Friday, August 24, 2012

A Clough Reunion in Luxembourg

The first weekend in August, we were thrilled to have another fantastic Clough reunion - this time with the addition of Mark, Karen and Sam. Karen and Sam had been visiting Neil and fam in Ramstein for the previous week and when Mark arrived, we decided to all meet up somewhere. After researching various places between Ramstein and Sittard, we decided to go to the lovely Vianden, Luxembourg. I had not heard anything about Vianden before, but it proved to be yet another absolutely gorgeous medieval town, complete with a hilltop castle, river running through town, and flowers abounding everywhere you look. 

Just the 10 of us

Vianden, Luxemburg

Soon after arriving and having lunch along the river, we took the chairlift to a beautiful overlook of Vianden and short hike down to the castle. 

View of Vianden and castle

Karen and Mark

Emily and the girls

And, it so happened, that there was a medieval festival taking place in the castle while we were there. We enjoyed visiting the extensive rooms filled with vendors, activities for the kids, musicians and even sword fights and dancing. 

Jon enjoyed meeting the medieval ladies

Sam and Cassie

Waiting for the sword fight to begin

The start of the fight - these actors were great and so expressive!

Medieval sword fight

And some dancing - not sure how medieval belly dancing is, but the guys sure enjoyed it

The castle was quite impressive even without the festival taking place; especially the chapel and gorgeous views of town from the windows.

Castle chapel

Castle by night

Vianden and castle by night

Vianden and castle by night

The next day, we spent the morning at the Indian Forest, an adventure obstacle course in the trees. It was so much fun and the kids loved doing the zip lines and various obstacles high above the ground. I had a blast myself, but came away with a massive rope burn. Note to self, when wearing a harness, wear pants! Afterward, we enjoyed walking around Vianden, and visiting more of the medieval festival, which spilled out into the town's squares. 

Gathering the troops outside the hotel

A medieval food tent

A medieval tavern in the castle

Me and Karen strolling along the river

These three aren't able to get together too often with Neil and Jon living in Europe and Mark in North Carolina, but it's always a memorable event when they do.

Come Sunday, Neil and fam returned to Ramstein and we were thrilled to be bringing Mark, Karen and Sam home to the Netherlands with us. We enjoyed showing them our area as much as possible over the next four days with visits to Maastricht, Margraten, Aachen, the Drielandenpunt and the Open Air Folk Museum near Arnhem. 

Maastricht Mill

Aachen Printen shop

Aachen Dom

Drielandenpunt - where the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet

At the Open Air Folk Museum

Open Air Folk Museum

We are so very appreciative that they came to visit, as we always have the best time with them and it was such a treat to see Sam experience Europe for the first time. It's amazing to see Europe through the eyes of a 9-year-old and he did so well as drug him all over the place. Although he did eventually get somewhat jaded from the many castles we showed him, he absolutely loved the medieval festival and simply playing with his cross-bow souvenir in our backyard. I guess boys will, after all, be boys. 

With 10 people and lots of kids, it's always a little chaotic when we're all together, but that's what makes it an adventure. One thing's for certain, I can't wait until our next Clough reunion!

Celebrating the First Anniversary of my 29th Year

After returning from Cabo on the 4th of July, I spent two night in Dallas with Mandy before we drove to Austin for my birthday weekend. Although I had hoped to do something special for this milestone year, the first anniversary of my 29th year, I hadn't planned anything ahead of time, partly because it was a holiday weekend and I knew it would be too difficult to get friends together who lived all over the State and had kids.

So, I was looking forward to a weekend with Mandy and Laurel in Austin visiting my favorite places. First on the list was lunch at Hula Hut. Sitting down for my birthday lunch, I all of a sudden saw two people walk past the table out of the corner of my eye, and low and behold it was my two dear friends, Allison and Kelly, both who live in Houston. I had seen Allison the week before when she visited College Station, but I didn't think I'd be able to see Kelly this trip and I was absolutely shocked seeing them stand before me. They were going to celebrate the entire day with me and stay overnight - I was overjoyed and the tears were flowing. I felt so appreciate of the effort they made to come, as they had arranged for their husbands to watch their kids so they could get away for the weekend. This was the best birthday surprise ever!

After lunch, we all went shopping at the Domain before heading back to Laurel's where she had done up her house in birthday decor. I was feeling more and more pampered by the minute. After getting dressed in our going-out duds (which coordinated by pure coincidence, by the way), we trekked downtown for dinner on W. 6th Street.

Afterward, we went to check out an 80s cover band at Cedar Street Bar before ending the night at Highball. I had hoped to sing karaoke there, but alas all their rooms were booked. However, we were pleasantly surprised to learn there would be an 80s dance party in their ball room. This night was just getting better and better. The music was amazing and it was great to see so many normal, young people get pumped about 80s music and dance. The bar pulled out all the stops with crazy props and effects for the crowd and it was an absolute blast to say the least.

I couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate my big 3-0 (there, I finally said it) and more importantly, couldn't have had better people to spend it with. I felt so incredibly spoiled and am so appreciative of all they did to make this birthday an unforgettable one.

Tres Hermanas in Cabo

Summer in Europe can be absolutely beautiful, but this year, it seemed to take forever to get any kind of genuine summer weather. Lucky for me, I was headed across the pond to sweltering temperatures and endless sunshine. From London, at the end of Macy and Carly's visit in late June, I flew home to Texas for a short two-week visit home. 

I had a few days with my parents before meeting up with Laurel and Mandy to travel to beautiful Cabo for a sisters-ony vacation. Growing up, we traveled to Mexico almost yearly, but since moving to Europe, I have only been once. It was such a treat to travel to Mexico again and this was an area we had never visited before. We stayed at a beautiful all-inclusive resort with fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean. 

It was completely relaxing with no must-dos on our list, which was a nice change from the go, go, go traveling in Europe. Our days usually consisted of a big breakfast, a stroll along the beach, laying out by the pool, snacking at the pool bar, afternoon beach volleyball and finally, dinner and drinks. My kinda trip! The most stress we experienced the entire five days was deciding what restaurant to eat dinner in each night. Oh the decisions!

I had never stayed at an all-inclusive before and I could't get over the fact that I could keep ordering whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It. Was. Amazing. 

In addition to the two restaurants at our resort, we could also visit a sister resort for dinner as well. We enjoyed seeing this resort which, in contrast to our minimal and serene desert-like landscape, was overflowing with flowers and vegetation. The resort was so large that they have golf cars from the lobby that shuttle you wherever you need to go.

Although we were perfectly content to stay at our resort the entire time, we did venture out into Cabo one evening for dinner and nightlife. 

We ate at the festively decorated, Mi Casa, before exploring the main strip of Cabo and the famous Cabo Wabo bar. The first thing we noticed was how much more casual the bars and clubs were than Acapulco, where we normally visit. Also, the lack of Mexican tourists was obvious as it was mostly Americans everywhere. Nonetheless, we had a fantastic time and certainly nothing can beat the fantastic climate with the dry heat, breeze off the ocean and beautiful vistas. 

I feel so fortunate to have had this special time with my two best friends in the world - my sisters. With Laurel about to have her second in October, there's no telling when we'll have the chance to do this again, but I know that we will make it a priority throughout our lives to have these unforgettable sister trips. I love you, mis hermanas!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Macy and Carly's Visit to Europe

In mid-June, my cousins, Macy and Carly, came to visit for a jam-packed week of European travels. Trying to find an open week between their busy summer schedule and mine was difficult, but I'm so glad it worked out for them to come! This was Macy's second visit to Europe, as she visited me in Wiesbaden two years ago, and Carly's first. 

Biking around Sittard

Although the time was short, I wanted them to experience as much of Europe as possible during their visit. Luckily, living in the tri-border region provides them an opportunity to visit three countries quite easily. We took a day trip to Aachen to visit the beautiful Dom, have a schnitzel lunch and shop for gummi bears. Afterward, we stopped by the Dreilandenpunt where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet. 

Aachen Dom

Standing in three countries at once at the Dreilandenpunt
After two days in the local area, we hopped a train for an overnight stay in Amsterdam. We stayed in a hotel that was a canal house from the 1600s in the Jordaan neighborhood. We did a city walk, visited the Anne Frank house and even toured through the Red Light District on our way to the Our Lady in the Attic Museum - a remarkable museum where a hidden Catholic church was built in the attic of a merchant's house during the Reformation, when Catholics could not worship in public.

Enjoying waffles along the Amsterdam canal

After our whirlwind trip to Amsterdam, we had one day to recover in Sittard, where we explored the shops and rode our bikes around the beautiful city park.

The next morning, we boarded the Eurostar to London where we would spend the next two nights. Immediately after arriving, we ventured to the nearby King's Cross station where the 9 3/4 platform is located from the Harry Potter movies. Macy and Carly are huge Harry Potter fans and I had arranged for us to take the Muggle walking tour the next day. 

Macy, on her way to Hogwarts
After dropping our bags at our hotel, we changed into our "fancy" clothes for an outing to Harrods. After wandering through this massive department store, we enjoyed afternoon tea in the Georgian Restaurant on the top floor. It was so much fun and surprisingly, was incredibly filling!

Afternoon Tea at Harrods Georgian Restaurant
After tea, we made our way to the West End theatre district to see Les Miserables. This was my third time to see it, though this performance was the best! It was so incredibly moving and the smaller more intimate theatre, provided an unbelievable spectator experience. This is my favorite musical of all time and the by the end of the performance, I had to restrain myself from joining the cast on stage when they sang "Will you join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me?" It was an unforgettable performance and night. 

After our Muggle walking tour around London the following day, we visited the Tower of London, and walked from Big Ben and Parliament to Buckingham Palace along St. James Park. There is so much to do in this large, bustling city, two days is simply not enough time. However, we packed a great deal in and I feel we definitely saw the highlights of this magnificent city. 

Parliament and Big Ben

The iconic London pic
I loved sharing a week of my life with Macy and Carly and tour-guiding them around Europe. What an opportunity they've had to visit Europe as teenagers, and I hope this helps to instill a passion for travel and experiencing new cultures throughout their life. Thanks for visiting!