********This year, we (sadly) opted to stay in Europe for Christmas, rather than trying to fight crowds, long and spendy flights, long lines, jet lag and a short stay in the US with a 2 year old, only to turn around and do it all again to get home.
Instead, we chose to find a cozy resort in the Alps to keep us entertained over the holidays. After too many hours searching and planning, we selected the Sport Hotel Beck in Brand, Austria as our Christmas Destination.
It was a very easy, two hour drive south of Zurich. As we drove into Brand ( a teeny little mountain village) we were left wondering where they were keeping the snow. (It felt like that scene in White Christmas when Bing Crosby arrives at the hotel and there's 'No Snow.')
We got checked in and settled in to the hotel, and eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa Claus. The draw of the SportHotel Beck, is that it is a kid-friendly hotel. They have child-care all day, all kinds of activities for kids to do, coloring books, blocks, games, kid place mats, baby monitors, etc. You don't have to worry about your kids being kids, because the focus of the hotel is exactly that- let kids be kids and let the parents enjoy the vacation too. Coming down the stairs from our room into the lodge on Christmas Eve, we were greeted with Champagne, a roaring fire and the anticipation of Santa.
Seeing Santa emerge from his horse-drawn sleigh
He arrived in a horse drawn carriage, greeting all the excited kids! He gathered families around the Christmas tree, read a story (in German, naturally) and then sang a few traditional Christmas songs (all while the Christmas tree was ablaze with Sparklers!!)
As dinner began, he went around and greeted all the kids. As we expected, Ella was thrilled, until he actually came up to us, then she was ready for him to leave, but SO excited that she got to see Santa. She immediately fell in love with the little 'Yellow Horsey' that she got as a gift from Santa, and couldn't part with the horse, ALL WEEKEND!
(ok santa, time for you to leave now!)
Thrilled with her new horse
Dancing with daddy during the live Christmas music during dinner
Our little Christmas morning - Nana, these are for you! Take note of Ella's hair bows, she keeps adding new ones, and even has one on each of her elbows!
Much to our delight, it was a white Christmas after all. We spent the evening reveling in the snow fall, catching snowflakes with out tongues and making snow angels. Delightful!
This is what the rest of our vacation looked like- beautiful blue skies, mountains in every direction you turned, snow down the valley. Stunning.
On our way to spend the day (or so we thought) sledding.
This may be my favorite picture from the weekend
Looking down the hill at John and Ella on the sled
So, sledding didn't go exactly as we planned. Ella was up for two runs down the hill (one with mom and one with dad) Then decided that she was 'all done' sledding. Naturally, as life goes with a toddler, Ella was 'done sledding' until we actually returned the sled - then she cried in the store because she wanted to ride on the yellow sled. Classic.
So, we opted for to go for a gorgeous walk through the town.
And Ella opted for a nap.
And that night, John discovered that the hotel had a delicious Hefeweizen on tap, it was a good day for John :o)
The next day brought a whole new batch of adventures. The hotel had been advertising that you could 'take a walk with their ponies.' Ella was thrilled at the prospect of seeing the horses, so we reserved ourselves a walk with the pony. We envisioned walking up to the stable, meeting our pony, and having one of the folks at the stable walk us around for awhile.
On our way to the stable - gotta love wearing shades in the snow!
We arrived at the barn, Ella was adorned in a riding hat (they asked us if we brought our own.... haha!)
And GAVE us a pony and said, Enjoy! WHAT- You're giving us a pony! Aren't you coming with us? Where are we supposed to go? The gal said, "oh, just walk down by the river." Oh, right, of course, down by the river, why didn't we think of that.... And so that's what we did. John 'confidently' took the reins, and led our pony, Blue Eyes, down the path along the river. All we could do was laugh throughout the whole walk, we couldn't believe that we were walking a pony by ourselves - these crazy Austrians! Ella is still telling us that she got to say, "Whoa Blue Eyes!"
On our last day in Brand, I wanted to go up the ski lifts to see the other side of the Alps, despite the fact that we don't ski. John humored me, and we headed up the mountain. (Earlier in the trip we had tried to go hiking on the mountain trails- they were closed, we had tried to go sledding on the top of the mountain- that was closed, we had tried to go snowshoeing- that too, was closed.) So I was left still wanting to go up the mountain to see the sights, and we had nothing to do but sit and enjoy some hot chocolate while we watched the skiers enjoy the ski slopes that were opened.
I will say, while we had a delightful family vacation and did our very best to make it feel like Christmas, we are very excited for the upcoming Christmas in the US when we can start forming our own family traditions with Ella. Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with your families and are looking forward to a fantastic 2010.