Winter Wonderlands

Christmas Markets!

Christmas markets in Europe were in full swing by late November. We were able to visit one of the markets in Vienna, Austria, the markets in Budapest and Pápa, Hungary and the little lakeside market in Bled, Slovenia. These markets are wonderful at inspiring the holiday spirit! Dripping with lights and the undulating scents, the tantalizing trinkets at every turn and holiday melodies propelled us into Christmas mode instantly! They’re a lot of fun – if for nothing more than the browsing, people watching, taste testing and of course, the hot drinks in collectible cups.

Rathausplatz, Austria
A bustling Vienna Market!

A Cabin in the Woods, Slovenia

We spent the week before Christmas at a cabin in Slovenia just outside of Lake Bled. It was a beautiful week focused on winter fun, family, and being free from the rat race. We talked a lot about “just being” as we eliminated tablets and technology from the road trip and the entire vacation, and it ended up being a wonderful experiment in creativity and self awareness. We cooked delicious meals, played so many games, the kids learned to ICE SKATE, and we had a great day sledding high up in the Julian Alps. We spent time in our favorite region: Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, we went up to Kranjska Gora again, and finally got to go up the gondola at Vogel! It was a wonderful “reset” for what the holidays are truly about.

Sunset on the first night at the cabin was like a fire in the sky!
It was so nice to have land to explore and privacy so we didn’t have to shush the kids!
Cozy cottage in Bled, Slovenia
Lack of snow didn’t stop them from sledding!
The morning sun made Lake Bohinj look like a Winter Wonderland!
Many of the trees near the lake had turned into frosty skeletons
Heading up the gondola at Vogel!
The glorious Julian Alps from atop Vogel
Mt. Vogel sledding
A great day to sled!
Panoramic restaurant – the view across Lake Bohinj and the Julian Alps
What a view from atop Vogel!
Breath taking panoramic view over Lake Bohinj!
The road around Lake Bohinj was magical!
The Christmas lights around Lake Bled
Kransjka Gora – the beautiful alps of northern Slovenia!
A delicious dinner at Sova, an OWL themed restaurant in Lake Bled!
Great job, Willow!
Skating around the little ice rink in Lake Bled
Nothing beats a REAL hot chocolate! Thanks, everywhere in Europe…
Our cozy abode…gotta love the father son picky picky!

Sled & Ski Stuhleck, Austria

Mid January was our first time skiing since the kids learned last March. This time it wasn’t our cozy little mountain in Maine – it was at Stuhleck ski resort in the Austrian Alps! Its located about 2 hours from us in Hungary. It was piled high with snow on this frigid weekend, and it ended up being quite the learning experience about “the way things are done” here in Europe. The kids were so excited and got right back into ski-mode quickly! It was so much fun to watch them grow in their ski-skills and feel so much pride in their progress. This goes mostly for Beau and Didi who got lots of good runs in – both with instructors at first, and then Beau was able to go off on his own and with friends we traveled to Stuhleck with.

Derek and I weren’t able to ski after all because, as we learned quickly, the ski school wasn’t quite what we had hoped and envisioned. Basically, we couldn’t leave Willow alone with the group because it wasn’t a very well organized ski school for the wee ones. Because we had already paid the big bucks to have them in ski school for the day, we just stayed there with them to watch and support Willow who was frustrated she couldn’t just bomb down the hill and had to learn how to stop first (which hasn’t quite happened yet – she got too discouraged and gave up!). We realized ts really not worth doing the ski school for our particular family when we can all just basically go skiing on the mountain together. Willow does just fine hanging onto my poles, and if we had known this ski school didn’t have a little people mover for the little kids we would’ve just gone ahead and ski as a family.

Quality snow play!
In a frosty winter wonderland!
Excellent sledding at nearby Semmering, Austria
This sled race ended in loads of laughter!

We also learned that weekends are THE WORST time to go skiing, especially if you arrive any time between 8-11 in the morning. Many of the slopes we have seen have limited and errant parking options, lines with astronomical wait times (for tickets, bathrooms, food, ski rentals, etc) and are generally a logistical frustration. We decided we’d prefer looking for smaller, more accessible ski mountains we can all enjoy without wasting hours just getting from our car to the first runs. Lesson learned! We took note of several smaller hills around with beautiful powder runs and only one or two lifts that looked like just our pace. Ultimately, we were able to ski AND sled on this little trip, so of course the kids were thrilled! It was a lot of fun and, in spite of our unpleasant surprise about Stuhleck in general, we had a great time together and with our friends Pete and Ashley!

We have another ski trip planned for school break in February, so it will be interesting to see how the German alps stack up to these mountains nearby in Austria! We’re excited to give it a try!

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