Recap of our Europe Itinerary

After 2.5 months on the road in Europe, we are settled in Mumbai and the kids are loving it with their grandparents.  Both Ayaan and Ariana have started pre-school at Creative Kids. It’s Ariana’s first time in school and she’s still settling in. We’ve been spending time dropping and picking them from school, playing with them and taking them to the pool, meeting friends and relaxing at the CCI health club and pool. The grandparents as expected are thrilled to have them around! Ayaan is already asking when we are going on a plane next, and its still about 10 days until we head to Mauritius.

Our Europe segment of this journey was fantastic in retrospect.  We spent 90 days in Europe driving over 9000km, pushing the double stroller for over 1000km, walking/hiking for about 15km a day, visited 12 countries, took the kids to over 50 playgrounds and churches. It was also great that the grandparents and family were able to join us for the beginning and end legs of our trip, and we met some friends along the way in Lisbon, Munich and Copenhagen. Our favorite parts of the trip were definitely when we were driving with Italy, Spain and Ireland being our favorite kid-friendly countries we visited and Algarve, Marbella, San Sebastian, Como, Lake Bled and the countryside in Ireland were the highlights!

Ayaan and Ariana visited 11 new countries (Italy being a repeat) and ended with a tally of 24 and 20 countries each. Gaurav is now at 48 and Anjali at 45. We felt our itinerary was just right, so if anyone is interested its below. Also once again the lease from Peugeot for 55 days worked out brilliantly and I highly recommend it.

itinerary.png

* solid line is driving, dotted line is flying

June 16 – Fly from SFO to Porto via EWR on United

June 17 – 3 nights – Porto – Sheraton Porto

June 19 – Car rental pickup from OPO Auto Europe lease (drive to Duoro valley)

June 20 – 4 nights – Lisbon, day trip to Sintra – Apartment

June 24 – 3 nights – Drive 3 hours to Algarve (beach front towns) – Luxury collection

June 27 – 3 nights – Drive 2.5 hours to Seville – AC Marriott

June 30 – 3 nights – Drive 2.5 to Marbella. Airbnb, Westin Grand

July 4 – 2 nights – Drive 2 hours to Granada –  Autograph.  Alhambra tour booked 8:15am on July 5th

July 6 – 3 nights – Drive 4 hours to Madrid (day trip to historical capital of Toledo on the way) – Westin Palace, Madrid

July 9 – 2 nights – drive 4 hours to San Sebastián –  Airbnb.

July 11 – 3 nights – drive 2.5 hours to Bordeaux. Day trip to St Emillion and Medoc – Domaine de Mercade

July 14 – 2 nights – drive 4 hours to Lyon – Airbnb

July 16 – 2 nights – drive 2 hours to Lausanne  – B&B in country farmhouse near Lausanne

July 18 – 1 night – drive 2 hours to Tasch (park car to take train to zermatt). Take train to Gornergrat to see Matterhorn, Artist hotel

July 19 – 1 night – Drive 2.5 hours to Lauterbrunnen, Chalet Rosa

July 20 – 3 nights – Drive 3.5 hours to Como / Bellagio – Villa Lago (apt)

July 23 – 2 nights – Drive 2 hours to Florence. Westin

July 25 – 3 nights – Drive 1 hour to San Gimiano / Tuscany. Fattoria Voltrona Agriturismo in San Gimigiano

July 28 – 2 nights – Drive 3 hours to Venice – Agriturismo Il Melograno di Serafin Gianni.

July 30 – 3 nights – drive 3 hours to Lake Bled (consider nearby Triglav National park). guesthouse

Aug 2 – 3 nights – Drive 3 hours to Halstatt. Visit Salzburg on the way to Munich. Apartment.

Aug 5 – 2 nights – Drive 2.5 hours to Munich, stop in Salzburg on the way. Westin Grand Munich

August 7th – Return car to Munich Airport

Aug 7 – 5 nights – Fly to Brussels – Lufthansa – Booked Aloft Brussels

Aug 12 – 4 nights – Fly to Budapest – Brussels airlines  – Booked apartment

Aug 16 – 4 nights – Fly to Copenhagen on Norwegian  – Booked AC Marriott

Aug 20 – 10 nights, Fly to Dublin on Norwegian, Alamo Minivan booked 20-28, parents get in on 19th.  Pick up parents from Dublin and Drive to Kilkenny (1.5 hours) – Springhill Court

Aug 21 – Kinsale (near cork) – (2 hours drive), stop at Rock of Cashel on the way – B&B in Kilbrittain

Aug 22 – Killarney – visit Kinsale, Charles Fort and Dingle peninsula – Booked B&B in Castlemaine

Aug 23 – Killarney (do Rings of Kerry loop – all day; also do Skellig Michale 2 hour boat tour)

Aug 24 – Doolin/Clare (possible stops at Ennis, the Burren, Adare) – (2.5 hours) – B&B

Aug 25 – Doolin/Clare, do Cliffs of Moher

Aug 26 – Galway (1.5 hour drive), Connemara national park day trip – Apartment, 2 nightrs

Aug 28 – Dublin (2.25 hour drive), leave morning to drop off car by 1pm – Apartment 2 nights

Aug 29 – Dublin

Aug 30 – Fly to Mumbai – Turkish Airlines

Looking forward to relaxing in Bombay, visiting my sister in Delhi, spending time with family and exploring Mauritius, Jordan and South East Asia over the next few months.

Ireland – part 3, Galway & Dublin

After a sumptuous breakfast of waffles, freshly baked croissants, and smoked salmon, we set out for Connomarra National Park, a 2.5 hour drive from Corrofin. As we approached the area, our eyes were greeted by stunning lakes, and lush green mountains with waterfalls streaming down. Our first stop in the park was for lunch at the visitor center, after which Ariana played with her grandparents in the park while Ayaan joined Gaurav and I for another hike. As we walked up the mountain, we could see a spectacular view of the valley and lakes below. After the hike, we drove to the beautiful Kylemore abbey which was set against the backdrop of a lake. After strolling the grounds, we drove to Galway and checked in to our apartment. Gaurav brought dinner for the kids and grandparents, and then we enjoyed a date night out! Our first stop was at Cava Bodega where we enjoyed pinxtos and tapas with a carafe of Rioja. Next we headed to the popular pub, Tig Cioli where we each enjoyed a strong Irish Coffee. We learned that Tig Cioli was the first pub that ever opened in Galway and they’d listed the price of a pint for nearly every year since 1900! I’ve begun to really appreciate the pub culture in Ireland because it is extremely kid friendly with baby changing tables, kid menus and live music to drown out any tantrums :). The pubs have become what I look forward to for each meal, and possibly what I’ll miss the most about Ireland! This time though, we were kid free and we decided to make the most of the night. Our next stop was Tich Neachtain where we were able to hustle our way into a fantastic seat right by the live band. We started off with a black Jameson reserve which was fantastic and then proceeded to have several pints of Guinness and whisky flights interspersed with shots of Jameson. We stumbled home and woke up to a heavy hangover the next morning.

It was dada’s birthday so after breakfast at home, everyone enjoyed a treat of the famous Murphy’s ice cream. We walked to Eyre Square and then strolled the medieval streets of Galway taking in the live music at nearly every corner. We made our way to the Galway cathedral which was beautiful. Finally we enjoyed lunch at a pub near our home and then headed back for the kids nap. Ayaan and Ariana have been to over 50 playgrounds during this trip and we took them to another before dinner. It was one of the densest playgrounds we’d been to with a train in addition to the usual and the kids loved it. It was dada’s 73rd birthday and we celebrated with dinner at Buddha Bar. The kids enjoyed singing “happy birthday to Dada”, blowing out the candles and eating up the cake.

In the morning we drove 2.5 hours to Dublin and arrived at our apartment in the heart of Dublin near O’Connell St. Gaurav returned the car to the airport after 1600km of driving, while I picked up groceries and lunch. We spent the afternoon strolling through the historic streets of Dublin – Trinity college, Dublin Castle and St Patrick’s Cathedral. Ayaan wanted sweet corn chicken soup again so we found a nearby Chinese restaurant called M&L which worked out great, and also gave us the opportunity to walk down the touristy city center. After putting Ariana to sleep, Gaurav and I sneaked out to check out the night scene in Dublin. We stumbled upon the Quays bar with a live band that played many of our favorite Karaoke songs! We also visited the famous Temple Bar which is a huge indoor-outdoor pub with Irish local music. The Jameson Black Barrel became our go to drink for the night. Overall we really enjoyed Dublin’s vibe with its historic streets, canals and live music everywhere.

On the last day of our European adventure, we woke up to a sunny Dublin. We took the tram to St Stephens Green, a lovely local park with beautiful flowers, ponds and a playground, and neighborhood. The kids and parents enjoyed the short tram ride. We spent the morning strolling through the park with our coffee, and ate lunch at the mall next door. To celebrate the end of our 2.5 month journey through Europe, Gaurav and I had a special meal at Taste of Rustic, a new age Japanese restaurant in Dublin. After enjoying some Nigiri, we visited the Church bar, a unique experience since neither of us had previously had a drink at a converted church!

It’s been a wonderful journey and we’re thankful that Ayaan and Ariana did incredible, and the grandparents joined us for some of it. On to Bombay for the next phase of our journey!

Ireland – part 2, the west

The west of Ireland is where it’s at, with its stunning coastline and 5 peninsulas. After exploring the Dingle peninsula the previous day, we got a very early start to explore the famous Ring of Kerry drive. The weather wasn’t great in the morning and unfortunately our boat tour around Skellig Michael got cancelled – but we were sort of glad since the ocean was rough and the kids wouldn’t sit still for 2.5 hours. We anyway drove to Portmagee, our first stop on the ring. It’s a small fishing village with the typically colored houses and a breathtaking view point overlooking Skellig Michael and the boats departing to it. Our next stop was just 1.5km away at the Kerry’s Cliffs. The signs are right to call this the most magnificent cliffs of Kerry! We continued down the beautiful Skellig ring drive and were often reminded of the 17 mile drive in Monterey. We stopped for lunch at a pub in Waterville and it was once again a warm experience. We continued driving around the loop making small stops along the way at some sights, and taking a break for coffee and Irish apple cake at Kenmare – another cute town with colorful houses. Ariana and I explored the church here and we took the kids to the playground where they made new friends. Our last section of the ring was through the Molls gap pass and the Killarney national park. We stopped to see the Ladies view and the waterfall along the way, before stopping in the town of Killarney. All of us loved walking around the slightly larger town of Killarney and we ate some Asian street food for dinner.

We started our fifth day in Ireland driving to our next stop in Corrofin, near the Cliffs of Moher. On the way we passed Adare, a small town with thatched roof houses, a castle and a Methodist church. We stopped at Limerick for lunch where we had some delicious Italian food. Before checking in at our next B&B, we visited The Burren National Park, with its limestone rocks and large formation. Ayaan, Anjali and I walked on the 40 min nature loop and we were so proud of Ayaan since he walked the entire loop himself. Our B&B (Burkedale) was lovely as it was a large top floor of a house with meadow views. Joanne our host was very warm and welcoming – as we expected in Ireland at this point. She also gave the kids toys to play with including train tracks and the cars to sit on. The kids loved the house as it had a cat and dog as well. In the evening, we visited the quaint town of Ennis and ate at a recommended pub which was fantastic as well. We tried the Irish coffee which then became a regular for us.

We slept in late in our comfortable B&B and woke up to a good breakfast – having a fulfilling breakfast is one of the best perks of this trip so far! We drove 40 minutes to the famous Cliffs of Moher. We were early enough to beat the rush as we took in the beauty of the magnificent cliffs. As we strolled along the cliff side path it became clear what this place special with its humongous cliffs, green meadows and clear waters. We spent a few hours here and then drove to the nearby Doolin for lunch at a locally recommended pub. We relaxed in the B&B as the kids played with their toys, and later visited the town of Ennis again for dinner.

Ireland – part 1, the south and some west

To end our 2 and a 1/2 month adventure in Europe, we boarded our Norwegian air flight to Dublin. Ireland is a new country for all of us and Ariana’s 20th country! We were excited to be meet my parents who were joining us for this last leg. We arrived to a typically rainy Dublin and rented a large 7-seater to ensure we’d all fit comfortably. I was excited to drive through Ireland on the other side of the road and not have to catch another flight for 10 days. We picked up my parents from their hotel in central Dublin and drove straight to the town of Kilkenny 1 hour 45 mins away. It worked out great since the kids napped after the flight and were overjoyed to meet Dada and Dadi. We stayed at the Springhill Court Hotel which was quite nice and had a pool and spa and most importantly a playground. As soon as we arrived we could tell the Irish were super nice and kid friendly, which was a pleasant change from the recent countries we’d been to where it seemed like they had forgotten how to smile. We spent our first evening eating at Lemongrass, an Asian fusion restaurant, in the heart of Kilkenny. We loved the food and the town with its castle and quaint brightly colored beautiful houses (which we learned through our travels was typical of Irish towns). Anjali and I put the kids to sleep and enjoyed a Guinness at the hotel bar with live Irish music!

Next morning we woke up to an average breakfast in the hotel, before going into the town of Kilkenny. Street parking was easy and we started by walking the grounds of the famous castle from the 12th century. My parents took the kids on a chu chu train tour of Kilkenny which they really enjoyed as it gave them a flavor of this unique town. Anjali and I meanwhile walked through the quaint streets and explored the local Abbey and the church, both of which were worth a visit. Kilkenny was my favorite little town in Ireland! After about an hour of exploration, we drove to the Rock of Cashel that was on our way to our next stop at Kilbrittain. The Rock of Cashel is a historic must-do site, a medieval rock castle, overlooking vast meadows and fields with cows and sheep. Walking through the rock got us hungry and we ate at an Irish pub. The pubs became our go to for meals since the atmosphere, food and service were uniquely Irish and very relaxing. We were also pleasantly surprised to find Indian curry in many of these pubs. After filling our stomachs with yummy food and Guinness, we drove for about 2 hours to our B&B in Kilbrittain called Seafield farmhouse. It was located at the southern tip of Ireland with stunning views of the bay and ocean, hundreds of cows, bright green meadows and to the kids delight had its own dog. The host was very sweet and welcoming as well. Oh yes – and the rooms in Ireland were large unlike much of Europe. We were in love with Ireland to our delight and it was very different than our travels in the mainland. We ended the night with a ocean view dinner at the Pink Elephant with great wine and local food.

We woke up to cows mooing and birds chirping, ate some home made scones and breakfast, and set forth to explore the nearby town of Kinsale. Weather was typically Irish and wet, so we first decided to go to the Charles Fort, a rock fort overlooking Kinsale and the south of Ireland. The kids loved their time here playing with the grandparents and running around with umbrellas in the light rain. We stopped in the town for lunch to devour some pizzas, only after a stop in the playground!

Our stop for the next couple of days was on the west coast in Castlemaine and it was a couple of hours drive from Kinsale. We decided to drive further to the stunning Dingle peninsula since the kids were sleeping. This wasn’t originally part of our itinerary but we were so glad we did this. The Slea Head drive at the tip of the peninsula is one of the most amazing drives I’ve done. It’s extremely narrow and we often got stuck and had to back up – but still worth the drive. We ended our drive at Coumeenoole, a gorgeous view of Skellig Michael and the great basket islands. We drove an hour back through the town of Dingle to the Murphy’s Farmhouse B&B in Castlemaine where we stayed for 2 nights. We ate at yet another local pub that night called Anvil while thoroughly enjoying the live music!

Copenhagen

We arrived into Copenhagen on a rainy evening so we checked into the AC hotel and dined at the hotel bar before calling it a night. The next morning, we took the subway to downtown and the kids were delighted to find a toy store where they could play and ‘test drive’ a large majority of the toys. We spent an unanticipated 45 minutes there since the kids have been deprived of their toys for two months now (save for a few favorites that we were able to squeeze into our suitcase). We then strolled to Nyhavn, a picturesque (albeit touristy) harbor with colored homes and restaurants lining the canal. We ate lunch at one of the restaurants overlooking the water and my burger was pretty good (most other places in Europe where I’ve tried a burger haven’t been able to match up to American / SF standards). We decided to take a canal cruise which was a good start to getting a ‘lay of the land’. We then walked to Christiania, which is meant to be a bohemian, eclectic neighborhood. It may have been the rain but we didn’t get what was special about the neighborhood. The rooftop bar at our hotel had just opened so we decided to dine there. The build-out was impressive and the ambiance hip and energetic. However the service left a lot to be desired. We enjoyed several rounds of Japanese-inspired cocktails that were fantastic but didn’t end up getting our entrees well past the kids bedtime, forcing us to leave somewhat hungry. Not entirely surprising for a restaurants first day but a disappointing experience nevertheless.

I was excited the next morning as my Cornell bestie, Bumjoo was flying in from London with her husband Adam to meet us. We spent the day at the Tivoli Gardens, a creative amusement park that was celebrating its 175th year, and from where Walt Disney reportedly got his inspiration. The park was unique in that it was also appealing to adults with nice restaurants and lounge chairs in the grass. It was a perfect way to catch up with Adam and Bumjoo while the kids were well entertained with a live show, trams, the famous carousel and driving cars and boats. Ayaan was thrilled to finally find cotton candy after searching for it through all of Europe. Luckily, by lunch time the kids were exhausted and napped instantly and soundly, allowing us to enjoy lunch with some local Carlsberg beer! We ended up spending the better part of the day at Tivoli and then retreating back to our hotel through another Pride parade (we experienced pride in Lisbon and Madrid as well!). Dinner was perfect at a nice Indian restaurant Rasoi near our hotel where the kids chowed down on butter chicken and saag paneer with rice.

We started the next morning by climbing to the top of the Round Tower, but not before stopping at a Lego store (LEGO is from Denmark) where the kids played and Ayaan bought a little Lego train. We noticed that all the toy stores in Copenhagen have created an experience for the kids, likely allowing them to survive (and thrive!) despite the proliferation of Amazon and other online retailers (Toys R Us couldn’t learned something from here by creating an experience and potentially preventing their downfall!). The kids did great climbing to the top of the Round Tower by themselves (it helped that there was a ramp nearly the entire way) from where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city. After retreating back down, we headed to the Rossendberg castle and some gardens where the kids played in a unique park. We then met Bumjoo and Adam for lunch at the fresh food market and enjoyed some delicious fresh fish from sushi, sashimi, and a smorgasbord of seafood delights. We strolled to the nearby botanical gardens and a beer garden where they told the history of beer. Next we went to some food trucks in Christiania where we got another small bite with a round of drinks. The Copenhagen Iron Man was inspiring to watch! We bid goodbye to Bumjoo and Adam that evening and enjoyed dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant before retreating to our hotel. Onto Irelend tomorrow where we’ll meet with Gaurav’s parents!

Budapest

After spending the morning eating a nice breakfast and walking in the gardens surrounding the European Parliament in Brussels, we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Budapest, Hungary – a new country for everyone except me. I’d been there on a road trip from Prague for a day and really enjoyed it. The flight was short and kids napped and did well overall as Brussels airways was very kid friendly. One thing that’s not great about traveling with kids in Europe is that you don’t get the stroller at the gate when you arrive. Anyway our bags came quickly and we took a taxi (no uber here) to our amazingly situated apartment at Molnar utca. The one bed apartment was great with air-conditioning (90 degrees here too) although no crib. It’s great to see the kids adapt as we’ve gone from a 3 bed apartment to sleeping in suites and 1 bed apartments, to a single hotel room and finally to 4 of us on queen bed! That evening we walked along the Danube and ate lunch at a fantastic kid friendly Greek restaurant nearby. The server was extremely nice as he gave Ariana a toy horse and Ayaan some lights that made their night!

Next morning we ate breakfast at the apartment and then strolled along the Danube to the magnificent Chain Bridge, crossing it to the Historic buda side. The funicular was closed for maintenance (reminded us of our hillevator!) so we took the open air tram up to the Buda castle. The kids of course enjoyed yet another new form of transportation. The view from the castle of the Pest side is breathtaking, but there’s not much else at the castle. Our next team stop was the Fisherman’s Bastion and Mattheaus’ church which are incredible pieces of architecture in white stone with a great view of the Hungarian parliament and chain bridge. We ate some local Hungarian food at a nearby restaurant before retreating back to our apartment to have a nap. We decided to relax that evening so we took the kids to the nearby park, bought some groceries and a bottle of wine and Anjali cooked us a nice meal.

Next morning we walked across the bridge to the Gellert thermal baths that were 10 mins away. It’s a must-do Hungarian Experience to go spend the day at the baths with its mix of different temperature indoor thermal pools in a historic building, an out door pool, bath and a restaurant. We spent most of the day here as relaxed, drank some Hungarian sparkling wine and the kids enjoyed their pool. A bonus was a live orchestra playing while we chilled poolside. That night Anjali and I celebrated the close of our home by getting a babysitter and dining at the Buddha Bar restaurant. We were very happy with the result although the process had been quite stressful.

We spent our last full day in Budapest, walking the streets. We first visited the Great synagogue, the largest in Europe. We found a great park after that where the kids enjoyed “the swing and the slide” as Ariana says. We then walked down the posh Andrassy Ave to the Heroes square, and it was clear why Budapest is sometimes called the Paris of the East. The Heroes square is situated in the main park that also houses the zoo and the most famous baths. We lost our way a bit as we exited the park in search of Doner kebabs, but eventually caught a bus back to the center – quite stressful with kids. We did eventually get some Doner kebabs that the kids munched down. We were all tired and headed back to the apartment where the kids napped while Anjali and I took turns to get a much needed Thai massage next door. The evening was predictable as we visited the children’s park again and ate some yummy Italian food accompanied with decent a Hungarian red wine. We ended the night by going to one of the open air bars on top of a boat with the kids overlooking the lit up monuments along the Danube river.

On our last morning before catching our flight to Copenhagen, we strolled down to the European Parliament building while stopping for a ride on the Budapest eye overlooking the skyline. Our stay in Budapest was pleasant and quite different that the other places we’d been to! We now traveled for 2 months and to 10 countries.

Belgium

A short 1.5-hour flight from Munich brought us to Brussels. The kids we’re fairly tired by the time we reached our hotel because they were too excited to be on an airline after nearly two months, and skipped their afternoon nap. We walked around in Schuman, the neighborhood where our hotel was located and enjoyed some frites with mayo at the famous Maison Antoine which were delicious! We then enjoyed dinner at an outdoor cafe in the square with some local beer and decided to call it a night.

The next morning, we took the train to Brugge which had he kids thrilled, singing chugga chugga choo choo” and enjoying the sights of numerous cows along the way. The walk from the Brugge station to the Belfry tower and main square was beautiful with ornate small houses lining quaint cobblestone streets. We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of mussels with garlic, shrimp scampi and frites washed down with leffe blonde. We then strolled to the chocolate museum where we enjoyed some delicious samples, sculptures made of chocolate and learned about the origins and history of this treat! Later, the kids napped while Gaurav enjoyed a drink in the square and I climbed up the Belftry tower for views of the city and canal. While beautiful and quaint, Brugge attracts heavy crowds of tourists which detracts from some of its charm.

The next day, the forecast was rainy so we decided to stay in Brussels. Our first stop was the Royal Palace which was grand. The kids loved the interactive science exhibit at the end where they danced with their illuminated shadows! Next we walked to Grand Place, the city’s main square which is lined on all sides with exquisite buildings. It was absolutely stunning! Soon, the rain forced us into an indoor gallery mall where I enjoyed a massage and Gaurav enjoyed some Belgian chocolate tastings while Ayaan napped. After a brief rest at the hotel, we were excited to dine at Tai Hon, a Taiwanese restaurant that I found in a blog where we had a reservation. The kids devoured the entire platter of appetizers before either of us could get a bite in, and we knew we had a win! The entrees were delightful too and we made a reservation to return in a couple of days.

The next morning, we took a train to Gent, a beautiful university town with a river running through the old town. We stopped for lunch at a pizzeria and then made our away to the old town. A ‘bubble man’ in one of the squares had the kids entertained for a while! Next we saw the church and the castle and once the kids napped, we stopped at a riverfront bar for a glass or rose. A few more cafes and drinks later, we made our way back to Brussels and enjoyed sushi at a restaurant near our hotel. Gent was a charming town without the crowds of Brugge which made it very desirable.

Our last day in Brussels was fairly relaxing with no real agenda. We strolled to Parc du Cinquantenaire where we found a large park and sand pit for the kids. We walked past Autoworld, a museum of vintage cars, to a beautiful fountain where we caught a rainbow! We then took the train to the Notre Damn du Sablon, a spendid church and then walked to the famous Mannekin Pis which was somewhat underwhelming. We enjoyed a local lunch and then it was Gaurav’s turn to get a massage while I did a bit of shopping while the kids napped. We returned to Tai Hon for another memorable dinner! We’re off to Budapest tomorrow.

Salzburg & Munich

We drove early this morning to Salzburg, a return visit for me after 20 years, on our way to Munich. The city seems to have developed considerably since I last visited, but maintained its charm. Our first stop was the Mira bell palace and gardens where I reminisced about the songs from Sound of Music. Next, we headed to see the Salzburg Cathedral but it was closed for Sunday service. We strolled around the beautiful baroque quarter, and stopped in a beer garden for a tall mug of beer while the kids played in the fountains and sand pit nearby. After a satiating Indian meal, we continued our journey to Munich while the kids napped.

Gaurav and Ayaan were thrilled to be checking in to the Westin Grand, a hotel with air conditioning after several nights of apartment living. Gaurav’s insights and love for hotels while traveling (and lack of appreciation for apartments) should give us lodging real estaters some comfort in the midst of the sharp rise in shared lodging establishments. After some rest, we headed to the famous Hofbrauhaus for some mugs of beer with sausages, roast chicken and pretzels. The kids enjoyed the live music and the meal. We then strolled around the various squares and made our way to Marien platz where the sounds of beautiful live music at every corner had us stopping several times to appreciate the beats. Later that evening, Gaurav and I enjoyed the remainder of our Tignanello after putting the kids to bed.

The next morning, it appeared that Gaurav was more excited than either of the kids as we planned to visit Legoland! A first for me, it was pretty incredible to see miniature cities replicated entirely in LEGO – Venice was particularly impressive due to our recent visit. The kids enjoyed riding in the LEGO train, boat, car, helicopter, and following the boats and trains in the miniature models.

Today is our last day with a car; we return it at Munich airport tomorrow and fly to Brussels. The past seven weeks have been incredible! Ariana has blossomed into a lively toddler that loves to sing – she awakens singing and often sings during the car rides. Her favorites are “baa baa black sheep”, “how far I’ll go” from Moana and “Five Little Monkeys” complete with the act of jumping on the bed! She’s also extremely talkative and expressive and her comments often leave Gaurav and I looking at each other in wonder going “did you hear what she just said”. Keep that going, Ariana. Ayaan continues to be very caring particularly about his little sister which is also very gratifying to see. Nearly 7,500 kilometers later, Au Revoir to our white Puegot, you served as well.

Austria

After a 3 hour drive we arrived in Bad Goisern, Austria – Ariana’s 15th country. It continues to be brutally hot in Europe this summer with the heat wave with temperatures in the 90s in places like Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland. We checked in to our apartment in a hotel which was great with a wrap around balcony. We took it light since it was a travel day and went to nearby Bad Ischl, Austria’s original capital, and to a local children’s park which the kids really enjoyed with a train, zip line and jungle gym. Ayaan “drove” us in the train to Porto – that place and name is ingrained in him since we kept telling him about the trip when were in Sausalito and how we’re flying to Porto.

On our first day, we woke up early and drove to Hallstatt. We took the funicular up to the viewpoint overlooking Halstatt and the lake, which the kids loved since it reminded them of the hillevator in Sausalito. The view was stunning and we were lucky to get up there early. Ayaan then said “let’s walk around the lake” so we strolled through the beautiful but touristy Halstatt. We then decided to drive to Dachstein Krippenstein and take the cable car up to the top of the mountain at 2100m. Kids once again loved it as expected and we were all delighted to find the temperature to be much cooler at noon. We ate a nice lunch overlooking the glaciers and mountains, after which Ariana fell asleep in the stroller. Anjali and Ayaan went and played in the snow – it was Ayaan’s first time and he loved making snow balls. That tired him and he napped as well. We pushed the stroller on a short hike to 5 fingers which is a lookout over the stunning lake and Halstatt. Enough activities for the day and we headed back to the apartment, visited the same park again, did some laundry and called it a night. Putting Ariana to sleep has gotten more difficult as she’s gotten used to hanging out and playing with Ayaan.

On our last full day in the area, we decided to spend time visiting the smaller, lesser known towns and lakes in the breathtaking Salzkammergut area. We first visited St. Gilgen on Wolfgangsee which was quaint and absolutely stunning. Halstatt is the most famous, but the other towns are equally great and less touristy. We had a cup of coffee lakeside and then visited the children’s park in the center. The kids were thrilled to visit the fire station that had a open house and push the baby stroller in the town. We then drove along turquoise and deep blue lakes to Mondsee, which is a charming. colonial town with a nice square. Ariana saw a church and said “Lets go see the church” and so we did. We learned later that it was the same church where Captain Vontrapp and Maria had been married decades earlier. We saw an Austrian folk band play live for a wedding in the square which was cool. We had lunch in one of the Italian restaurants in the square and devoured some delicious risotto and pizza – ironically now that we were out of Italy Ayaan loved it. The kids napped and we took the opportunity to take a longer scenic route driving past a few more lakes including Traunsee and the relatively uninspiring time of Ebensee. Our evening was fairly predictable as we took the kids to the park again, took the kids to a Chinese restaurant, and opened our bottle of Tignanello. Off on our final drive tomorrow to Munich.

Slovenia

A quick 3 hour drive in the morning from Venice brought us to Lake Bled in Slovenia, a new country for all of us! We were disappointed to learn that the weather here too was sweltering and unfortunately our room didn’t have air conditioning. Fortunately it got fairly pleasant at night and we had a balcony to enjoy after the kids slept. The lake is stunning and very hard to capture in pictures with its bright turquoise, warm, crystal clear waters filled with row boats and a tear drop island. We particularly liked that it felt like a really small town. The first evening we walked around the lake, sat by the shore and dipped our toes in the lake, and ate some Chinese food nearby since it’s the kids’ favorite. Anjali and I finally got to spend some time in the balcony after the kids slept and sip on our Antinori chianti.

The next morning we ate some yummy breakfast overlooking the lake and visited the bled castle with its breathtaking view of the lake and the island. The kids did great as they climbed up themselves and appreciated the view (Ariana said “so pretty” and Ayaan said “we should get a house like this”). We then took the row boat to the island. The ride was beautiful but the island church and tower were disappointing. After our boat ride, we ate a nice lunch lakeside at the Hotel Jezero while the kids were busy playing with the baby stroller. Ayaan has become quite European – before drinking water he always asks if it’s sparkling now. The kids had a late nap after which we decided to go visit the Castle beach for a dip in the lake and some fun for the kids with a sand pit. It’s a must do in Lake bled as the water is warm and it’s a great way to experience the lake with family.

On our last day in Bled, we woke up early and made our way to Vintgar Gorge – a beautiful stroll along a crystal clear river with waterfalls among narrow rock cliffs. It reminded us a bit of Plitvice in Croatia, but not as emphatic. The kids did fantastic again as they walked about 80% of the way appreciating the beauty and saying hi to all the doggies on the way. I’m glad we got there early since we missed the crowds and the sun. We were all a bit tired after the hike, so we drove to Lake Bohinj about 45 mins away for lunch. Beautiful but not really worth a visit after Lake Bled. Our final evening in Bled was spent strolling along the lake and capping the night off with some local Bled cream cake and a glass of muscat. Slovenia has been relaxing although hot, and we’re off to Austria tomorrow!