Saturday, January 4, 2014

A really overdue post about London

Wow, it has been a REALLY long time since I posted something.  I guess working full time with a toddler, while pregnant really takes a lot out of you.  As I am enjoying my last 2 days of Christmas Break (even though I am only going back for 1 week!), I figured I would start playing catch up on the old blog.

So, since I wrote last we have had a few adventures.  First, we met my parents in London for a few nights (which I will write about in this post...what I can remember), then Dan, my brother and I headed to Russia (minus Ava), spending a week in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg.  We also hit up some Christmas markets in Cologne, Brussels, and Maastricht.

Before I start on the London post, here is a quick baby update.  I am now 38 1/2 weeks and I am still feeling pretty good.  Two weeks ago, the doctors did an External Cephalic Inversion to turn this breech baby around and she is being a very good girl and staying head down.  The procedure wasn't too painful, more weird and uncomfortable than painful.  Unfortunately I have been struck with nausea again the past 2 days and have not been able to eat anything more than toast.  Toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner...delicious!  I am hoping this is just a little bug that will pass and not what I can expect until baby comes:(  Here is the most recent belly shot that I took on Christmas (37 weeks).

So, let's rewind all the way back to SEPTEMBER for a quick recap on our trip to London.  For some reason I did not take a lot of pictures from this trip, so it is even harder to spark my memory.

Dan, Ava and I took the Eurostar from Brussels to London.  This was a great way to travel with a toddler because there are plenty of opportunities to get up and move around.  Plus, it is a very quick way to travel.  The train moves up to 185 miles per hour and it is so smooth it barely feels like it is moving.  The entire ride only took 2 hours.

We arrived in London in the afternoon with plans to visit the National Gallery, but a hungry toddler that really needed a nap derailed those plans.  We had to wait until about 2:30 to check into our room and by the time we got settled in and put Ava down for a nap it was too late to hit the museum.  Instead we headed to Regent street for some shopping and checked out Hamleys, which is basically London's Fao Schwartz.  I am sure this was much more fun for Ava than looking at some old art:)

Sidenote- while in London we only traveled by the Tube. We bought an Oyster Card and had no problem getting anywhere; it was very easy to navigate.  Downside to using the tube...we were always underground so we didn't get to see as much of the city as I would have liked.

The next morning, my parents arrived and we headed out to the London Eye.  While waiting in line, Ava became the tourist attraction as a group of Korean tourists fell in love with her and decided they wanted to take her picture.  Ava loved the London Eye.  For those of you who don't know, the London Eye is a giant ferris wheel (the largest in Europe) and it offers great views of the city.  We figured this would be a good start to give us the "lay of the land".

Ava kept running to the window, looking down and yelling, "Wow!".

Ava loved spending time with Grammy and Papa

Buckingham Palace in the distance.  The Queen was not in residence.

Hey kids, Big Ben...Parliament.  Westminster Abbey is behind Big Ben.

I was trying to be artistic:)

After the Eye, we walked around Parliament and Big Ben and toured Westminster Abbey.  I really enjoyed the audio tour of Westminster and learning about the history of this amazing church and all the historical figures buried inside. Ava decided to take a nap on Dan's back, so we were able to really enjoy the tour.  She woke up just as we were finishing. Unfortunately, my only pictures of Westminster are from the outside, no photography inside.

passed out and in perfect timing

I thought I looked so pregnant here...ha!

We went back to the hotel so my parents could check-in.  Our hotel had an indoor pool, but we didn't have suits.  Of course my Dad did, so he took Ava into the pool while Dan and I headed back out for some shopping and sightseeing.  One of my favorite things was visiting Harrods. Oh course we had to buy a bear for Ava and Julia.  "Teddy" is Ava's favorite stuffed animal that she has to sleep with every night.  We met my parents for dinner and then came back to put the little pumpkin to sleep.  The best thing we did was get adjacent rooms.  We packed our video monitor with us and we were able to put Ava to bed and then walk next store and hang out in my parent's room.  A big improvement over the previous night where we hung out in the bathroom so we wouldn't keep Ava awake. Oh the joys of traveling with little ones. 
The next day we headed to the British Museum, which has a huge collection of Egyptian and Greek art (umm...stolen, but that is another story).  They also have the Rosetta Stone here, which I knew I took pictures of, but can't seem to find.  We toured through here, but had to make it a little quicker than we would have liked because someone was a little cranky:(

After the museum and some lunch we took Ava back to the hotel for a nap while my parents set out to explore more of the city.  They met us back at the hotel and took Ava to the pool again while Dan and I headed out to the Imperial War Museum.  Unfortunately the museum was under renovation, so only part of the museum was open.  Personally, I did not find the museum worth the visit (though it was free).  I am sure it will be amazing once the renovations are complete.  They did have an incredibly profound Holocaust exhibit.  We reunited with Ava and my parents and headed out to Piccadilly Circus, which reminded me of Times Square with all the lights and craziness.  Adjacent to Piccadilly Circus is China Town where we had a yummy dinner.  Again, I know I took pictures here, but where they are...who knows?
The last morning we only had a little time before we had to catch our train back to Belgium.  We decided to spend our morning with the royals.

We were lucky to have some good weather for our trip.  It was even sunny one day.  So sunny that Ava had to wear shades...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Its a…

Dan and I are excited to announce that Ava is going to have a little SISTER!!!  We are so thrilled to welcome another girl to our family.  Dan jokes that he is having nightmares, but he is such a sucker for Ava and he loves that Ava worships the ground he walks on.  Dan was positive that it was going to be a girl.  As the only boy of five children, he is just certain that he is doomed to live a life surrounded by females:) 

We are not ones to keep secrets, so we will go ahead and say that we chose the name, Julia Margaret.  We love the name Julia and it was one we considered for Ava, but we had Louise as a middle name already and we didn’t want to name our child after Julia Louise Dreyfus (although we are both Seinfeld fans).  The middle name is in honor of my beloved Aunt Margaret, whom cancer took away from us too soon and my Grandmother (also a Margaret), whom I also miss dearly. 

Here are some 4D images of Julia:



3DFace (2)

3DFace (3)

It’s crazy, but I can already see the resemblance to Dan.  By the way, the strange bumps around her face are her hands.  I actually thought it was her foot until the doctor informed me that he would be very concerned if her feet could bend that way:)

At 22 weeks everything is going well.  The heartbeat sounded great and all the measurements came up as normal.  I had an appointment on Tuesday was my Sage Femme (mid-wife in French) and I was very happy with her.  She is the first practitioner I have experienced that spoke excellent English, so she was able to answer all of my questions (and not just the ones I could ask in French).  It was funny because the previous sage femme, whom only spoke French, kept insisting I was 2 weeks less pregnant than I knew I was.  I come to find out that I told her my expected due date was Janvier TRENTE (30) when it is really Janvier TREIZE (13).  Oops…my French teacher would not be impressed. Going through my first pregnancy in the Belgian medical system has been an interesting experience, one I plan to blog about later on. 

I will be blogging again in a week or so about our adventures in London.  We are leaving next week to meet my parents and I am SO excited!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Ireland Adventures, 4th and Final

We spent three nights in Dublin and packed our days with sightseeing and family time.  Instead of detailing everything we did, I decided to focus on some of the highlights. 
Saint Stephen’s Green and Grafton St
Our hotel was located right down the street from St. Stephen’s Green and Grafton St is located directly on the other side of the park.  I absolutely loved St. Stephen’s Green, but unfortunately I didn’t take a single picture. So, I picked up a few from the Internet.  The park was a great place for Ava to have some fun time. There was a playground and duck pond, where Ava spent some time feeding the ducks.  When it was not raining, this park was filled with people enjoying the weather.  The park is an enclosed rectangle and was originally closed to the public. Only the people who lived in the Georgian mansions surrounding the park were granted access.  It was opened to the public in 1877.

st steph 1

St. Stephens Green, Dublin, Ireland

Grafton St. is a pedestrian only shopping street (the fifth most expensive shopping street in the world).  The street is flooded with street performers which gave of such a fun energy.  We didn’t have much time for shopping, but we spent a lot of time strolling this street on our way to and from our daily adventures.  Again, I didn’t take any pictures (what? why?) and I couldn’t find any good ones on the Internet.  So, you can form a mental picture.  If you are ever there, have lunch at Bewley’s Cafe; you will not be disappointed.

Kilmainham Gaol
This tour was one of the highlights of Dublin for me.  First built in 1796, Kilmainham Gaol is a prison that was made famous for its role in Ireland’s fight for independence.  Many leaders of the Irish Rebellion were imprisoned and some executed at Kilmainham.  In the beginning, public hangings would take place in front of the prison, until 1820 when a room for hangings was established.  The conditions in the prison improved overtime, but in the beginning up to 5 people would be held in one cell (with no segregation for women or children) with only a single candle for light and heat.  The cells were 28 meters squared, which is roughly 300 square feet.  These were all for heinous crimes of course…not quite.  There were children incarcerated for petty theft (stealing a loaf of bread to help feed a starving family).  The youngest child incarcerated was 7 years old.  If you are in Dublin, I highly recommend this tour.  Our guide was fantastic, he was so knowledgeable.  Here are some photos and a little more information about the prison. 


One of the original jail cell doors.  You will see in later pictures how the prison was upgraded.  Up to five people would be imprisoned behind this door with only a candle for light and heat.  Oh, and that one candle was to last for 2 weeks.

Kilmainham Gaol (6)

Here is the prison chapel. A wedding took place here between Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett.  Joseph was a major player in the Easter Rising in 1916.  They were originally due to marry on that Easter Sunday.  Joseph was sentenced to death by firing squad. When Grace found out, she purchased a wedding ring and the two were married at this alter a few hours before his execution. 

Kilmainham Gaol (5)
Kilmainham Gaol (7)

Here you see the old part of the prison…

Kilmainham Gaol (8)

And then this is the new section.  Quite an improvement.  In the mid 1800s the East Wing was opened.  This is like the Ritz-Carlton compared to the older part.  These cells only held one prisoner.  The design is intentional, it is so a guard could see the entire wing from one position.  So, you would think the older section was decommissioned?  Nope, it became the women’s section. of course.

Kilmainham Gaol (11)
Kilmainham Gaol (17)

Ava was the youngest inmate of the day.

Kilmainham Gaol (15)

This is the exercise yard at Kilmainham.  Here, prisoners were allowed to walk in a circle once a day.

Kilmainham Gaol (24)
A plaque commemorating those executed because of the Easter Rising.  As news of these executions spread, public opinion towards the participants of the Easter Rising began to change.  


The cross marks the spot where James Connolly was executed.  At the time, he was so sick and weak that he had to be tied to a chair (he couldn’t even sit upright) to go before the firing squad.

Kilmainham Gaol (23)    
Guinness Storehouse
Another “Must Do” in Dublin is the Guinness Storehouse.  As a lover of Guinness I was very excited for this visit, but I must say that I was slightly disappointed.  This was not a brewery tour, but more of a self-guided museum of all things Guinness.  It was well done, but I was left wanting a little more.  The highlight of the visit was the tasting in the Gravity Bar.  Of course I still ordered up my free pint of Guinness, but sadly passed it to Dan (after a few sips, of course).  Side note- before traveling I was talking with a midwife from Ireland who informed me that I MUST have Guinness while in Ireland.  That it is very good for the baby:) 

Guiness (3)
One very interesting exhibit; how a cooperage creates a barrel.  Surprisingly fascinating. 

Guiness (5)
Uncle Brian, starting Ava off early with Guinness.  She really wanted a sip.

ava drinking beer
Guiness (8)
Here is the actual Guinness plant.  This picture was taken from the Gravity Bar.

Guiness (7)

Dublin Zoo
There was really nothing impressive about this zoo.  It wasn’t the best zoo and it wasn’t the worst, but it was a good way for Ava to have some fun after being dragged around everywhere.  Not a whole lot of shots of the animals, just our crazy little monkey.

Dublin Zoo (14)

Dublin Zoo (2)
Dublin Zoo (4)
Dublin Zoo (11)

Hop on and Off Bus
We used this tour bus as a way to see the city and also to get from point A to point B.  We found it was not the most efficent way of travel, so we ended up not using it as much as we had planned.  It was worth it for a good overview of the city and when you purchase a ticket, you get the second day for free.  There are normally two tour buses that run throughout the city, but one is controlled by the city bus company which happened to be on strike while we were in the city.  Ava really enjoyed the tour:)


I am not one to write about food well.  I also don't really take pictures of my food.  So, this is just a quick overview of some places we ate that I recommend if you are ever in the area.

The Boxty House
A great selection of Irish dishes, including a large selection of Boxty dishes (hence the name).  A very relaxed and family friendly atmosphere located in Temple Bar.  I had the seafood chowder with brown bread. 

The Sussex
One of my favorite restaurants.  They offer Early Bird Specials (2 course for 19.50 or 3 course for 24.50) every night and all night from Sunday through Wednesday.  We were shocked to be offered the Early Bird menu at 8:30 pm! The restaurant was in a beautiful old building with a ton of charm.

Leo Burdock
Those of you who know me well know that I do not eat a lot of fried food; I try to eat a pretty healthy diet.  Well, even I couldn’t resist trying these fish and chips (the baby really wanted them).  This place has been around for 100 years and I know why.  It is nothing fancy, the don’t have tables.  We grabbed some and brought it back to our room.  The line on the day we went was surprisingly short.  Apparently, this place can get quite busy.

Fish and Chips

We stayed at the Premier Inn and Suites Dublin.  This is a UK based chain of all suites hotel.  The hotel, located in a converted Georgian mansion,  was very small, more boutique style and the apartments were very new, clean and beautiful.  This hotel could not have been more accommodating.  After reading the reviews on Trip Advisor, I emailed the hotel to request a quieter room in the back of the hotel.  They emailed me back saying that all of those rooms were already booked (there are less than 20 suites in the hotel and even less that are one bedroom).  When we checked in, they informed us that they moved some folks around so that we could have a quiet room in the back. What a difference that made!  Especially because there was road work in front of the hotel (hello jackhammers).  The hotel had a great location, only a block away from Saint Stephen’s Green and within walking distance of the major sights of Dublin. 

That is finally it for our Ireland vacation.  On the agenda...we will joining my parents again in London for 4 days in a few weeks.  We will be spending a week in Russia (so excited!) to see St. Petersburg and Moscow.  We will be taking a tour with a group from the base.  My brother will be joining us and Ava will be staying home with Grandma Noe for this one.  Finally, we will be heading to Cologne, Germany for the Christmas Market in early December.  Then, we will give our suitcases a break to welcome our little munchkin in January.  I hope you continue to join us on our adventures.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ireland Adventures, Part 3

So, we continue in the beautiful town of Killarney.  Killarney, based on its location at the start of the famous Ring of Kerry, is a tourist town.  From the streets lined with souvenir shops, the multitude of Irish bars playing traditional Irish music (which I love), the menu boards advertising early bird specials, to the horse and buggies throughout the town, Killarney screams touristy.  But, I don’t always think that is a bad thing and after our evening in Cork it was much welcomed.

view down the high street

We spent our first afternoon exploring the town and settling into our apartment, which I LOVED.  We stayed at the Killarney Self-Catering Apartments, Rookery Mews.  It was about a 2 minutes drive from the center of town and it was perfect for families.  We had a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment which came equipped with everything you will need for your stay.  It even had a fenced in playground on the grounds along with a basketball hoop and pails filled with balls for the kids to play with.  The playground was suitable for all ages with a swing set for the bigger kids and Little Tykes house and swing for the youngins.  Unfortunately, after the heavy rains from the morning, Ava was not able to enjoy the underwater playground.

Killarney (4)
there were 4 units in each building, 2 up and 2 down

Killarney (6)
future basketball player?

loving time with Grandma
Grandma and Grandpa went out for an early dinner and came back to watch Ava so Dan, Brian and I could go out too.  We went downtown to Bricin Boxty House. I really enjoyed this restaurant for the great food and fantastic service.  We arrived and were greeted at the door by the owner who asked if we had a reservation.  When we told him we didn’t, he was immediately apologetic that we would have to wait 15 minutes for a table.  The way he acted you would have thought he was telling us that we would never get a table. He then entertained us with stories about the area. Aside from the hospitality, the food was fantastic.  We shared crab claws and deep fried cambaberet.  Then, I had their famous Boxty.  The Boxty is an Irish potato pancake that is folded and filled like a crepe.  Mine was stuffed with a curried Irish lamb stew.  I am still thinking about that meal.  If you are ever in Killarney, you MUST eat here.

The next morning we started our day with the Ring Of Kerry.  Everything I read said that this gets loaded with tour buses and can be quite crazy.  I learned that the buses begin at around 9:30 and travel in an anti-clockwise (as they say in Ireland) direction.  So, we decided to get an early start and stay ahead of the tour buses.  This worked out perfectly as we saw only one bus the entire trip.  The entire ring is 179 KM (or 111 miles to us Americans), but the distance flew by as you admire the amazing scenery.  Plus there are several quaint towns and villages to stop and explore along the way.  These pictures don’t even serve justice to the beauty of this area.

Ring of Kerry
Ring of Kerry (2) 
Ring of Kerry (6) 
Ring of Kerry (10) 
Ring of Kerry (20)
Luckily Ava took a nice nap in the car, so there was no need to stop.  After lunch back in Killarney, we headed back out to the Killarney National Park.  You can spend several days just exploring this park.  The Ring begins and ends at the National Park.  So, this first part, The Lady’s View, we saw at the end of the Ring of Kerry drive.  The views were amazing and there were a few families there enjoying a picnic.

Ladies View Killarney National Park
Ladies View Killarney National Park  (10)
Ladies View Killarney National Park  (9)
Ladies View Killarney National Park  (7)
We had plans to visit the Muckross House in the park, but we would have to wait too long for the next tour.  So, instead we decided to take the hike to the Torc Waterfall.  We got stuck in a little rain along the way, but it was well worth the hike.

Kilarney National Park and Torc Waterfall (3)
The Muckross House- There are also traditional farms on the grounds, which would have been fun for Ava to see, but we never made it.

Kilarney National Park and Torc Waterfall (2)
Ava is all ready for her hike.  Dan was very excited the uncle Brian volunteered to take the backpack this time.

Kilarney National Park and Torc Waterfall (4)
Yes, that is the rain we got stuck in.  Of course it came while we were out in the clearing.

Kilarney National Park and Torc Waterfall (17) 

Kilarney National Park and Torc Waterfall (16)
I loved all the moss

Kilarney National Park and Torc Waterfall (23) 
Kilarney National Park and Torc Waterfall (24) 

Kilarney National Park and Torc Waterfall (27)

After a low-key evening of frozen pizza and card playing we headed to Dublin in the morning.  I will write all about Dublin in the the last part of our adventure.