Germany/Italy/Turkey (May 2015)

My brother in law was planning a road trip from Germany to Turkey to pick up my in laws and invited us for the trip. We thought this would be the perfect opportunity to go back and see more of continental Europe as well as visit family. Alara would also be turning two soon so we thought it would be nice to plan one last trip before being required to purchase her a ticket. ūüôā

Regensberg, Germany

We flew into Munich to stay with my BIL and his family outside of Regensburg. This time my in laws were not here to watch the kids so this vacation was much more family-friendly and Alara was quite the explorer this time around. We spent some time around the area, doing family activities such as an indoor water park and going back to the Dult (no beer tent this time!).

Pool

The kids absolutely loved the Dult festival. Alara went on her first pony ride and loved it! She even cried when it was all done and we took her off the horse.

Dult horse 2Dult horse

There were also plenty of amusement park rides that the kids loved and Alara got to ride them with her older cousins.

Neuschwanstein Castle

We took a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, which is also near the Hohenschwangau Castle, and offers lovely shopping, gift shops and restaurants in between.

N Castle landscape

There is also a great view of the Alpsee lake, beautifully surrounded by mountains and you can dip your feet in.

Castle lake

There are horse drawn carriage rides that you can take up the hill and see the castle.

Horse carriage

Neuschwanstein Castle was built for King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the late 1800s and was opened to the public immediately after his death.

Hohenschwangau Castle was King Ludwig II’s childhood residence and was built by his father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria.

Castle

On the way in and out of the area, there was this beautiful field with great views of Neuschwanstein, so of course we had to stop and take pictures.

Castle field

Innsbruck, Austria

We decided to take a few days and go on a mini road trip. Italy’s border is fairly close to where we were staying so we mapped our visit to include a stop at Innsbruck, stay in Venice, stop in Florence and end up in Rome before coming back home. Innsbruck is less than a 2 hour drive from Munich was worth every kilometer traveled. It’s a city in the middle of the Alps, known for its Imperial and modern architecture. It offers the most breathtaking views of snow covered mountains behind colorful buildings and a quaint downtown area.

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The Golden Roof in downtown Innsbruck is considered the city’s most famous symbol. The roof was covered with over 2,500 fire-gilded copper tiles for Emperor Maximilian I for his wedding to Bianca Maria Sforza. But don’t look too quick, you might miss it!

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One of the most noticeable landmarks in the city is the St. Anna’s Column, which is located in the busy center of¬†Maria-Theresien Street.

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Maria-Theresien Street is a pedestrian street filled with restaurants, shops and outdoor cafes. It is considered the main street in downtown Innsbruck and is a beautiful place to spend a couple hours.

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Overall, Innsbruck is one of the most beautiful old cities of Europe. I’m sure there was so much more to see and do there, but our main purpose of the road trip was to see Italy, so off we went!

Venice, Italy

Our next stop was in Venice, which was less than 4 hours away. Driving through Northen Italy was absolutely gorgeous with all the views of the Alps and green pastures, wineries and small villages. We got to Venice at night, just enough time to check in to a private room in a hostel in Mestre (main land Venice) and relax a little bit. Alara was pretty excited for her first hostel experience.

Hostel

We took a bus to downtown Venice the next morning, which Alara clearly really enjoyed.

Bus

Venice (Venezia) is made up of 118 small islands, separated by canals and connected by pedestrian bridges. It is like a maze navigating through all the narrow walkways, alleyways, and bridges but so beautiful to take in.

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As you can imagine, there are no automobiles allowed. There is a parking lot at the main bus terminal where we got dropped off. Small boats, or gondolas, are used for commuting purposes.

Gondola

Venice is overall very beautiful, known for its picturesque canal waterways, architecture and artwork.

Piazza San Marco is the place to visit in Venice as its the principal public square of the city. It is noted that Napoleon called it “the drawing room of Europe”.¬†St Mark‚Äôs basilica¬†(Basilica di San Marco) is the city’s most famous church and¬†one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. The artwork outside of the basilica was just amazing.

A couple of other major landmarks in Piazza San Marco includes  Doge’s Palace, which once held political power; and Torre dell’Orologio, a clock tower built in the late 1400s.

The Grand Canal is a major commuting hub for water-traffic and is a beautiful sight.

Grand Canal

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One thing I wish I knew about Venice before visiting is how it is NOT stroller friendly at all! The walkways are extremely narrow and there are so many pedestrian bridges with many, many steps. Overall, carrying the stroller was a lot of work which left us all exhausted but we were glad we visited.

Florence, Italy

We stopped at Florence, since it is on the way from Venice to Rome. Florence is the capital city of the Tuscany region of Italy. It literally gave birth to the¬†Renaissance, a period of great culture change transitioning between the Medieval times to early modern Europe. Some popular names you may recognize from Florence include¬†Dante Alighieri, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Leonardo Da Vinci. We didn’t have too much time in Florence, so we went straight to the¬†Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers spectacular views and the replica of¬†Michelangelo’s statue of David.

We also visited the Florence Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) and was overwelmed by both the architecture and artwork inside the church.

There were many beautiful paintings and stained glass windows inside the Cathedral, but the most impressive artwork was probably the paintings inside the dome completed by Federico Zuccari.

We then walked to the closest pedestrian bridge filled with painters and street vendors that offered amazing views of the Arno, a river that runs through the Tuscany region of Italy.

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We wish we had more time in Florence, but hopefully we’ll be back. We were really excited to visit Rome, so we grabbed an ice cream cone and were back on the road.

Ice cream

Rome, Italy

By the time we got to Rome, it was pretty late so we just checked in our “hotel” and relaxed before going to bed. I say “hotel” because while it had a hotel name under booking.com it really ended up being more of an AirBnB. The woman we rented it from was really nice, the apartment was really cute, was located a few blocks away from everything and the price was very reasonable.

We woke up the next morning and headed out to explore. We walked one block and saw some amazing Roman ruins.

I have to admit this day did not start the greatest. Alara was extremely overtired and just did not want to do anything. Poor baby.

Nonetheless, we managed to start walking to the Colosseum, which was the closest attraction to us. On our way, we visited the Italian Parliament Building (Palazzo di Montecitorio) and were so impressed with the overall architecture.

We continued walking and could see a glimpse of the Colosseum!

walk to coloseum

This oval amphitheater was the largest one ever built, estimating to hold between 50,000 to 80,000 spectators. The Colosseum was used for¬†gladiatorial contests and other public spectacle events. We didn’t have time to go inside for a tour (the wait was about 2 hours, I’d recommend getting tickets in advance!) but we grabbed an ice cream cone and enjoyed the view.

We continued walking towards many other famous landmarks that were ultimately on the way to the Vatican. We saw the Pantheon, one of the best preserved Ancient Roman building which was dedicated to the worship of every god.

pantheon

We took a break and hung out at the Piazza Navona before continuing on our walking tour.

piazza navona

As we were entering the Vatican area, we first came across the¬†Castel Sant’Angelo, which was first used as a¬†mausoleum¬†by Roman Emperor Hadrian and later used by popes as a castle and fortress. This was also a popular feature in the book/movie Angels and Demons. ūüôā

We continued walking and could finally see the Vatican!

St Peters sq

We got to St. Peter’s square and were in awe of the overall beauty of everything as well as the history and significance of where we were standing. Unfortunately, we were not able to get a tour (again, 2 hour wait, get tickets in advance!) but we were pretty content with our surroundings.

Alara must have had an exhausting day because she finally fell asleep in her stroller which we has never done before!

Alara sleeping

Overall, Rome was the most impressive city I had ever seen. There was so much history to take in, views of Roman ruins right in the middle of a very modern European capital with so much culture. I never thought I could say I would see Rome in a day, but in a sense that statement is also not really true. There is so much more to see and so, along with experiencing more of the food and wine, which we did not have the chance to. We will absolutely be coming back and spending an entire vacation in Italy, mostly Rome, alone.

We had a long drive back to Germany, which we drove through most of the night. We spent a few days hanging out with family before we packed up the car and started our 24-hour road trip (gasp!) to Turkey.

Tekirdag, Turkey

We drove through several countries to get to Turkey and it was quite an experience! We drove through Austria, Hungary, Serbia, and Bulgaria before reaching the Turkish border. Overall, driving through most of the countries was a breeze as they are EU countries and have open borders. However, Serbia is not part of the EU so we had to go through passport control entering and leaving that country, as well as entering Turkey, since again they are not part of the EU. One good thing about our ridiculously long road trip was that rest areas were very clean and most even had playgrounds for kids to play on.

Road Tip playground

We were pretty relieved when we finally reached the Turkish border!

Turkey arrival

A couple hours later we finally reached our in laws house in Tekirdag, Turkey just less than 2 hours away from Istanbul. We only had a few days in Turkey, so we mostly spent time with family but I¬†also got some quality shopping and coffee time with my sister in law since we had someone else to watch the kids. We also celebrated my sister in law’s birthday.

family bday

We took a day and went to visit family who lived in a village area. It was nice to see a more simple lifestyle and enjoy sitting outside in a beautiful garden while catching up with family we haven’t seen since our Turkish wedding about 4 years before.

We also visited other family in the village who had cows. Alara got a kick out of them but was pretty hesitant to get too close.

village cow

So we enjoyed some Turkish tea and good conversations with family. The drive to and from the village offered some pretty great views of Tekirdag.

view

Overall, Alara had a great time with her grandparents and being silly with her older cousins.

family silly

Unfortunately, our amazing trip was coming to an end. We drove to Istanbul and flew home.It was the longest flight Alara had ever been on, approximately 12 hours. She had a really hard time at one time fighting sleep. Luckily, she made friends with another little boy. They played in the airport and on the plane. The parents actually switched their seat to sit next to us on the plane, which was very nice of them. The two kept themselves entertained and Alara eventually fell asleep on the later part of the flight. Alara was quite the traveler this time around and I think she really enjoyed her trip. Thank you to my brother in law for a great European experience!

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