A Lovely European Holiday

Although my last post was written in Vienna, I didn’t actually write anything about our winter travel this year. So buckle down for another long post… πŸ™‚

School got out unusually early this year, I think for a few reasons. One is that Chinese New Year is very early this year (Jan 28) and Christmas and New Years both fell on a Sunday, which throw off the schedules a bit. Our holiday started on December 10, and we were up early and heading to the new ferry station to catch our ferry to the airport. Our flight wasn’t until noon, but being the nervous traveler that I am, we got to the airport around 9:45am. It was smooth sailing from there. The flight was nonstop from HK to Vienna, but it was practically empty! That never happens anymore! We spread out and Donnie and Paul had room to lay down and sleep, which made the 12 hour flight seem less cumbersome. We arrived in Vienna on the same day, just after sunset and traveled to our hotel. After showers and a quick trip to the lounge for some snacks, we were all happy to get to sleep on that Saturday night.


Unfortunately, like all trips in the past, we were up around 4-5am each day we were in Vienna. This didn’t end up being so bad because it gave Donnie and I time to work out before an amazing buffet breakfast. Our first day, I was excited to get out and see the city. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew they had killer Christmas markets and a really beautiful downtown area. With no particular agenda, we bundled up and braved the frigid wind and set out for an adventure.

Our first stop was the Christmas market by the city hall. It was cute! Lots of neat crafts, food and of course gluhwein. After a stroll through there, we navigated a really beautiful walk through some of the downtown to reach St. Stephan’s Church. There is a really famous restaurant near there, known for it’s incredible schnitzel, so we found it, but the line was out the door so we ventured to find a craft beer place with ‘American’ food. It was delicious, both the beer and the food, and by then we were feeling the jetlag effects and decided to head back to our hotel for the evening.

The next day we took a day to relax in the hotel, much needed and totally worth it. But Tuesday of that week was our last full day to explore Vienna, so I got the boys up and out early-ish to see the Schonbrunn Palace. It was a crystal clear day, cold, but it was ok. We bought tickets and waited our turn to go through the tour. Paul actually did really well! He listened to the audio tour through each of the rooms and it wasn’t until the last room (28th room!) that he had finally had enough. The Hale family tolerance for museums/tourist places are about the same, so we all were happy to head outside to the mini Christmas market for some hot chocolate and food. (No pics from inside the palace because it wasn’t allowed).

We grabbed another meal from 1516 Brewery, then ended our epic tourist day at the Riesenrad, one of the oldest ferris wheels in existence. We scooted in right before a school group, and just in time to see the sun set over Vienna. It was a sight to behold. We wrapped up the adventure with a pony ride for Paul, his first time on a horse! He loved it. πŸ˜‰ We got back to the hotel tired and ready for some happy hour and food.

The next day was like Christmas morning for me! We were headed to see our friends the Sanders in Hungary. We got up, ate another incredible breakfast, and while Donnie went to go rent the car, I packed up all of our stuff. Soon enough we were on the road (with a pit stop at an amazing beer store to pick up some beer to share with the Sanders). We made pretty good time, they live about 160km from Vienna, but the last 40km are on a country two-laned road. The drive was clear and easy and we arrived just as their school was ending, and a staff meeting was starting.

I can’t accurately describe how wonderful it was to see our friends again, especially Jess. It’s been hard to stay in touch these past months because of the time difference and work load, but walking into her classroom that day felt so familiar and so comforting. Reunited, finally!

We waited out their meeting as long as we could on the playground, and after meeting a few staff members, we headed back to their place. They live very close to their school, so in no time we were settling in to their guest room and giving hugs to their cute kiddos. Paul was ready for some playtime, so the three kids dug in and fell in like old times. We were going to go out for dinner, but decided to go get take out instead and enjoyed some of the beers we’d brought from Vienna. I don’t have any pics from that first day in Papa because I wanted to be in the moment with my loved ones. My heart was so happy to be there, I didn’t feel the need to capture it and share it. It was all mine. πŸ™‚

The next day the Sanders had to go off to school (our breaks were off a week), and we hung out until they were finished. I took a run up to the city center, and back, then did some laundry. Their town is small, but has all the essentials. It’s not a tiny village, but definitely couldn’t be defined as a city. I liked the small feel of it, but I know it could get a little frustrating to be 40 min from anywhere larger if you wanted that.

When they arrived home from school, we set the kids up with dinner and a babysitter, then headed out to a restaurant nearby. It was another wonderful evening, eating and being with friends. They are really happy in their new place, and I am happy for them too.

The next day was Friday, and their last day of school before the winter holiday. Jess and Scarlett dressed up for their Christmas parties, and we got ready for the road trip to Munich that would happen as soon as school was out. The school day was quick, and in a flash of packing and loading of the cars we were on our way. We decided to do boys and girls cars, which was awesome, and we decided not to make the whole drive that day. We stopped about halfway, just outside of Linz at a roadside hotel. The girls were a little slower than the boys, so they helped us unload when we arrived about 30 min behind them. We all enjoyed a yummy meal of pizza and wine before some much needed sleep before the rest of the drive.

The next morning, the drive was easy and we were checking into our Airbnb by noon, and then off to explore Munich! We walked down the main walking street, taking in all of the crafts and food at the Christmas market. It was pretty crowded, since it was a Saturday afternoon. We had a really yummy and cozy meal at the Augustiner, and then half of us took the kids home while the other half went to do some grocery shopping since everything would be closed on Sunday. I was super sleepy, but Jess and I cuddled up to watch Love Actually. It was a perfect start to our Munich visit.

Sunday was a slow start, with everything closed, we didn’t feel the need to rush out and do anything. Luckily we found a movie theater playing the new Star Wars Rogue One movie in English, so we sent Donnie and JC off to buy tickets. Jess and I got the kids ready and we made the 30 min (should have been 15) walk to the theater. Since Scarlett was too small to take in Rogue One, she and Jess went to see Moana and then waited for us at a Chinese food restaurant afterwards. The movie was really, really good. We all enjoyed it and when we walked outside, it was snowing! πŸ™‚ Not very much, but enough to make the evening feel magical.

From there we walked over to the Hofbrauhaus for dinner. After searching for the perfect table, and trying to get our waiter’s attention, we finally settled in for food and beer. The kids played and entertained themselves while we chatted and sang along to the German drinking songs. It was a loud, festive night and we were all in good spirits on the walk back to the apartment.

Monday was a shopping day for Jess and I, so we left the kids in the care of the guys and headed out with long lists of what we needed. Since we got an early start, it wasn’t too crowded at first. We visited all of the stores we needed, refrained from shopping for ourselves, and treated ourselves to some currywurst at the Christmas market when we were almost done. I hadn’t done any of my shopping yet, so it was good to find everything (mostly) in one trip. When we got back that afternoon, Jess invited her friend Caro over to hangout and then go to dinner with us. She was really, really nice and Jess and Caro had a good time catching up over another delicious German meal at the Hacker-Pschorr near the Viktualenmarkt. (No pics from shopping days…)

The next day was the guy’s allotted shopping day, so they got up and headed out for their task. Jess and I had every intention of taking the kids to lunch, but Scarlett fell asleep so I had a cute date with Paul and Christopher eating Thai food at a place nearby. The guys were done by 3, and we trekked over to meet them at the Hofbraukeller. We frequented this place in the summer of 2014, and a few times since then. It’s really nice because there’s a play area with paid staff who watches the kids. Caro came to meet us again, but unfortunately Paul wasn’t feeling so hot, so Donnie and I went home and they had a nice evening with Caro.

All too soon it was our last full day in Munich. Donnie and I got up early (like 8am) and went out to finish our shopping together. After that, Donnie and JC took Scarlett out and Jess and I took Christopher and Paul ice skating that afternoon. We had to wait for the zamboni to finish clearing the ice, so we treated ourselves to some gluhwein and hot chocolate, then geared up and got on the ice. It was so funny! Paul couldn’t stand up very well, so he kept slipping. I was helping as best I could. Jess and Christopher seemed to be having a much easier time of it, so we switched for a while. I think we only skated for an hour, but we were frozen afterwards, so we got some wurst and then I took the boys home while Jess finished her shopping.

Jess’s friend Caro hooked us up with a babysitter for that night, so we all piled in a cab and went to a new craft beer pub nearby. To say it was fun would be an understatement. Our waiter was awesome and brought us some unlisted beers and we had another great night in each other’s company. Caro even came to join us for a little while.

The next morning we packed up, cleaned up and headed back to Papa. We decided to split cars by family this time since Donnie and I wanted to stop at the grocery store to pick up some German goodies to bring back to China. Unfortunately the drive was not as easy as the previous one. What should have been a 6 hour drive turned into a 10 hour drive when we got stuck in another horrific traffic jam. I think Donnie and I sat on the highway for 2 hours and only moved 5 kilometers. It was torture. Luckily, Paul was fast asleep. We finally made it back to the Sanders’ around 9:30pm. They had ordered pizza, so we ate and then fell asleep.

We still had a few days before Christmas, so on the 23rd, Jess and I took the kids to the indoor thermal pool in Papa while the guys went to the grocery store to stock up before they closed for the weekend. It was really fun. There was a treacherous slide that the kids had a blast going down again and again. We also ventured outside in the cold air to refresh ourselves after the warm baths. It was a lot of fun! After that, Jess and I went out and bought matching PJ’s, which we had been wanting the whole trip. JC spent the afternoon cooking an awesome spaghetti dinner, and we relaxed that evening, looking forward to the next few days of Christmas fun.

The next day, Christmas eve, was a pretty chill day. There were some errands to run, and Andie and Ben arrived from Vienna, but mostly we just hung out at home. I did some crafting with the kids early in the day, and they had fun making letters for Santa. JC was in the kitchen again for a Creole Christmas feast of Gumbo and fresh bread. Donnie even made us some eggnog (which I haven’t had in years!).The kitchen was warm and welcoming, the kids were bursting with excitement, overall a really perfect Christmas eve. Jess, Andie and I struggled to get the presents wrapped in peace (the kids were soooooo curious), but it was accomplished and we all went to bed fairly early in anticipation of Santa!

The kiddos were up before the sun (Jess said hers were up at 3!), but we managed to delay opening presents until the parents had some coffee and Andie and Ben arrived from their hotel a few doors down. We took turns opening presents, and appreciating the thought behind each gift given. It is sometimes hard to share Christmas with friends, to mesh traditions, but it felt like a family Christmas. Jess made us some really tasty pancakes for breakfast/brunch and following some clean-up she took Andie, Ben and I out to see the castle ruins nearby. It was cold, and grey so there were no other people, so we had the whole place to explore on our own. It was really beautiful. Then we went home to warm up and have some traditional Christmas curry, made by Donnie. πŸ™‚ It was a day filled with joy, and love and I couldn’t have asked for a better time. We missed our families, of course, but thanks to tech, we were able to facetime with mom, dad and Matt to share the day with them as well.

Suddenly it was our last full day with the Sanders. We took another trip to the thermal pool, and JC made us another yummy dinner. We also celebrated Paul’s birthday a day early so that we could have cake and a few presents with his friends. I brought a special cake mix from HK, and we had found an awesome Star Wars cake topper in Munich, so I made his cake with the help of the kids. We sang and open presents, and I think Paul liked being able to have a few more people at his party than usual. After the birthday celebration, we got the kids to bed and said goodnight to Andie and Ben, then had our own KTV party in the living room. It’s so amazing to have friends that complement us so perfectly, it’s so much fun just to hang out with them. There’s no pressure to please or do a bunch of activities, we simply enjoy each others’ company. I cherish it.

In the morning, we had to say goodbye to the Sanders. We had every intention of meeting them on the day before we left in Vienna, but that didn’t work out (silly sicknesses). It’s hard to say goodbye not knowing when the next time you’ll be together, but I know it won’t be too long. We all have too much fun together.

Too soon, it was time to go, we packed up the car with and departed Papa to head to a small town near Vienna called Baden bei Wein. The town is known for it’sΒ thermal pools as well, so we had every intention of taking advantage of them. Instead, we checked into our super swanky hotel, went for a quick walk and took naps :). After nap time, we sought out a special place for Paul’s official birthday dinner. We found it, and we had a great time celebrating again. He got a steak and a chocolate lava cake, and when we got back to the room we had a few more presents to make his day special. I had wanted to go to the snow for his birthday, but it had to be delayed a day because of the weather. Overall, I think he had a really good 6th birthday.

The following day had been assigned the official sledding day of the trip. So we got our warmest clothes on, met for breakfast at 7am and then departed to drive up the nearby mountains. It was about a 45 minute drive and we were literally in a snow storm. Our first stop at the ski lift where they should have had a tobogganing route was closed, so we drove down the road and found the perfect sledding hill. There was some ski schools in session, but the little shop nearby also rented sleds. So we went up and down that hill more times than I can count (I spent a good amount of time watching from inside because I was so cold). Once we had our fill, we drove back to Baden, warmed up with showers and naps, then went for another yummy Greek meal nearby. We were all really tired, but we tried to watch a Star Wars movie before we gave in to our sleepiness.

And that brings us to our last day in Vienna. It was actually really uneventful. We couldn’t decide what to do, so we had one last meal together at 1516 Brewery (again!) and then parted ways with Andie and Ben after an attempt to find ice cream. I love when my sister comes on my adventures, and it made my heart happy to get to spend Christmas with them again this year. We’ll see them soon though, so farewell wasn’t so hard this time.

We had a quiet night back at our hotel before catching our flight the next day. Our flight was not as easy coming home, but we made it, along with all the extra goodies we had packed home. We didn’t do anything special for new year’s eve because we were so sleepy from our travel.

Lots of other stuff has happened since we’ve been back, but that will have to wait! πŸ™‚ We’ve got our school party tonight, and I need to make some pizzas with Paul right now!

Hope everyone had a safe and delightful holiday and a very happy new year! Love to all. xoxoxo j






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