. Our favorite restaurant in Florence was Trattoria Vecchio Mercato which is located in the heart of the San Lorenzo district. We enjoyed our lunch on the terrace (because it was far too hot to eat inside) and had the pleasure of being serenated by a troupe of street musicians. The food was excellent and we had the most charming waiter who advised us on everything from souvenir and antique shopping to where to find the best gelato in the city (more on that in a bit).

The sign outside Trattoria Vecchio Mercato

The sign outside Trattoria Vecchio Mercato

Dédi and Mat enjoying the music.

Dédi and Mat enjoying the music.

Little man getting his hands wet in the misters and Mat getting ready to pour some wine.

Little man getting his hands wet in the misters and Mat getting ready to pour some wine.

We enjoyed breakfast at an adorable little café and bakery called Caffe Pasticeria La Loggia Degli Albizi where they had delicious cappuccinos and delightful little pastries. We had cappuccinos every morning for breakfast because in Italy cappuccino is a breakfast only drink and Italians strongly look down on having it after eleven o’clock. In almost all Italian coffee shops the patrons crowd around and drink their coffee while standing at the bar, leaving virtually all of the tables are empty. This is because in Italy there is a price for coffee at the bar and another for coffee at a table. The table price is much higher and as a result there are not a bunch of guys hanging out and taking up whole café tables while surfing the internet on their laptops. We did pay extra to sit at the table at Caffe Pasticeria La Loggia Degli Albizi because it was busy and made for great people watching (plus, I’m not good with crowds).

Our favorite breakfast spot.

Our favorite breakfast spot.

The pastries and cappuccinos were delicious!

The pastries and cappuccinos were delicious!

Enjoying our breakfast at a little table in the corner.

Enjoying our breakfast at a little table in the corner.

The boys (big and small) all agreed that one of the best foods in Italy is Gelato and we spent a great deal of times hunting down gelaterias. Some were good, some were great and all were worth trying. We knew some gelato basics before arriving in Italy like you should never get the stuff that is piled sky high because it is full of fillers and binders and only made to look pretty for the tourists. It is far inferior to true Italian gelato. Also, never go for the bright colors not found in nature because it is probably filled with artificial colors and ingredients. Real Italian Gelato is fresh, natural and absolutely divine. These were our three favorite places for gelato in Florence:

Amalo: This was right by the hotel and I must say it was the cutest of the gelato shops we went inside. It was okay, but there was nothing that stood out about their gelato but they were extremely friendly and since they were so close to our hotel they were very convenient.

This was right net to our hotel so we had to check it out.

This was right net to our hotel so we had to check it out.

Waiting at the counter.

Waiting at the counter.

Behind the counter.

Behind the counter.

Grom: Everyone we know that has been to Italy told us that Grom had the best gelato in all of Florence and that as far as food was concerned, this was the one place that we had to go. It was good. Very good. And I get what all of the fuss is about, but it wasn’t quite my favorite. If you go be ready to wait in line. This place is packed.

Grom was a zoo so we only took pictures outside.

Grom was a zoo so we only took pictures outside.

Goofing off with our gelato cones.

Goofing off with our gelato cones (well, I’m goofing… Mat’s just being cute)

Gelateria La Carraia: This was our hands down favorite in all of Italy (yes, ALL of Italy). This is the one that our waiter at Trattoria Vecchio Mercato insisted we try. When we told him that we were going to Grom he said that that Grom was overrated and popular because it is in all of the guides but that if we really wanted the best of the best we needed to head over to Gelateria La Carraia. He was right. It was amazing and they had a huge selection of flavors. I could have made myself sick trying all of them!

The best gelato in Florence.

The best gelato in Florence.

My boys

My boys

Look at all those choices!

Look at all those choices!

And then they have all of these lovely cone options!

And then they have all of these lovely cone options!

And finally, to wrap up the food portion of our Florence trip… There are adorable little fruit and vegetable stands all over the city selling gorgeous fresh produce that makes for the perfect mid-afternoon snack.

Look at all the beautiful produce!

Look at all the beautiful produce!

 

Europe Trip: Republic of San Marino

Europe Trip: Republic of San Marino

After we programmed the GPS to take us to the actual Republic of San Marino and not just San Marino Avenue, we finally arrived at our destination, and what a destination it was! Something I have discovered while traveling is that the world has a seemingly endless supply of beautiful locales. I find myself thinking, “this is the most perfect place ever,” and while everywhere I go can’t possibly be the most perfect place ever, I suppose it is (at least to me) in that given moment.

Looking out from atop Mount Titano

Looking out from atop Mount Titano

Wikipedia describes The Republic of San Marino as an “enclave microstate surrounded by Italy.” What is doesn’t say is that the Most Serene Republic of San Marino (this is how it is actually known. In Italian it is “Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino”-also via Wikipedia) looks like it waltzed straight out of a book of fairy tales and set up shop right smack in the middle of one of the loveliest parts of Italy.

With my boys in San Marino.

With my boys in San Marino.

Well, on this particular day in San Marino it was exceptionally beautiful in every direction. In the center of San Marino lies Mount Titano, which has three peaks with ancient towers atop each one: Guaita, Cesta (also known as De La Fratta) , and Montale. We visited Castello Della Guaita (the Fortress of Guaita) which is the oldest and most famous of the three towers. I’m not one to be afraid of heights, but when we climbed to the top of the fortress there were times that I actually became weak in the knees at the thought of how far off of the ground we were. I mean, not only were we up high in the castle, but the castle was literally on the edge of a cliff, so when you looked down, you were looking way down. If you were to say, fall out of a window your chances of survival weren’t slim, they were none. My new fear of heights was only intensified when David asked Mat if he thought anyone had ever inspected the safety of the masonry at the castle (this was compounded by the fact that the place where we were standing may have had a few missing stones which meant that you could look through the gaps in the floor and see all the way down to the bottom of the cliff).

Mat contemplating if anyone had checked the masonry.

Mat contemplating if anyone had checked the masonry.

While we were in San Marino we were also introduced to the fact that you can buy a five kilogram jar of Nutella (that is 11 pounds of delicious chocolate hazelnut spread)! We thought that the giant Nutella container at the restaurant where we were having lunch was merely for decoration but it turns out that not only were they were completely full, they were also for sale. I commented that no one could ever possibly eat five kilograms of Nutella to which David and Mat simultaneously replied, “I would love to try.”

The sign when entering Castello Della Guaita

The sign when entering Castello Della Guaita

Posing outside the gates.

Posing outside the gates.

And once more just inside.

And once more just inside.

The boys looking out one of the windows and me after expressing that I was feeling weak in the knees.

The boys looking out one of the windows and me after expressing that I was feeling weak in the knees.

Giving Dédi a kiss.

Giving Dédi a kiss.

Looking down through one of the windows.

Looking down through one of the windows.

Another view from the tower.

Another view from the tower.

The side of the fortress.

The side of the fortress.

You can see all the way to the Adriatic!

You can see all the way to the Adriatic Sea!

Looking out toward De La Fratta (Cesta) from the top of Castello Della Guaita

Looking out toward De La Fratta (Cesta) from the top of Castello Della Guaita

Another view of De La Fratta

Another view of De La Fratta – It seriously looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale!

And one final shot!

And one final shot!

Things I Love: September

Things I Love: September

I love the fall. I know autumn doesn’t officially begin until the end of the month, but as soon as I flip my calendar over to September, I can almost feel the seasons changing. The smell of pumpkin spice lattes is in the air and people of all ages have dusted off their football jerseys to show support for their favorite teams (Go Broncos!). So, since it’s (almost) fall, here are a few of the things I love for September.

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1.  Hart of Dixie – I am totally late jumping on the Hart of Dixie bandwagon, but I finally understand what all the fuss is about. I just recently discovered this little gem on Netflix and I am slowly catching up on everything I’ve missed. It is a classic fish out of water tale about Zoe Hart, a New York doctor trying to forge a new life for herself in the “Heart of Dixie,” aka Alabama. It is actually very reminiscent of the 90s hit show Northern Exposure. The first couple of episodes were a little bit campy, but as the show has progressed, the characters have become more and more three-dimensional. I am completely hooked.

2.  The Honest Company Shampoo & Body Wash – I have been following the Honest Company since it first hit the market. One of their founders, Christopher Gavigan wrote the fantastic book Healthy Child Healthy World (their other founder is actress Jessica Alba who also wrote a great book – The Honest Life). I love that they use environmentally friendly (not to mention people friendly) ingredients in all of their products. Everyone in our little family has sensitive skin so I am very careful about all of the lotions, soaps and shampoos that I buy for the boys. The Honest Company Shampoo & Body Wash gets the kids clean while still being gentle on their skin. The fact that it smells great is an added bonus.

3.  How To Be A Lady by Alexandra Parsons: I am quite partial to etiquette books (and manners in general). One of the first books I bought for my children was Manners Can Be Fun (followed shortly by How to Behave and Why and How to Speak Politely and Why). I have read all the experts from Emily Post to Miss Manners to Debrett’s and I cannot seem to pass up a new book on the subject no matter how hard I try. There are a lot of great etiquette books out there and even more that are subpar. This one is definitely belongs to the former category. It is a wonderful concise handbook for young women (and men) everywhere. It may not be as comprehensive as Miss Manners or Debrett’s but with its whimsical illustrations (you can see some on the publisher’s website) and concise guidance it is much less daunting to read.

4.  Mighty Leaf Tea Marrakesh Mint: Years ago I discovered Moroccan Mint Tea Lattes at one of my favorite coffee shops and ever since I have been making my own at home. You simply brew a strong cup of Moroccan Mint green tea, add milk and stir in a spoonful (or two) of your favorite hot chocolate mix. It is a delicious fall pick-me-up and I probably drink them far more often than I should. I have professed my love for Mighty Leaf Tea in the past in this post and I think that their Marrakesh Mint tea is absolutely perfect for my tea latte. I can’t get enough of it!

5.  Santa Barbara Bar: So many first-rate products have come out of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Bars are no exception. I’m always on the lookout for healthy options for when I’m on the run and these Coconut Almond Santa Barbara Bars have become my go-to snack. They are certified gluten free, non-GMO and contain no refined sugars. Not only that, they are packed with 8 grams of protein, so you won’t get hungry within two minutes of eating them. Most importantly though, they are delicious and I honestly feel like I’m eating a treat every time I have one.

Throwback Thursday: Bronco Fever

Throwback Thursday: Bronco Fever

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Are you ready for some football? Tonight marks the official kickoff of the NFL season so I thought I would throw it all the way back to January 1998 and Super Bowl XXXII (32). This is a shot of David and me getting ready to watch the John Elway and the Denver Broncos defeat the Green Bay Packers. Hopefully we’ll get to see the Broncos in another Super Bowl this year. Happy football season!

Europe Trip: Lost Along the Adriatic

Europe Trip: Lost Along the Adriatic

J.R.R. Tolkien famously wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Not all those who wander are lost.” The truth of the matter is that sometimes when you wander you do get lost, but if you have an adventurous spirit getting lost can be exactly where you want to be.

The morning that we left Venice en route to Florence we decided to take a side trip to the Republic of San Marino. We came to this decision after literally Googling “Things to do between Venice and Florence.” When San Marino was suggested on one of the sites, I put my full support behind it because it sounded fascinating AND it was another country that the boys (and I) could add to our list of countries visited. Okay, I’m not going to lie here… in Father of the Bride (the new one with Steve Martin) they live in San Marino, California and that may have had a lot to do with why I thought San Marino sounded so cool, but I digress.

Anyway, due to a miscommunication with the GPS on our phone we ended up at the beach. David and Mat looked back at me, clearly mystified and said, “I thought you said San Marino is on top of a hill.”

“It is.” I insisted, “A big one.”

There were absolutely no hills (not even small ones) in the immediate vicinity and the GPS was insisting that we had arrived at our destination.

Apparently when we typed in “San Marino” the GPS thought we wanted to go to “Viale San Marino” (San Marino Avenue) which is how we ended up in the town of Commachio on the Adriatic Sea and not in the hilltop Republic of San Marino. Since we were on an adventure, we decided to roll with it. We pulled up to the beach and took a long walk down the shore collecting sea shells and wading into the warm waters of the Adriatic Sea. Mat laughed because he had secretly wanted to see the Adriatic all along and because we had gotten lost, he was able to see it. Sometimes getting lost will take you exactly where you were meant to be or as David said, “That was the best kind of mistake.”

Dédi, Me, David and the boys at the Adriatic Sea

Dédi, Me, David and the boys at the Adriatic Sea

Mat and David laughing about their good fortune in getting lost.

Mat and David laughing about their good fortune in getting lost. (those are not their shoes by the way)

The boys and David testing the waters

The boys and David testing the waters

Despite going into the water, we managed to convince them to keep their clothes dry.

Despite going into the water, we managed to convince them to keep their clothes dry.

Looking back toward the resort area.

Looking back toward the resort area.

 

Europe Trip: A Day in Venice

Europe Trip: A Day in Venice

Italian journalist Luigi Barzini Jr. once described Venice as “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man.” While beauty is subjective, there is no doubt that Venice is one of the world’s most unique cities.

View of the Grand Canal

View of the Grand Canal

After getting off to a bit of a rocky start (meaning that we got lost… twice) we made it to Venice, or Venezia as it is known to the locals. Venice is the world’s only pedestrian city, which meant that we had to leave our car behind. The lack of vehicles is a huge part of Venice’s appeal. There is something inherently romantic about being forced to walk everywhere (especially when everyone else is forced to do the same).

Walking through Venice with Mat

Walking through Venice with Mat

We hitched a ride on an (extremely) overcrowded Vaparetto (water bus) that took us down the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square). If we thought the Vaparetto was crowded, we were in for quite a shock upon reaching the square, where it was so congested you could hardly move. I have a slight (read: huge) crowd aversion and I could feel my chest tightening in the onset of a panic attack. David, knowing how I react in this sort of situation, led the way out of the throngs of people where we could regroup and decide where we wanted to go. We expected Venice to be busy, but we hadn’t anticipated that we would be there on a national holiday which would render the city much more congested than usual.

The Crowded Piazza San Marco

The Crowded Piazza San Marco

Me (trying to stay calm in the crowd) with Dédi in Piazza San Marco

Me (trying to stay calm in the crowd) with Dédi in Piazza San Marco

A shot of our group (minus my oldest who was taking the picture)

A shot of our group (minus my oldest who was taking the picture)

We were tired, hungry and weary of the throngs of people descending upon the streets of the “Floating City.” We knew that our best option would be to get away from the main thoroughfare and find somewhere quiet to grab a bite to eat. David started wandering down some alleyways until he came upon a local gentleman out for a stroll. David asked (in very broken Italian) if there were any restaurants nearby and the man directed us further down the alley to Bar Trattoria A Le Colonete. Away from the masses, we started to really appreciate the city. Our restaurant was quite popular with the locals and many gondoliers stopped by for a quick bite before making their way back to their gondolas. We had a lovely lunch followed by a delicious gelato at a local gelateria that had been recommended by our waiter. It was one of the best gelatos we had on our entire Italian trip and we seriously consumed an unreasonable amount of gelato on this journey – I’m actually amazed my pants still fit.

Wandering down an alley in search of food.

Wandering down an alley in search of food.

Bar Trattoria A Le Colonete

Bar Trattoria A Le Colonete

Dédi with her lunch and a shot of our wine

Dédi with her lunch and a shot of our wine

Our lunch

Our lunch

After experiencing the crowds in Piazza San Marco, we were a little leery of hitting up another tourist hotspot, but there was no way I was going to Venice without seeing the famed Rialto Bridge, so we made our way down alleyways and passages to our destination. Walking through Venice seems a bit daunting at first because the streets all look very similar, but with the assistance of a map, it is actually very easy to navigate. We took our requisite Rialto Bridge photos and then spent a while perusing the Rialto Market before deciding to return to exploring the lesser known passages of Venice.

The view from the Rialto Bridge

The view from the Rialto Bridge

Dédi and the boys on the Rialto Bridge

Dédi and the boys on the Rialto Bridge

More shots on the Rialto Bridge

More shots on the Rialto Bridge

The boys were especially enamored with all of the narrow pathways littered with freshly washed linens hanging from clotheslines and shuttered windows overflowing with potted flowers. We discovered hidden courtyards and fountains and more churches than we could count. Our youngest made a game of spotting cats (they are everywhere) and our oldest made friends with several small dogs he found wandering on the streets (there was one small white dog in particular that he spent a great deal of time trying to convince us to take home). I shocked David when I not only gave my permission to the boys to drink from one of the fountains but actually joined them (I had done my research and knew that it was perfectly safe). Since I had given it my blessing, everyone else joined in as well. You know what? The water coming out of the fountains tastes better than anything you can buy in a bottle.

The boys drinking from the fountain.

The boys drinking from the fountain.

Mat's turn. "It's actually really good!"

Mat’s turn. “It’s actually really good!”

The boys enjoying Venice

The boys enjoying Venice

The boys were also quite enamored with the pigeons that are all over Venice. They fed them and chased them and it was clear that they do not share their grandmother’s (my mother’s) fear of birds. Mat and I did our best to avoid the birds but we were strafed more than a few times.

Feeding the birds.

Feeding the birds.

The pigeons were everywhere.

The pigeons were everywhere.

As the afternoon sun was beating down on our backs, our early morning was starting to catch up with us. Not wanting to face the crowded Vaparetto again, Mat suggested that we hail a water taxi. It was one of the best parts of our Venice tour. The taxi transported us through the narrow waterways of Venice and down the Grand Canal to our parking structure. Or at least, we thought that was where we were going. Our taxi driver ended up dropping us off at an entirely different parking structure than where we had parked. We were forced to walk quite a long distance with little boys too tired to walk any further and who suddenly had full bladders that were in desperate need of being emptied (and of course, there were absolutely no bathrooms nearby). We walked (and walked, and walked and walked) back to our car and drove away from Venice to our hotel. We stayed at the Grande Plaza Venice East which is located just outside of Venice in the town of Mestre and which I cannot recommend highly enough. The staff is friendly and efficient and the hotel is clean and comfortable. We arrived at the hotel just as rain started pouring from the sky (it had been an otherwise clear day) and we were all in bed and asleep before the sun went down.

David and our oldest on the water taxi.

David and our oldest on the water taxi.

Me on the water taxi and the view from the back of the boat.

Me on the water taxi and the view from the back of the boat.

Here are a few more shots from our day:

Bells in a church tower

Bells in a church tower

Walking through Venice

Walking through Venice

My boys found a nice resting spot on a dock.

My boys found a nice resting spot on a dock.

View from the dock

View from the dock

More Venice Views

More Venice Views

Clotheslines and gondolas are everywhere

Clotheslines and gondolas are everywhere

Mat and David taking a quick break

Mat and David taking a quick break

One final shot

One final shot

I hope that you’re having a happy Tuesday!

Europe Trip: Driving through Slovenia

Europe Trip: Driving through Slovenia

When we went to bed the night before our road trip, David and Mat agreed that since we were all still pretty jet lagged, we should just get up and go whenever we all woke up. I don’t think either of them had any idea just how early that would be. At two-thirty in the morning when David heard movement in the room where Mat and our oldest were sleeping so he got up to investigate and found that they were both wide awake. Our little guy was starting to toss and turn as well, so we decided that we might as well get an early start. We woke Dédi up, packed our bags, loaded the car and we were on the road by 3:30 in the morning. David’s aunt and uncle thought we were insane to be up so early but we felt like it was better to be up and driving while we were all wide awake.

In order to get to Italy from Hungary by car you can either drive through Slovenia or Austria. We chose to go through Slovenia because it was the quickest route to Venice. Had we done a little more research into just how beautiful Slovenia is, we might not have ever made it to Italy. It has jumped to the very top of my list of places to visit. I swear every village we passed was more picturesque than the last. I cannot even tell you how many times one of us pointed out the window exclaiming, “Look at that!” Our little guy even proclaimed Slovenia to be the “best place ever,” after discovering a Mario Pez dispenser while making a pit stop at a filling station. We did pull off into one of the villages for a quick stretch and photo op, which is where all of these pictures are from. After taking a couple of posed shots, we heard barnyard noises coming from a building across the street. When we went to investigate we found cows happily munching on some hay.

Posing in picturesque Slovenia

Posing in picturesque Slovenia

Had to get one with Mat

Had to get one with Mat

Investigating the "barnyard sounds"

Investigating the “barnyard sounds”

A shot of the street and the cows.

A shot of the street and the cows.

Another street shot

Another street shot

Happy Friday!

Throwback Thursday: Fourth of July

Throwback Thursday: Fourth of July

I have many (too many) more pictures to share from our European adventure, but since I don’t have time to sit down and do a proper write up at the moment and because it is Thursday, I thought I’d do a quick throwback to this Fourth of July. We had a great day of relaxing with friends and family. Honestly, I like nothing better than a low-key Fourth of July filled with nothing but the four F’s: family, friends, food and fireworks. I like this shot because it captures the mood of the whole day – and because there is actually a picture of me and David together at a party (this doesn’t always happen).

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Europe Trip: In the Beginning

Europe Trip: In the Beginning

David said that if I don’t post pictures from our European adventure soon, I’ll never get around to it, so here is the first of many installments of our trip.

In January David and I decided that we would take the boys to Hungary for the first time. The trip was long overdue and since Dédi was returning to Hungary in April, we felt that it was perfect timing to go and see her in June. We also thought that it might be fun to take a short side trip somewhere else in Europe (thinking we would hit Austria or maybe Germany) and we asked our oldest if he could go anywhere in the world, where would he pick. Without a moment of hesitation he replied, “Italy.” David suggested that since we had access to a vehicle while we were in Hungary, taking a road trip to Italy wouldn’t be out of the question adding that the drive from Budapest to Venice is roughly seven hours and that is much shorter than the fifteen to sixteen hour treks to Colorado that we make all the time. I was sold and we booked our flights immediately.

My cousin Mat had always said that if we were going to Europe to let him know and he might just tag along, so David sent him a text along the lines of, “Hungary and Italy in June. You in?” to which he received an immediate reply of, “Yes.” I was excited that we were going to have Mat come along because when traveling with children I don’t think you can ever have too many adults watching out for them. Plus Mat is super fun and since he was stationed in California while he was in the Marines, he was out to see the boys every weekend and he is like an uncle to them. He is also a total history buff so I knew that he would be a fountain of fun facts and useful information.

As our excitement grew, we knew that our party was not yet complete. While having lunch with Dédi one afternoon, we were going over our itinerary for the trip. David’s parents had traveled to Italy a couple of years earlier so they had given us some useful information about where to go and for how long. We had decided that we would take a weeklong road trip through Italy with stops in Venice, Florence, Rome, Siena and Verona. We were kind of bummed that going to Italy meant that we would have one less week to spend with Dédi (she was one of the main reasons we were going to Hungary after all) and since Dédi had never been to Italy, we asked if she wanted to tag along. She is a die-hard Catholic and we knew that she would love seeing The Vatican up close and personal, not to mention all of the extra time she would have with her great-grandchildren. She attempted to decline our invitation claiming that she would slow us down, but we countered saying that if anything we would be the ones slowing her down and we insisted that she come. It honestly didn’t take much convincing and she immediately started brain storming all of the food that she would pack for the journey.

Fast forward to June.

When we were buying our tickets for the trip, it worked out that Mat would be arriving in Hungary the day before we landed. This wasn’t a problem because David’s aunt and uncle, who we were staying with while we were in Budapest, said that they were more than happy to pick him up and show him around. When David, the boys and I arrived in Hungary, David’s uncle and Mat had already done a night tour of the city, a bus tour the morning of our arrival and had ridden on the metro a few times (something I’ve still not done in all the times we’ve been to Budapest).

Parliament Building on Mat's night tour of Budapest

Parliament Building on Mat’s night tour of Budapest

We only had one full day in Budapest before we took off on our road trip and we were terribly jet lagged. Seriously, I had no idea what jetlag was until I traveled to Europe with two children. I mean, obviously I had experienced jetlag before, but I can usually will myself back to sleep, especially if its dark and adjust fairly quickly. The boys were having none of it though, so we were up and running before the crack of dawn (way before… like I’m not sure we slept more than two hours). Since we were running on fumes, we decided we would take it fairly easy. We met up with David’s cousin and his family for lunch and some light sightseeing. The only thing on our agenda was Szent István Bazilika (Saint Stephen’s Basilica), ice cream and maybe coffee.

Me with Mat and the boys in front of Szent István Bazilika

Me with Mat and the boys in front of Szent István Bazilika

See how nicely my children pose with us.

See how nicely my children pose with us.

Szent István Bazilika is named after Hungary’s first king, Stephen I, and is the third largest church in all of Hungary. The church is one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest (equal to the parliament building) and we climbed the 364 stairs to get to the dome. There were some narrow passages, but it was well worth the climb for the gorgeous 360 degree views of the city.

The stairs going up to the top of the dome.

The stairs going up to the top of the dome.

Me and David after climbing the dome.

Me and David after climbing the dome.

View of the Parliament building from the dome.

View of the Parliament building from the dome.

Another view of Budapest from the dome.

Another view of Budapest from the dome.

The stairs going down (why is going down so much harder?)

The stairs going down (why is going down so much harder?)

The inside of the church is beautiful (most of the European churches I have visited are) and my oldest was blown away by the architecture. He kept saying, “Can you even imagine how long it would take to build all of this?” He was also very intrigued by Saint Steven’s preserved hand which is housed in the church’s reliquary.

The sanctuary and altar

The sanctuary and altar

The cupola

The cupola

Interior view of the cupola

Interior view of the cupola

The preserved right hand of Saint Stephen

The preserved right hand of Saint Stephen

After touring the church, we set off in search of ice cream and David’s cousin took us to not one, but two of his favorite ice cream parlors. The first was a gelato shop located less than a block away from the basilica where they shaped our gelato into roses that we almost too pretty to eat (almost). The other was located close to the Hard Rock Café and Budapest’s famed Váci utca (Váci Street) and they had the best walnut ice cream I have ever tasted. We actually made a trip… or two… back there on our own later in the trip.

More views from outside of Saint Stephen's

More views from outside of Saint Stephen’s

David's gelato

David’s gelato

That night we were joined by Dédi who, in true Hungarian fashion, brought a feast of sajtos pogácsa (Hungarian cheese biscuits), fasírt (fried meatballs), and three large Tupperware containers filled with several different kinds of sütemény (Hungarian baked goods) that she had baked just for the trip. I could feel my waistline expanding already!

Back to School

Back to School

School is back in session so I’m back at work full time. While I miss the boys like crazy during the day, I am so excited that they both absolutely love their teachers this year. When I went to pick up my little guy after the first day he exclaimed, “Mommy, I get to come back tomorrow!” My oldest was also pumped because he got the teacher he had been hoping for. We are very blessed!

back to school 01

During the summer, the boys enjoyed late night movie marathons and sleeping in as long as they wanted, but with the school year starting it means that bedtimes have been moved up. We have found that the easiest way to get the boys to sleep at a decent hour is to read them a story before bed. My iPad makes this so much easier because I can turn off all the lights in their room and turn my iPad’s screen to the darkest setting so that they aren’t distracted by anything in their room, thus making it easier for them to fall asleep quickly. Last year David and I tried taking turns reading to the boys, but with all of the lights turned out, David has a hard time staying awake so I have taken up the task or reading to them each night. I usually give the boys a list of books and let them take turns choosing what we are going to read. Last year we read several classics including The Jungle Book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and many more (an added bonus is that you can download many classic tales on your tablet for free). Just before my oldest started going to school, I read him Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary because I thought hearing about Henry going to school would make him excited about school as well. It worked so I decided to try the same strategy with my little guy, this time reading Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest. Thankfully it had the same results. I’m sure we’ll be back to reading Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby books before too long, but for now, the boys have moved onto the classic tale, The Wind in the Willows.

An unexpected outcome of our nightly readings has been that the boys actually look forward to bedtime. They are eager to know what happens next in the story or to pick their next great adventure so there is rarely a night that they resist climbing into bed. Another advantage has been that as our oldest grows more confident in his reading abilities, he actually chooses to read books on his own time, without me nagging him. I have always felt that there is nothing better for a child’s imagination than a love of books so it warms my heart to see them falling in love with stories and with reading. Hopefully it will carry on for the rest of their lives.