Friday, December 23, 2011

Gingerbread Houses 2011

On Sunday we put together & decorated our gingerbread houses. My sister Val came over and joined in the fun. Besides the Advent Calendar, this is one of my kids favorite traditions in our home (as any tradition with TONS of candy is sure to be). And this year we had LOTS of candy options since I had a gallon ziploc bag full of leftover Halloween candy. 

Here were are in gingerbread la-la land:



Monday, December 19, 2011

Český Krumlov

After Prague we headed to our next stop, Český Krumlov. However, we wanted to break up the drive so we decided to have lunch at Karlstein Castle on the way. It's a hidden castle in the mountains and it is gorgeous. You can't take cars to Karlstein Castle. Instead you have to walk up this old windy road with lots of little shops selling trinkets, antiques, and of course, food. It wasn't as busy as I thought it would be. Apparently it's not as popular as Prague ... yet. 

 the view of the castle from the windy road below.

the windy road with all the shops & cafes (from the castle turret wall). 

 the kids up on the castle wall.

Anyway, after walking all the the way up to the castle and buying our tour tickets, we realized that the tour wasn't for 3 1/2 more hours.  Apparently we had some communication problems with the teller because we didn't realize that the castle was reserved for a wedding that morning so the soonest we could get in for the tour would have been 1:30 pm, so we bagged that, got a refund, and just wandered around the outside of the castle. Then we walked back down and stopped to have an early lunch at a little outdoor cafe. It was a deliciously HUGE meal and one of the most affordable.


Eating lunch and meeting a knight.

After Karlstein Castle we headed into Český Krumlov. This little town is so picturesque. In my mind it's the Czech Republic's version of Germany's "Rothenburg ob der tauber." We checked into our apartment which was right in the heart of the old city next to the castle, then we explored for about an hour or so until the sun went down. 

The city is almost completely surrounded by a river. Here is just one of the many cute bridge scenes.



This is the back of the castle. The aqueduct bridge/walkway takes you from the palace gardens to the palace itself. It is a HUGE palace and it's so amazing how it was built out of the mountain rock itself. There are some amazing caverns inside that we got to walk around in. They currently house an art exhibition, but the art was totally lame. The dungeon caverns themselves though were so beautiful and impressive.


the view from upper castle wall.

After all that walking we were getting hungry. So we treated ourselves to a trdelnik (a cylindrical pastry rolled in cinnamon & sugar, sugar & almonds, or both). These are made all over the Czech republic and they are so yummy!


The next day we went to the castle and took a tour through some of the rooms. This castle is split into 5 tours depending on what you want to see - yep, it's just huge. And it's not cheap. We took the smallest tour (the least amount of rooms) and it was well over $60 for the 4 of us. And it lasted less than 45 minutes. But it was worth it. Berlin loved seeing the very large and impressive gold carriage. It's just what she imagined Cinderella riding in to the ball. Here is the courtyard where our tour started. Love the painted walls.

The castle also has a moat filled with...bears! Yep, they have 3 bears in the moat and the kids had so much fun watching them. The palace was also filled with an impressive amount of bear skin rugs all over the floors.


This is the view from the other side of the bride. You can tell by that blue sky that we had amazing weather that day. It was perfect!

Afterwards we ate lunch at the biergarten at the bottom of the castle wall, then we walked around and let the kids play on the playground, and we explored the palace gardens. Berlin loved all the flowers and kept asking me to take her picture ... usually she hates it when I take her picture! This fountain with all the frogs was especially fun.


I love the cobblestone streets! Wish we had more of them in the states.

We had hoped to take one of these barge trips, but by the time we found our way to the rental place, it was closing and they were only doing tours for large, private groups since their official season was closed. Oh well.

The kids were pretty bummed about not being able to do the barge ride so we decided to have dessert for dinner! First, we took the kids down to the playground on the waters edge. After playing and working up an appetite, we got dessert. The kids each chose a decadent chocolate cake while Ryan and I chose apple pastry with ice-cream. Best dinner ever! And we were happy once again :)

The next leg of our trip took us into Salzburg, Austria. Those pics coming soon.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Lights

We decided to take the kids to see the lights down at Temple Square last night. A friend also suggested we check out The Grand America Hotel. They usually have a fun scavenger hunt for the kids and at the end they get a treat. So we did just that....

First, we hit up the hotel for an i-spy picture hunt of sorts. The kids helped Maurice the Penguin solve the mystery of the missing stars. They had a fun time, but the star cookie & sticker at the end was the best part for them.

They also have this huge gingerbread cupola. This is where Maurice the Penguin lives. It is really cute and the kids loved looking at it. Though, I will say Finley got a bit cranky when he realized he couldn't go inside and check it out.

Then we took trax up to Temple Square to look at lights and the nativity. Here's Fin eating his cookie on the train. The crumby mouth says it all!

The crowds were too bad, but I guess Tuesday is one of the better days to go. But it was COLD - just look at this picture. I had to stop breathing every time I took a picture. Nice.


Afterwards, we fed some hungry (cranky) belly's at Del Taco (gotta love that you can feed a family of 4 for $6 on Taco Tuesday night). Despite a very late bedtime for the kiddos, it was fun being able to spend the evening together. Even the light misting of snow that was falling didn't spoil it. Now it's starting to feel a bit more like Christmas.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


And so we come to Prague. I had no idea what to expect in the Czech Republic. But other than the language, which looked ridiculously hard to read & speak, it was pretty great. Of course, the money was different, Korunas, and everything was a bit on the pricey side - pricier than we thought. But we survived.

First we stayed in Prague for 3 nights. Despite being the most touristy (aka crowded) city that we stayed in during the entire trip, I really liked this city. For whatever reason, I thought that early October would have been less crowded, but no such luck. I guess Prague is always crowded. 

We stayed in this amazing apartment, Residence Thunovska 19, which is located in the center of Prague (the Historic Lesser Town) at the bottom of the Prague castle stairs. The building was amazing. It's a Renaissance building built in 1527. The entry to our apartment had the original painted ceiling, exposed beams throughout, and amazing views of the city. 

the view of Prague Castle & the castle stairs from our master bedroom. 

How lovely are these beams? 

Again, the beams. Our master room was so large. I love the built in closet in the corner. The other side of the room had a sitting area, another closet and another window. Basically a mirror image of this side. Just lovely.

The apartment suite was the perfect spot for us because we didn't have to use our car for 2 whole days. We just explored the city on foot - the kids were such troopers.

There is a toy museum in the historic Lesser Town, so we took the kids there. They loved it. Well, I take that back. Berlin loved it. Finley endured it.

Berlin loved this Barbie and wanted her picture taken with it. Later I noticed she was holding her hand. Awww - how sweet.

A BYU Barbie in Prague's Toy Museum? And, hands-down, the CREEPIEST Barbie ever! Ryan refused to look at it.

Ryan crushin' on the Spice Girls Barbies. Yes folks, Ryan and his High School buddies loved the Spice Girls back in the day.

 My cute little guards. See how serious they are? They are doing a very good job protecting Golden Lane.


Oh how I love these guys. 

Playing around with the artillery on Golden Lane.

 Golden Lane. Note to others: wait until after 6pm and it's free. A nice waiter in the courtyard told us this so we waited and came back at 6pm.  Go before then and you have to pay, which is  totally ridiculous since it's like one block of tiny houses with little touristy shops inside. And there are TONS of tour groups that go thru it, so it's crowded during the day. Yep, free was just as good.

Finley was VERY scared of getting his picture taken with the guard. The bayonet rifles were kinda freakin' him out. I had to force him to stand next to Ryan (he was almost in tears). When it was all said and done he realized how un-scary it really was.


 The changing of the guard.


The church on the Castle grounds.

The view of Prague from the Castle garden wall.

The view of St. Charles bridge from the castle wall. See all those people? Yep - crowded. 


Just one of many times walking the Castle stairs. I actually grew to love doing this everyday. Especially in the morning and just before dusk. So pretty and quiet.

St. Charles bridge, tower gate, and statue. We took the bridge across to the other part town. 

 The bridge wasn't too crowded. I was glad we went first thing in the morning. 
By the end of the day it was way worse.

Down at the bridge there are tons of places to take boat cruises along the river. We thought this would be fun for the kids so we found one just leaving and hopped aboard. We were practically the only ones on it.

What? A picture of me? GASP! How did that happen? I much prefer being behind the camera :)

 View of the castle & church from the boat.

Prague has it's very own Eiffel Tower. On Petrin Hill they built this lookout/observation tower. We went all the way to the top...via the tiny 2-man elevator crammed with 6 people. Then walked down. Great views all around.


View of the Castle from the Petrin Tower.

On Petrin Hill there is the rose garden, playgrounds for the kids, walking paths, and a mirror labyrinth from 1891. We had to do the mirror labyrinth. After Lego-land, this was one of the biggest hits with the kids.



At the end of the labyrinth there were some distortion mirrors. The kids were laughing hysterically at each one. Here the kids have ape arms and Ryan and I have stilt legs. Finley says that this is the best family picture we've ever had. I think I might agree, or atleast say it's the funnest.

The third day we took a day-trip out of town which gave us a nice break from the touristy crowds. About and hour away in Kutna Hora where there's a church that the inside is decorated with items made of bones. Creepy but cool. 


Outside of the bone church. Looks pretty normal huh. This is the stone path in front of the gate.

There are all sorts of stories behind this. One is that a monk went mad and starting building things out of skulls & bones. Another states that a blind monk compiled it as a way of organizing all the bones & skulls after some event. but whatever it was, or how it came about, it's eerie & creepy, but in a fun way. The kids loved it - especially Fin.

There is a HUGE chandelier and strings of skulls and bones hanging from the ceiling. Totally impressive huh. Apparently it contains one of each bone in the human body.  There's also a skull candelabra, swags & garland of bones everywhere, a case showing skulls with wounds inflicted by archaic weapons, urns, and even a signature picked out in finger bones.

One of 4 rooms piled from floor to ceiling in skulls & bones. These are the supposed piles made by the crazy/blind monk. The rest of the decoration (swags etc) were commissioned in 1870 by the Schwarzenberg Family who were the landowners at the time. It was apparently a reminder of the impermanence of human life and inescapable death.


This piece is amazing. It's the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family, and has a section depicting a raven picking the eye from an invading soldier (lower right corner). Gross! I mean really cool!


I wish this hadn't turned out so blurry. One of these days I will get a fancy digital Nikon that takes great low-light pics of kids who can't stand still. But back to the blurry photo ... Berlin thought it was Voldemort's skull with that stone snake slithering thru it. She's staring evil in the eye - brave girl.


I love the chubby cherub at the top of the skull tower. So odd.

The next day we left Prague and headed towards Czesky Krumlov - the Rothenburg ob der Tauber of the Czech Republic. Those pictures up next.