Married to Medicine

Married to Medicine

Friday, September 7, 2018

Our Epic Europe Trip (with Itinerary)

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NOTE:  You can click the pics to enlarge them.  I don't think I got the videos to work :(   If anyone knows how, let me know!  Also, be sure to scroll down to the bottom for my travel tips!
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Y'all.  It's been forEVER since I updated this blog.  I didn't even do a post about how Mark finally finished training (all 15 post-college years of it) and accepted a faculty position here, at DFCI/Harvard.  We're permanent Bostonians!  But I can't miss capturing our family's biggest adventure yet.  And many of you have asked for the itinerary, so here it goes!

Now, let it be known that I would never have set out to plan a 3-week trip to Europe - it was insanity, cost-wise, planning-wise (literally 100+ hours; I planned it myself because I felt the travel agent my parents were going to use was ripping us off - and I did it for way cheaper, and we stayed in much nicer places) and logistics-wise, especially with two kids (ages 5 and 7) and my aging parents (my mom's knees are bad enough right now that it was a major consideration daily).  It started with Mark having a conference to attend in Sweden.  I've blogged before about how his mother embraces her Swedish heritage - cooking, baking, decorating, even the church community they're a big part of has strong Swedish roots.  He wanted to seize the opportunity and take her to Sweden - she'd never been!  And since he'd flown Iceland Air before, he'd seen more than his share of those enticing advertisements for the stopover.  In case you didn't know, if you fly Iceland Air, you can stop for up to 8 days in Iceland for FREE.  Meaning, you pay for ONE plane ticket (ours were to Sweden) and you get to see two countries.  So - Iceland, Sweden, and then Mark also wanted to visit a French friend/colleague of his who has a vacation home in Provence (specifically, the coastal town Le Lavandou).  I had met his wife (also an MD/researcher) and child a few times back when they were in Boston for a sabbatical research year, plus I was dying to get back to France after having majored in French and spent a college year studying there, so it sounded like a great plan.  I then realized that since I'd be in France and adjusted to the timezone, I should stay after Mark had to go back, meet up with my parents, and knock a few more areas off my bucket list.  I don't even remember how Switzerland got roped into it but it did, and the trip was now 4 countries and 8 towns long.  Here's as brief a summary as I can muster:

Iceland (2 days)

Iceland was fascinating; I definitely recommend it, especially as a stopover.  It's an isolated country with a population no bigger than that of Madison, WI, that was 100% uninhabited until the 800s, when it was settled by Norwegians.  Due to its isolation, the spoken language didn't change much over the centuries and it amounts to Old Norwegian - so old that modern Norwegians couldn't understand it.  It is frigid - we wanted winter coats and hats in August - and basically seemed very bleak, plus the island has active volcanos ... I was fascinated by the fact that it had ever been settled by anybody, honestly, and I wondered if having such a close-knit community (they actually have to check a registry when they start dating to make sure they're not too related) was what got them through the near-perpetual state of winter.  Iceland remained isolated until recent decades - just 50 years ago, it wasn't uncommon to travel by horse and not own a car.  In WWII the U.S. basically plopped down an air force base that eventually became the main airport and current source of tourism. Tourism has has been of huge benefit to Iceland's economy, which at the turn of the 20th century was not only the poorest in Europe but was 100x poorer than the next poorest country in Europe, according to our guide.

We saved a ton of money in Iceland by staying in an AirBNB (we otherwise would have needed two hotel rooms).  It was my first time booking one and I was nervous but as long as you choose one that already has a ton of great reviews, it'll be great.  If you have a rental car, be sure your AirBNB (or hotel) has parking.  ALSO - when you rent cars in Europe, pay close attention because a lot of them are manual rather than automatic - even if you're using a common U.S.-based company like Hertz, you need to be careful when booking.

Most visitors to Iceland will want to hit the Blue Lagoon, a really cool looking natural hot spring/spa. it's near the airport, which is about 45 minutes from the main town (Reykjavik), so most people do it on their way into or out of town.  You need to book tickets in advance.  We took a redeye, rented a car, and drove immediately here, arriving at 7am - you could take a bus from the airport, but you'd need to lock your suitcase in a hut near the parking area.  Be sure to have your shampoo (lots, because the silica that makes the water naturally blue makes your hair stiff), cream rinse, moisturizer, etc., ready (packed separately, so you can grab them from your suitcase and take them in) - they make you shower beforehand it's pretty much impossible to not get your hair wet in those showers, so you're going to actually swim.  Try for a morning spot since some reviews say it gets dirty by the afternoon.  Food in Iceland is expensive, so if you're on a budget consider bringing your own food (unless you're a foodie and it's your main reason for going, like me).

Outside of the Blue Lagoon: Freezing, near-barren land with natural hot springs.
*  You can click ANY of these pics to enlarge, and many are BEST viewed that way!!
The other big thing to do in Iceland is a "Golden Circle" tour.  It's a tour that hits some of the highlights closest to the main city, Reykjavik - we saw waterfalls, geysers, tectonic plates and more.  I definitely recommend it; we were exhausted from our red-eye and the blue lagoon (day 1) so it was a great way to spend day 2.  We wouldn't have had the energy to get to all these places ourselves, and we loved hearing all the interesting tidbits from our tour guide on the bus.

Fam pic on the Golden Circle Tour.  #Tired


Our tour guide brought some traditional iIcelandic food - smoked lamb on flat rye pancakes and "ale," a nonalcoholic drink that tasted like really sweet beer (they mix it with orange soda and that's their traditional Christmas drink!)

Icelandic horses are unchanged since the 800s due to the country's isolation.  Icelanders are very proud of this fact and it is prohibited to bring a horse into the country - even it was a horse originally born in Iceland.

Trying so hard to keep this short (hahaha...) but I can't not mention our best food find.  Sandholt is a cafe in the center of Reykjavik with downright incredible pastries and hot chocolate.  It's not cheap, but it really was amazing - even compared to what I've had in France.

Amazing hot chocolate at Sandholt

Sweden (3 days)


Next up, we flew from Reykjavik, Iceland to Stockholm, Sweden.  Again, the "stopover" in Iceland was free so we only paid for the Sweden ticket.  Such a great deal, both for travelers and for Iceland's economy!

I was downright enchanted with Sweden, even though we only had a few days here.  It's beautiful, the food is fantastic (I personally love seafood, dill, pickled things, potatoes, and pastries!) and I've always been fascinated with nordic/Scandinavian culture.  I would love to go back someday and see more of the countryside or other coastal towns.

For this portion of the trip we stayed in a centrally located hotel and did not rent a car.  It was easy to get from the airport to the center of town by bus (it took a little longer but was significantly cheaper than the direct shuttle).  I recommend selecting a hotel by reading TripAdvisor reviews.  Honestly, TripAdvisor is the best thing ever.
Stunning Stockholm.
* You can click ANY of these pics to enlarge, and many are best viewed that way!!

Mother/daughter pic under overcast skies

My MIL's first meal in Sweden - Swedish meatballs in old town!
This was an incredible family memory; how neat is it to take someone somewhere they've had a lifelong interest in?!





























The two best attractions in Stockholm (based on tons of reviews I read) are the Vassa Museum and Skansen.  The Vassa Museum is a fascinating restoration of a sunken Swedish war ship from the 1600s.  You could spend an entire day there; I would allocate a solid 3 hours even with kids.  The information is fascinating and it was highly educational - you'll get some history, physics, art, and even biology since the bones of many who went down with it have been recovered and analyzed, and are stored and visible at the museum (Matthew was fascinated).


Vassa Museum

Vassa Museum

Skansen is a living, outdoor museum that has everything from remakes of old shops and houses to zoo-like areas that feature animals native to Sweden.  It was fascinating and I wish we'd had more time here.

At Skansen

Gorgeous city view from Skansen.

Another really great thing to do is to take a boat to one of the archipelago islands.  We were lucky that my MIL had had a Swedish host student back in 1998/99 and the student, now a mom of 3, and her mother met up with us and took us on one of these (you can buy tickets day-of, just head to all the boats near downtown).  We had lunch on the island at the most adorable, picturesque cafe.  It was delicious and a perfect day spent with the nicest people.

On the boat.

Adorable lunch spot.

Out of a storybook!

A Swedish feast with our Swedish friends.

Dessert was to DIE for!

Cute shot on the island.

Food - if you're on a budget, no problem.  I could have eaten cardamom buns all day long.  Similar to cinnamon rolls but with the complex spice of cardamom.



Le Lavandou - Provence, France (3 days)

After Stockholm, we said goodbye to my MIL and flew to Nice, France (on the southern/Mediterranean coast) to visit Mark's friend/colleague Jerome and his family.  They own a vacation home and Jerome is into sailing, so this part of the trip involved relaxing in a smaller type of town and sailing in the afternoons.  The sailing was amazing - we put anchor down and went diving off the boat, and the water was such a crystal clear blue that we could see about 40 feet down to the sand on the bottom.  The food was incredible; I've found the food in Southern France to be significantly better than in the North - it's all about the produce.

Clearly a sailing town!
*You can click ANY of these pics to enlarge, and most are BEST viewed that way!!

Simply adorable.

Jerome and Alexa made us amazing meals with local produce, hams, and other goods. The salads especially were just divine.
Sailboat buddies!
Captain Jerome.  I thought this was pretty cool - he's the only doctor in France that Jehovah's Witnesses with blood cancers see.  He developed some way to treat them without transfusions.  He and Mark are kindred spirits.  We just love this family.



Swimming off the sailboat in the Mediterranean!!!  One of the very top highlights of the trip.

I should note that this part of the trip was not without adventure.  Our flight to Nice was delayed and got in very late, and we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us in a foreign country with kids.  We learned the toll system on the fly (sometimes you take a ticket, sometimes you pay).  And Claire's motion sickness got the best of her - we barely saved the rental car by balancing some cardamom buns we were bringing Jerome and Alexa on the center consul and having her use the bakery box.  Thankfully it was a very good box, for a pastry box!!

Nice (2 days)

Nice is beautiful but it's super urban and touristy.  It was our least favorite city of the trip.  I had anticipated this so we only had two nights here - and that was only by necessity, so Mark could fly out early one morning.  It was really just the most logical place to meet up with my parents and head to the Alps!

Cool view from the hotel.

*Almost* sophisticated.

We did have an incredible meal of crepes here.  If you're not familiar, creperies in France serve savory crepes called "galettes" so you really can make a whole meal of crepes - and you definitely should!!
Ladies in the city.
It was pretty hot out, and lots of ice cream was eaten.

Claire learned to dive!

Annecy, France (3 days)


So here comes the part of the trip from my bucket list - from here out it was just me, the kids, and my parents.  I'd wanted to see Annecy and Chamonix during the college year I spent in France, but train strikes foiled my plans.  Not to be caught off guard again, my parents and I flew from Nice to Geneva, rented a car, and did easy 45 minute drives between the airport, Annecy, and Chamonix.  Y'all...

I.

Am.

In.

LOVE

With these little towns.  Oh my GOSH.  Annecy is STRAIGHT out of a dream - you could picture Beauty & The Beast happening here.  It's centered around a stunning, crystal clear lake that has breathtaking backdrops of the Alps and is the perfect temperature for swimming.  The actual town itself is an old medieval town with an equally stunning river running through its heart.  I have to be honest here and tell you that we splurged on our hotel.  We booked a really nice one that was right by the swimming beach and had an utterly glorious breakfast spread and outdoor dining each morning - it was about a 20 minute, mind-blowingly beautiful walk into town.  This portion of the trip captured my personal version of total vacation perfection.  I wish I'd had a full week here to bike the lake, swim, hike, and explore the town.  Those things plus the food here, which was French with Alpine influences (think fondue and LOTS of cheese), are my idea of heaven.

The old town during the day - to DIE for!  You have GOT to click this pic and enlarge it!!!

Another view - this one at night.  Click to enlarge!

Yet another cute view, this time with Papa <3!
This adorable decorative door to nowhere reminded me of Claire's favorite book, "Flower Fairies Magical Doors."

It was REALLY hard to narrow down my pics of the lake.

What a trip for them!!  (Click to enlarge)

Heaven. (Click to enlarge)

This pic captures the water color pretty well.  Click any pic to enlarge!!

Seriously - out of a dream. 

And here are some breakfast views:

View of lake from hotel at breakfast.  These were the most glorious mornings I have ever known.

More of the same.
Best breakfast of my life!

Mmmmmm.... I've been longing for French yogurt, baguettes (with butter and jam), and REAL hot chocolate for 17 years now!!  My daily breakfast back when I lived in France.  I couldn't get enough of these simple things, even though the breakfast buffet had lots of other, much fancier stuff.
The hotel also had a dessert buffet that was to die for!

Just one side of this ah-mazing dessert dome!

They were in heaven.
My personal spread (we just did one night of this)
Cheese lovers - take note that fondue, Raclette, and Tartiflette (shown) are some of the Alpine-influenced regional specialities commonly found in Annecy and Chamonix.
Tartiflette (cheese, potatoes, ham)
On a personal note, the kids really were great on this trip.  They are pretty seasoned travelers since we live so far from family, and through sheer luck (I take no credit - P.S. we sleep-trained, did time-outs, I had epidurals, and they get lots of screentime and a fair amount of sugar, haha) they actually really love each other and are the best of friends.

Eye masks for sleeping are a godsend if you're sharing hotel rooms!

And here's a view of the beach from when we actually went swimming.

Literally felt like heaven.  Really great ice cream stand right on the beach too!
* You can click ANY of these pics to enlarge, and most are BEST viewed that way!
Food rec - if you're in Annecy, don't miss La Folie Royale.  It's a little cafe owned by a Brit and his French wife, and the lunch, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate were all divine.  Plus we all agreed the ice cream was out of this world - even better than the famous ice cream at Glacier Des Alps.  I yelped it here if you need more info.  And good news if you don't plan to travel to Annecy - the downright incredible tea we got here is available (and not even that expensive!!!) on Amazon!  If you want to cozy up with a super flavorful cup of cinnamon tea this fall, check out Hot Cinnamon Spice by Harney & Sons. It involves three types of cinnamon, orange peel, and sweet cloves and is the best tea I've ever had.

Pics from Folie Royale - my dad out front, and the amazing "Italian dream" plate I had for lunch.  You can click to enlarge.


Chamonix, France (3 days)

Chamonix is only about an hour's drive from Annecy but it has a totally different, equally delicious feel.  Being tucked up in the Alps gives this charming little town some outrageously gorgeous, fake-looking backdrops and with Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, literally right there it was destined to become the birthplace of extreme Alpine sports.  The town is small and entirely walkable; it comprises only about 8 blocks, and perhaps because it attracts so many wealthy skiers we found the restaurant selection to be amazing.  If you have time, google "freeriding" and you can read about the fascinating and terrifying "sport" in which crazy people have helicopters drop them on mountain summits and then they ski or snowboard down ungroomed ultra-steep terrain - extremely dangerous, even for seasoned champions, and utterly unimaginable to those of with a fear of heights!  You can check out this video on Marco Siffredi, a freerider from Chamonix itself who ultimately became (at the age of 20 - born when I was) the first person ever to snowboard down Mt. Everest (unfortunately he then went back to try to snowboard down the ultra steep North Face and was never found).  His slang and mumbling in the video (in French) is difficult to understand even for me, but it's just a 3 minute clip and the footage is unbelievable.  Maybe it's because I have such a pronounced fear of heights (or lack of boundaries?) but I am endlessly fascinated by the thought of doing what these people do.  I would literally rather be eaten by a shark than die that way.

This backdrop is REAL!!!!  And pics never do mountain views justice.  You have GOT to click this one to enlarge it!
* You can click ANY of these pics to enlarge, and most are BEST viewed that way!
Not quite as outrageous on an overcast day, but impressive and beautiful nonetheless.  Click to enlarge.
Another clear-day town pic!  I just cannot make this background up!!  Click to enlarge.

I loved pondering the people who lived here long ago, and what their lives must have been like.

So glad we did this trip.  It was SO much work both to plan and to execute, and it was definitely a financial sacrifice (we still rent and we don't do private school, so I have some excuses!!) but absolutely worth it for the memories made.

On the overcast day, we drove up a mountain (terrifying for me, I was shaking!) and did the Merlet Animal Park - a suggestion by our hotel's concierge, and another example of how it does really pay off to prioritize nice hotels if you're traveling (better than paying a travel agent, IMO).  Here you can see mountain animals essentially roaming free.  This is where I first discovered that I've developed a major fear of heights - it's fine if I'm enclosed in something, like a plane or a gondola, but if not, even if there's a fence, it's torturous.

The park really is on the SIDE of a mountain.  Everything about it is steep, and I was nervous just walking around on most of the walking paths.  It felt (to me) like I could fall over and never stop falling.

On the path with reindeer!
Little man in his yellow raincoat.
So hard to capture on film but the views really were dizzying.  Again, I felt like I could fall off and just keep falling.

Love this shot.
Claire snapped a bunch of pics of me when I waited with her for my dad to come back down the mountain road with our rental car - he'd had to drop my mom off at the top/entrance because of her knees but I was terrified to go any higher up in a car.  Claire and I were just killing time but now I'm really glad she took these.  This trip was about family and exploration but it was also about coming back to a country I'd lived in for a year, and devoted an entire college major to learning about.  It's crazy to think about how much in my life has changed since 2000-2001 when I was here at age 20.  I'm now 38 years old, married, two kids, a law degree, a successful social media business, I live in Boston - permanently (what??), and I'm thankfully still healthy.  There was definitely some bittersweetness, thinking about how life passes you by and how short it really all is.  I blinked (sort of) and went from young to middle-aged.  Who knows when I'll be back here again, but I definitely think this was my last time in France looking and feeling even remotely youthful.
We saved the Midi D'Aguille (taking a cable car to the top of Mont Blanc) for our clear day, but unfortunately when we woke up that morning it was down for maintenance.  Another day saved by our hotel concierge - she had figured this out for us, let us know right away, and helped us plan another trip this day to the "Mer de Glace" ("Sea of Ice") - the glacier.  Following are some pics from that outing.  *Note:  There are other day trips you can do from Chamonix if you have more time, including a small culturally Swiss village way up in the Alps, and I believe you can even do a day trip to northern Italy.

Cogwheel mountain train we took from the center of town up the mountain.

Terrifying views from the train, and utterly unnecessary warning sticker.
Impossible to capture on film but I tried (click to enlarge).  A person would be an invisible spec in this picture.
More glacier pics.
I couldn't go near the fences myself, but I snapped some pics of those who could!

I would be remiss if I didn't specifically give a shoutout to the hotel we stayed in, which was Hotel Mont Blanc.  This one was also a splurge for us, but not only did the concierge greatly enhance our daytrip planning as described above, but again if you're traveling with young people and old people (and if you can work remotely while your kids swim) it makes a big difference to have a pool, and the breakfast experiences when you travel are a huge part of it, especially if you're a foodie.  I reviewed this hotel here for those of you actually interested in potentially traveling to Chamonix, and here are some hotel pics.

Adorable Hotel Mont Blanc
Pool and hot tub with mountain backdrop.

Another view.
Cold and cloudy day was no problem in the hot tub!


... a note on the food in Chamonix.  First off, even just the raspberries I bought from the grocery store were OUT of this WORLD.  I have never, EVER seen raspberries like these in the U.S. and they tasted AMAZING - different and better than any I've ever had before (and yes, I've picked and even grown my own berries in the U.S.).

This is the actual color, unenhanced.

Second off, if you go to Chamonix do not miss Aux Petits Gourmands - an incredible chocolate shop and pastry cafe in the center of town.  The chocolates I purchased here were better than any I found elsewhere on the trip, including Switzerland.  And the ice cream treats we had were utterly divine.  I also read some really good reviews of breakfast here so if you didn't splurge on a hotel that included breakfast, this would be a great stop.

Store front window says it all.
* You can click ANY pics in this post to enlarge them!

Chocolate counter - best chocolates of our trip.

And our ice cream...

Clockwise from Left (lol!):  Mixed berry sundaes, Strawberry/Raspberry sundae, incredible sundae (details below), Claire, banana split.

Mine had vanilla ice cream, lots of meringue (love!), nuts, and whipped cream.

Claire's strawberry/raspberry sundae was also amazing.

What, you think it's too much to get hot chocolate AND ice cream??  Somehow I didn't gain any weight on this trip BUT I did lose muscle so I'm sure I gained fat.  I'm now back at the gym, hoping to get my muscle back without gaining.  

Last, if you don't have an extra day to do a day trip from Chamonix to northern Italy (or even if you do), do not miss the Pizzeria Des Moulins.  Some of the absolute best pasta and salads we have ever had, and we're told it's pretty authentically northern Italian.

Grindelwald, Switzerland (3 Days)

Here it comes - the ultimate (allegedly) for scenery!  Yes, if you want utterly mind-boggling "Sound of Music" views and breathtaking hikes and train rides, the Grindelwald/Interlaken area of Switzerland is the place for you.  It's in the German region so the food (and obviously language) were very different from the rest of our trip.  The big issue with visiting this area is it's outrageously expensive **but** you really need at least one sunny day to see its full beauty.  We only planned two days here and we lucked out that 1.5 of them were sunny.  As for this francophile, I'm very glad to have seen it once but my heart remains in France for any future trips we're lucky enough to take.

To get here, we drove an hour from Chamonix back to the Geneva airport and ditched the rental car.  Then we hopped on the trains and it took 3-4 hours total to get from Geneva to the town we stayed in, Grindelwald.  Grindelwald is near Interlaken but it's a smaller town and a little closer to a lot of the hiking and other sites up in the mountains.  I'm not sure we'd do that again - the views were incredible even just from the town but it was really, really small town and not much to explore right outside of our hotel.

Views of Grindelwald area from train.

In case the above video fails, classic shot of Grindelwald.
* You can click ANY pics in this entry and enlarge them!

We did wonder if all of this was zoning or cultural homogeneity.  It did kind of make you think about German culture and WWII.  Also our stopover in Germany made me think of how strange it is that my very own grandfather was in a war against the Germans.  Fast-forward several decades and there I was, casually stopping in a German airport and buying chocolate.  Alexa said it's still a little strange for some French people too - visiting a country that literally took theirs over.  And I have no way of knowing how it feels if you're Jewish and you visit, but I'd imagine it's a whole other level of ... something.
Moving on, our first full day was CLEAR!!!  We took advantage and did the train ride up to Jungfraujoch, or the "Top of Europe."  This is considered an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience and the price reflects that.  It's something outrageous like $200/person just to take the trains and explore the building up top (P.S., no idea how they EVER built that thing but being involved in that would be my WORST nightmare!!).  You get a significant discount if you purchase a Swiss Travel Pass, which we did (it's worth it if you're going to travel a lot by train) and thankfully Claire (5) was free and Matthew (7) was only 25 CHF (about $26).  I found it easiest to purchase the travel pass at the Geneva airport (counter closes at 4pm) right before we hopped on our first train.

Views from the train ride up to Jungfraujoch.

The view at the top was hard to capture on film, but it was basically like being in an open airplane (click to enlarge).

These horrific stairs were the limit for me with my fear of heights.  No.  WAY. (click to enlarge).

I still got some great pics from behind a window.
Can you spot the tiny people? (click to enlarge).
Lots to do at the top, including an ice cave inside the glacier.  Claire had no long pants because we lost an entire suitcase - left it on a train and eventually got it back 3 days later.  Travel is definitely not the same thing as "vacationing" - it's never without troubles and the anxiety doesn't end until you're back at home!!
In case the video fails, a few pics of the ice cave inside the glacier.

Ice cave or no, you'll want coats (winter coats really) for any high altitude excursions - brrrr.
Also on the altitude, the itinerary I planned turned out to be really great because Annecy --> Chamonix --> Grindelwald was a very gradual altitude increase.  I was worried about it because I had altitude sickness the only other time I've ever been to Switzerland (part of a school tour I did at the end of high school).  If you do experience altitude sickness, try to get down to a lower altitude area for half a day and then go back up.  It helped me a lot way back when.
One last pic at the top!


On the second Grindelwald/Switzerland day, we took the trains from Grindelwald to Wengen and from Wengen we took a cable car (used for skiers in the winter) up the mountain to Mannlichen and then we hiked from Mannlichen down to Kleine Scheidigg (a train stop).  This hike is famous for its scenery.  Unfortunately the clouds rolled in when we were about halfway down, but we can't complain - the pouring rain hit within minutes of making it back to Kleine Schidigg!!!

At Wengen, about to get on the cable car.

Cable car view - looking down from near the top - yikes! (click to enlarge)

More cable car views.

At the top - this was the closest I ever got to a high altitude fence.

Breathtaking scenery. (click any pic to enlarge)

My favorite shot of the trip - snapped this with my phone!  Mannlichen has an adorable park for kids, it's right at the top of the cable car so you can't miss it.  Great restaurant too!

We just loved the beautiful cows.  They seriously just look like their milk would make better dairy products. 
Or caramel flavored ones.  Or something.

And the hike itself!!!  Some pics I snapped on our way down... click on any to enlarge.






Love this pic!

... and this one, with my Dear Old Dad.


But rut-roh, the clouds rolled in...


I cannot exaggerate how hard it is to capture this awe-inspiring scenery on film, but check out what looks like a miniature playhouse next to Matthew - that's a pretty massive trainstop area actually, it's just SUPER far away! 
* Click to enlarge if you wish!

Video taken while walking down.  Wish I'd done one before the clouds hit!
The walk/hike from Mannlichen was gorgeous and an experience we'll never forget.  A little scary if you have a fear of heights.  I felt bad for my mom - her knees wouldn't allow her to do this, so she took a cable car back down instead.

Trying to wrap up this post!  A note on the food in the Interlaken/Jungfrau/Grindelwald area of Switzerland - I personally LOVED it.  Not as much as I love French food and, dare I say, the pastries we had here were pretty terrible, BUT I've always been a big fan of all those cold salad potluck style dishes.  I had no idea they were German!  Plus... sausages and schnitzel!  Yum!!!


Salad bar creation from our hotel's restaurant.


Salad bar creation from the lunch spot in Mannlichen.

Luzern, Switzerland (1 day)

Before I get into Luzern, I wanted to note that we saw some incredible views of Switzerland from the train on our way there from Grindelwald.


I can't get over the color and crystal clarity of all these lakes.  (Click to enlarge)

I was also fascinated by all these little cottages dotting the mountaisides. 
Most of them had no driveways or roads leading up to them.

Small lake town (click to enlarge)

Such a cool  little town, imagine living under these massive mountains!

Closer up - and again, with the color of these lakes!!

Arrival!!!  We did Luzern partially because we wanted to see Mt. Pilatus, and partially because it just seemed more logical to fly back home out of Zurich, rather than backtracking to Geneva.  Unfortunately our only day here was rainy (and you don't go up in mountains in the rain because you won't be able to see anything).  Thankfully we snapped a few pics of Luzern on our first evening, because by the following day it was too rainy to even try.

Luzern.
We noted that even the simplest pasta dish at a tourist trap is just SO GOOD in Europe!
Almost done now!  One day of touring and one big day of travel home to go!
It turned out that the rain really wasn't a big deal because by this time in the trip we were all truly exhausted.  Even with great kids (and great adults), the constant logistical issues of traveling and touring will eventually wear down even the most functional group of 5+ travelers.  Instead of anything ambitious, we spent our last day doing a low-key, half-day trip by taking a train to a chocolate factory.  It turned out to be pretty much the perfect thing (and one of the top highlights of the entire trip for the kids, who got to make their own bars!!).

Video from making our own chocolate bars.

Chocolate fountain tasting area.
Pic of making our own bars, in case video fails.

Ready and on its way.  Dark chocolate for me!
Victory!

Retrospectively, rain was really appropriate for the last day of our trip and not just because we were tired and it scored us the chocolate factory. By this time, a bittersweet feeling had begun to sink in. We were all traveled out and very ready to get home, but we also all knew that this had been the trip of a lifetime for us.  Even if we ever do make it back to Europe with my parents, we'll never do anything even remotely this ambitious again; my parents were still just young enough, and my kids were just barely old enough, to make this happen.  All of the pics and memories from this trip were captured at such a sweet spot for all of us, but especially for me.  I know that most of the time I ever spend looking back on this trip will involve a deep longing for a time when my babies were little, safe, and mine, and my parents were alive, healthy, and with me.

I snapped a few pics in the rain, waiting for the train.

To quote from The Sound of Music, "Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good."

Their personalities captured.
My boy.
My girl.

A lifetime of love - struggles, yes, but mostly love.
This one really gets me.

TRAVEL TIPS

A few quick travel tips before I go...
  • Bring multiple outlet converters - you'll need more than you think you do.  But...
  • Don't bother bringing a hair dryer or flatiron.  European outlets cannot handle U.S. hairdryers or flat irons.  Most hotels and AirBNBs will have a hair dryer.
  • Taking a redeye, or otherwise anticipating a nap on the plane?  I read TONS of reviews and concluded that these BCOZZYs were the very best product for travel sleep.  LOVED mine!  If you need two, they're cheaper as a 2-pack here.  They also make a version just for kids too, here.
  • If you're trying to not check any bags, you MUST pay close attention to measurements.  I found that this suitcase worked for all our international flights and it really maximized the space we had.  Plus it's an easy all-direction roll - even my kids could handle their own.  The measurements look a little dicey for Iceland Air's website but when we got to the airport and put them in the sample size bin, they fit perfectly!
  • I also highly, highly recommend getting these TSA-Approved Quart Sized Clear Toiletry Bags for your "liquids & medications" if you're not checking a bag.  You can fit a TON in here, somehow it really seems like a lot more than I can fit in my Ziplock bags - maybe because of the shape.

  • For your shampoo, moisturizer, etc., I cannot recommend these leakproof silicone travel bottles enough.  Best things ever.  I'll be using mine from now on domestically even though we usually check a bag.  Those tiny little jars at the bottom are also great for bringing your own Aquaphor or other ointments, which count as liquids.

  • For Iceland and for any high-altitude excursions elsewhere - even in August - you'll want a winter coat.
  • Every international flight we took worked out totally fine arriving 2 hours in advance of departure at the airport EXCEPT Zurich.  If you are flying out of Zurich, give yourself 3 hours, and make sure you get ALL the way to your actual gate before you stop to eat.  We waited in two 45-minute lines and the second one was a big surprise.
  • Something will go wrong (again, we lost an entire suitcase for 3 days, and my daughter threw up in the back of our rental car).  But you'll recover!  And it'll make a great story.