Andrea stopped by on Connor's first day at work to snap some pictures of him.
Andrea stopped by on Connor's first day at work to snap some pictures of him.
It's still pretty hot and buggy out, but we went for a golf cart ride the other night on the golf course and Paige drove us around. We stopped for a sunset pic just before it got dark. Paige is a great driver and it's such good practice for her.
Today was the first day of school for the 2023 school year. Connor's a Junior now and Paige is in 8th grade. It's our last year of middle school and hopefully we'll survive the early mornings. Thankfully Paige is a morning person and she set her alarm for 5:30 so she had plenty of time to get ready. Andrea set her alarm for 6:20 so we would have time to see Paige before she got on the bus. When Andrea opened the bedroom door, Paige was standing there all ready to go and gave her a big hug. She's like a ray of sunshine in the mornings.
Connor's school day starts late as he has online courses and college courses with dual enrollment. He didn't have to be to school until after 11, so it was a chill morning for him. He'll have a morning online class eventually before school starts, which hasn't officially started yet, so for now he gets to sleep in extra.
They both had good days at school, although they both complained that they don't have classes with a lot of the good friends they've made over the years. Hopefully they'll still get to see their friends outside of classes at lunch or after school. We're sure they'll make some new friends too this year.
Connor's had his braces on for a little over two years and on Wednesday, August 9th, he finally had them removed. Technically he had Invisalign trays that he wore, but he also had to have some little nubs put on the front of his teeth so the trays would be able to turn his teeth properly and those were fairly noticeable even when he had his trays out. The nubs were removed on Wednesday and he was scanned for his final retainers during the visit. Apparently he still needs to wear the trays for another 6 months, but his teeth look much better already and we're happy that he's almost done with the orthodontist.
On Saturday, August 5th, we went over to the Goble's house for a back to school party with them and their neighbors. They did an awesome job setting up an area in the common green space behind their house and they fixed a ton of pulled pork, hamburgers, hot dogs, and macaroni. Neighbors also brought food, so there was plenty for everyone and we took home quite a bit of Ryan's pulled pork afterwards.
Connor had to do a videoed presentation for a class and it was hard to get everything set up so he could check his notes and read things while also looking at the camera. I helped him out and we created a teleprompter system so he could look at a reflected view of his text while also looking directly where the camera was.
It took a lot of work to set it up properly and we had to angle a piece of glass over an iPad that had a remote session of his PC going and also all the text had to be mirrored horizontally so it would show up properly in the reflected image. It turned out pretty well and we had a little fun putting it all together.
Sunday, July 23rd, we got up fairly early and took an Uber to the hotel to meet up with our ABD tour group. Just as we got in the car, Connor told me that he couldn’t find his AirPods so I asked the driver to pull over and I went back to the hotel while everyone else rode the Uber. Shortly after I got to the hotel, Connor managed to find his AirPods in his backpack. So good news we found them, bad news I had a 25 minute walk across town. After we dropped off our luggage, we had a snack at one of the nearby cafes.
After our breakfast, we boarded the bus with our tour group. The bus took us to Vilshofen, Germany, where we boarded our river cruise boat, the Amalea.
The crew welcomed us aboard and then everyone walked to a nearby tent for an Oktoberfest celebration. Connor looked it up, and the drinking age is 16 in Germany, so we let him enjoy one beer. We figured that he wouldn’t like it, but he drank it all and would have been happy to enjoy another if we’d let him. We ate dinner on the boat and then decided to go for a walk around Vilshofen, which was much more interesting and charming than we’d expected.
On Monday, July 24th, we woke up in Passau,Germany. Passau sits right at the convergence of three rivers, the Danube, Inn, and Ilz. We started our day with a walking tour around the city with a local guide dressed in a fancy dress that the locals may have worn a couple hundred years ago. She showed us some interesting landmarks and it was our first time using the “Quietvox” system, which allows the guide to speak at a normal volume and everyone in the group can hear with their earpieces. We all made little pigs out of marzipan, and then we were free to wander the area on our own. We did some shopping and got stocked up on gummies, which were highly recommended by our ABD guide Jana. I am not much for sweets, but even I would say that they are the best gummies I’ve ever tried.
After lunch on the boat, we took a bus over to Tree Path Kopfing. There were wooden paths up through the forest, and some high spots overlooking the countryside. The best part of the park were the swings and the labyrinth. I chased the kids around the labyrinth for a while, scaring them, and probably some of the other kids that were trying to find their way through the dark maze. There were some normal swings, a very fun, circular basket swing, and best of all were some long rope swings that were a little dangerous but a lot of fun as long as you didn’t fall off.
Tuesday, July 25th, we woke up in Austria and took a bus to Salzburg, which translates to Salt Town or Salt City.
We put on some miner’s outfits over our clothes and rode a little mine train a few hundred yards in to the side of the mountain. We traveled between a few different chambers which detailed the history of the mining in the area, starting with recent techniques, and going back to medieval, and then to prehistoric mining techniques. People have apparently been mining in that area for thousands of years, and the mine had been a tourist attraction for people for hundreds of years, including Mozart’s sister. The most fun part of the tour for two slides that were used to travel deeper down into the mountain. The first slide wasn’t super long, and that is where we had our picture taken. The second slide was about twice as long and we got moving pretty quick by the time we got to the bottom. The pictures that were taken in the mine were for sale at the end of the tour, and the kids thought they were all so hilarious that we bought all of them.
After the main tour, we rode the bus to a local restaurant, and had what was possibly the worst meal of the trip. It was family style, took forever, and when the food did come there wasn’t any explanation as to what we were being fed. It was just dropped in front of us in a big bowl. It turned out to be mostly assorted kinds of ham in the form of schnitzel, ribs, etc.
Once we finished lunch, we took the bus to downtown Salzburg, where we went on a short walking tour to see the palace, which was very crowded and a little claustrophobic with all the people packed so tight. It was quite ornate and interesting, but it was a little hot and stuffy, and difficult to take everything in with the big crowds. We concluded the walking tour in front of Mozart’s birthplace, then we had some time to ourselves to walk around and do some shopping. Connor got a T-shirt and we looked at some of the bougie stores but we didn’t splurge on anything fancy.
Wednesday, July 26, we woke up in Melk, Austria and started the day with a tour of the Melk Benedictine Abbey. No pictures were allowed inside, but we did get a few family shots just outside the Abbey where there was a nice view.
After our morning tour, we got to experience some Austrian cultural activities, which included a dance, fishing presentation, and apricot jam preparation.
We had the opportunity for a bike ride, but there was rain in the forecast. Instead, we stayed on the boat and enjoyed one of the few times during the vacation that the boat was sailing during daylight hours.
For our evening activity, we opted to attend an apricot farm tour, which turned out to be charming, and the apricot samples were delicious. We liked the apricot nectar so much that we bought two bottles to bring home. We would have purchased some apricot jam, but we had each gotten a sample during the morning jam making presentation, so we had plenty.
We had dinner on the boat, and afterwards Andrea and I went on a walk. In the evening we decided we would go to the karaoke, and had very low expectations. However, it ended up being super entertaining. We stayed for the entire time, and even the encore performances. Everybody was really into it, the kids, the guides, and a few people who had some drinks to lower their inhibitions. The crowd was super supportive, but unfortunately, they only had two Taylor Swift songs on their song list so nobody in our family got on the mic, but we sang along with everyone.
Thursday, July 27 we got to experience Vienna, Austria. The city center wasn’t very close to the river, so we took a short bus ride with our local guide to the Schönbrunn Palace. The palace grounds were amazing, and we started off our tour with apple strudels and a demonstration on how to make it. After finishing our strudel, we went on the tour of the palace and learned the history of the Royal family. Our final stop at the palace was the theater where we learned about marionettes and then watched a musical performance with the puppets dancing and frolicking to Mozart’s music. The skill of the puppeteers was impressive, but I think the performance wasn’t the most exciting.
After we finished at the palace, we had free time in downtown Vienna. We were looking for a bakery with tasty sandwiches, or something local and interesting, but none of the ones we looked at tempted us. We finally just decided to let everyone look around for anything that looked good, and Paige found a quick service stall serving Asian food. Connor and Paige got chicken fried rice with spicy chicken and they both absolutely loved it and thought it was possibly the best thing that eaten the entire time. Not exactly what we were expecting for Vienna cuisine but they were both thrilled. Andrea and I never did settle on anything and we ended up just waiting until dinner on the boat.
In the evening, there were two activities that didn’t look all that exciting to us, and we were pretty tired so we decided to spend time on our own and on the ship. Andrea and Paige went to the yoga class, and we got dressed up for dinner and took some family pictures before dinner.
It was a little awkward, setting up my camera on a stack of foot rests, but it worked out and we got some nice family photos. After dinner, Andrea and I went on a long walk across the bridge and to a park nearby. It was a very nice relaxing evening and it was just what we needed instead of a late night out with the group.
Friday, July 28, we woke up with the boat still docked in Vienna. We took a bus to Bratislava, Slovakia where we met up with a local guide and did a walking tour of the city. We had been excited to see Slovakia and thought that the city was beautiful. We would have like to spend more time there, but we only had about 30 minutes of free time to shop and walk around on our own before we had to get back on the bus. We talked to the cruise guides about it and it sounds like they used to spend more time in Slovakia and would dock there, but changed the itinerary recently so that the ship stayed in Vienna so people would have more time there instead. We were a little disappointed by that, since we really liked Slovakia and would’ve loved to spend the day in Bratislava.
The bus took us back to Austria and to the Schloss Hof Palace where we had lunch. The lunch was a buffet, and we usually dislike buffets, but it had a huge variety of local dishes, and was possibly one of our favorite meals of the entire trip.
After lunch, we took a guided tour of the palace and the garden, and then we had some free time on our own to wander around. The kids rode around on some goofy bikes that were really intended for very little kids, and then, thankfully Paige remember that there was a petting zoo nearby so we went and looked at the animals. There were some cute little ground squirrels that people were feeding, and they came right up to Paige, which she loved. She felt like Snow White, and a real Disney princess.
Everyone had to be back aboard the cruise boat by 4:30pm since we need to set sail for Budapest immediately to make it on time. We set sail and it was fun to be up on deck as we went under some very low bridges, which were so low that I could touch them. Andrea and I did a yoga and a high intensity interval training class up on deck. It was memorable doing our fitness class up on the deck as we went through one of the locks and sailed down the river. We had dinner and attended the trivia night, but sadly were not very competitive.
Saturday, July 29th, we woke up on the boat as it sailed towards Budapest. We went up on the top deck at 8:30am and took in the view as the boat sailed in to the city. The town is built around the water with magnificent bridges between Buda and Pest. The parliament building and palace near the river were awesome to see and we were lucky to have sunny and cool weather for the day.
Once we docked, we met our group in the lobby and then disembarked to begin our walking tour and food tour of Budapest. Unfortunately our guide was a little hard to understand and was a tad boring. She also liked to stand on busy sidewalks in the sun for extended lectures as we baked. The tour took us in to an indoor market and we had a few minutes on our own to wander around. We met back up with our group upstairs at a restaurant in the market where they had some Hungarian appetizers for us to try. We had bread with a cottage cheese type of spread and a lard based meaty flavored spread, some veggies and cheeses, and some weird dry and crispy goose bits that nobody liked. Our guides gave us a WC (water closet) break and we did a little more shopping before we had to leave for our next stop. Connor found a Hungarian national team soccer jersey which looked nice on him.
Next, we went down to an underground station and caught one of the local trams. It was smaller than a subway car, but had multiple sections and was bigger than a small streetcar. We rode over to the Parliament building and then to a family owned chocolatier where we got to decorate some chocolates, learn about the sweets they’ve made over the years, and of course sample some sweets.
Our last stop of the day with the group was at a Hungarian restaurant where we tried some dishes. The foie gras was not enjoyed by any of us, but we liked the goulash and we loved the chicken and dumplings. I think it was my favorite meal of the trip.
We split up from the group after dinner and wandered around town a little longer before we headed back to the boat.
We spent most of the remainder of the day packing and then getting ready for our farewell dinner. We enjoyed music by a local trio of musicians and four dancers, then we snapped some final pics with our guides and went to dinner. We were not hungry after our food tour, but we snacked a little anyways.
The kids went to the slideshow and final presentation by the ABD guides, but Andrea and I decided to go on a walk down the river instead. I’m glad we did, it was lovely and busy as it was a Saturday night. We passed at least three groups of bachelorette partiers as well as many others that were dressed up for a night out. Everything was well lit, including the parliament building, palaces, cathedrals, and bridges. It was truly a magical sight and made me fall in love with Budapest (and Andrea) all over again.
In the morning on Sunday, July 30th, we slept in a little, but we had to be out of our room by 9am. Our taxi came right around 9:30 as planned and just as it was starting to rain. We took the short ride across town to the Ritz-Carlton, and we were thrilled to find that our room was already ready and waiting for us. The staff were welcoming and friendly, showing us to our room and they even gave us cookies and champagne.
We relaxed in the room while it was raining, and Paige and I went to the gym for an hour before lunch. We ate at the Iguana Bar for lunch, which was Mexican cuisine. I was planning to find a Hungarian restaurant for lunch, but Andrea suggested Mexican food and after considering it I realized that I had already had my fill of local flavors. Lunch was amazing and afterwards we did a little more shopping and picked up a bag for Paige and a few other souvenirs. We'd thought about getting Paige a bag for her 13th birthday, but couldn't find anything that was cute and a good fit for her. Andrea and Paige had fun going to all the different LV stores during our trip and they thought the Budapest store was by far the friendliest and they found a cute bag with a nice strap that was perfect. It's a bag they can both use and Paige was thrilled.
In the afternoon, I walked around town while everyone else relaxed. I went to the palace and a few other landmarks before heading back to the hotel. Paige and Andrea went to the steam room and the pool at the hotel.
In the evening we did a little more shopping and then Paige and I had ice cream. Andrea and Connor went to Starbucks and were disappointed because it tasted odd. We went to bed early and woke up at 4:45am so we could get to the airport with time to spare.
Monday, July 31st, was our long travel day home. We took one flight to Munich on Lufthansa, a long (9.5 hours) United flight from Munich to DC (Dulles), and then our final flight from DC to home with United. Our last flight was slightly delayed because of staffing issues, but otherwise things went amazingly. Business/First class was a must for the long flight and we were all so comfortable and cozy in our seats. If it was up to me, I probably wouldn’t have even considered it, but I’m glad Andrea suggested it and planned it that way.
Our favorite memories from the trip:
Our Favorite Countries after our visit: