The fact that this post is coming to you close to the end of our trip and not week 2 shows the nature of how busy we have been. Things have been very much none stop and I am surprised at how little time I’ve had to even type up a blog, read a book, or just reflect on all the amazing experiences we have been having. Traveling in a foreign land often keeps you on your toes, especially when you are in charge of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of 8 other family members. I am greatly enjoying this trip and learning a lot of things too. We hope that in the next few days things will slow down just a bit and we can get you our week 3 recap!
Sunday, June 23rd– We woke up to cloudy skies in Wagrain. Our Airbnb host Chris is originally from London but has been living in the Austria for several years now. He stopped by to deliver some swim passes for us and ended up staying for about an hour as we all chatted with him about US and European Union politics, business, and other things in life. I thought this was such a great opportunity to engage with another culture and see how others view Americans and how Europeans view the world. I was surprised a bit on how conservative his views were in certain areas. Anyway, after that nice chat the kids were eager to get to the awesome pool in Wagrain. We spent several hours there and just about had the pool to ourselves. Then we returned to our rental to clean up and prepare for our ride to Hallstatt. Most everyone in the car was either jet lagged or simply wasn’t getting enough sleep (including me) so the drive to Hallstatt was a bit difficult. Perhaps I should have made some coffee. But then we arrived and our senses were awakened at such a beautiful town. I had high expectations for this place but it even exceeded those expectations. Hallstatt is just loaded with photo opportunities and we loved every minute of it. After this we drove home and watched The Sound of Music on my laptop to get us all hyped for the next day.
· Song of the day: Lovely Day by Bill Withers
· Weather: Overcast (but not rainy)
· Morale: 9 – I’m still lacking sleep and the weather is so-so but we are in the Austrian Alps!
Monday, June 24th– After a good night of rest we were all awakened to sunny skies and an early departure for Salzburg. We drove an hour up the road and parked in a lot across the street from where our Sound of Music bicycle tour would begin. We got fitted for our bikes and then we were off and pedaling around the town taking in some wonderful sites related to the history of Salzburg and from the movie. The sun was beating down on us pretty good but toward the end of the trip we were in a lot of shade and it was just really relaxing. After the tour we ate lunch and walked down to where Mozart used to live. On our way back from Salzburg we passed by Hohenwerfen Castle and took the funicular to the top for some awesome views. Then we returned to Wagrain where the kids were anxious to spend the evening swimming once more, this time with better weather and a lot of teenagers. It got a bit crowded but everyone had a great time.
· Song of the day:Do-Re-Mi by Julie Andrews
Morale:10 – The only thing imperfect about this day was getting stuck for a bit in the parking lot because our ticket wouldn’t work after we paid. First world problems!
Tuesday, June 25th – Our last day in Wagrain we slept in just a bit and then traveled toward Berchtesgaden. We stopped at the Kiltenblitz toboggan run which I had seen on YouTube several months before and was so excited to go on. We bought passes so we could take the lift up and then ride down twice. The views were spectacular. The toboggan ride was also amazing. Both times I rode down and Breza wanted to be with me. But I don’t hold back much on how fast we went. Every time we came to a place where we wanted to speed up we would both yell “Faster!” and we would take off. This place did not disappoint! After this we drove about 15 minutes up to the bus stop for a ride up to the Eagles Nest. We boarded the hot bus with a bunch of Japanese tourists, many who seemed more thrilled to see our large family (many with blonde hair). They sure didn’t have any trouble pulling out their cameras and taking pictures of us. I found it a bit annoying at first but by the end of the day I was putting up my two fingers giving the “peace” sign. One Japanese lady had a paper fan that she gave to us on the bus ride. At the end she insisted we could keep the fan so that was a nice little memento of our Japanese experience in the Alps! We arrived at the Eagles Nest where we walked through a cold, refreshing tunnel to an elevator. The elevator whisked us to the Eagles Neat building. We immediately stepped outside to see the amazing views. For the next hour we hiked around at the top and took pictures and played in some snow. Then we returned to the Eagles Nest for a short time before returning back to the bus which then took us back to the van. On the way down the mountain I pulled over and wanted to give Candice an opportunity to drive a bit. She did a great job in a fairly easy stretch of road down to Wagrain. Then, you guessed it, we swam some more with more teenagers.
· Song of the day: Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears (Reflecting on the days when Hitler looked down on the world from the Eagle’s Nest)
· Weather: Sunny
· Morale: 10
Wednesday, June 26th– Our day started early by loading up the van and heading down the road. We filled up on gas and bought a vignette for Slovenia and then crossed over into a new country. Not too much further we took the exit for Lake Bled and drove up to Lake Bled Castle. I had previously heard that this place (the castle part) wasn’t too impressive so my expectations were low but I was pleasantly surprised. The views of Lake Bled were really great and the kids, always impressed by fish, were amazed at the size of the large catfish that swam near the surface and often close by other swimmers in the lake. We then headed down the road to our next place, Otocek River Castle in Novo Mesto, Slovenia. This place was so pretty. The Castle is on an island accessible by a wooden bridge. Large fish are visible in the clear water. I took the opportunity here to call up our Croatian Airbnb host who speaks Croatian to inform her of our ETA for arrival. I was very proud of myself for communicating in Croatian by using just a few words I had learned before the trip. “Moj Porodica” means “my family”. “Ossom” means “eight” (our arrival time) and I also threw in the name of the rental for context. Her reply was the universal “ah, ok!” So I knew communication was successful. We continued down to the Zagreb airport to swap vehicles because our German van was not allowed to travel into Bosnia where we were headed. We then continued to our rental in Poljanak. As I type this you should understand that many other smaller adventures were occurring throughout the day that are too much to mention here. We had a few confusing moments, a few embarrassing moments, but overall things went very well. Safety is the first priority and as I type this I reflect on the fact that I have not once in this trip felt concerned for our safety either on the road or around people. When we pulled in to Poljanak we were greeted by a stout old lady who showed us around the house while jabbering away in a language we didn’t understand. Then it was soon time for much needed sleep.
· Song of the day: Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin (My favorite Led Zeppelin song and fitting for today)
· Weather: Sunny
· Morale: 9 – Morale has a tendency to decrease on travel days. We saw amazing sites but were a bit rushed to make it to our next destination.
Thursday June 27th– We slept in a bit and just spent some good time relaxing at our rental. This was very much needed after the long trip the previous day. That afternoon we had passes to Plitvice Lakes National Park but couldn’t get inside until 4PM. When that time arrived we were sure to be there on time. This place was just amazing. I had very high expectations for this spot and it even exceeded my expectations. There is something about being next to clear water with fish swimming around that is just calming to the soul. The kids enjoyed their time too and it wasn’t until later in the day, after we had walked over 6 miles, that we really began to feel tired. We hiked up out of the canyon and back to a restaurant. As the evening set in the kids were preoccupied with some cats near the restaurant and they spotted their first fireflies! What a cool experience. As we walked back to the van we could also see glow worms on the ground. This was a very fun day.
· Song of the day: Paradise by Coldplay
· Weather: Sunny
· Morale: 10
Friday June 28th– We departed Poljanak at 8AM and headed toward the border that would take us into Bihac, Bosnia. We had no problems at the border crossing and soon we arrived at the Bihac Evangelical Church where a missionary friend of ours does her ministry. She met us and walked us to a restaurant at the Una River and we chatted for an hour before departing. Our next stop was Jajce where we met with more friends Edina, Matt, and Rowan. Matt walked us down to the sites I had seen just a year earlier. I remember last year thinking that I would enjoy taking my family here and that day finally came! We left Jajce and stopped in the town of Breza that we jokingly say was named after our daughter when in reality it was the other way around. This was something we’ve dreamt of doing for years. We knew one day we would take our daughter to the place that inspired her name. Finally we pointed the car to our final destination, Sarajevo. We arrived to meet our good friends Slavko, Sanja, and their lovely daughter Jovana. They greeted us warmly with the best meal we have had on this trip (seriously… and maybe because it was more familiar to us all) and we had such a nice time visiting. Jovana was a great gymnast in her not too distant younger years and now teaches younger children. She had some cute dance clothes for Breza to keep as a gift. She then taught Breza and Brinley some dance moves and they all performed for us!
· Song of the day:Ride Like the Wind by Christopher Cross
· Weather:Sunny with some clouds
Saturday June 29th– We took our time waking up and then drove down to Coffee Time at the Sarajevo bus station where we met with Mladen, Vicky, and their son Aron. Mladen is the pastor of the church in Breza. Another great visit. After this we parked downtown and did some shopping and toured downtown Sarajevo. The kids drank the water from the fountain which, according to local legend, means that they will one day return. After shopping we walked up to the Irby’s home and spent the afternoon there sitting in their backyard and letting our kids all play together. Brooklyn has been pen palling with their daughter Israel (“Izzy”) and we let Brooklyn spend the night there because we knew the Irby’s would meet us at church the next morning. It feels like we are home away from home. As you can tell from the past few days in Bosnia that we have been warmly welcomed by our numerous Bosnian friends.
· Song of the day: Miss Sarajevo by U2
· Weather: Sunny with some clouds
· Morale: 10 – Starting to see a pattern? Morale takes a big jump once jetlag wears off and you start getting used to the culture and fun experiences.