Monday, December 31, 2012

European Vacation - Part 3, Austria Day One

Austria - Friday, December 21st 

This trip did not start off as well as we would of wanted, it was a long morning for Tom as he took the train to the airport in Munich to pick up our rental car and I stayed back at the hotel with the kids to pack. We knew the trip for the rental car would not be quick, so we thought we planned accordingly.  In any case, the rental company (thrifty- by the way), totally screwed us.  They left out all sorts of charges off my initial reservation and wanted us to pay more than double what we had been quoted. It was ridiculous. Luckily, Tom was able to call me from the rental car company so we could figure out a new plan- and that we did.  So at the last minute, we looked online at train times and tried to figure out the best way to get to our next destination, Lofer, Austria.

Me, and my bright ideas- I did not want Tom to have to come all the way back to the hotel so I told him to meet me at the train station. Bad idea.  I said to meet me outside at the taxi stand where we initially got our taxi when we arrived.  Needless to say, there are 3. I had no idea.  The kids and I took a taxi from the hotel.  It took a few for them to bring one big enough for our stuff.

The good news is, after about 3 hours at the airport of Tom NOT getting a car and about an hour and a half of us trying to find each other at the train station, me then waiting in line to talk to an agent about train tickets to Lofer, Austria (which by the way, the agent had never heard of...Awesome!), we finally got tickets to Salzburg, Austria. I ran out the door of the travel office to Tom and the kids and we had 5 minutes to board the train. We made it, but guess what- there were hardly any seats left. So, we found two seats across each other for the kids, one seat for me close by (across from the largest man in Germany!) and poor Tom...sat on the floor on one of our four duffel bags in the entry way to the train doors.  It was a doozie of a morning.

Unfortunately the night before, about 11 pm, we also found out Tom's grandmother passed away unexpectedly.  It is certainly hard being so far away when something like this happens.  It was a rough evening, a tough day and it didnt seem as if the day was getting much better. We hoped it would and believe me, we had our fingers crossed.

Luckily we saved a ton of money by riding the train, although uncomfortable- seemed to be worth it. It was only a two hour ride.  However, once we arrived at the Salzburg station we then had to figure out how to get to Lofer.You know, that place the agent had never heard of- ha.

I had managed to look up sites online before we left for some personal taxi services and although I did not book one, I knew the prices.  We asked a taxi van if he could take us, he told us our price, a little more than the online price- but fine, picked up something to eat (we were heading to an apartment with no food), and hoped he could take us he had actually heard of Lofer. Ha! It was 52 km. away.

Lofer, is a small town- a VERY small town on the border of Austria.  Remember how I said it gets dark at 4:30 pm. Well, at this point, it was 5 pm.  By the time we got to the little town (actually a village) of Lofer, it was pitch black and raining and we did not know where to go except with the typed out directions from the owner. We had to pick up the keys at one place first - that took about 30 minutes. Then, we could go to the apartment.  Once we got the apartment, we could not figure out which building and when we did- we then couldn't find the number...anywhere! Tom called it the Silence of Lambs building. There were no lights on, it was very quiet and we didn't even know if anyone lived in this very large apartment complex. There were literally no signs of life. ha! We tried walking around the area, but no one had a clue. They were all extremely helpful by the way- so friendly, with the small amount of English they all knew.  By they way, taxi driver did not speak English either. 

At this point, the taxi has now been sitting outside this apartment building for over an hour. Finally, I go in to check it out and see if can find the number.  Like Tom, I walked and walked...but no number 161.  Finally, I heard voices. I literally put my ear up to the edge of each door until I could figure out which room had life in it. Ha  I knocked. An old man answered and I asked him if he spoke English, he said a little. I showed him my paper and then he pointed upstairs.  OK great, upstairs on the 3rd level...not the 2nd like the guy I am renting the place told us (but oh yeah, the third floor is the 2nd in Europe). Would of been nice to know. However, after staying here even a day, I can probably say without a doubt that we may be some of the only Americans that have ever visited this town. 

So, we found it....apartment number 162...NOT 161, like he had told us.  But anyway, we found it. The kids were all wound up. All we had to eat that day was bfast at the hotel, a granola bar and a hamburger from Burger King. Yes...Burger King.  We needed some dinner for the kids. So, Tom...the brave lad that he is, geared up (did I  mention its pouring rain again), put on his coat, grabbed his backpack and went out into the rain, the dark, not having the slightest clue as to where he was get us some food, AND ... ALCOHOL!!!

Tom made it back, the kids got to sleep in their own beds for once on our trip and we finally all went to sleep. We came to this town when it was dark and when we woke up in the morning, we saw this off of our back porch.  Wow! Simply beautiful and at this point, worth it! :)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Lofer, Austria!!!

Our Letter From Santa This Morning...

Dear Hannah and Chase,

I wanted to let you know that I was able to make a stop at your home in Zimbabwe. I also wanted to leave you just a few things to open Christmas morning too. Hope you will like playing some fun games.

Will you do me a huge favor? Please go ice skating and sledding for me? It is so much fun and I never get the chance to go anymore. I know you two will love it!

Enjoy the rest of your Christmas vacation and remember to be good!



P.S. Ernie says he had fun playing at the house and with Piper while you were gone!

Some pictures from skiing and snowboarding
today in Austria...


Monday, December 24, 2012

European Christmas Vacation - Part 1

The first part of our European Vacation Begins...

December 13, 2012
Heading to Frankfurt, Germany
We had a decent flight to 1 1/2 hour flight to Joburg. Once there, we had about a 4 hour layover.  Luckily Santa came to visit us early (Ernie the Elf wanted the kids to have a surprise) and got the kids Leap Pads for the trip the morning we left! Woo Hoo! This saved us tremendously- Thanks Santa & Ernie! They were busy little leap pad kids for literally about 24 hours straight, listening to music, playing games, etc.  It was great.
Doesnt Hannah look like she is 13?? So Big!
Covering our noses as they spray down the plane on the SA flight (from Zim)!
And Hannah carrying ALL 3 of her babies. Such a good Mommy. :)
In Joburg Airport
The kids with Nelson Mandella in the airport (Ha!) and killing time by the gate waiting for our plane.

Frankfurt, Germany

Hannah slept the entire flight from Joburg to Frankfurt- about 11 hours (on Tom’s lap). She was not feeling great, so it was probably much needed.  She threw up the night before we left and had a fever for two days…we were not sure where that would go, but luckily it ended there. J Whew!  Chase slept about 8 hours, and seemed to be somewhat entertained by the movie selection, but I can not complain.
We got to Frankfurt around 7 am and headed straight to our hotel. We hopped in a cab and went on our way.  We pretty much dropped our stuff off in our room, showered, changed clothes and then headed straight out to try and find some breakfast. Not the easiest thing to do surprisingly. We walked what seemed to be miles looking for the Frankfurt Christmas Markets. We thought they opened at 9 or 10 am and it was around 9 at this point.  After asking approximately 10 different people if they could speak English, we finally found one.  He then told us that the Christmas Markets did not open until 12 pm and directed us to the city center for breakfast. 
After walking a few miles, finding a place for breakfast, and walking around one of the biggest malls I have seen in quite some time, it was finally 12 and we headed to the Market.  As I am sure you can imagine, we enjoyed all the scenery of Christmas, Christmas – EVERYWHERE and were simply just enjoying being out of the third world.  All of it was more than we had seen in a while and even walking around the mall was a bit overwhelming.  But we were having fun!
After walking around the markets and taking the long walk home along the river, we finally made it back to the hotel. It was a beautiful walk and I must say an amazing view from our hotel room as well.

(the view from our hotel window)
We ate a nice dinner at the hotel. I even enjoyed an amazing meal of Sea Bass (my favorite!), and also a delicious glass of German wine. J

To see ALL the pictures from Frankfurt, click below:

December 14, 2012

Mainz, Germany
We decided to take the train to Mainz, Germany for the day.  It is about an hour train ride. We did not get much help from the hotel, so we ventured out on our own, looking for the closest train station. We got a little turned around and ended up walking further than we had wanted. However, we made it there, despite the confusion of trying to get tickets to where we needed to go. We got lucky and met an American who helped us out and even took us to the main station to show us around. So nice!

We finally picked up a small breakfast, our first coffee for the day and then waited about 15 minutes for our 11 am train to Mainz. We even got to ride in the double decker regional train, which the kids loved. Chase however fell asleep within the first 10 minutes. It was not a long trip, less than an hour- and we were there. 

Once we arrived, we were perplexed not sure of which way to go, but I asked a lady at a small hotel and she gave me a map. She then drew out the way and showed me the way to go. Where? You guessed it- the Mainz Christmas Markets!

Entrance to Mainz Christmas Market
The town was adorable, so much smaller than Frankfurt and very easy to get around. We enjoyed this market even though it had almost the same items as the other market, but it was still very unique.  We had our first glass of Mulled Wine (Gluwhine) and the kids had their first glass of hot chocolate. Chase took about 1 minute to spill the first HOT cup, but they were very nice and gave us a new one.  I must say the people there were VERY friendly, especially compared to the Frankfurt crowd.  Hannah bought a German snow globe and Chase got a small nutcracker- they were thrilled to pieces.


We had a nice lunch- Chinese, if you can believe it.  However, eating NORMAL won ton soup was worth it. They do not have won ton soup in Zim. I know, the little things right? We then walked up, down and around some beautiful cobble stone streets and checked out one of the beautiful churches along the street.  Amazing!
We walked back to the train station to find out we missed the faster train by just a few minutes. So, we caught the commuter type train- which took quite a bit longer, and headed home.  Unfortunately, it started raining.  When we got to our final stop, we still had to walk about a ¼ mile in the pouring rain and cold back to the hotel which was not so fun.  We were supposed to meet Jeff Horkey (the RSO in Frankfurt) at his home for dinner, but we were just too exhausted- and so were the kids. We found a way to order pizza to the room and had that for a quick dinner before bed.
The time and day light hours seem to be really messing us up.  It gets dark here around 4:30 pm and then the sun does not come up until about 7:30 am.  It’s crazy! It’s only an hour earlier from Zim, but at times we feel seriously jet lagged.
 If you want to see more pictures from Mainz, click here:
Pictures from Mainz, Germany

December 15, 2012

Rudesheim, Germany
We woke up not sure what to do, but we wanted to head out again to either check out Heidelberg or Rudesheim for the day- it was raining and yucky, but we were determined to go out.  Our hotel does not have breakfast, so this has been the hard part with the kiddos. Always wanting to eat as soon as they wake up, so we got smart and brought croissants home the second day so the kids could have them in the morning.  Although that didn’t help Tom and I, we forgot to bring some home for us- the kids certainly enjoyed their yummy chocolate croissants.  Ha By the way, the kids at this point have not had one vegetable in about 3 days.  Mommy is feeling horrible.
We decided to go to Rudesheim. Why you ask- because that was the train that left first from the station when we arrived. We are real planners, right? We could not make up our mind as I had already been to Heidelberg, but also wanted Tom to see it. It was however a bit further out so we just decided to see which train left first when we got there.
It was about an hour ride. The day turned out beautiful, the sun came out and there were only a few minutes of rain here and there. It was a beautiful small quaint little town. Their Christmas Market was so cute with little vendors stuck inside and outside little cobblestone streets. 


The views were breathtaking over the Rhine River and we even took a cable car to the top to get the BEST view possible. Mommy went with Hannah and Daddy with Chase. Hannah could not get enough of Mom freaking out as she is a bit scared of heights and Hannah was laughing the whole way up. It was pretty funny. 


We enjoyed the markets and stayed a little later this time to see everything lit up a night as well. Remember, it gets dark at like 4:30 or 5 pm.   The little streets were great with all the lights lit up and down each alley way.  We are glad we got a chance to see it. Also, we were there on Saturday- which meant there were tons more people trying to enjoy the markets too. It was packed! You could barely walk up and down the streets!
We found Kris Kringle in Rudesheim! Good thing, it has been our only picture with Santa this year!
We caught the 5:45 train home (barely), with Chase having to pee at the last minute, and Tom running out to find them a place to go, they almost missed the train, but made it at the last minute. The kids took about 5 minutes and passed out on their seats.  Daddy did not get a seat and had to stand the whole time, poor guy and Mommy was holding Chase in her lap- so not only did they fall asleep, but so did Mommy’s legs.  Eventually Chase was transferred to sit next to Hannah so Mommy could stand the rest of the way. 

The kids have been troopers.  By far the most exciting event that has happened over the past few days was definitely the Cable Car. They loved it. And Poor Chase is so desperate to find snow that he is grabbing at it any chance he can get, even if it is brown and dirty- just to throw a snow ball! We probably should have gone skiing first. Ha 

 View behind us is the city of Rudesheim, Its is where the cable cars drop us off, at the top of the mountain.
We had to pick up dinner at the train station (this is normal by the way) as we knew the kids would not be up for going out to dinner.  We then crashed…at 8 pm. A Long Day!
If you want to see more pictures of Rudesheim, click here:

December 16, 2012

Enjoying Frankfurt
We decided that since the past two days have been a bit crazy with train rides and LOADS of walking, we would try to stay in Frankfurt and relax a little.  We woke up leisurely, Mommy re-packed all the suitcases, started our bag of dirty laundry to clean at our next stop- Munich, and the kids enjoyed playing with each other (which was NICE!). 
We headed out close to lunch and decided to walk to the Christmas Markets again in Frankfurt.  We went there the first day.  It is now Sunday and everything is pretty much closed; restaurants and shops- but we knew the markets would be open, so we headed that direction.  We enjoyed walking around a bit more this time as we knew what to expect.  We got the kids waffles for lunch- don’t ask! Tom enjoyed a bratwurst and I had myself some chile con carne from the Mexican booth.  Whatever, I’m just going with it. And it was YUMMY!  The kids also got another hot chocolate and Tom and I started drinking our Gluwhine for the day- again, Yummy!! I’m a bit obsessed with these souvenir mugs you can buy from the markets, we have 5 now. Ha!  They are cute and sadly, the only thing we have even bought on our trip.  $5 mugs. Have I mentioned a small bottle of water also costs $5? CRAZY!!!
So after lunch and a bit more walking and eating, we walked back to our hotel…again, in the rain.  We relaxed some more and then went back out for dinner at a delicious Greek/German restaurant.  It is now late and the kids are still up…its 9:30 pm. But all in all, we have thoroughly enjoyed the first part of our trip.  The kids are of course desperate to see the snow, which we have not seen yet. But they have plenty of cold and honestly have not complained as much as I thought they would at this point. They have probably walked more now than they have in their lifetime and are still pushing through and at times…running. But then I forgot- they are kids, they have SO MUCH ENERGY!!
We are off to Munich tomorrow and despite now having 4 huge duffel bag suitcases that need to go on a train, we are still winging it. We know what time the trains leave and hope to get their early enough for a seat for 4 together and our luggage- wish us luck! It’s a 4 hour train ride.

Oh, and I suppose a trip that begins with throw up, must also end with throw up. Hannah threw up in the middle of the night around 3 am, poor thing. Luckily, that was it. She was fine in the morning-thank goodness!! And... we were on our way. (however throw up bags were close by, just in case)
More to come…

Monday, December 10, 2012

We are coming to America!

It is official, as of 7 am our time today.
It is Washington, DC (or VA)
It is ... HOME. :)
And for a minimum of THREE YEARS!! Promise! :)
I know family is relieved and so are we. Can NOT wait to be close to family and friends, ... and oh yeah, have good internet again too
I must say that this is the best Christmas present of all.
Merry Christmas Everyone!!!!
We are now off to enjoy our Fabulous European Christmas Vacation on Wednesday!! Oh, and three weeks of vacation time for Tom that he will not get in a very, very, very long time. ha
Love you and see you ALL in 2013 (literally)!!