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!

Venice

After 5 days in Tuscany (including Florence), we drove 3.5 hours to the Venice area. We arrived at our agriturismo in the scorching heat of the afternoon and decided to make it a rest day. We bought some groceries and Anjali cooked us a nice dinner that we accompanied with our Chianti Classico from Antinori. We could see the kids really enjoy munching down on pizza, broccolis and chicken nuggets in a safe environment, rather than another dinner in a restaurant. They also really enjoyed playing with the baby tractors, swing, trampoline, slides and toy house, all while pushing their stroller around. We traveled fairly light so we took this time to do some laundry and Anjali and I got to spend some time together alone after the kids slept early. Oh and we finally got to wash our car which got pretty disgusting after 6 weeks!

The next morning we woke up late and the kids enjoyed mamas breakfast and the outdoors. We parked the car in a lot and took the bus into the main city of Venice with its grand canals. It was convenient and after seeing the long line for the parking at the entrance of the city (of course no cars inside), it was definitely the right decision. It was my first time in Venice and it is as unique as you would imagine it to be. With over 100 islands, 400 bridges, and buildings up against the canal, it’s majestic and romantic. However the heat along with the heavy tourists really take away from it. The other thing we realized is that it’s probably one of the worst places to visit with young kids since people aren’t super nice (since it’s crowded and touristy), it’s extremely hot and humid, not very stroller friendly as most bridges have stairs, and lastly and most importantly not too safe with toddlers running around as there’s water everywhere!

We, however, made the best of our time there taking the vaporetto (water bus), walking in Realto and in the San Marco square. The kids were fascinated with the gondolas and with canals everywhere and no cars. We found a nice air conditioned restaurant where for once we allowed the kids to enjoy ice cream for lunch since it was too hot. We made our way back to the agriturismo via vaporetto-bus-car and took a well deserved nap in the afternoon. Italy 🇮🇹 has been great overall and we’ll definitely be back (thought probably not again to Venice, once is sufficient). Off to a new country tomorrow!

Tuscany

Tuscany was the only place in our entire trip that Gaurav and I had been to together, but had always wanted to return, and so we decided to repeat! A short drive from Florence, and we entered the beautiful town of San Gimignano. The heat was oppressive though, and the kids weren’t cooperating. Surprisingly and much to our dismay, Ayaan has developed somewhat of an aversion to pizza which made meal time challenging. And then, when we asked Ayaan to stop being on the phone once lunch was served, he uttered the dreaded bad word. And for that moment, the heat combined with the tantrum made me wonder whether coming to Tuscany (and the entire trip in general) was a good idea. We retreated to our agriturismo and after an unsuccessful attempt at getting the kids to nap, spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool overlooking the sprawling vineyards. The kids eventually had a late nap and Gaurav and I decided to leverage the opportunity to enjoy dinner without the kids at a beautiful restaurant back in the town of San Gimignano. We tried the pici – a simple spaghetti with garlic and the dessert Ive long craved since I left Italy – a chocolate panna cotta…that first bite, and it made me feel for that moment, that coming back to Tuscany (and the trip in general) was all worth it!

The next morning, we were off to a better start. We drove to Chianti for our appointment at Antinori, extremely excited to be visiting the ‘alma mater’ of one of our favorites – Tignanello. The winery was exceptionally stunning – founded back in the 14th century, it underwent a 100 million upgrade in 2012. From the wine making process and equipment to the tasting rooms and experience and of course, the wines itself, we were blown away! Following the tour and tasting, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch overlooking the vineyards and left several bottles of wine later.

Our next stop was Amorelli where a very friendly server talked us through a wine, olive oil and balsamic tasting paired with cheese, prosciutto and olives. We were surprised to learn that balsamic was the most expensive item on their menu (the best, and what Italians consider only real balsamic) is made only from grapes and aged for 10-36 years. Wow! That evening, in anticipation of Ariana’s second birthday, we went to a toy store to buy her gifts. We were pleased to find a wonderful kids play area above, complete with bouncy houses, water play, slides, ball houses and much more! The kids spent a fantastic hour there playing with each other and local kids. It’s fascinating to see that kids don’t really need to speak the same language to have a blast.

The next morning, Ariana opened her gifts and was thrilled with her new walking/talking (albeit in Italian) doggie and baby stroller. We then drove to Montalcino because we love Brunellos! We started at Altesino and then headed to Barbi for lunch where the kids enjoyed playing outdoors with their new toys. Our last stop was Banfi where I was excited to see the association with Cornell’s Hotel School #hotelieforlife. That evening, Gaurav had reserved a table at a wonderful terrace overlooking he vineyards to celebrate Ariana’s birthday. We started off by allowing her to open her bubbles and entertain herself until the food arrived. After a dinner of chicken and French fries, she devoured a panna cotta while we all sang to her. Later that evening, the kids enjoyed coconut gelato in the square before calling it a night. happy Birthday Ariana – we love you!

Being a part of Ariana’s exponential growth over the past six weeks has been particularly gratifying for us. Traveling with kids isn’t always easy but, for us, it’s been so worth it!

Firenze (or Florence)

Our second stop in our favorite Italy was in the city of Florence. After a straightforward 4 hour drive, we arrived at the riverfront Westin Excelsior. At this point we’ve driven more then 5,000km on the journey and I am so proud of Ayaan and Ariana for being fantastic on the drives. It was my first time in Florence and it was quite different than what I had expected. It was quaint, sleepy, romantic and historic with an incredible skyline and amazing food (which I expected). The hotel was majestic and smelt really nice and most importantly the staff were super nice to the kids unlike in France or Switzerland.

After checking in, I first got a much needed haircut at a local barber. We then walked along the river passing the famous bridges until we came upon the Ponte Vecchio – initially we weren’t blown away by this bridge but only after looking at it for sometime did the beauty sink in – and the amazing architecture where they actually have houses and shops on a bridge! We then strolled to the nearby Piazza degli Uffizi, after getting some tiramisu gelato. We spent ample time in the Piazza della Signoria with the open air sculptures, the over arching Palazzo Vecchio and the buzzing square. Ariana loved her time saying Hi Horsey to the horse carriages and looking at the lion sculptures. We then walked to the Cathedral di Santa Maria with its tile outdoors. The kids had done enough sightseeing so we treated them to the carousel in one of the squares, before they were too tired and threw tantrums that required us to call it a night.

We woke up late the second morning and took a taxi to Piazza Michealangelo that offered sweeping views of Firenze and it’s skyline. We relaxed with a glass of Prosseco as Ayaan played with the stroller and Ariana was amused by the birdies. We then took a bus to Mercato San Lorenzo – a huge marketplace with the freshest ingredients and restaurants to devour. We had a simple Spagehtti Carbonara with our Brunello followed up with a Tiramisu. We were too tired from the food and heat, and we decided to nap back in our hotel.

When we woke up, we went to the rooftop bar of the hotel with amazing views of the main monuments. Anjali and I were excited since it was date night and we had a babysitter coming! After getting the kids set with some Indian food in the room, we walked over to a rooftop bar about 10 mins from the hotel. The weather got really nice in the evening and it was a perfect setting. We wrapped up the night with a delicious meal at Caffe dell’Oro. Starting with a tempura style fried vegetables along with a Brunello, followed by a yummy pasta and risotto, and ending with a local Tiramisu with hot coffee poured over it and a Moscato. Perfect end to a romantic couple of days in Firenze!

Como / Bellagio

After a long journey from Switzerland, we were thrilled to cross the border into Italy where we knew we’d be greeted with amazing food (the only country in Europe we all have been to)! The kid-friendly attitude of the Italians was a welcome respite after several days in France and Switzerland! We ate at a Pizzeria in Como where Gaurav and I were delighted to dig in to our favorite marina pizza which we’ve seen only in Italy. The kids played in the lakeside park and Ayaan jumped through the water fountains, becoming drenched for our short car ride to Lezzeno, a small town bordering Bellagio. We stayed in a lovely apartment with a 180 degree view of the lake which was perfect after the smaller rooms in Switzerland.

The next morning, the rainy weather, combined with a long and grueling journey the previous day convinced us to relax in our house and enjoy the beautiful vistas of Lake Como. Once the kids awoke, we drove to a park near Bellagio where Ayaan enjoyed a mini zip line! We spent the evening strolling in the beautiful town of Bellagio with its mansions and amazing views.

The next morning, we hit the Lido di Bellagio beach club where the kids enjoyed playing in the outdoor showers and with their sand toys, while Gaurav and I relaxed with a bottle of Prosecco. After a few hours of sun, we took a dip in the cool lake.

That evening, we rented a boat from Lezzeno and passed the beautiful palaces and gardens of Bellagio. Although we were worried about being on the boat with both kids, they were fairly cooperative with Ayaan serving as co-pilot with his daddy while Ariana enjoyed the thrill of the boat and the beautiful view! We enjoyed dinner at Pizzeria Aurora before retreating to our home for a nightcap of Brunello di Montalcino from Banfi. Our time in Como / Bellagio was relaxing and filled with a lot of fantastic food and wine – just what we needed!! Italy is one of our favorite countries so we weren’t surprised that both of us wanted to return back to the area someday.

Switzerland

We spent the next 4 nights driving through Switzerland (new country for Ayaan and Ariana and our 4th of the journey). We drove to Lausanne first, ate some Chinese food since Ayaan loves sweet corn soup and chicken with rice, and visited the church overlooking the city. We weren’t really looking to be in such a big city in Switzerland so we drove through the picturesque lakeside Ouchy to our remote bed and breakfast called Ferme de La Praz. It was set in the countryside overlooking sprawling farm land, cows with bells and the lake – exactly what we were looking for. We relaxed in the lawn, played on the trampoline and the kids enjoyed playing with trains in their game room. We ate some fondue at a local restaurant that was outdoors and had chickens nearby that kept the kids entertained.

The next day we ate some yummy breakfast at the BnB and drove to the nearby Lac de Joux. We walked around the beautiful lake and stopped by at the one of the prettiest playgrounds lakeside. Instead of eating at one of the touristy spots by the lake, we decided to get some Doner kebab in a nearby town. The kids napped that afternoon and Anjali and I finally got some time to spend with each other in the hot tub with some wine we had brought from Bourdeax. That evening was uneventful as we played in the game room and ate dinner in the garden of the BnB getting ready for the next couple of days that were hectic. However no day is complete without Ayaan and sometimes Ariana playing with the car and occasionally driving it with daddy.

The next morning we drove for 2 hours to Zermatt. We loved the mountain town of Zermatt that you can only reach by train. Our host at Artist apartment & hotel Garni was extremely friendly and picked up our bags from the station, while we took the Gornergrat railway up the mountain to get a clear view of Matterhorn from 10,000 feet. The kids loved the train ride with its huge windows and scenic views including waterfalls and glaciers. We spent a couple of hours gazing at the Matterhorn and other peaks and the kids were thrilled to feast on some ice cream! We picked up some wine on the train ride down as the kids napped. The town of Zermatt is quite romantic with live music, outdoor patios and great food. We took advantage of this before retreating to the hotel, putting the kids to sleep and enjoying the view of the Matterhorn from our balcony before we slept.

On our last day in Switzerland, we bid farewell to our host Richard, got some breakfast in town and took the train to the car that was parked in the garage. The drive to Lauterbrunnen was not only beautiful but also interesting as we all enjoyed taking the train while we sat in the car (similar to a ferry) for 17km through many tunnels. Lauterbrunnen is a few miles north of the tourist chaos of Interlaken and is stunningly situated with a waterfall in the town overlooking the snow mountains. We stopped on our way in the tiny town of Isenfluh where we got a clear, spectacular view of Jungfrau.

In the afternoon we visited the Trummelbach falls, that are extremely unique as the gushing falls (that come from Jungfrau as well as all the nearby mountains and glaciers) flow through the caves and provide gorgeous views of Lauterbrunnen. It was a spectacular sight to see and feel the force of these falls illuminated in the vast caves. Kids under 4 were not allowed so Anjali and I had to take turns while Ayaan napped and Ariana was in a playful mood. We stayed at the Chalet Rosa, which was quite average although well located right by the famous Stabbach Falls, and ate some Raclette and Rosti nearby. The kids of course enjoyed their chicken nuggets.

Overall Switzerland was extremely beautiful but we were surprised to find many mosquitoes and an overall lower tolerance to young kids. After 4 nights we were ready to head to our favorite – Italy!

Lyon: An unexpected experience

After bidding farewell to Dayton (the dog) in Rauzan, we left on our longest drive of the trip – a five hour drive to Lyon. We always planned Lyon as a stopover rather than a destination, but with the double whammy weekend of Bastille Day and the World Cup Final with France playing we knew it’ll be fun. We checked into our Airbnb and were quite disappointed since it was small, the washer didn’t work and most importantly it wasn’t safe for the kids with a spiral staircase and a loft. Since it was a holiday weekend we decided to drive around Lyon which worked out great since parking was free everywhere. That evening we walked along the Rhone river, across the walking bridge, and spent some time in the slides and water park along the river. Lyon was beautiful with two rivers, several bridges and a mix of historic and modern architecture. Also more chill than Paris with friendlier people more tolerant of children which was a great change after the Bordeaux wine region. Our favorite part of the evening was sitting on one of the boat rooftops overlooking the city while drinking some cider. One month into our trip we were craving some non-European food and we came across an amazing Sichuan restaurant called Bon Voyage, that compared well with our favorite Z&Y in SF. We slept that night with the sounds of fireworks celebrating Bastille day.

Next morning we decided to check out a day early out of our Airbnb and move into the Marriott close by. Anjali has exceptional benefits at Marriott and SPG that have significantly helped with the rates, upgrades and free breakfast! Our second day in Lyon was incredible. We started off by grabbing breakfast at a local coffee shop and their cinnamon brioche, soft boiled eggs and flat white was just what you would expect in Lyon. We then drove to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere, a Sacre Coure like cathedral on top of the hill overlooking Lyon and it’s two rivers. We went for the view but the cathedral was a piece of art with paintings and sculptures to match the best of what we’ve seen – by far the best cathedral so far on our trip.

Next we went to the local park – Parc de la Tete d’Or to see the botanical gardens. This park was a complete surprise. In addition to the indoor and outdoor sprawling botanical gardens, it had some amazing kids activities. It was a free zoo with giraffes, zebras, bears, crocodiles, flamingos and other animals enclosed right the in the middle of the park – something I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. In addition they had a children’s area where Ayaan enjoyed earning his first reward by “fishing” for 9 ducks. Ayaan is so caring that he gave one of his three airplanes he won to Ariana. Ayaan also enjoyed sitting on a baby “horse carriage” with me pulling the horse carriage for 10 mins through the track and tunnels (tiring!). Ariana enjoyed going to the carousel all by herself for the first time! She’s a little bold monsta (as she says).

I was particularly excited about the evening – it was the world cup soccer final and France was playing Croatia – and we were in Lyon, what luck! We drove from the Marriott and found parking very close to the main square where 20,000 fans were gathered to watch the game. It starts pouring in Lyon around 430pm everyday so by the time we walked around the square we were completely drenched. But the atmosphere was amazing. We got lucky to get into a bar with screens everywhere and French fans in full spirit. Ayaan slept through the game but Ariana was participating in the cheering and dancing as France beat Croatia 4-2 to win the World Cup. It was an incredible scene on the streets and we were so fortunate to have witnessed it! On our drive back to the hotel we accidentally joined the motorcade of cars with fans screaming, sitting on top of cars and honking loudly. Anjali of course joined the action by sitting on the window. Overall Lyon was a special experience and we are sure to be back!

Bordeaux

We spent our first day in France, our 3rd country of the trip and new to both kids, in the city of Bordeaux, kicking it off with Croque Monsieurs and a local red blend at a cafe. Next the kids enjoyed sitting on the carousel. We walked to the main square where the kids had a blast splashing in the water at the city’s ‘mirror wall’. It was adorable watching the kids run around in their underwear and diaper in the water in front of the river and Bordeaux architecture.

We then checked in to Domaine de Mercade, a chateau converted into a BnB, and enjoyed some time playing in their large yard with their lovely dog, Dayton. We went to a nearby pizzeria for dinner and retreated for the night while Gaurav watched Croatia beat England in he semi finals. The next morning, we went to the Saint Emilion region, and started off with a tour and tasting at La Gaffelierre, a premier grand cru chateau dating back to the 11th century. We enjoyed Merlot and Cabernet Franc blends while kids munched on the breadsticks. We enjoyed steak tartare, poached eggs with foie gras and sea bream with chorizo at a restaurant called Lord et Bouchon. The town of Saint Emilion is charming and very quaint with lots of wine stores and restaurants. Our next appointment was in Chateau Tournfeuille in Pomerol. Pomerol and Saint Emilion are known for their Merlot and Cabernet Franc blends. We had dinner at a small creperie in a nearby village before retreating back to our chateau.

We drove to the Medoc region (“the middle land”) on our last day that is well known for its Cabernet Souvignon blends. We started in the beautiful property of Chateau Dauzak in the town of Margaux. The kids enjoyed the sprawling gardens, fountains, sheep and automatic lawn mowers. After our wine tasting (with a self guided walk) we stopped at the La Garre Gourmand (or the gourmet station) for lunch. It was a cute little outdoor restaurant right next to the train tracks and with two 5 month old bunnies. We had our final tasting at Chateau Ferreire before hearing back to our chateau where we sat in the garden, played with Dayton, drank a bottle of wine while the kids played on the trampoline. We didn’t have a great dinner experience since the host was being too snooty with the kids. Overall we loved our experience at the chateau, but from a wine perspective realized we are too spoilt by the amazing Napa and Sonoma wines and the relaxing tasting experiences there. Onto Lyon, our second and last stop in France.