Every once in a while we stumble upon an unexpected adventure and Maquoketa Caves in Iowa is one of those places. Nestled between emerald green rolling hills that are dotted with grazing cattle and golden fields of grain, Mother Earth has twisted herself into a wondrous system of tunnels and cliffs. Oozing with adventure, the trails at Maquoketa Caves take you up and down, in and out and through some of nature’s most fun scenery.
If I had told Jake and Zac we were going hiking, they would have complained all the way there. They don’t like walking around for the sake of walking around, but they will walk for hours in search of something… So we don’t go hiking we go hunting for dinosaur bones, fairies, elves, gnomes, smurfs and anything else that strikes their imagination.
I wish I could claim this parenting hack as my own, but as anyone that has ever ventured out in nature knows – it’s simply filled with a sense of magic. The valleys and peaks of Maquoketa Caves seemingly captures this magic, and it took less than five minutes for Jake and Zac to spot a possible gnome village carved out of a fallen tree nearly lost in the tiny white flowers that covered the forest floor.
There is also a sense of danger that precariously balances on each tree and boulder dangling on the edge of every rocky outcropping. Some of the tunnels get very tight and you have to crawl to get through. Consequently, you will want to bring head lamps and a possible change of clothes if you plan to go that deep into the caves. We were not able to venture that deep into the caves because it was too rainy and wet when we were there, so we stuck to the larger caves.
Maquoketa Caves is filled with a sense of magic that kids will love! It’s also brimming with the adrenaline-inciting sense of danger that grown-kids adore!
We love to travel, but let’s be honest getting there sucks. What I’ve learned is that you have to leave your expectations at home. On those long-haul international flights that you expect a TV, ya won’t get one… but on that 1 1/2 hour flight, you will have a TV and charging station.
I also learned that having a child that was easily lulled to sleep by the simple start of jet engines, doesn’t mean they all are. There are kids (ZAC) that could be exhausted and almost asleep walking onto the plane only to kick into hyper-speed the moment those engines purr.
So what do I do… 1. Don’t EXPECT anything and 2. Bring everything that you can carry and not an ounce more!
Below is my carryon packing list:
At least one pair of headphones per person, then a backup.
Portable DVD player with a few movies.
Phone *I’ve been on flights that stream entertainment via free, but limited wifi so have the Gogo Entertainment App ready to use. Then be ready to hand your phone to your toddler the entire flight while you watch the Spongebob movie on the portable dvd player.
Snacks, obviously or so you’d think. Silly me assumed that we could just buy food at the airport until I had a showdown on the candy aisle with an angry two-year-old. Let me just tell you, one of us left crying and it wasn’t him. (Thank goodness for in-flight beverages).
A sense of humor. Don’t even bother packing your sanity, cause you’re going to loose it but if you can step back an laugh when the flight attendant suggest Benadryl next time – you’ll be fine.
With that said, I always try to be considerate of the others on the plane. I let Jake and Zac torture me, but I stop them from being loud, bouncing around and kicking the seats in front of them… Or at least I try (we can all have goals).
Getting there may not be the best but being there is.
Simply put… Scotland is magical. From Edinburgh to the Highlands, fairy tales do exist!
We began our trip in Edinburgh, where we explored Edinburgh Castle and the underground city (although only older kids are allowed). We opted for the Real Mary Kings Close tour, which is a little more kid-friendly and not as scary as some of the other tours. If you have brave or older kids there are some really scary and fun underground ghost tours.
We were in Edinburgh during the famous Fringe Festival, so there were shows for all ages and tons of street entertainers. It’s a fun, busy and exciting time of year for this amazing city.
From Edinburgh we drove about 30 minutes to Borthwick Castle. This 15th century castle is incredibly well-preserved and one of the coolest places that I’ve ever stayed at! Mary Queen of Scots was one of the castle’s most famous guests and you can still see the exterior damage that Cromwell’s cannon caused. There are tiny winding stairwells to get to your room, you can play croquet on the front lawn and eat in the grand hall… or in other words you can live like royalty. Just be warned, you may receive an uninvited guest in your room – we had doors that opened swung open on their own and door nobs that rattled. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, this was something we couldn’t explain. Never-the-less, I had the best night of sleep ever. (If you’re curious we stayed in the Mary Queen of Scots room ;).
The magic didn’t stop there. Scotland is full of amazing places:
Rosslyn Chapel was built in the 1400’s and is still a place of worship. The chapel is glorious. Its rose hue and unique craftsmanship is beautiful, but it is also filled with incredible stories so make sure you take a tour or take the time to hear these tales.
Walk in the steps of royalty:
Stirling Castle is a must-see. It shows you just what life was like for renaissance royalty and those that served them.
We also loved our Highland Safari. A Land Rover took us up into the Highlands where we hiked and enjoyed a picnic lunch and whiskey in the Hilltop Bothy.
At just 8 years old, Jake knows more about World War II than I do and that’s not from what he has learned in school. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for Jake’s school. He goes to public school and his teachers are incredible. They don’t treat him as a score on a standardized test, they teach him as an individual and play to his strengths. However, we do take him out of school, on occasion, to travel. His school has welcomed this and even encouraged him to give presentations once he returned. We are lucky to live in a wonderful school district that also believes that while learning most definitely takes place in school, there are plenty of ways to learn out of the classroom. For us, that’s traveling.
The three places that have really peaked Jake’s interest in history and in particular WWII are The Churchill War Rooms in London, The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial along with the Beaches at Normandy, and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.
Churchill’s War Rooms Museum and The Tower of London
Churchill’s War Rooms Museum is located in a secret bunker, hidden beneath the streets of Westminster. Through its thorough preservation, it transports you to this intense time in history and lets you see the war from Winston Churchill’s eyes. This unique museum has been frozen in time and tells stories that you don’t learn in school. You can see the tiny quarters that Churchill and his wife often slept in. You will also learn the stories of the staff including Churchill’s secretaries that spent thousands of hours working and sleeping underground.
If you’re spending a day in London, this is a very easy museum to build into your day. We spent about 3 hours here, following a tour of The Tower of London.
The Normandy Beaches and The American Cemetery and Memorial
There is not much that can prepare you for the somber veneration this memorial imparts, but with other stops along the way this can be a very moving, but balanced excursion. We took a day-trip to Normandy from Paris, which took a full day+. The drive is about three hours, but we stopped in other places along the way. To do this in a day from Paris, you really need to have a car.
First, we walked the Cliffs of Etretat, made famous by Monet. If you’re in the Normandy region, you really should make a point of stopping here. The cliffs are incredibly beautiful and there are many lovely hikes. This stop broke up a long day of driving for us. We also stopped in Deauville for lunch, then Honfleur for a little shopping. Both towns are beautiful and so rich in character.
From there we headed to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. It’s difficult to put into words just how it feels to be there. There is such great sadness and beauty in the seemingly unending rows of white memorials overlooking the beaches that once flowed red with the blood of those that now lie beneath those snow-colored monuments.
The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
This is one of our favorite, local, museums and we have been here several times. The Intrepid is a WWII aircraft carrier that fought in the war and survived 5 kamikaze attacks and 1 torpedo strike. The ship was also on active duty through the Cold War and the Vietnam War. While the Intrepid is about more than WWII, there is a large section devoted to this war. Jake likes to hear stories about his great-grandfather, a gunner in the Pacific Theater while walking through artifacts from that time.
The Intrepid also has an amazing collection of military planes and helicopters, which Jake and Zac love to see. And of course, Jake loves all the virtual reality rides!
We love road trips but do not like spending long hours in the car, that’s why this trip from Paris, France to Lucerne, Switzerland may just be PERFECT! We never spent more than two-hours in the car and saw some truly breathtaking scenery! Thanks to the expert planning of the Princess and Pauper Adventures.
We took a red eye flight from JFK to Paris and rented our car there. Rental cars at the Charles de Gaulle Airport are conveniently set up so if you tend to overpack, there are no shuttles to lug bags, kids and strollers onto. We also opted for navigation and wifi in our car, which came in VERY useful. We drove into Paris for breakfast, we toured the Paris Opera House and then headed to the lovely, walled town of Beaune in the heart of the Burgundy region. This was the longest drive of the trip at about 3 hours, but with a quick lunch stop it flew by.
In Beaune we had a traditional Burgundy dinner of escargot, Boeuf Bourguignon and creme brûlée, which Jake and Zac loved! On our way out of town the following day, we stopped by the famed Beaune town market and picked up some freshly made truffle salt (we even met the truffle dog), handmade soap and Dijon mustard from the nearby town of Dijon.
From Beaune, we headed to Lausanne, Switzerland. This drive took 2 1/2 hours and was easy. We made it to Lausanne by the early afternoon. We stayed at a beautiful hotel on Lake Geneva with the Alps in the distance, Angleterre & Residence Hotel.
The room included bus passes, so we hoped on a bus to the old town section of Lausanne. We took in some beautiful architecture, worked our way through winding, hilly cobblestone streets and shopped. Jake and Zac picked out an authentic Victorinox Swiss Army knife to bring home to dad. Then we had a traditional fondue dinner at Cafe du Grutli.
We only stayed in Lausanne for one night, then headed to Grindelwald stopping in Bern, Interlake and Lauterbrunnen along the way. The drive was full of breathtaking scenery and our first stop, Bern, was only an hour away from Lausanne. In Bern we walked around the Old Town, a UNESCO world heritage site, grabbed a coffee and snack then hopped back in the car. A quick, but stunning 45-minute drive brought us to Interlaken. Nestled between two alpine lakes and the gateway to the Jungfrau Mountain area, Interlaken is gorgeous. We stopped here for a traditional raclette lunch at the The Grand Cafe Restaurant, made a quick stop in Lauterbrunnen (a 20 minute drive) and finished in Grindelwald.
The first night in Grindelwald we stayed in the heart of town at the Hotel Belvedere, a family-run hotel at the base of the majestic Bernese Alps. We had dinner at Barry’s Restaurant, which was the perfect opportunity for Jake and Zac to learn about the incredible history of St. Bernard dogs. Barry’s was named after the most famous St. Bernard, Barry – credited with saving between 40 and 100 lives. The restaurant’s charming mountain decor and delicious food completed the experience.
View from the Belvedere
The next morning we headed out early to move to our next hotel, still in Grindelwald but on the mountain. The Berghaus Bort is not reachable by car so we had to take the gondola. 2 kids + 12 bags divided by 4 adults multiplied by a 6-person gondola that doesn’t stop = 1 stress-inducing, out-of-breath trek… but SO WORTH IT!
Located just off the first stop of the First Bahn Gondola, the Bort Station, The Berghaus Bort may be my favorite hotel ever! It’s simple, but full of Swiss Mountain charm and boasts some truly incredible views. We quickly checked in, threw on our ski clothes and took the gondola up to the top. We were able to rent high-quality skis and snowboards at the Intersport location at the First station, almost at the top of the Schwarzhorn Mountain.
While skiing and snowboarding are huge winter attractions for Grindelwald, it’s by no means the only option. In addition to traditional downhill trails, the entire Jungfrau region is brimming with winter hiking and snowshoeing trails and sledging (sledding) runs. The following morning, we headed back up to the same Intersport, but this time we rented sledges. Jake, Zac, Gigi, Aunt Gabrielle, Uncle Drew and me all agree that this is one of the most fun things we have ever done!
The next day, sadly, we checked out of the Berghaus Bort, but before we left Grindelwald we took the Jungfraujoch up to Europe’s highest train station – The Top of Europe. Here we walked through the Eispalast, the highest altitude ice palace and caves hewn from Europe’s longest glacier.
On the way down, we stopped for lunch at the Kleine Scheidegg train station and wondered into one of Travel & Leisure’s most remote hotels, Hotel Bellevue des Alpes.
With a slight headache and a bit of exhaustion, from the thin air at The Top of Europe, we drove an hour and 15 minutes to Lucerne, our last stop on the trip.
We stayed at the Palace Luzern Hotel, a beautiful property. Sitting on the banks of Lake Lucerne, the view is magnificent. The glassy lake is dotted with noble swans and framed by the grand peaks of alpine mountains. While in Lucerne, you won’t want to miss the Lucerne Lion Monument. I also recommend the 1-hour lake cruise tour on the Panorama Yacht. The well-preserved architecture throughout Lucerne is beautiful, so wear your walking shoes and cross the covered bridge.
Our week-long trip to Switzerland (and France) flew by and there is so much more that I want to explore there. Switzerland’s architecture, history, culture and natural beauty are inspiring.
In seeing such beauty, my natural reaction was to inhale. Yet when my lungs were completely full, my chest continued to expand, not with breath but with wonder, to the point I felt truly connected to all that was around me. It is in moments like this that I realize how small I really am, but what an important job we all have in protecting this wonderful world with its many beautiful cultures and rich histories. This for me, is my wanderlust.