Ireland, Part II

The final portion of our three-week trip would be spent in Dublin. We left Rathdrum midday Tuesday after saying a quick goodbye to Daphne.  Unfortunately, Daphne’s elderly uncle was in the hospital and she had to rush off to see him. If you are ever in Rathdrum, you should stay at Stirabout Lane. Daphne alone is worth it.

Clown Car

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Becky sitting on my lap, eating salt & vinegar crisps. We know how to travel right!

There was much debate between Tim and I about how all of us would get to Dublin.  The car didn’t have room for a third adult. For one thing, the trunk would be full of luggage, so we couldn’t put her back there.  I planned on taking the train with Becky but that would have us miss some of the fun planned on the drive to the city.  As were preparing to leave, Tim asked both Becky and I to join him at the car. Was he thinking what I was thinking? Yes! We experimented with how two non-Chinese-contortionists could physically fit in the backseat between the two car seats. Normally, it is a tight fit with just me.  We found that if Becky sat on the spot between my knees, facing the left of the car, with her legs under Vanessa’s feet and my legs under Zara’s car seat, we could fit. It took careful choreography and packing skills but we managed to get everyone and everything inside the car. Poor Barbara. She’s used to a more sophisticated style of traveling.

Sally Gap

Given that there were two adults literally stuffed inside the backseat, you’d think we’d take the most direct route to Dublin. But you’d be wrong. Instead, we took a long slow drive through The Sally Gap, considered one of the most scenic drives in Ireland. It took us through peat bogs in the Wicklow Mountains, above and along a lake called Lough Tay (otherwise known as Guinness Lake because the peat colors the water a rich brown) and down past beautiful old buildings and happy Irish sheep.  Some of the shooting locations for the film Braveheart were up here. The elevation was high enough for there to be a scattering of snow, too. Thankfully, Tim and Barbara took some photographs because from my spot under Becky in the back seat, I could hardly see a thing.

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The Sally Gap
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Views along the Sally Gap.

Powerscourt Gardens

Finally, we stopped at Powerscourt House and Gardens. My left hip and leg alternated between muscle cramps and numbness. I am pretty sure Becky was in a similar position, physically.

Powerscourt is a country estate in County Wicklow known for its beautiful “house” (more like an opulent mansion) and landscaped gardens. We left Barbara to shop, whose legs ached from our previous walks. Tim, Becky, Zara, Vanessa, and I walked around the gardens. Actually, Zara didn’t technically walk anywhere. And Vanessa was carried 95 percent of the walk, which has been the typical way we’ve explored Europe and Ireland. Carrying our heavy kids where ever we go!  The walk was cool, though. The sun was out but it was snowing. I looked for a snowbow, you know, instead of a rainbow? I guess snowflakes don’t refract light like water droplets do. (Tim is probably embarrassed to read that sentence. Hey, I’m no physicist!) We climbed a stone tower, saw Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance, wandered through lovely forests and explored the Japanese Gardens before swinging by Titon Lake. And then climbing thousands of steps to get back to the house. This trip needs to end just to give my poor back a break.

Barbara ended up exploring the walled gardens on her own. I wish we had more time because that would have been fun to see.

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Slightly awkward family photo at the base of the stone tower at Powerscourt Gardens. Or “Carrying Our Kids Across Ireland.”
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Becky at Powerscourt.

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The snowy roads of outer Dublin.

Eventually we had to stuff ourselves back into the rental car. The good news was that Dublin wasn’t too far away. As we approached the suburbs of Dublin it began snowing again and actually stuck to the ground. Which would have been way cooler if we weren’t taking the risk of Becky not having a seat belt.

Dublin!

We stayed at the Jurys Inn Christ Church, which had a spectacular view of the Christ Church Cathedral from our window. Poor Becky had to set out as soon as we arrived in Dublin to meet someone for the key to the apartment she was renting with Felicity and James. The apartment was very near our hotel but the key was a half an hour away. One thing I’ve enjoyed about staying in Ireland is the tea service set up in your room. The hotel was no exception, with a hot water kettle, cups and saucers, nice black tea, and whole milk in little containers, along with gingery little cookies (biscuits).

While we rested, Becky got the key and made some friends, and when she returned, we headed for a nearby pub for dinner.

The pub had live music and Vanessa was once again in heaven. That girl can dance!

I should say that at this point most of the time in Dublin was a whirlwind blur of pubs, beer, aching back, that cold virus that wouldn’t go away, and a desire for it all to last a little longer.

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Sisters

My sister Felicity and her husband James arrived around 10 PM after flying over from Birmingham, England.  Felicity has been living in England for many years and we don’t get to see her very often. Now that she’s married an Englishman, the chances of her returning to live in the States are low. I haven’t seen her since summer of 2013 when Vanessa was Zara’s age. James is a lovely, thoughtful man and a nice addition to our family. They were excited to meet Zara for the first time.

While Barbara and Vanessa slept, Becky, Tim, Zara and I went with Felicity and James on a quest for traditional Irish music in Temple Bar. Yes, it was past Zara’s bedtime but we only had one night with Felicity and James. She usually can sleep in the carrier anyway.  The pub we had in mind ended up being crowded with people and had especially loud music so we went on until we found a place that had a quieter atmosphere. The musical duo played fairly traditional Irish music but they didn’t have a fiddle so Becky felt like it wasn’t really the real thing. We stayed anyway and had some beer and cider. Zara had fallen asleep on the walk and would have stayed asleep if it weren’t for that song with the clapping. To make up for it, the band played her a lullaby, which was sweet but didn’t put her back to sleep.

Reunited sisters in Dublin. Plus sleeping baby in a bar.
Reunited sisters in Dublin. Plus sleeping baby in a bar.
Becky and Christ Church.
Becky and Christ Church.

Christ Church Cathedral

The next day, Wednesday, was supposed to be our last full day of the trip. Little did we know we’d be staying in Ireland longer than planned. Fliss, Becky and James met us at the hotel and we went for breakfast at a place called the Queen of Tarts. Then we explored the crypt in the Christ Church Cathedral. It ended up being a great place for Vanessa. It was indoors, so not too cold, but there was space to run around and play. There was also a mummified cat and rat that she was enthralled with. Upstairs, in the church proper, Vanessa found other ways to have fun. The priest invited her up to his podium to help blow out candles. How did he know that’s one of her favorite things to do? An employee gave her a present, which contained colored blocks. She also found the aisle between pews to be a perfect place to run. Are you allowed to run in churches? I hope so. The priest invited us to stay for the midday sermon which was only seven minutes long.  Zara decided she wanted to give her own sermon, so I spent that seven minutes back in the crypt with my loudmouth baby. Silly goose.

Paparazzi shot outside Queen of Tarts.
Paparazzi shot outside Queen of Tarts.

Grafton Street, Other Sites

Barbara went back to the hotel for a nap and the rest of us walked to Grafton Street with Becky as our guide. Becky lived in Ireland for a little while after college, so she knew Dublin better than anyone else in our group. When we stopped for beer and coffee it became apparent that Vanessa was ready for her nap. Apparent by a full meltdown. Tim took her back to the hotel to stay with Barbara and we made plans to meet him in Temple Bar in an hour. Because we hadn’t walked enough, Becky, James, Felicity, Zara and I walked to other Dublin sights. We visited the River Liffey, some big statue (Jim Larkin?), and the Irish Famine Memorial.

Here we are, the motley crew, outside of Christ Church Cathedral. It was nice having someone else to help carry Zara.
Here we are outside of Christ Church Cathedral. It was nice having someone else to help carry Zara.
Fliss & Nessa playing
Vanessa found someone who could match her energy level!
Blowing out the candles.
Blowing out the candles.
Vanessa & Christ Church
Running with her present.
Vanessa was totally into the mummified cat and rat exhibit in the Christ Church crypt.
Vanessa was totally into the mummified cat and rat exhibit in the Christ Church crypt.
Dark humor. The Irish Famine Memorial in Dublin.
Dark humor. The Irish Famine Memorial in Dublin.

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Temple Bar

I dragged Zara and my aching self, along with my perky sisters and James, to Temple Bar, where we found Tim just dipping into a pint of Guinness. Inspired, we joined him and shared a plate of surprisingly good nachos. Later everyone had dinner at the Elephant and the Castle, a restaurant chosen based on our two year old’s taste in names. The food was good and more Californian than we’d had in a while. Becky spent the meal with Zara sleeping on her in the carrier, which meant I had one of the more relaxing meals I’ve had in a long time.

Another trip to a nearby pub–with wind and rain gusting along the narrow street– for more beer and then it was a bittersweet goodbye to Felicity, James and Becky, who were catching a flight that night back to England. Our visit was way too short and it was hard to say goodbye.

(Right after they left I had to change Vanessa in a tiny bathroom stall, highlighting one of the joys of travel: the unpredictability of changing stations. But wait, maybe I could have predicted a pub in Temple Bar wouldn’t be set up for infants and small children?)

Later I would hear from them that the flight from Dublin to Birmingham was extremely turbulent and scary. While I felt bad for them, I didn’t think it would affect me.

Two peas in a pod.
Two peas in a pod. The Elephant and the Castle.

Irish Dancing

After saying goodbye to half our crew, we decided to do one last thing in Dublin: Irish dancing! Barbara was well rested and her granddaughter Lorelei does Irish dance, so how could we not check it out? We went to yet another pub. Vanessa ran around the tables until the music and dancing started. She immediately went up near the stage and began dancing wildly/beautifully. She was invited onto the stage with the musicians and dancers and, true to form, she gave her first public dance performance in a Dublin pub without any hint of self-consciousness. Is she a born performer? Maybe. And who is this child, anyway? Barbara was thrilled, as we all were. Zara clapped wildly along with the rest of the crowd when Vanessa finished.

Goodbye Dublin?

The next morning it was time to go home.  We dropped off the rental car and went through about three hours of lines at the airport. It was such a relief to check our bags. We wouldn’t have to deal with them until San Francisco, and then it’d just be putting them into our car. Ha! How wrong I was.

We kept thinking we’d have time for coffee and breakfast but the lines took longer than we thought. This was partly because we had to go through US Customs at the Dublin Airport. It was the regular security line, the US security line and the US Customs line…by the time we got through it all, it was time to board the plane.  OK, we can get something to eat on the plane, right?

Big Change of Plan

Vanessa surprised us by getting strapped into her car seat without fuss. We all settled in, waiting for the plane to take off. But it didn’t. After about an hour of waiting, the captain announced that the delay was caused by high cross winds on the runway. He said it was just above the safety cutoff of 29 knots. We would wait and see if they got better. Hmmm. As we waited, the plane started to feel like it was moving. I’d check the windows but no, we were still at the gate. The captain would periodically check in, saying the same thing, the winds were worse, we’d keep waiting. Then the plane began to feel like we were in the air, in turbulence. But we were still at the gate. This wasn’t a good sign.

Another bad sign was airport employees in their yellow vests boarding the plane with cartons of water. We were given a water and a single cookie at about hour three of waiting. Tim graciously gave his cookie to Vanessa. I ate mine.

The cross winds had ominously increased to 53 knots (about 60 mph). It had been about nine hours since we started our day. Vanessa was a total champ throughout all of this time. Maybe she’s finally getting used to this travel thing?

Finally, after four hours of sitting on the plane at the gate, the captain announced that the flight was cancelled and we would try flying out the next day.

Fancy that: our trip was extended another day.

Tim would miss the first day back at work.

Storm Rachel

The airline arranged buses to transport everyone on the flight to a nearby hotel and promised to cover our meals and transportation back to the airport in the morning. The problem with this is that we’d still have to wait a couple of hours before we could eat. The hotel turned out to be pretty far away, the fact that 38 flights were cancelled due to what was now being called Storm Rachel, may have had something to do with that.

Carlton Hotel, Blanchardstown

Once we arrived at the hotel, we realized we were pretty much that last people on the last bus. With our kids and all the luggage, there was no point in fighting the crowds to get on earlier. There was a huge line out the door of the hotel. I was almost delirious with fatigue and hunger and struggled to keep the girls warm as we waited in the bitterly cold wind. Tim and Barbara were dealing with all our luggage.

Someone inside the hotel finally realized that there were babies stuck outside and we were ushered in the building as the crowd parted for us. Tim selflessly waited in line to secure our room while I waited in the bar with the girls, where we had hot tea and peanuts.

Eventually we got our rooms and went down for dinner. Most people had already eaten. The dinner was set up oddly, kind of like a buffet, but it wasn’t clear how it worked. Would we have to pay? I was having trouble thinking straight. I waited for Tim, holding heavy Zara and keeping an eye on poor Vanessa. When Tim showed up, I kind of lost it. I found myself trying to get Vanessa to sit at a table, struggling with Zara in my arms, and I just couldn’t take making Vanessa sit and behave any longer. She’d been so good ALL day, it didn’t seem fair to make her do the “restaurant thing” again. Plus Zara was hungry and tired, too. Embarrassingly, I swore something like, “I just can’t fucking do this!” in front of Barbara before leaving them in front of the buffet in near tears. I went to our room and nursed Zara, shamefully re-emerging in the restaurant after a bit. I finally ate a meal, which helped a great deal.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggidy Jig

The rest of our trip was fairly uneventful. The news told us Storm Rachel was a big deal all across Ireland. There were school closures, flooding, and even a death associated with the storm. At the airport, we had to go through all those hours of lines again but we were prepared with food. The ticketing agent failed to give Zara a boarding pass so I had to go back and get one before we were allowed through security. Our flight was delayed an hour and a half due to a mechanical issue with a door but it was fairly comfortable waiting in the airport were we could let Vanessa run around. And the flight was so empty each  person luxuriously got a whole row of seats to themselves.

Barbara came home with us from San Francisco and left the next day for LA. It was probably one of the more exhausting birthdays she’s ever had. She insists she had a great time, bless her.

Once at home, we dealt with jet lag. 1:30 AM wake ups. “Mommy, I want pancakes.” 4:30 AM wake ups. “Mommy, I want pancakes.” Nausea. Grumpiness. Everyone asleep by 8:00 PM, even Tim, a well established night owl.  At least we are in our own home. And no one had to put on winter coats!

Next Up

Sweden. Estonia. Spring Break. Yes, we are officially nuts.

TIm fighting the crowds after our flight got cancelled in Dublin.
TIm fighting the crowds after our flight got cancelled in Dublin.
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Ireland, Part I

Munich to Dublin

After a fun, feverish night in Munich, we were up early to catch our plane to Dublin. Tim graciously called for a cab rather than trying to get there by public transport. The cab driver from our hotel to the Munich Airport made us put Zara in a car seat.  Something about how much she weighed or didn’t weigh. No concern over little Vanessa, who is only five pounds heavier than Zara (we put Vanessa in her car seat anyway).  Also no concern that the seat was forward facing when in America they’re suppose to face the rear until age two. And sitting in the back seat pocket in front of Zara was a Playboy Magazine.

Predictably, the long lines for passport control at the airport made it so we barely had time to catch our flight, no coffee or breakfast, although we did get something for Vanessa because we’re not completely nuts. While we waited in line, Zara cried and Vanessa yelled and kicked at people’s legs from her stroller.  Tim said it was okay because they had cut in front of us. To help her fall asleep, I put the nursing cover over Zara and began to nurse her in the carrier. By the time we got to the policeman checking passports, she was asleep. But of course, her face needed to be verified so I had no choice but to lift up the cover and let him look at her little face nestled into my breast. I can only hope that was the highlight of his day. I think maybe, just maybe, he blushed.

As we went through security, we told the security personnel Vanessa’s car seat was too big to go through the bag X-ray. This information was completely ignored. One woman spent a lot of time we didn’t have trying every possible position, instead of checking it by hand. Eventually she came to the brilliant conclusion it wouldn’t fit and then checked it manually!

On the plane, Vanessa acted as if she’d never had to ride in a car seat before. She put up her obligatory tantrum and then settled down for the flight. Now that we know she’ll only scream for a few minutes, it’s not so bad.

Our Irish flight attendants were super nice.  Smiley and genuinely polite.  In Austria, people warmed up to you but weren’t particularly friendly at first. The passport guy in the Dublin Airport joked about how parents go out to dinner without their kids but spend the whole time talking about them. That would be us. If we ever went out to dinner without them.

Surprise!
Once we arrived in Dublin, guess who we found?! Tim’s mom, Barbara, changed her ticket and joined us for the last leg of our adventure. (Great news: Tim’s brother made it through a grueling operation and is on the mend! It turns out he doesn’t have cancer, it was a case of pancreatitis gone very, very bad.)

We found Barbara in Ireland!
We found Barbara in Ireland!

Barbara looked exhausted but was chatting about a grandson’s upcoming eye appointment before we got on the shuttle bus to the rental car company, so she wasn’t that tired!  And her suitcase! It was huge. 44 lbs, far heavier than our heaviest bag. For five days. One person. Here I was, this whole trip, thinking I had failed at packing light. It’s all relative. (Later, when it was open we saw that it wasn’t even full.  It turns out she bought the suitcase to take on cruises, where no one has to worry about packing light.  The extra space she had came in handy for all the Irish gifts she bought her family.)

Dublin to Rathdrum

Outside there was a bitter wind and it felt colder than the Munich we had just left. We stuffed, and I do mean stuffed, our luggage into the rental car and headed for Rathdrum, a little village in Country Wicklow, about an hour and a half south of Dublin. Tim drove on the left for the first time and made it look easy.

Ireland was sunny!
Ireland was sunny!
Tim driving on the left side of the road.
Tim driving on the left side of the road.

Rathdrum

We easily found our B&B, Stirabout Lane, and enjoyed a warm welcome from our hostess, Daphne. The welcome included hot tea with Irish whiskey in it, so it was literally and figuratively a warm welcome!Stirabout Lane Ireland is nice.

The B&B was adorable, with pretty, well decorated rooms and an inviting sitting room with a cozy fire. We chatted with another guest, an expat named Barbie who left New York 30 years ago.  During that time, she’s picked up an Irish accent.

On the way up the stairs was a tiny little door, with tiny clothes hung on a clothesline. It was a ‘faery’ door and Vanessa kept hoping to catch a glimpse of her. So cute!

The faery door on the way up the stairs.
The faery door on the way up the stairs.
View of the garden from our room at Stirabout Lane.
View of the garden from our room at Stirabout Lane.

Our first dinner in Ireland was at the Bates Restaurant, a short walk from our B&B. Again, nobody had had a proper meal all day and we were all tired from our travels. Poor Barbara had been up for 27 hours by then.

It was no surprise that Vanessa had a few meltdowns in the restaurant but Zara hit a wall, too, so to speak. Tim and I basically spent most of the meal outside with her.

The difference was in attitude.  I don’t always live up to my expectations, especially when I’m tired and hungry.  I spent my time with Zara outside, huddled against the wind, feeling miserable as she screamed.  I rocked her, sang to her, stroked her cheek but nothing helped. Tim came out to relieve me and we strapped her onto him.  I went back to the restaurant and ate my dinner.  When I went to check on Tim later, he was nowhere to be seen.  Wait a minute, I bet I know where he is!  Sure enough, he was in the bar just up the hill from the restaurant, chatting with a friendly local over a pint of Guinness, standing in front of a cheery fire.  And Zara, of course, was as happy as a clam. Why didn’t I think of that?

It was a lovely restaurant. Too bad we couldn't have enjoyed it more.
It was a lovely restaurant. Too bad we couldn’t have enjoyed it more.
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The bar Tim took Zara to.

Glendalough, Wicklow Mountains National Park

The next day, Sunday, we explored Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains National Park. Yes, you read that correctly: mountains. In Ireland! Who knew? The morning was spent braving the cold winds and checking out the monastic site.  In the afternoon, we drove through the park so Vanessa could nap, ending up in a tiny town called Hollywood. It was especially ironic since Barbara lives very close to the other Hollywood sign.

If you look closely, past the sheep, you will see a Hollywood sign.
If you look closely, past the sheep, you will see a Hollywood sign.
The church at Glendalough.
The church at Glendalough.
The Tower of Glendalough.
The Tower of Glendalough.
Glendalough ruins.
Glendalough ruins.
Zar had to stay close to keep warm.
Zar had to stay close to keep warm.
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Monastic ruins

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Barbara at Glendalough, can you tell it's cold?!
Barbara at Glendalough, can you tell it’s cold?!
Wicklow Mountains
Wicklow Mountains
Nerding around an Irish pub.
Nerding around an Irish pub.

Wells House, County Wexford

Monday was Barbara’s birthday.  It was also the day we were going to pick up my sister Becky in nearby Ashford.  We spent the morning driving south to the Wells House, a Victorian Estate in County Wexford.  We went on a delightful “faery walk,” looking for faery doors at the base of trees.  Vanessa was in heaven.  We visited with rescue animals, too, including two raccoons and a fat, nervous, nearly blind pony running, bucking and farting about her paddock, scaring the ducks and geese, who ran together from one corner to another, quacking and honking as they went.  There were two amazingly fat pigs that were rescued at only a few weeks old.  I was told their former owner attempted to sell them as micro piglets. Now they weigh over 200 kg. Someone was lying.

Wells House
Wells House
View from the Wells House
View from the Wells House
Faery walk
Faery walk
Little Red Riding Hood on the Faery Walk at Wells House.  See the yellow faery door on the right?
Little Red Riding Hood on the Faery Walk at Wells House. See the yellow faery door on the right?
Vanessa and a faery door.
Vanessa and a faery door.
Can you spot the faery door?
Can you spot the faery door?

I’m Late, I’m Late for a Very Important Date!

On our way back to Rathdrum we found a place for lunch in a town called Gorey. This is where things began to conspire against us picking Becky up on time.  The plan was for her to take a bus from the Dublin Airport to Ashford, about fifteen minutes from Rathdrum. We would pick her up at 4:15.  Nobody had a cell phone so if things didn’t go according to plan, there was no way of communicating with each other.  Lunch took a ridiculously long time. Of course. Then we caught a little Irish rush hour in Rathdrum. The tiny street that runs through the town was completely backed up and cars were turning around. We were in sight of the B&B, where we needed to drop Barbara off before driving to Ashford. I was trying so hard to be patient. But WTF? Rathdrum? After a bit we saw a bulldozer or some other way-too-large-for-that-street heavy equipment coming through.  We managed to pull up and drop off Barbara.  Great! We were already 15 minutes late but should be in Ashford in 15 minutes.

After consulting the map, we headed for Ashford.  The road looked oddly familiar. Then we ended up near Glendalough, which, in case you don’t know, is not Ashford. We spent the next 20 minutes driving on little roads, consulting our map and hoping we were going the right way.  Poor Becky.  It was basically dark and quite chilly out.  Almost an hour late, we found her huddled at a bus stop in Ashford, leery of our orange car pulling up next to her.

Things didn’t get a lot better for her, either, since we made her ride in the trunk on the way to Barbara’s birthday dinner.

Birthday Dinner

Tim had dinner reservations for us at the Wicklow Heather Restaurant in a village called Laragh.  We were celebrating a milestone birthday for Barbara. The restaurant was upscale but since it was a Monday night, the atmosphere was relaxed, which is always good when you’re dining with a two year old.  My fever was back and I wasn’t feeling my best but we managed to have fun anyway. The food was delicious. Tim had lamb from a farm across the street from the restaurant. Becky spent most of the meal reading Vanessa old books while Zara sat on her lap. Barbara had a peach Bellini, her favorite. We forgot to sing for her over dessert, so we did it in the car on the way back to the B&B, on the dark, curvy road, with Becky chiming in from the trunk.

The next day we would leave Rathdrum for a few days in Dublin, meeting up with my other sister, Felicity, and her husband, James. The question was, where would we put Becky in the car?

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Rathdrum’s park. Brr!
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Baby + snowsuit= adorable!
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Becky and the girls.
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Sisters.
This is how I roll. Hot tea and cold beer.
This is how I roll. Hot tea and cold beer.
Happy Guiness drinker.
Happy Guinness drinker.

Austrian Alps

We left Salzburg after our unplanned overnight stay. Why the rental car company told us we could pick up a car on a day the office was closed is beyond me. Thankfully there were no issues the next morning getting the car.

The drive from Salzburg to the Filzmoos area is filled with incredible scenery. Like, seriously. Snow covered mountains everywhere you look. Snug houses with smoke coming out of chimneys, with wood piles neatly stacked nearby. Dark conifer branches hanging heavy with snow. A castle on a hill. It’s a fairytale in real life.

2015/01/img_8122.jpgView from the car from Salzburg to Filzmoos

Mittersteghof

The house we booked needed us to arrive by noon, and we pulled into the snowy drive at 11:58. The house was called Mittersteghof and stood large and welcoming in a breathtaking spot. Snowy peaks everywhere you looked. A barn sat adjacent to the house and two dark ponies watched us hopefully as we got out of the car.

After checking in, we went to the barn. It was warm inside, inhabited by six or seven dirty cows, along with a bunch of chickens, cats and rabbits. The kitties were friendly and we had fun saying hello to everyone, including the five ponies out front.

I was still feverish so I took a brief nap. If you’re going to be sick, a bedroom with alpine views is not too shabby.

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Snowman

The next day we bundled everyone up in warm clothes–even Zara yells now when I put her in her snowsuit–and went outside to say hi to the animals in the barn and make a much-promised snowman.

Brilliant Tim had picked up two bags of carrots the night before, so we had an authentic accessory. It also meant we had treats for the animals. The snow was dry and didn’t hold together well, so we used existing balls of snow. ‘Ball’ is a generous term, they were sloppy ovals at best.

Anyhew, we managed to put together a passable snowman. And by we, I mean Tim. I stood around with the baby and orchestrated, sometimes using my foot to make a small change. It’s really very hard to do much while holding an 11 kg person packed into a slippery snow suit. The important thing is not who did all the work but who was impressed with the results. Vanessa was in awe of our real-life snow man (yes she’s seen Frozen and now that I think about it, he did look like Olaf. Kinda anacephalic). Here Vanessa had thought the only thing you could do with snow is scrape up a small handful and toss it into the air.

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Jingle Bells

Olaf was destined to be a bachelor because we had a sleigh to catch. Our hostess, Martina, arranged for us to take a horse drawn sleigh up the mountain. This is one of the activities that makes up for cold train stations and jet lagged kids.

Our sleigh arrived at the designated spot being pulled by two gorgeous black horses. For the horse lovers among us, they are half Friesian and half Austrian Coldblood. Our driver was a smiley fellow named Kaspar. He was dressed in a dark green felt coat and a Tyrolean hat decorated with a feather and a brush of goat hair. The front of the sleigh had two older couples in it, covered in blankets and beaming.

We climbed in the back and got two heavy blankets for our laps. Zara was asleep in the carrier and we all snuggled in close. The horses had barely started moving before a clear bottle of homemade plum schnapps was passed back. Let’s get this party started! As much as I wanted to try it, I didn’t want to get anyone else sick so poor Tim had to have my share. What that man won’t do for me.

The ride up the mountain took about an hour. The views were mostly of dark pines covered in snow and creeks almost hidden under fat comforters of snow, along with snowy peaks higher up the road. We passed people walking the road, too, and they smiled and waved as we went by.

Our co-sleigh riders laughed at jokes in German made by Kaspar, who might have a chance as a stand up comic. Despite the excitement of the ride, I easily could have fallen asleep. It was relaxing and I desperately needed more rest. It was Vanessa, however, who joined Zara in a nap up the mountain. It was blissful to be snuggled up to Tim with the sleeping girls on our laps.

Kaspar walked along the sleigh for much of the ride. He didn’t make the horses go faster than a walk. Still, it must take some effort to pull all of us, in that big sleigh, uphill.

Eventually we reached some dark buildings and Kaspar expertly guided the horses into an open-air barn. Everyone tumbled out amidst a jumble of blankets and lost gloves. We had an hour and a half for lunch.

One of the dark buildings nestled in the snow was a restaurant, seemingly In the middle of nowhere. Low ceilings and dim light, a crackling fire, delicious smells in the air, this was a perfect spot for a meal. Our waitress, oddly enough, was wearing Tyrolean-style shorts. Guess she wasn’t hanging out outside on her breaks. And she had the legs for it!

We had a hearty and warming lunch. I had trouble deciding between tea and beer, and ended up with both.

Before leaving back down the mountain, we said a thank you to Suzy and Teo, the horses, for all the work they did. A small black and white rabbit hopped by as we did this. And then another one, grey this time. There were cute little bunnies all over the place! This delighted all of us, especially Vanessa.

The ride downhill went quicker than the ride up, obviously. The horses trotted in some spots and Kaspar chose a steeper route back. Our sleigh-mates laughed even more on the way back. Cough drops and schnapps were passed around again.

Besides being sick, it was a nearly perfect day. If you are ever in Filzmoos in the winter, I highly recommend the sleigh ride.
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Train Station Revisited

Our stay at Mittersteghof was all too short and we reluctantly returned to Salzburg the next day. Tim left me and the girls and the luggage at the train station while he returned the car.

The temperature had improved greatly since we were there last. Returning to the scene of my misery made it seem like I was just being melodramatic. The place seemed so harmless.

Tim was back in a jiffy and we had no trouble getting on our train to Munich. In fact, it was a completely opposite experience. The train was clearly labeled and waiting empty on the track. Inside it was spacious and modern. There was a section for strollers and we ended up with no one seated near us. The train employees were around right from the start and they were helpful, unlocking the handicapped bathroom for us before the train even left the station. Each stop on the trip to Munich was announced on the overhead and written on a monitor. It was heaven.

The train swept through Bavarian countryside. We definitely need to check out Bavaria. It looks lovely and we know they have good beer.
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Munich

We arrived in Munich after dark and began the arduous struggle of getting everybody and everything to our hotel. It will never be easy, but we’ve developed a little system that works. Tim, using superhuman abilities, takes the two roller suitcases with the car seats balanced on top, I have a kid in the carrier and in the stroller. A bag is hung on the back of the stroller and we both have backpacks, too.

Tim said we could walk to Hofbräuhaus for dinner from our hotel. We hadn’t had a proper meal since breakfast. I was feeling like crap but I didn’t want to pass up my chance at seeing the real Hofbräuhaus. We gathered up the girls and set out. “Walking” there consisted of both actual walking and a subway ride. It wouldn’t have been too bad if I felt better. Still, it took a half an hour.

The Hofbräuhaus was packed with happy customers and even without the musicians playing, it was loud. We ended up eating upstairs in the restaurant (versus beer hall? I’m not sure what they call the lower part).

It was a fun meal. We sat in front of musicians playing accordion and guitar, which pleased the girls to no end. It didn’t take long before Vanessa was on her feet dancing.

The only problem, really, was the building was too warm. It was so warm that we skipped dessert to escape more sweating. On our way out, Vanessa got a whole group of adults to hop up and down like her and they fondly waved goodbye to her, clearly smitten. If only she could be that charming on an airplane.

The rest consisted of a walk back in the rain, a feverish night in the hotel with wind howling outside, and a morning rush for our flight to Dublin.
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Onward, Soldiers!

Next up: Ireland! Will we make our flight? Will the passport police get to see my breast? Will security believe us when we say the car seat won’t fit through the x-Ray machine? Will the girls scream on the plane? Tune into the next episode to find out!

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Lipica, Vipava Valley, Salzburg

Lipica

On Sunday we said a fond goodbye to Ljubljana and headed west to Lipica. Lipica is home to the Lipica Stud Farm, where they’ve bred and trained the famous dancing white stallions, Lipizzaners, since 1580. Yes, you read that correctly. 1580.

This was our third visit to the stud farm. We took a tour and the girls quickly caught the attention of our guide. The guide wanted to trade her two adult children for Zara and Vanessa. I bargained for a Lipizzaner to be thrown into the deal. Obviously I would have come out ahead behind in that exchange.

After the tour we took a carriage ride around the farm. The tour guide gave Vanessa a large chocolate Santa. As we took this idyllic ride around the grounds, Vanessa was preoccupied with her gift. She must have been hungry and we must have been stupid because she ate the whole thing before the ride ended.

We went all over the farm, seeing much more than we did on the walking tour of the stables. The ride was even better than I expected. The two Lipizzaner geldings pulling us were spirited and fun. We cantered in some places and at one point they shied and almost took off.

Vipava Valley

Afterward we left for Ajdovščina in the Vipava Valley of Slovenia. This valley is known for its quality wines, especially whites, and incredible food. Our friends, Anita and Matej, have a nascent brewery set in the back of the valley, called Pelicon. It’s just over a year old and they already won the Brewery of the Year title in Slovenia.

Anita is super smart and loquacious. She has a graphic design background and brings strong visual and marketing skills to their brewing endeavor. Matej is also extremely bright, but has the quieter, more science-minded (he’s educated in physics) type of intelligence. He does not say anything extraneous–perhaps some of this is due to the language barrier–but what he does say is worth listening to. They are an adorable couple.

When we got to Ajdovščina, Anita and Matej brought us to a little building that looked like a castle turret. It had been converted into a space that’s used for wine tasting and sells tantalizing local treats like lavender soap, blueberry jam, and flavored liqueurs.

Their friends, another Matej, and his wife Neza, served us an ah-mazing multi coarse meal featuring local food. Words cannot adequately convey how divine it was. The first dishes were paired with local wines and later they were paired with Pelicon beer. See below for some photographs. It was so much fun and it’s clear we were being spoiled.

Matej’s (Pelicon) brother, Martin, joined us, too. As a father of three, Martin knew the perfect gift to give our girls, a set of rubber bath toys that were an instant hit.

The next day, we went to the brewery and, being the nicest wife ever, I left Tim there to help brew. I would brave a foreign country on my own with the girls, something I am reluctant to do even at home. Pelicon was making history by brewing the world’s first commercial batch of beer made with a Slovenian hop variety called styrian hops, so I kinda had to let Tim play with them.

Vanessa, Zara and I went to a cute park in town for a couple of hours. I’ll skip all the exciting details and fast forward to the important part: we survived on our own. Granted, we did nothing except hang out at the park and in the rental car, so it wasn’t exactly the most daring or adventurous outing. But still.

After some hours, we went back to Pelicon and Anita took us up a hill above the brewery for a view of the valley. The temperature in the valley was considerably warmer than Ljubljana, with no snow to be seen. The view was pretty neat, especially since we climbed up on the roof of a cabin to see everything.

On our walk back we saw the remains of the town’s first brewery, set at the base of a hill next to the Hubelj River. Anita, a natural tour guide, said the old brewery only lasted a year or two because of “too high internal consumption.” In other words, the workers at the brewery were drinking too much to do their job. Typical.

Once the brewing was complete, we had pizza with our Ajdovščina hosts and then tasted a few more beers before heading to bed. One of the beers was a gift from Anita and Matej, a wild yeast fermented sour beer (brettanomyces) they were not sure was good or not. Turns out it was good, of course.

Our train to Salzburg was for 9:22 the next morning in Ljubljana. That meant an early–still dark outside– start. Predictably, the girls slept poorly and I only got a few hours of crappy sleep.

My Favorite: The Train Station

When we returned the rental car and had all our stuff strewn on the sidewalk in front of the train station, the rental car guy asked if we were able to move everything at once. God, is it that obvious?

In fact, as we hauled it to track six, it felt even heavier than before. Can you guess why? Yes. Beer.

The plan had been to buy tickets in advance but we were so busy doing stuff we didn’t get around to it until the morning of our departure. This turned out to be a mistake. Not only were they twice as expensive, you couldn’t reserve seats. The ticket lady assured Tim the train was practically empty.

We waited in the chilly morning air for the train with over twenty minutes to spare. We were the first people to stake a spot on the platform. As time passed, people began joining us in the wait. The train ended up being 20 minutes late and by the time it arrived, the platform was crowded with people. This was going to be fun.

Tim did his mad scramble with the first pieces of luggage while every other single person boarded the train. By the time I got on with Zara and Vanessa, there was only barely room for us in the little entryway of the car. All the seats were taken–practically empty?!?–all the luggage racks filled. People kept coming by, checking the first class car, squeezing by our mountains of stuff.

To make matters worse, we hadn’t had breakfast, Vanessa was still in her pajamas and my back already ached. The trip to Salzburg takes four hours.

I was in a foul mood. I’m really starting to hate train travel.

The Long Trip to Salzburg

Tim took Vanessa into the grungy train bathroom to change her diaper and get her dressed. Her screaming protest could be heard far and wide.

Eventually things improved. I sat in a little drop down seat in the crowded aisle, surrounded by suitcases. A stroke of pure luck left a proper seat open exactly across from the drop down seat, so I took it with Zara on my lap. Tim was able to sit in my old seat with Vanessa. People kept squeezing by. Couldn’t they just sit in their seats, seats we didn’t get?

Beside the screaming in the bathroom, Vanessa was surprisingly well-behaved. There were so many moments she could have made things worse by having a fit or a meltdown but she didn’t. Bless her.

Our seat mates eventually began chatting with Tim. They were Croatian and spoke excellent English. A young man asked Tim if it was true what he’s seen on t.v. about Americans. Did we own guns?

And My Favorite Again: The Train Station

Once we arrived in Salzburg the plan was for Tim to pick up our rental car while I waited with our luggage and the girls at the train station. By car, we’d go to a B&B-type place near Filzmoos, where they were expecting us. We still hadn’t had a proper meal and everyone was tired. Tim left for the car and I settled in to wait in another cold train station.

After what seemed like a long time, Tim returned with news that no one was at the rental place. The doors were locked. He hoped they were on lunch break. We checked the paperwork to confirm the pick up time. So Tim left again, after accidentally dropping a bottle of beer while rummaging in the backpack for the paperwork, to see if the rental company was still closed. The walk one-way was at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, the train station got colder and colder. Zara fell asleep in the carrier and Vanessa mindlessly played on her tablet until she fell asleep. I leaned against a slab of cold stone, waiting. I got colder and colder, despite putting on my hat, scarf and gloves.

An employee at the station came over on a cleaning machine and indicated he wanted me to move. At first I thought he was kicking me out of my spot but he gestured toward the ground. That beer bottle that had fallen out of the backpack? It had slowly leaked brown liquid all over the floor. The guy kindly helped me move our stuff and cleaned up the beer. As he did this, he asked me where my husband was. Ha!

Now I was on his radar and he came up to me later and told me I should wait in a waiting area, where it was warm, “for the kids.” Well, yes, that does sound like an improvement but how the hell would I a.) transport all the luggage to the waiting area and b.) fit all the luggage and sleeping kids in the crowded waiting area? Needless to say, I stayed put.

There were bakeries around me, luring me with their warmth and nourishment but I couldn’t leave the stuff. More than two hours passed with us waiting. Tim, when he came back, looked stressed. The place was closed because it was Epiphany, a public holiday, a fact that no one bothered to mention when we booked the car. If we wanted, we could take a twenty minute bus ride to the airport to see if we could get a car there. Um, the reason we’re renting a car is because we can’t take the effing bus.

At this point, neither of us were in a good state of mind. It was hard to know what the best decision would be. I was freezing, hungry, exhausted and starting to feel sick. I worried about the girls being cold and tired. I really, really didn’t want to keep waiting there while Tim took a bus to the airport. Once again I forced myself not to cry.

What is it with me and train stations?

In the end, I think we made the best choice. We put the car seats into a storage locker at the train station and got a room at a hotel kitty corner to the station. As soon as we walked into the hotel lobby and a blast of warm air hit my face, I felt better.

We had a fun meal at a monastery called Augustinerbrau. Beer is served in large or extra large mugs and you pick your food from stalls in a long hallway. In a large hall filled with heavy wooden furniture, you eat communally with a mixture of folk, everybody from old men in traditional Austrian garb quietly sipping beer and watching the crowd to groups of Asian girls taking selfies with their mugs of beer.

The fun didn’t last. Our hotel room only had one bed and the girls slept poorly. They kept waking each other up, fidgeting in the bed, and sleep crawling in Zara’s case. My throat was killing me and I developed a low grade fever. Yay for being sick in the middle of a big European trip with two extremely small children.

The good news is we aren’t due back at a train station for a couple of days.

And our next adventure involves sleigh rides in the snow.2015/01/img_7910.jpgLjubljana’s flea market
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2015/01/img_8046.jpgAjdovščina’s first brewery

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2015/01/img_8055.jpgMatej is on the left, Anita on the right. Aren’t they cute?

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2015/01/img_8080.jpgSee? What’d I tell you? We are so cool in Europe.

2015/01/img_8057.jpgA train station shot of our luggage. Just so you could see it.

Ljubljana

First day:
The girls and I slept late, of course. Tim woke me up at 12:45 PM after getting up early to pick up the rental car. After donning a bunch of winter wear, we wandered around the Old Town in a bit of a daze. It was bitterly cold out. At a Christmas market, I bought Vanessa a Hello Kitty balloon and a pretty candy cane (hoping to bribe her into decent public behavior), while Tim got us kuhano vino, hot mulled wine. Hot mulled wine is a staple around here. You can walk along the river and pass outdoor kiosk after outdoor kiosk, all selling it. It explains how people can spend so long outdoors. It warms your hands and your belly.

An old woman at the market was admiring Vanessa happily eating her candy cane. Then the woman indicated she wanted to see Zara, who was asleep in the carrier. I uncovered Zara’s sweet face and before I knew what was happening, she kissed Zara’s fat cheek, clearly delighted. There’s a cultural difference for you!

For fun we got a liter of delicious Slovenian milk from the mlekomat
(milk machine). Later, Tim and Vanessa saw Grandfather Frost while I took grumpy Zara back to the hotel.

You may be surprised to hear that both girls had trouble going to sleep. Vanessa didn’t fall asleep until something like 5 AM.

Second day:
We braved more icy weather and went up to Ljubljana Castle on the funicular. Vanessa played in the snow, had a few meltdowns, and had fun ‘making honey’ in the gift shop. I hoped she’d wouldn’t break any expensive handmade Slovenian crafts in the crowded shop.

After a particularly nasty tantrum involving–what else?–her winter clothes, we tried to walk back from the castle to our hotel. The path down the hill was covered in ice and we realized, as we carefully inched down the first part, it was too dangerous with us each carrying a child. Even the parking lot had large patches of solid ice. I’m pretty sure in the US they would have roped off the path or sprinkled salt on it. Think of the lawsuits!

So instead of walking back, we took exhausted Vanessa back down on the funicular, having to wait an extra trip because someone else with a screaming toddler cut in front of us. At least we weren’t the only ones with an ill behaved child, right?

It was New Year’s Eve and we hadn’t had a proper meal since Munich. All the traditional places were booked because of the holiday, so we had supper at an Indian restaurant. The owner of this restaurant grew up in San Francisco and treated us in true ex-pat style, being extra welcoming and telling us about how she ended up in Slovenia (she married a Slovene).

It was small and crowded though, as most restaurants are around here and I felt a little anxious and claustrophobic. We got off to a great start when Vanessa got up from her chair despite our protests and ran out into the main floor of the restaurant where she was immediately bumped into by a busy waitress. Vanessa began to cry loudly and if people hadn’t noticed us before, they did now.

It seemed like we were the only ones with kids in there. I’m not sure what Slovenians think about kids and restaurants. Most places can produce a high chair but I haven’t seen many small children like ours in them.

Anyway, we got her calmed down but the meal was not relaxing and we had to fully manage her the whole time.

Because it was so terribly cold, we waited until 11:40 PM to go out for the New Year’s celebration. We found a spot just across the river that had a clear view of the castle. Lots of people were out but I didn’t see many kids. Midnight came and went, kisses were exchanged, but the fireworks didn’t begin until about 5 after.

It turns out it was worth the wait. A grand show of fireworks lit up the sky above the castle. Vanessa was enthralled and Tim was in heaven enjoying it with her. Little Zar couldn’t stay awake and she slept snuggled against me as loud booms rang out all around us.

After the show, we went up to the main square for a peek at the music. It was crowded and the ground was slippery with ice, so we didn’t stay out long.

It was another late night of Vanessa not going to sleep and crying loudly at the hotel…

Third day: New Year’s Day
Another morning of being in an incredibly deep sleep only to be woken by a fully dressed and pacing Tim. “Breakfast will be over soon,” he says. Breakfast? That’s the last thing on earth I want right now. Sleep. Must go back to sleep. But of course I got up anyway. Besides jet lag, Zara slept poorly, taking a long time to go to sleep, between two and three AM, and waking frequently throughout the night.

Jet Lag + the Terrible Twos
Vanessa had a hard time waking up, too. She didn’t have nearly enough sleep but we don’t want her going to bed at five in the morning so we forced the issue. Later, we paid for it when she had a twenty minute tantrum related to getting dressed.

I have to say, it’s bad enough at home trying to get her into clothes but add on multiple layers, coat, hat, tricky mittens, and boots plus jet lag…it is a huge fight every time. “Not the purple socks!” Or, “I want this other thing that was offered earlier and refused but now in the middle of a huge hissy fit, it’s got to be that or I’ll scream even louder.” Honestly, it gets so tiring to hear her yell and cry.

And God knows what the other hotel patrons think about screaming fits in the middle of the night. I have had zero interest in socializing with anyone here because I don’t know whom we’ve already pissed off.

Vanessa showed us just how tired she was when we were barely seated in a restaurant when her eyelids started drooping. Before even her tea was served, she had fallen asleep. We tucked her in the stroller and enjoyed a unexpectedly peaceful meal with Zara.

I should note that out of all of us, Zara seems to have adjusted to the time change the quickest. Her ability to take lots of short naps surely helped. Plus, she’s the only one who slept on the flight over here.

Third Day Continued:
Tim found another restaurant, called 5-6 Kg, for us to try, after taking into consideration how wary I was of eating in public with Vanessa. It was a new place, only open for two weeks, and it had two things going for it. It was empty and spacious!

The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating, especially the chef, who came out to our table frequently to check on us.

We were served a superb meal that included the chef’s mother’s pumpkin seed oil, served in a plastic yogurt container. Slovenians know how to do salads, even in winter. And their pasta rivals Italy’s.

At the end of the meal, the chef brought three special bottles of beer for Tim as a gift, since he learned Tim was a Beer Guy. The chef, with a humble posture, told me in his Slovenian accent, “We are trying to do something special here.” They are succeeding, I hope other people notice.

Fourth Day:
Yay! Vanessa is finally starting to feel better and act like her normal sweet self. I’d almost forgotten. And the weather has warmed up to almost double what it had been (~40 F instead of 20 F). The difference is huge!

We went to the Ljubljana Zoo and Vanessa got to feed the elephant, Ganga, whom she fed when we were here in the summer of 2013.

First we watched Ganga drink water from a hose, a surprisingly entertaining activity. She’d put it in her mouth using her trunk and make gurgling sounds like when you’re at the dentist. Then we walked outside, following Ganga and the zookeeper, and Vanessa fed the elephant a bunch of bananas as Tim held her.

Next was feeding the wild boar, which Vanessa wanted to do because of the Lion King. “Warty!” Feeding them consisted of throwing pieces of apple and carrot over the fence to the two wild boar, a male and female. The male was a total pig and wouldn’t share with the female (even though it was mating season–smooth move mister!), so we had to throw her food much farther so she could get to it before he did.

Ljubljana’s zoo is a sweet place. I told Tim I could live there. Except for the chimpanzees, none of the animals elicit pity or sadness. They seem happy and well cared for. The big cats–we saw two tigers, a leopard, and two cheetahs–are active and fun to watch, running around their enclosures, grooming themselves… It is a small zoo but has lots of terrific animals and it set in a woodsy park.

After the zoo we were starving so we went back to 5-6 Kg and had another relaxing and delicious meal.

Later we went out for a night boat ride, strolled the Christmas markets again and picked up chocolate cake to eat back at the hotel. When I say chocolate cake, I am talking about a banana Nutella chocolate cake that is to die for. I would never have picked it, banana cake?, but it is so frigging good we’ve had it three times!

Fifth Day:
Food walk with Iva, a lovely Slovenian woman. She took us to four cool places highlighting certain Slovenian specialties, both with food and beverage.

We went to a sausage place that used to be a watch repair shop, a coffee shop where the owner, Tine, shared his cold pressed coffee and his enthusiasm for fair trade, a beer (pivo) pub serving only one type of beer and decorated with communism-inspired nostalgia, and finally a restaurant that offers only two dishes on the weekend and vegetarian/vegan dishes during the week.

Iva was a friendly and enthusiastic guide. She was especially patient with the distraction our girls brought to the excursion. A highlight of our trip so far!

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Ljubljana and head to the Vipava Valley for a couple of days.

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/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/73f/79088055/files/2014/12/img_7738.jpgA balanced diet is chocolate in both hands.

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