A Music Lover’s Tour of Austria

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If your appreciation for the arts is heavy in the music department; then a tour of Austria is the perfect vacation destination. Surrounded by the creative inspiration of the Alps you can find a rich history of music and culture going back centuries. Have espresso at Mozart’s Cafe, see the palace rooms that were once full of young composers, sing “The Hills Are Alive” right where Julie Andrews did. Austria will fill your heart with song and set your taste buds on fire!

A Mozart Tour of Austria

Beginning your time in Austria with the Western part of the country will give you the best timeline for Mozart’s life. Because the composer was born and raised in Salzburg, Austria you should start your journey there! Salzburg is incredibly proud of their famous prior resident. Mozart’s childhood home has been completely preserved and remains very much the same as when the family inhabited it. The childhood home has been turned into a museum that IS WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE. The home has the original “doorbell” on its exterior. Little details like the doorbell and door knocker are absolutely incredible and give such depth to the aesthetic design of the time period.

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I was able to stand in the room that Mozart’s mother gave birth to him in. If you are a classical music, music theory lover (joke, no one is a music theory lover), you understand the magnitude of a space like that. The genius that was Mozart is truly paradigm shifting. As you tour Mozart’s humble beginnings you may find it hard to imagine the rise to fame that would follow. Therefore, you have great food for thought while you sip on your Composer Cappuccino next door at the Mozart Cafe. They serve you chocolates with Mozart’s face on them. I mean it doesn’t get any better than that.

If time permits, continue your tour to the other side of the country to Vienna, where you will find Mozart’s adult home. His home post fame is definitely more elaborate and really shows the shear amount of wealth acquired by his family. He would eventually leave the family home and the control of his parents to lead his own short adult life.

The Sound of Music

Millions of people have fallen in love with the Sound of Music musical. So much so that an entire tour industry has been developed around the films production. In Salzburg, Austria you can book a Sound of Music tour that will take you to all of the major filming spots. Along the way you will visit Mirabell Gardens where most of the Doe-Ra-Me scenes were filmed. Yes, there are dozens of people at any given time hopping up and down the exterior stairs. You will stop to see the famous glass gazebo where Lisle sings I Am 16 Going On 17.

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The Sound of Music tour is an all day affair that will take you way out of the city of Salzburg to the Lake District of Austria. Here you will see where Julie Andrews sang The Hills Are Alive, you will also see the beautiful church that the wedding scene was filmed in. Throughout the time on the tour bus you will be participating in soundtrack sing along as well as Sound of Music trivia and behind the scenes details. The tour is absolutely amazing, worth every cent and then some if you are a true Sound of Music fan.

The Hills Fill my Heart with the Sound of Music

The lyrics in the Sound of Music describe Austria best. The Alpine landscapes and views are stunning. They bring to life creative juices and inspiration that you didn’t know you were capable of. The beautiful surroundings also had this effect on my children. As a family we adopted some wonderful habits from our time in Austria. For example, we have “afternoon coffee” now because of the relaxed ambience we experienced around the 2pm hour in Austria. So much about the Austrian culture should be implemented in our lives, especially so in regards to the Austrian love of music and film.

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If you find yourself considering a trip to Austria please heed my advice and schedule in a whole lot of unscheduled time. Allowing yourself and your family to sip the afternoon away discussing the beauty you have witnessed will bring the experience to its fullest potential. Get out there and enjoy.

A Music Lover’s Tour of Austria

If your appreciation for the arts is heavy in the music department; then a tour of Austria is the perfect vacation destination. Surrounded by the creative inspiration of the Alps you can find a rich history of music and culture going back centuries. Have espresso at Mozart’s Cafe, see the palace rooms that were once full of young composers, sing “The Hills Are Alive” right where Julie Andrews did. Austria will fill your heart with song and set your taste buds on fire!

A Mozart Tour of Austria

Beginning your time in Austria with the Western part of the country will give you the best timeline for Mozart’s life. Because the composer was born and raised in Salzburg, Austria you should start your journey there! Salzburg is incredibly proud of their famous prior resident. Mozart’s childhood home has been completely preserved and remains very much the same as when the family inhabited it. The childhood home has been turned into a museum that IS WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE. The home has the original “doorbell” on its exterior. Little details like the doorbell and door knocker are absolutely incredible and give such depth to the aesthetic design of the time period.

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I was able to stand in the room that Mozart’s mother gave birth to him in. If you are a classical music, music theory lover (joke, no one is a music theory lover), you understand the magnitude of a space like that. The genius that was Mozart is truly paradigm shifting. As you tour Mozart’s humble beginnings you may find it hard to imagine the rise to fame that would follow. Therefore, you have great food for thought while you sip on your Composer Cappuccino next door at the Mozart Cafe. They serve you chocolates with Mozart’s face on them. I mean it doesn’t get any better than that.

If time permits, continue your tour to the other side of the country to Vienna, where you will find Mozart’s adult home. His home post fame is definitely more elaborate and really shows the shear amount of wealth acquired by his family. He would eventually leave the family home and the control of his parents to lead his own short adult life.

The Sound of Music

Millions of people have fallen in love with the Sound of Music musical. So much so that an entire tour industry has been developed around the films production. In Salzburg, Austria you can book a Sound of Music tour that will take you to all of the major filming spots. Along the way you will visit Mirabell Gardens where most of the Doe-Ra-Me scenes were filmed. Yes, there are dozens of people at any given time hopping up and down the exterior stairs. You will stop to see the famous glass gazebo where Lisle sings I Am 16 Going On 17.

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The Sound of Music tour is an all day affair that will take you way out of the city of Salzburg to the Lake District of Austria. Here you will see where Julie Andrews sang The Hills Are Alive, you will also see the beautiful church that the wedding scene was filmed in. Throughout the time on the tour bus you will be participating in soundtrack sing along as well as Sound of Music trivia and behind the scenes details. The tour is absolutely amazing, worth every cent and then some if you are a true Sound of Music fan.

The Hills Fill my Heart with the Sound of Music

The lyrics in the Sound of Music describe Austria best. The Alpine landscapes and views are stunning. They bring to life creative juices and inspiration that you didn’t know you were capable of. The beautiful surroundings also had this effect on my children. As a family we adopted some wonderful habits from our time in Austria. For example, we have “afternoon coffee” now because of the relaxed ambience we experienced around the 2pm hour in Austria. So much about the Austrian culture should be implemented in our lives, especially so in regards to the Austrian love of music and film.

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If you find yourself considering a trip to Austria please heed my advice and schedule in a whole lot of unscheduled time. Allowing yourself and your family to sip the afternoon away discussing the beauty you have witnessed will bring the experience to its fullest potential. Get out there and enjoy.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

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Perhaps the most recognized castle in the world, Neuschwanstein Castle sculpts the landscape of Bavaria with romance, art and a vision come true. King Ludwig II brought a fairy tale to life with the construction of Neuschwanstein Castle. Today the castle experiences up to 6,000 visitors per day during the high season and is a world renowned symbol of romanticism.

The Plans for Neuschwanstein

Crown Prince Ludwig II, was born in 1845 and spent every summer of his childhood in the Bavarian Alpine landscape. His father had very recently built a new castle, Hohenschwangau on the ruins of the original Schwanstein Castle. The summer home of his childhood, was overlooked by two other castle ruins; Vorderhohenschwangau and Hohenschwangau. By the tender age of 14, Ludwig II was so familiar with the ruins and landscape that he began sketching the area. These sketches would be the first blue prints to one of the most famous castles in the world.

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New Hohenschwangau. The childhood home of Ludwig II.

Ludwig’s father adored the Middle Ages and the chilvary based stories of knights and ladies. He decorated every bare surface in Hohenschwangau with murals and art. These details and stories allowed Ludwig’s imagination to run wild and he would later put it to the test with the construction of Neuschwanstein. In September of 1869, construction began on the expansive wilderness retreat. Young Ludwig, aged 24, was a reclusive young king. He went into great debts to remove himself from the bustle of Munich.

After going into over 14 million marks worth of debt to build his dream palace, Ludwig II would only spend 11 nights inside its thick walls. In a short 15 years after the first stone was laid, the King would die at the young age of 39. He named his palatial home New Hohenschwangau. The name would be changed upon his death to Neuschwanstein and thus opened to the public.

Planning Your Trip to Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein and its neighbor Hohenschwangau (childhood home and castle inspiration) share a central access. Both are located deep in the Bavarian landscape and require a rental car or planned tour company to access. As soon as you know that the trip will happen you need to book sleeping accommodations. Fussen is the nearest village with these accommodations and they are reasonably priced given the distance to the castles. The morning of your tour you will arrive to a parking lot entrance that presents with a “downtown Disney” feel. The street giving access to both castles is lined with restaurants and high end shops. If you did not prebook your castle tickets then you will need to jump in line at the ticket building. This line could take you upwards of 2.5 hours to get through.

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You will want a full day to tour both houses. I highly recommend touring Hohenschwanstein first, as this is the childhood home that gave much of the inspiration for the later building of Neuschwanstein. By doing so, you will have a much deeper understanding of the design and decor that went into Neuschwanstein. It is also important to leave time to tour the museum and to hike through to the bridges, waterfalls and views offered by the landscape. Prepare for a very full day, but one you will never forget.

With three lakes, a waterfall, two substantial hikes (accessible) and a long climb to the entrance of Neuschwanstein (can pay to ride a carriage) you need to be prepared with good quality shoes, snacks and water. Because of its location the weather is not overly hot, but it is typical to have mountain created rains. A poncho would be a nice addition to your day pack.

Once in a Lifetime Visit

Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau may be a once in a lifetime experience for many people. With that mindset it is easy to get wrapped up in the shops and trinket stores. Do yourself a favor and order different foods off of the restaurant menus. Hike to get to the best views. Pay extra for a more in-depth tour option. The memories and the view will not fade and those are the areas worth spending more money and time. Neuschwanstein is a fairytale book experience. It is easy to see the inspiration that Walt Disney must have seen when he was planning Cinderella’s Castle design. There is nothing better than seeing it for yourself though. So go. Get out there and have a wonderful time.

Vienna, Austria: A History of Europe

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While walking the streets of Vienna you almost expect to bow for a passing carriage. The prestige atmosphere is overwhelming. Ruled by the Habsburg family for over 600 years, Vienna’s rich history revolves around this family dynasty and their social, economical and cultural associations. As a result, 600 years worth of prosperity, wealth, and building have made a Vienna a beautiful metropolis. With endless amounts of architecture perfection and gardens to wander for days Vienna, Austria is a must see European city.

Where to Begin in Vienna, Austria

To get the best accumulative understanding of Vienna it would be best if you began your touring at Schonbrunn Castle. Built in the seventeenth century as a “hunting lodge” for the crown Prince. This palatial building would continue to be developed for the next century until it was worthy of housing the royal family. Consequently, Days upon days could easily be spent touring Schonbrunn. There are numerous tour options and the tours are packed full of information about this influential family. The tours have a heavy focus on the 18th century. Highlighting Maria Theresa, who ruled the Habsburg family for forty years. In modern terms we would call her a “mom boss.” She meant business.

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Maria Theresa was the Archduchess of Austria until her father’s death when she became Empress. Her extensive strategizing began long before she actually held any power. The Empress knew, as a woman her greatest claim to fame would be the rulers she created in her own children. She would go on to mother 16 children.

Spreading Her Descendants Across the World

Consequently, in most large family dynasties, only the oldest child would get to rule. Maria Theresa simply wasn’t satisfied with that outcome. She plotted and planned every aspect of her children’s lives to accurately marry them off to other country’s crowned elite. Her husband was not a fan of Maria Theresa’s strategizing and stayed out of her way in regards of the marriages of their children. Maria Theresa went as far as marrying off their mentally handicapped daughter, who subsequently died of smallpox right before that marriage. Maria Theresa simply offered the next daughter in line. The Empress was relentless and as such was called the “mother-in-law of Europe.”

Due to the wide spread of Maria Theresa’s children she was able to leave a royal seal on almost every European royal family bloodline. Therefore, she would have descendants ruling Naples-Sicily, Spain, France, Parma, the Wettin Dynasty, Bourbon Dynasty, a nun and an ArchBishop of Cologne. Mom goals. Just kidding, but truly Maria Theresa knew her stuff. Because the Habsburg family infiltrated so much of Europe, Vienna’s history is not just Austrian/Bavaria it is a magnificent dedication to one of Europe’s most influential families.

The Royal Catacombs

If you are a fan of Edgar Allen Poe, you will greatly enjoy this next suggestion. Given the size and duration of rule, the Habsburg family experienced a lot of funerals. That is to say, death was incredibly common pre modern sanitization practices and unfortunately for the royals it did not exclude them. Macabre tombs and expensive funerary art was a huge part of the imperial dynasty.

The Habsburg Imperial Crypt is a must see in regards to culture, art, money and funerary practices of the time. Containing the tombs of twelve Emperors, eighteen empresses and 113 other royal family members. The Imperial Crypt is a great way to spend the day. You get to quietly wander through the underground crypt museum (air conditioned). Taking in the wonder that you didn’t know existed in regards to death. A large portion of the Maria Theresa era family members are interned here.

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With the exception of one, all of the tombs collected here are made from metal and carved with the highest level of skill available at the time. Therefore, if you enjoy history or specifically art history this is a MUST SEE stop in Vienna, Austria.

A Continuation of Cultural Appreciation

The Macabre art and cultural norm doesn’t end with the Imperial Crypt. Just down the street you can find a whole new level of “internment.” The royal family, upon death, would have their body parts placed in three different locations. Their bodily remains would be interned in a Bronze tomb in the Imperial Crypt. The hearts of 54 members of the royal family are held in special silver urns in the Herzgruft, or “Heart Room.” Located a few blocks away in St. George’s Chapel of the Augustinerkirche. The embalmed entrails of princes, queens and emperors are kept in the Ducal Crypt below St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

The entire history of Vienna revolves around its royal family history. Therefore, the history of the Austrian royal family isn’t just the history of Austria, but the history of Europe as well. Vienna, Austria is a modern, happening city, but its tourism is heavily embedded in its royal family history and architecture. As a result, if history is not your thing be sure to stop at the many cafes and street food vendors. Wander through the art galleries and shops. Sit on the benches and absorb the architectural details. Vienna has so much to offer its visitors. Get out there.

Hallstatt, Austria UNESCO World Heritage Site

There is a special place deep in the Austrian Dachstein Mountains, that has been frozen in time. A cultural and architectural time capsule. Hallstatt, Austria was publicly recognized for its beauty and historical importance in 1997 when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Throughout history, Hallstatt was known for its salt production. It is home to the world’s oldest and longest operating salt mine. The Bronze Age salt mine is still in use today and tours are given daily. Hallstatt is the perfect place to go to delve deeply into Bavarian history and heritage. With over 800,000 visitors every year Hallstatt is making tourism part of their 21st century economy.

Getting to Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt is incredibly easy to get to by rental car. If renting a car is not your forte then you can also access Hallstatt by train/ferry and/or bus.

By car, you will find Hallstatt approximately 90 minutes East of Salzburg along the highway to Graz. To reach Hallstatt by train you will connect at Bad Ischl. You will take the train from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt Station where you will get on a ferry and cross the lake. This is a beautiful way to see many of the pristine lakes of the Salzkammergut. If you prefer roadways a public bus is also an option. The bus station sits directly outside of Hallstattt Train Station to return back to Bad Ischl.

There are daily tours available from Salzburg, but I promise, a day is not enough. Book your hotels or airbnbs as far in advance as possible. Because Hallstatt is fairly isolated, you will pay heavily to stay there in the village. Other accommodations are available in surrounding town, but only reachable if you rented a car.

Now days, you can prebook everything from hotels to bus tickets online. This is a circumstance that I would highly recommend doing all of those things in advance.

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A Slow Stroll Through Hallstatt

There is no wrong way to spend a day here, but one thing that everyone seems to do, a stroll through the streets. The architecture is astounding. Every turn and alley gives light to something unseen before. A new photo-op. A quiet breathtaking view. A waterfall brimming with glacial water. The magnificent shops and restaurants are worth stopping at. Apple strudel in the square. Creme stuffed pastries by the lake. Let’s not forget about the picturesque swans paddling along the lake’s edge with the Dachstein Mountains as a backdrop. It really doesn’t get any better than Hallstatt, Austria.

If leisure strolls are not your thing (though you should make time for it here); there are numerous other things to do. You can do a food and/or wine tour. Renting paddle boats and kayaks is also a wonderful option to get out on the water. This will also give you a much closer view of the castle Schloss Grub. The castle itself is privately owned and visitors are not allowed on the inside. Although, you can access the grounds via the East side of the lake’s hiking trail.
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As mentioned previously, the active salt mines are a wonderful way to spend a day. You can take an amazing tour deep into the mines. There are even internal slides to get from one level to another! There is also a wonderful local museum with 7,000 year old artifacts. You need at least two days to tour Hallstatt to its fullest potential.

Hallstatt and Food

Just go ahead and start saving up your money and fasting now. The FOOD is to die for. The amount of restaurants with views is amazing and there are no bad views. One of my favorite places did not have a water or mountain view at all, but a market or square view. Marktbiesel Zur Ruth is definitely the place to go for that afternoon coffee . . . and Strudel. You will not pick a bad restaurant, it isn’t possible. Follow your nose and stop frequently. If you are traveling with your family, I highly recommend stopping every hour or so and ordering one thing. This way everyone can try it. Most of your group will remain in the “I could eat” phase and you get to try so many more dishes!

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Best Time to Visit

There really is no “bad time” to visit the beautiful Hallstatt, Austria. We visited in late August and it was the perfect weather and temperature. I have also heard that if you are a winter sports type person that the winter months can give way to some pretty neat snow covered hikes. There are definitely more tourists during the summer months, but accommodations are fewer during the winter. Plan in advance and be flexible. Hallstatt is one of those places that you just have to see. Put it on your bucket list, bump it to the top and make it happen. Sometimes the greatest adventures and locations are not the easiest to get too. Hallstatt, Austria is one of those places. It will take some strategic planning on your part, but the result is so worth it. Hopefully, I’ve laid some of the foundational work for you. Get out there.

Hiking Samaria Gorge

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Beginning the Decent down into the Gorge

Hiking the Samaria Gorge on the island of Crete, Greece will go down in infamy as one of the crazier things I have asked my children to do. Until further notice, it will also be one of the most physically challenging things I have ever accomplished aside from childbirth. I am going to tell you this story in the hopes that you are inspired to push the comfort zone of your family and take your adventures to the next level.

Preparing to Hike the Samaria Gorge

The Samaria Gorge, is one of the more challenging Gorge hikes in all of Europe due to many factors. The length of the Gorge (16km) which is 10.3 miles. The accessibility of the Gorge. And the weather, plays a huge factor in your hiking experience. all of the traveling to get to the Gorge may be for not as it is closed frequently due to weather.

It may be of no surprise to many of you, that I took very few preparations. . . My children and I had been walking everywhere for over two months. We were well conditioned in that sense, but we had done no “formal” hiking training. Because the kids and I had been living in Greece a natural adaptation to your environment occurs.

Greece is rough terrain all the way around. Nothing about Greece is easily accessible. Because of that reason alone, millenia’s worth of Greeks have built their homes, temples, churches and villages into the rocks and mountains. You get used to it, but luckily we had experienced this for a couple of months before the Gorge hike.

I also planned our Gorge hike around my mother’s visit. She has always wanted to hike it as well and a second set of adult hands was the best preparation I could give myself.

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Things Needed to Improve your Experience

  • Ankle supporting hiking boots. The only shoes that we had at the time were Keen brand sandals that did not support our ankles at all. That is by far the part of me that hurt the worst in the days after.
  • Pack Food. There are almost zero resources within the Samaria Gorge National Park. There are no food or drink vendors until the very end. Once you’ve actually left the Gorge and you begin the 2km walk to the closest town.
  • Time Management. Plan on the hike taking you 7 to 9 hours to complete. This is especially important if you are planning on catching the evening ferry leaving Agia Roumeli.

The Logistics of the Samaria Gorge

After having experienced it first hand, the getting there and back aspect of the hike is the most challenging part. The Samaria Gorge National Park, begins in the tiny village of Omalos which is most easily accessed by public bus. The bus leaves the Chania bus station at 7am and that is the only bus heading to Omalos daily. With this restrictive schedule the absolute earliest you could begin your hike is at 9am.

Because the Samaria Gorge is nestled deep in the White Mountain Range it creates its own lovely weather (insert sarcasm). It rains there a lot. Many tourists attempt to hike the Samaria Gorge and make it to the entrance to find that it has been closed for the day due to weather. This is how we began our hike.

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We were lucky, in that the park only delayed its opening that day. We were able to begin hiking shortly before 10am. Because I was hiking with small children the delayed start posed other concerns. The Samaria Gorge ends in a very small village called Agia Roumeli. Agia Roumeli is only accessible via the gorge and by boat. There are no feasible roads leading to it. Therefore, if you cannot complete the hike by 5pm you will miss your one and only chance to leave Agia Roumeli for the night. Which is on the 5:30pm ferry.

There are numerous hotels that you can book if you book early in the hiking season (May 1 to October). You pay heftily for these hotels as they are well aware that you have no other options. Given that the bulk of my party’s members were under the age of 5, I got a hotel room in advance.

The gorge spits you out at the Libyan Sea and it is absolutely stunning.

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Leaving the Gorge

When you complete the Gorge, or get rescued by a Donkey, you eventually make your way to the ferry. The ferry is packed to standing room only with people. That ferry takes you to a parking lot where you catch your 6pm bus that takes you back to Chania. I highly recommend staying the night in Agia Roumeli. Enjoy the small population of people (200) that live there year round. The beautiful, but cold, Libyan Sea is an amazing added bonus.

The Samaria Gorge Hike Worth It

I tend to live by the mentality that there are few things in life, when done with conviction, that are not worth it. It was AMAZING. My children surpassed my expectations entirely. They didn’t just surpass them, they astounded me. On at least three occasions someone fell and bled. There was an obvious need to constantly push everyone to eat quickly. To take a fast break, so as not to get rescued out of the Gorge when the 5pm close of the park expired.

The moment that we walked out of the Gorge into the Libyan Sea will be remembered forever. My barely four year old became the youngest person to ever complete the Samaria Gorge hike. I did it, with an 18 month old strapped to my back. It was so worth it! Within 24 hours of our journey down the Gorge, our four-year-old asked to do it again. There are no plans to do it again any time soon. Someday I would like to do it again and do it even better. Get out there, your children will surprise you and best of all, you will surprise yourself.

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Bringing History to Life for your Kids

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Instilling a Love of History

For years, I have heard people say how much they disliked history growing up. “It was my least favorite subject in school.” This is a very popular opinion. When learning is a series of memorizing dates and names then I agree, it is boring. History is losing its hold in the mainstream classroom. It will be cut out in years to come. There is a way to create a love of this subject for your children. Maybe, you’ll learn to love it again too.

Bringing History to Life

Throughout the world, history is inches from modern life. It is everywhere. Most of the planet courses and pulses through immense amounts of ancient history that a lot of people do not know is there. For example, throughout Greece and Italy, every time a new subway line is dug another archaeology site is uncovered. This is not typically an issue in the United States due to its incredibly young history in terms of the wrinkle of time, but the history is still there. No matter what your topic of interest, there is something to see and explore in close proximity to you.

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If the Civil War is your American History preference then the East Coast is covered in fascinating, patriotism inspiring locations to explore that are FREE. From reenactments to open battlefields and everything in between. The possibilities are endless for your children to learn. The subject matter that these places evoke is vast. From slavery and Civil Rights to architecture and medical treatment. You and your family can, in theory, learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know in regards to life and war during the 17th century; all sparked by a few stops in the Eastern United States.

The Midwest has its own claims to fame in regards to the Civil War, but what you will find the most of is beautifully preserved Native American history. California is full of Missions, Gold Rush, Wild West, and the list goes on and on. Every single U.S. states offer something wonderful if you’re willing to seek it out.

Where do you Start?

This is probably the question that I get asked the most; along with “how do you find these place?” The process is rather simple. Google. I kid you not, we live in a day in age where I can google “Historical Landmarks along route 66” and I will get a plethora of results. Not every stop is mind-blowing, but with enough early research, they can be. For example, when we were PCS-ing from Camp Pendleton to New River, NC I searched for “things to do off of route 66 (insert state).” That led us to Meteor Crater, which was amazing! It also gave us endless amounts of things to do in the states that I thought would be “long and boring” to drive through.

In that particular 47 hour trip, I remember being leery about driving through Western Texas and New Mexico. Hot long hours in the car, but with some research, we were able to make stops like Cadillac Graveyard in Western Texas, which sparked great conversations about art as a creative movement and art history.

Letting the History Guide Your Travels

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There are many times while traveling that I have visited destinations ONLY to see a piece of history that I cannot see anywhere else. Even people who don’t particularly care about history do this. Rome, for example, is a destination entirely based on seeing history. Nobody visits Rome for the cultural exchange. It is too touristy for that. People go to Rome to see the buildings and places where world-changing history took place.

The above photo is a small portion of a building complex on the Eastern coast of the island of Crete in Greece. I had no other reason to visit that area. EVERYTHING else I wanted to see was hours away on the Western side. I had waited my whole adult life to stand on the grounds of this particular building. My kids were unimpressed and that was fine with me. There were pieces of it that they loved like the peacocks walking around freely, which led to a long conversation about peacocks and symbolism for royalty. History brought to life, literally, in a bird. This conversation turned the entire outing around for my kids. Suddenly, other aspects of the complex began making more sense.

Learning to Let Go of the Learned Outcome

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Deciding to make time for living history adventures is the hardest part. Switching from an “I’m too tired to care about that” lifestyle to a “Let’s go see what it’s all about” lifestyle is difficult. It will not always be exciting. It will not always provoke insightful conversations. Not everything you try to achieve presents as a win when first executed. Teaching your children to love history through going out and seeing it, being a living part of the history of that place, will, however, teach them a deep appreciation for history. Appreciation is where it all begins. Get out there.

 

A World War II Tour of Germany

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World War II history enthusiasts the world over gravitate towards Germany to see where the history began. Though World War II history is dispersed all over Europe, Germany is the perfect place to start experiencing it. Here are our top Three things to see for your World War II history buffs.

Dachau Concentration Camp

The first concentration camp made by the Germans, which would be the model for all death camps to follow. Dachau, of course, is a very haunting place, but it is also full of vital Nazi support information that will help you to better understand all future strategical moves. While visiting Dachau you will see the blueprints for the concentration camps. As-well-as, the desk that holds all of the inmates’ identification cards. You learn so much about what the first 24 hours in a concentration camp might have been like.

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Dachau is now home to some very moving pieces of communist Germany artwork. These pieces were primarily dedicated in the late 1970s and early 1980s in memorial to the lives lost at the Nazi hands. The grounds of Dachau have been left in as original a state as possible and you are able to wander in and out of most of the buildings, which are also handicapped accessible. The grounds are barren and grey but full of history and stories longing to be told.
When deciding to visit Dachau you should plan on spending a long afternoon or morning there. You could easily spend a full day, but half a day is all that is really necessary. Make sure to dedicate some time to the photo catalogs that were confiscated after the war and to reading about the prisoners whom historians have uncovered their beautiful pre-Holocaust lives.

Berchtesgaden and Hitler’s Eagle Nest

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An absolute must do in Germany, whether you’re a World War II history buff or not is Hitler’s Eagle Nest. Part birthday gift and part fortified hideout this place is amazing. You need at least a day to fully appreciate the magnitude of the site and another day to wander through the amazing village.
Getting to the top of the Eagle’s Nest is quite the ordeal. You must purchase bus tickets from the visitor’s parking lot and then you are shuttled the 8 miles to the top, but you learn a lot about the land along the way. Once you have reached Hitler’s private entrance you walk through a passageway cut through the mountain where you find Hitler’s private elevator. The history of the people that have walked through that space is very chilling. The conversations had in the elevator can only be imagined, but I am sure they were quite extraordinary.
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Once you have reached the top of Hitler’s Eagle Nest you have the option to eat as the original building has been turned into a restaurant. The most impressive thing is the scenery itself. The view is spectacular, the isolation is inspiring and the available hiking should be done time and time again. At the end of our trip, we wished we had had more time to hike there. A full day wasn’t quite enough.

Nuremberg, Germany

This beautiful, historical city has so many things to offer. If time allows a few days here would be best, but for World War II enthusiasts there is one stop, in particular, that must be done. The Nazi Documentation Museum and the Old Nazi Rally Grounds. All of the documents that truly exist, but are hard to imagine are housed here. Disclosing the Nazi secrets to the public and educating visitors in regards to how a tragedy of this magnitude comes to be.

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Planning Your World War II Tour of Germany

When deciding to travel throughout Germany the very best way is by car. Car rental is very affordable and driving is quite easy. The largest issue with traveling by car is that there are signs for amazing things to see everywhere! Getting to your destination in a timely manner is difficult due to off-highway exploring of other wonderful sites.

If World War II is your main focus, I highly recommend starting in Germany as these sites mentioned above will give a very solid foundation for what you will see elsewhere in Europe. If you make it as far as Hitler’s Eagle Nest then you are only 45 minutes from Salzburg, Austria and many many more World War II sites in Austria and beyond. Get out there, but remember the solemn space that many of these places try to hold and tell the story so history doesn’t repeat itself.

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Hallstatt, Austria UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Tucked deep in the Austrian Alps is this jaw-dropping beauty of cultural preservation. Halstat, Austria presents as a place that time forgot. Somewhere you can go and wander in aimless joy for hours. It’s 16th-century homes and alleyways are home to shops and cafes. Visitors can entertain themselves for days no matter what your sightseeing aspirations might be.

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Fun In Every Season

Hallstatt offers something for everyone in your travel party. There are endless amounts of snow skiing and glacial cave exploring to be had during the winter months. During the summer there is boating on Lake Hallstatt. Of course, there is always eating at the quaint cafes and taking in the breathtaking views at every turn. You can sit and watch the glacial run-off for hours, which courses through the village via little channels.

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One of the most famous outings in the Hallstatt region is the Echern Valley Glacier Garden and Waterfall. Accessed by trailhead and a beautiful day well spent. Guides are available and full of information. If hiking is not your thing the food in the village is to die for and cultural tours are affordable and given daily.

The Salzwelten is fun for the whole family! A mine with many descending levels and a subterranean lake allows a full day of exploration. You get to the lower levels of the salt mine by sliding down slides! What could possibly be more fun than that? Fair warning though, you do have to be FOUR or older to enter the mine, but it is a must do in the area. You reach the entrance to the mine by sky car and gain an immense amount of knowledge about the WORLD’S OLDEST SALT MINE.

Getting to Hallstatt, Austria

Getting to this beautiful village is half of the fun! The scenery is stunning and one should stop at every wide shoulder to take a photo of the Alpine backdrop. The easiest way to get there is by car, but the bus does run to Hallstatt and is a short ride from Salzburg. Make sure you make a morning drive out of whichever option you choose because finding accommodations in the dark would be a great challenge. The village is very small and therefore is booked very far in advance.

A few Airbnb options exist, as well as hotels ranging from four walls with a mattress to luxurious winter retreats. Deciding how you’d like to spend your money and time will be a challenge that requires planning as there are so many options. A bit of advice though, you will spend very little time in the accommodations you choose.

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Hallstatt, Austria is a place where you want to spend endless amounts of time, but I highly recommend that that time is spent slowly. Taking in the architecture, the apple strudel, the beautiful pear tree that has claimed one of the homes. There is something incredible at every turn so take your sweet time and breathe it in. No one is in a hurry here. Time is allotted for slow strolls and swan feeding. This is one you really need to get out there to see.

A Season of Changes

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I have been very quiet on here the last few weeks, well really it’s been a month. I’ve been majorly slacking over here and there are a few reasons why. Though I do not need to justify my lack of writing to anyone, I want people to know that I love keeping and writing a blog, but I am a busy mom and there are seasons where saying nothing seems to be better.

Learning to cohabitate Again

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Deployments are a messy thing for families. We have spent the last 8 weeks learning to live with each other again. Greg has been re-acclimating to the volume that is a house with three little boys in it. I am trying to re-motivate myself to be a domestic goddess though that is such a tiny, rather unenjoyable, aspect of my identity. We have added extracurriculars for the big boys. They wanted to do cub scouts and jiu-jitsu so that is consuming our weeks right now. We are desperately trying to make new friends since we are living in a new place that is unfamiliar to us. 

What’s New with Me? Well, I am really busy growing. Growing as a mother, wife, spiritually (as there are more Baha’i members in this region of N.C.), trying to settle a home that is rather small for all of us, juggling visitors, holidays, and upcoming trips. Mostly, I’ve been writing elsewhere. For the last year, I have been writing for Daily Mom Military Magazine. I have a weekly column that keeps me very busy, but on top of that I have been doing Holiday gift guide reviews for them and that has taken up a large part of my “extra” time since November. I have also been shoveling myself, the children and the dog back and forth to overseas clearance doctor appointments. 

What’s New with Greg? Greg has started what they call the FRD. Basically, it’s a miniature flight school to switch from one flight platform to a new one. In his case, he has gone from the Huey Helicopter to the C130 Hercules. What that means is he is studying hard and long hours on top of doing an online school program called EWS (Expeditionary Warfare School). He is very busy. Like woa busy. Of course, on the weekends I keep him very busy as well.

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What’s up with the sudden D.C. trip?

Well, a dear friend of mine (also a bridesmaid in our wedding) is having her first child here in the D.C. area. She has asked me to doula and encapsulate for her so the kids and I are renting a one bedroom apartment in the D.C. area for two weeks! So far the weather has been quite kind to us for D.C. in February. I’m hopeful that we will have a new baby to ooo and ahhh over soon (any day). 

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What’s up with the sudden India Trip?

A similar situation, a friend asked and I said “yes.” It goes back much farther than that, but an old college dance partner of mine as requested my presence in India. Therefore, the kids and I are going for a quick trip that will hopefully curb my international craving until later this year. I will say that saying yes to friends and being a better friend was my main New Year focus phrase. I am really bad at falling into the “out of sight out of mind” friendship category. I also love my friends tremendously, but I can’t always find the energy or time to call so 2019 has presented me with two opportunities to serve my friends better and I’ve taken them. 

Financially, I cannot say yes to this extreme any more this year, but I hope that the acts are noticed and the memories made until I am able to serve them again someday. I am trying hard to invest more in the people that are already in my life and spend less time trying to market my friendship capabilities to new prospects. 

I hope that Winter’s time of rest and hibernation has brought you a clearer mental state, a better understanding of how to reach your goals for 2019 and most importantly, perspective.