The Best Surprises in our 2 Years Abroad

Well, folks…the time has come.  In exactly one month, our feet will be on American soil…or as American as El Paso can get.  Our time here in Germany has been at once too short and epic.  We really hit the ground running and spent every second (and dollar) on making the best of it.

I’ve learned a ton about traveling these past two years, keen wisdom that I promised to share with you but never did.  But alas, it is not too late.  I have a catalog of trips to share and experience to pass on. And I will.

And just because we won’t live in Europe doesn’t mean our kids won’t still be trippin.  There will be more trips to share and blog posts I’ll promise to write but never will.

Alas, let’s get to the meat of this blog post.  I want to share this list because I think it’s important to share the things that surprised us.  Along many of our trips we would do something, or see something that would inevitably be talked about for hours/days/weeks to come. Things that either we didn’t plan or didn’t expect to be so great.  Because no matter how much you plan a trip, you must always leave room for the little surprises.

So, here you have it.  The best little surprises of our two years in Europe.

1. Bike Tour

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The hubs and I did a bike tour sans kids in Berlin on our little getaway trip.  And although we didn’t have the kids, the tour was very kid-friendly. They had tandems and trailers for the littles.  Throughout the entire four hour tour, I kept saying to my husband, “this is freaking awesome.” And here’s why.  The tour is all on bikes with many stops at different landmarks (and midway for lunch). The guide was young and hip and interesting. He gave us so much information and history about the city and even drew a little sidewalk chalk map of Berlin to explain Checkpoint Charlie.  It was fantastic.

I could just imagine that without that tour (that cost a whopping total of $28 per person) my husband and I would have wandered aimlessly through the city, reading boring snippets of history in a book and arguing about where to eat for lunch.  That bike tour turned our “meh” trip into an amazing trip.

We used Fat Tire Bike Tours and I highly recommend.  They are in Barcelona, Berlin, London & Paris.  Hopefully more cities in the future.

2. Live Irish Pub Music

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You don’t have to love music, or Ireland, or pubs or even life to enjoy listening to live Irish music in a pub. And right now you’re thinking, “but Jessica, this is a kids traveling blog. Why are you telling us about bar music?” Well!  God bless Ireland because kids are allowed in pubs! {applause}

On our first night in the country, my mom & I went to the pub down the road from our hostel to hear the music.  The room was crowded with families eating dinner at the tables. The band took up one table in the middle and that’s just where they played around their Guinness soaked table. They don’t have speakers or anything so it’s not like it’s Flogging Molly loud.  But it gets better.  Around 930ish, a family (clearly locals) shuffled in to take the table near the band, toddler and baby carrier and all. The kids high-fived the band and everyone was merry as could be.  If you’re gasping about kids in bars at such late hours, get over it. No one died.  It was amazing.

Back to the music.  At one point in this phenomenal performance, a one-legged Irishman somewhere in the ballpark of 80 years old took his place next to the band and crooned out some folk songs. Followed shortly by an old man in a fisherman hat who was so drunk he could only keep one eye open.  I was floored.  Up top, Ireland. Up. Top.

3. Toboggan Rides in Austria

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So, we went on this ski trip.  And you want traveling wisdom, well here it comes.  Don’t wait until you’re 32 to ski for the first time and throw yourself down a slope in the Alps.  You heard it here first.

That has nothing to do with the toboggan rides other than being the one part of gravity-plus-snow that I enjoyed.  We found the sled trip on accident really.  We got a free pass from our hotel and we happened to own a badass sled so we decided to check it out.  And basically here’s how it goes.  You take sled and all up the cable car to the top of the “mountain” (small mountain).  Enjoy the view, have a beer, then begin your way down the mountain on the designated track.  The ride down was about 15 minutes long with some sharp turns and bumps.

All-in-all, it was a major hit. It was just the fun in the snow that we were all looking for.

4. Rijks Museum

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This really applies to all art museums that offer audio guides for kids. Game. Changer.

It cost a little extra, but it was basically an iPod touch programmed with an interactive game for kids that led us through the museum on a little “treasure hunt”.  The kids learned a little and loved navigating through the museum while my husband and I were able to really appreciate the art and ambiance.

Without that little trick, we would have been dragging our less-than-enthuastic kids through the museum and everyone’s two hours would have been miserable.  At the end of the tour, the kids took their collected clues to the guest services and received a little feather pen as a prize. Whatever, kids love prizes.

5. Bastogne War Museum

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Another museum, but phenomenal and blog-worthy in its own right. I’ve been raving to my friends about this hidden gem ever since we went, and maybe I will write a whole blog post about it.  But point is…if you find yourself with a half-day to spare in Belgium, stop at this museum. You won’t regret it.  It’s interactive, modern, and so interesting.

There was one part of the exhibit where we sat in a simulation of the snowy woods during the Battle of the Bulge.  Okay, I’ll stop there.  Just go see it.  I don’t want to ruin it.   Go see it!

And there you have it.  Those are the best little surprises we encountered in our two years of living here.  Sure, we saw and experienced a lot of amazing sights in our time, but these were the few things that really stuck out.  And if you’re looking for anything in your travels, you’re looking for something to surprise you. In a good way.

What was your favorite traveling surprise?

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