October 07, 2018

Pisa, Italy

Is Pisa worth it?  Absolutely!  

Everyone told me that you can do Pisa in a day, but I gave us a day and a half to be on the safe side.  They were right!  You can definitely do Pisa in ONE day.  

The actual monument is small, which we were warned of.  So, I was not disappointed at all.  However, if you were expecting something as epic as the Colosseum in Rome you would have been disappointed.  Although small, it was gorgeous!  The entire area was great!  We loved it!

We squeezed in Pisa on our way to Cinque Terre and on the return trip.  So, we flew into Pisa (in route to Cinque Terre) and spent the late afternoon there.  When we arrived, the sun was starting to go down and the entire area was something out of Pinterest. 

The best part was there was barely no one there!  No peddlers, no crowds, and for us it was gorgeous weather.  It's a night I'll remember, as Pisa was on a bucket list for me.

On the return trip from Cinque Terre we had an entire day to spend in Pisa.  This was more than enough time to enjoy the surrounding area.  There are rows and rows of tent vendors all selling souvenirs.  Honestly though, during the day time, it was CROWDED and all the stores start looking the same.  Despite that, we had a great time picking out keepsakes and looking around.

The day we spent on the way back from cinque Terre was HOT.  We were so grateful for the shade of some of the buildings and the chance to sit on the lawn.  

Lots of people were doing the same thing and picnicking.  

Since it was so warm, AND it was Italy, there was plenty of areas to stop and have gelato.  

(We never went into the leaning tower, but don't regret it.  You had to wait in line, pay, and only certain ages could go.  The stairs are marble and worn down and slick and steep and we did not think it would've suited those in our group to go). 

We stayed at a super cute BnB, that served breakfast and had air conditioning and I cannot recommend it enough.  It was super clean and quiet and secure, which are my top 3 musts!

You can find the BnB Here.  It was only about a 15-minute walk from the BnB to Pisa.  

If you are debating whether to visit Pisa or not, I would definitely suggest YES!  But, honestly 1/2 day to one full day is more than enough time to feel like you got to see it all.


-You don't need more than 1 day in Pisa to see the area

-You can get everywhere that is a site to see by foot

-The Pisa airport is only about a 20-minute drive to the leaning tower.  We paid 15 Euro for our taxi ride from the airport to our BnB.

-Beware of lots of peddlers

-There is plenty of gift shops and restaurants, but not a markets or grocery stores if you book an apartment and plan on saving money by cooking

-The busiest months to visit Pisa are July (when we went) and August

Opening Times:

November and February the Tower of Pisa is open between 09,45 -17, 15
On November 1st, it is open 9,00-18,00

December and January: the Tower is open 10,00 17,00
From December 5-8, it is open 09,00
From December 21st to January 6th, it is open 10,00

In March the Tower of Pisa has the following timetable:
Until March 23rd, open 09,00 -18, 00
From March 23rd-29th, open between 09,00-19,00
From March 30th, the tower is open 08:30-20:00

April to September the Tower has the following timetable:
The Leaning Tower is open from 09,00
Between June 17th and August 31st, the Tower of Pisa is open 08,30
On June 16th, the tower is open 08,30

October the Tower of Pisa is open between 09,00 19,00 (with some variations at the start and end of the month that overlap with September/November hours)

IMPORTANT: For safety reasons, children under 8 years old CANNOT climb up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. All children between 8 and 18 can climb the Tower with an accompanying adult. Children pay full price to climb the tower, there are no reductions available.

July 15, 2018

Black Forest Glass Blowing

If you are looking for something truly unique to do when you visit the Black Forest, then look no further!  We decided to try glass blowing on a whim after my wonderful co worker suggested it.  I thought it would be a time killer and a little something extra to do, but it ended up being one of the highlights of our trip.
Dorotheenhutte Glasshutte Wolfach is about 20 minutes from Triberg, Germany.  Triberg is like the cuckoo clock capital of the world.  Although a very small village/town, it's worth the trip.  You could walk around, see the falls, buy a cuckoo clock, etc. easily in a 2 day trip.  The glass house was an awesome stop right before entering into Triberg.

View of the Glasshutte from the parking lot

Entrance into the shop and restaurant (free bathrooms are on the outside on the right)
We went on a weekday and it was not busy at all.  We got there a little after noon and had lunch at the restaurant attached to the Glasshutte (Glasshouse).  It was affordable and good and gave us a boost after driving for 3 hours. 
Restaurant has outside and indoor seating
After lunch, we went to the desk and asked about the glass blowing info.  They were super sweet and spoke good English.  We were told that all we had to do was pay for the 'tour'.  This was a self guided tour through a little museum area, included viewing the glass blowers and the option to blow our own vase at an additional cost.  We paid, went through, and saw the set up and a small line.
If you want to blow your own vase, you pick a number and wait.  While you wait you can watch them blow other peoples vases and take a cute photo (like the one below) or watch a tutorial video they have in a separate room on how the entire operation works. 
You can see your number on the little light up screen on the platform, so you can know how many people are ahead of you.  Once they get to your number you go up and tell them the size, shape, colors, and design you want your vase to be.  There are a LOT of options displayed in front of the glass blowing area, so you should look and decide what you want while waiting for your number.  My kids had a great time personalizing their vase!  After you've told the craftsman your choices, you are permitted to go up on the platform for a close up look at them making your vase.  You also are able to blow your own vase!  
This was super cook for my kiddos (8 and 11 years old).  There are plastic disposable mouth pieces given to you that are free that you use at the end of the blowing pole, so don't worry about germs.lol.  The craftsmen will direct you on when to blow and the amount of pressure, etc. 
It's such a neat experience!  After you blow your vase, the craftsman allows you to tap it to disconnect the vase from the pole.
My mom tapping the glass to separate her vase 
You get a certificate of authentication and pay on the spot for your vase.  For the vase and the entire glass blowing experience it's only 18 Euro! Then they line your vase up, give you a number that designates which vase is yours, and send you on your way to explore the museum or watch other vases get made, etc. while you wait for your own vase to dry. 
Our vases lined up to cool

Exploring the Museum section while our vases cool.  
My vase is #18 and here is my certificate of authentication
This takes about 20 minutes.  When your vase is cool, you go pick it up and walk to another room where they sand the top down for you and make it all smooth. 
Getting our vases sanded smooth on top
All done!
The Glasshutte is great because there are tons of rooms for purchasing glass blown items:  vases, jewelry, Christmas ornaments, plates, bowls, etc.  There's a small kids play room for the kids to be while you look around and there is an entire Christmas shop with TONS of items to look at and purchase.   It's adorable on the outside as well.  Give yourself at least 2 hours, but you could easily spend 4 if you include lunch (which is what we did).

Has lots of parking, which is free
Public (CLEAN & FREE) restrooms
Restaurant attached
Kids play room
Website:  https://www.dorotheenhuette.info/1/
Address:  Glashuttenweg 4, 77709
Wolfach 07834

Visit without guided tour:
any time during the opening hours
daily from9:00 a.m. - 5:00 pm
admission until4:30 pm

Glassblowing for visitors:
daily from9:00 a.m. - 5:00 pm
admission until4:30 pm
price per vase:18,00 EUR
Individual fees tour*without guided tourincluding guided tour
Family ticket
(2 adults, up to 4 children)
15,00 EUR18,00 EUR
Adults6,00 EUR7,00 EUR
Reduced Fee
(students over 18, seniors citizens, disabled persons, people doing military service)
5,00 EUR6,00 EUR
School children 
(6 to 18 years, free admission under 6 years)

November 19, 2017

Cologne chocolate factory

If you haven't been to the Cologne chocolate factory, don't waist any more time.  It took us 4 years to go and I'm so glad we did.  It was great and if you have someone visiting you, then definitely put this on your sightseeing list.

When driving there, you can't miss it!
However parking is not the easiest.  For info on parking, click here.
When you enter, they have a coat check, bathrooms, gift shop and restaurant.  There is a foyer area and all these things are accessible from the foyer as well as purchasing tickets.

The restaurant has LOTS of sweets, and a few salads.  Other than that, don't expect any large meals or anything that is not really chocolate related...no pastas, fries, or schnitzel here.

It is however, dazzling with it's chocolate pastries and gourmet hot chocolates and coffees, etc.
Once you buy your ticket and go inside, this place goes on for what seems like forever!  We were shocked!!!  Even my kids had a great time.  It was so interactive. 

You could make your own chocolate, find out how chocolate is made, the history of chocolate, see the molds that special chocolate pieces are made from, etc.

The options were unlimited!  It was a lot more fun for the entire family than I expected.  My kiddos weren't bored and they loved watching all the machinery make the chocolate.

The factory had little kiosk where you could create your own chocolate,
such as adding blueberries and almonds to a dark chocolate bar. 
You submit your order and depending on the line,
you could have your own personalized chocolate bar in about 30 minutes.

There were samples everywhere too.  It was so much fun!

The gift shop had so much to choose from:  cupcakes, coffees,
liquor, candy, molds, gift baskets, stuffed animals, etc.
The gift shop is accessible at the entrance of the chocolate museum, so visitors do not have to go through the entire museum in order to access it.  If you just want to go to the factory restaurant to eat some chocolatey desserts and buy some goodies at the gift shop, that is possible without having to go through the museum at all.

Christmas season: Opening hours

The museum is open on the following days:

On 26 December 2017 (2nd Christmas holiday) from 11.00 to 19.00 hours
On 31 December 2017 (New Year's Eve) from 10:00 to 17:00 hrs
On 1 January 2018 (New Year) from 11:00 to 19:00 hrs
The museum will be closed on 24 and 25 December 2017!


Website:  http://www.schokoladenmuseum.de/en/
Address:  Schokoladenmuseum Köln
Am Schokoladenmuseum 1a
50678 Köln
Prices:  Children under 6 years old are FREE
11,50 euro for adults
7,50 for children over 6

Hours of operations:
Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Note: Closed on Mondays 6/13/20 and 27 November 2017
Saturday, Sunday, bank holidays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In November 2017 and from 8 January 2018 until the beginning of the NRW Easter holidays closed on Mondays!

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