Posted in Travel Adventures

Porcupine Mountains

Last year I turned forty years old. Unlike some, I didn’t dread the prospect. I saw it as an opportunity to celebrate all I’d accomplished and continue to forge ahead carving out the life I hoped to lead. I took a couple of ‘life list’ trips. Scott and I climbed the Acropolis and soaked up the sun in Santorini on a dream trip to Greece. We loaded our eight and six year old boys up in an RV and drove 2,000 miles round trip for a week long adventure in Yellowstone National Park. I started making healthier choices and took up running. I ran eight different 5K races, for a total of 40K in the five months leading up to my fortieth birthday. I also wanted to do something that made me feel empowered. I needed the chance to show myself that the insecurities and doubts of my 20s and 30s were gone. I could accomplish hard things. So I asked a close friend, Kate, to go off the grid for a few days and rough it in the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She said, yes.

Headed into Porcupine Mountain Wilderness

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park has over 90 miles of hiking trails covering more than 60,000 acres and is home to the famous Lake of the Clouds. We spent the better part of a year detailing our trip. What would we eat? How much was too much weight to carry in our 60L packs? Did we trust our fire starting skills? All good questions as we defined our two night adventure in a primitive cabin on Mirror Lake. The choice of primitive cabin meant we’d have reliable shelter and a source of heat, as there would be a wood burning stove. We would be without running water and electricity. The trip would take place in mid-October and weather conditions would be unpredictable. The cabin also offered a chance to “rough” it without being miserable.

On a Thursday afternoon, armed with a can of bear spray and little idea of how to use it, we stepped onto the Summit Peak Trail for a 4 mile trek to our cabin. We quickly learned that trekking along rough terrain with 30 pounds of supplies strapped to our backs is not easy. We hiked through gorgeous fall foliage and looming coniferous forest, on a slippery and mostly uphill trail. The wet weather and a fresh layer of snow, left the trail treacherous and every step needed to be negotiated. We laid eyes on our accommodations, Mirror Lake Cabin #4, in the mid afternoon. The hikers before us had left a good supply of fire wood so we took to figuring out how to filter more water for supper.

Feeling accomplished, we decided to explore the trails near Mirror Lake. It was a bright fall afternoon with temperatures in the mid-fifties. After a little exploring, we tried gathering more firewood (leave the place better than you found it) and made quesadillas for dinner. We planned to hike about 8 miles the following day to Lake of the Clouds and knew we needed to be rested. We enjoyed our first wilderness dinner, played some cards via headlamps and tried to make our cabin as toasty warm as possible before curling up in our sleeping bags. It was lights out on day one.

Neither Kate nor I are the type to sleep in, but somehow we managed to sleep until 8 o’clock on our first morning. We warmed our bellies and our spirits with oatmeal and tea. We loaded small daypacks with PB&Js, some nuts and fruit and full water bottles determined to reach Lake of the Clouds. The Lake was about 4 miles away from our cabin and we needed to traverse through the center of the Porcupine Wilderness to get there. We traipsed through a bog and up a tall peak before we realized we were about 2 miles off course and needed to back track. This was a low point in the trip. We sat on a rock atop Government Peak and lamented about how we’d just walked about 4 miles out of our way. Questions about how long it would take us to get back on track, how much daylight remained to make the entire journey and how difficult the trail would be all lingered in our minds. We picked up our pace and our attitudes and trudged on. We were determined to make it to our destination. Portions of the trail were hard to distinguish as we hopped from tree root to tree roost to avoid ankle deep mud, but we pushed on and finally arrived at Lake of the Clouds.

We still needed to go about a half mile straight up to get to the lookout. There was hesitation. Our legs were tired, it would be a difficult hike back to the cabin and there were rain drops and darkening skies to deal with. We persisted and it was worth it. We were rewarded with beautiful reds, oranges and yellows of the late fall season in the Porkies. That evening we cooked dinner, reflected on our accomplishments (and our blunders) and celebrated all of it with a canteen of Prickly Pear Vodka and lemonade.

The next morning we scarfed down a breakfast bar and a hot cup of tea and made the trip back to the trail head. Overnight, temperatures were low and we awoke to 1-2 inches of fresh snow. We heard the hollowing winds and patter of what we thought was rain throughout the night. The light of morning revealed that patter was of wet, heavy snowflakes. We were thankful for our wood stove and sturdy shelter. As we walked to the vehicle our conversation focused on the giant cheeseburgers we planned to eat and the running water we planned to wash our faces in once we reached the nearest restaurant.

The Porkies are beautiful, but this trip was beautiful in other ways as well. Kate and I strengthened our friendship through experiences that pushed our patience, our tolerance and our determination. Our trip was a celebration of our fortieth birthdays, but it also taught us about self reliance and when to lean into trusted friends for support. We also learned that those giant cheeseburgers we were dreaming about tasted better than we could have imagined.

Posted in Travel Adventures

Honeymoon in NYC

When you think honeymoon, you most likely think of white, sandy beaches and warm ocean breezes. Not us. When planning our honeymoon we were looking to fill our days with museums, history, architecture, great food and nightlife. Destination: New York City. The day after we said ‘I do” we boarded a plane for the Big Apple touching down for what was one of our most memorable adventures.

The Details

We spent 5 nights in the bustling city, resting our heads at the Washington Jefferson Hotel in the Theater District. It was a great location and reasonably priced. Here’s how we tackled the sights of this sprawling city.

  • Day 1
    • We’d taken an early morning flight and arrived at our hotel around Noon. Our itinerary had just two items on it; walk the Brooklyn Bridge and enjoy dinner in Little Italy.
    • Brooklyn Bridge
      • The bridge spans the East River and connects Manhattan with the borough of Brooklyn. The spiderweb of suspension cables is spell binding and beautiful.
    • Little Italy
      • We ate dinner at Il Palazzo. A great, old school Italian restaurant with a cozy atmosphere and a long wine list. Sadly, Il Palazzo is now permanently closed.
  • Day 2
    • Empire State Building
      • The Empire State building is the 4th tallest in NYC, at 1,050. We bought our tickets for the 86th floor observatory to take in great panoramic views of the city.
    • Fifth Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral
      • We strolled along the famous avenue to window shop at Saks, FAO Schwartz and Bergdorf Goodman before poking our heads into St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
    • Lunch Break: street vendor hot dog and pretzel
    • Grand Central Station
      • It’s estimated 50,000 people stream through Grand Central Station everyday. We came not to board a train but to be awed by the main concourse, flooded with natural light and beauty.
    • Chrysler Building
      • This art deco style building pays tribute to the automobile with it’s hub cap like steel upper third.
    • Flatiron Building
      • This triangular building has been intriguing visitors since 1902 and it caught our fascination as well. It quickly became my favorite building in the city.
    • NYC Pizza and the Comedy Cellar
      • We ate and laughed until our stomachs hurt at Lombardi Pizza and the Comedy Cellar Club. Lombardi’s is credited with dishing up the very first New York style pizza. The Comedy Cellar Club boosts great stand up comedians like Colin Quinn and Jerry Seinfeld.
  • Day 3
    • Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
      • At the time of our trip the crown to the statue was not open. I did visit the crown with friends a few years later and I highly recommend it. Advanced reservations are a must.
      • We took the ferry to Liberty Island and toured the pedestal and grounds then ferried onto Ellis Island to tour the National Museum of Immigration.
      • These two stops took 3-4 hours.
    • New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street
      • We walked by these sites and the famous charging bull at 11 Wall Street on our way to grab a New York slice of pizza for lunch.
  • World Trade Center Site
    • Just 5 years post 9/11, the site was filled with heavy machinery and equipment. Having never seen the site prior to the attacks, I was taken back by the enormity of it all. We will need to return now that the 9/11 Memorial has been completed.
  • Wicked at the Gershwin Theater
    • We “never knew so much happened before Dorothy dropped in.” Wicked was our first Broadway Theater performance and it was thrilling. A definite must see.
  • Hourglass Tavern
    • After the show we went to the Hourglass Tavern in the Theater District. The tavern is located in an old brownstone building, making the ambience equally as good as the food.
  • Day 4
    • Central Park
      • We rode the carousel, saw Strawberry Fields, took a horse drawn carriage ride, people watched at the Bethesda Fountain and rowed a boat in Central Park Lake.
      • All of it was very honeymoonish and my favorite memories of our time in NYC.
    • Metropolitan Museum of Art
      • Housing some of the finest art pieces in the world, means the Met is huge. We chose to spend our time exploring just two of the collections that peeked our interest.
    • Osteria del Circo
      • With restaurants in New York City, Dallas and Dubai, diners at Circo are transported to a European style carnival tent atmosphere and upscale Italian eats. If you go, order the salt encrusted sea bass. We loved it and so do Regis Philbin, who was dining just two tables away.
  • Day 5
    • Rockefeller Center and NBC Studios
      • We spent our last day in the city strolling through Rockefeller Center and taking the NBC Studios Tour. The tour take us on the set of Saturday Night Live and Dateline. We also got a chance to use a green screen and deliver the nightly weather report.
    • Times Square
      • We spent out last evening on Times Square where we ate dinner and soaked in the neon lights.

Our honeymoon in the heart of NYC was one of our first trips together and to date, still one of the best. A couple important and interested sights have opened since we visited in 2006. The next time we wake up in the city that never sleeps, we’ll be sure to include stops at the 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center, a stroll along the High Line and a sunset at the Top of the Rock.

Posted in Travel Adventures

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Tahquamenon Falls, Upper Peninsula Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

About a week ago, my long-time friend Kate and I strapped on our daypacks and ventured to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to explore Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Tahquamenon Falls. We’d spent little time mapping out where exactly our hiking boots would take us. We simply showed up at the Lakeshore’s Munising Falls Visitors Center armed with a sense of adventure and open to the ranger’s hiking suggestions. Our ranger conversation led us to the Beaver Basin section of the Lakeshore. We planned to hike the 9 mile loop around the Beaver Lakes and then onto the shores of Lake Superior. Our we weren’t too exhausted we thought we’d hike another 8 miles out to Spray Falls.

Munising Falls is easily accessed via an 800 foot paved trail. The path to the falls follows Munising Creek, before the sandstone cliffs enveloping the river open to a cavern-like area and the 50 foot falls.

The Beaver Basin area of Pictured Rocks is less popular than other parts of the park, which offered us moments of solitude. There were moments the only sounds we heard were our boots on the trail. The 9 mile trek on the North Country Trail took us passed Little Beaver Lake, through dense forest and to what was supposed to be an active beaver colony. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any beavers. Not a single one. We did log quite a few miles, bathed in the forest air, and were awed by the beauty and peace that can be found when swallowed by Mother Nature.

With sore feet and rumbling bellies, we made our way to the shore of Lake Superior and were blown away by the vast, blue water that lapped at the colorful rocks and the surprisingly sandy beaches. It was a treat to be the only two people, sitting on the shore enjoying the sunshine and our sandwiches.

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

At this point, our day was just half over and we dared to log another 8 miles round trip to see Spray Falls. The lakeshore trail to spray falls is rougher and has more elevation changes than the trails at Beaver Basin. Sadly, we were a little underwhelmed by Spray Falls. however, it was a unique hiking experience and the only time I’ve seen a waterfall plunging more than 70 feet directly into Lake Superior. After viewing the falls, we trudged our way back to the trailhead exhausted but smiling. The next day we were headed to Tahquamenon Falls.

The Coves Area of the trail was a highlight, with dramatic peeks of the sandstone outcroppings and brilliant waters. Lurking just beneath spray falls is the superior shipwreck of 1865.
Tahquamenon falls

Our last day in the Upper Peninsula (UP) was consumed by a 4 hour hike from the Lower to Upper Falls of Tahquamenon State Park. The Lower Falls consists of a series of five falls that cascade around an island. We meandered around the Lower Falls in the crisp morning air before stepping foot onto the River Trail.

The River Trail from the Lower to Upper Falls is about 4.8 miles one-way and follows the banks of the Tahquamenon River before it reaches the 200 foot wide Upper Falls. We’d hiked about 17 miles the day before Tahquamenon, so we were sluggish. Our motivation was the restaurant and brewery at the Upper Falls and it proved worth the hike. The brewery’s signature forest berry pie and a blueberry ale put a bit of pep in our step as we journeyed back to the Lower Falls area where our time in the Michigan would come to an end.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Tahquamenon Falls were a joy. We covered many miles and often speechless at the phenomenal beauty of our surroundings. The trip left our spirits renewed, our friendship strengthened and we did it all in some super stylish t-shirts designed by Kate. She’s a talented designer, who’s made my hiking wardrobe better with this adorable shirt. You can purchase yours here. They are sure to make your next outdoor adventure all the better.

Posted in Travel Adventures

What to do in the Windy City; Chicago with Kids

Chicago is a city that doesn’t disappoint. Museums, sporting events, parks, theater and nightlife all make Chicago appealing. It’s the third largest city in the United States, yet it’s easy to navigate and most sights and attractions can be covered in three to four full days. With a seven and almost five-year-old in tow, our family set out to see, hear, touch and taste what the city has to offer. Here are a few of our favorite experiences in the Windy City.

Millennium Park
The Bean

Millennium Park is the Loop District’s gathering place. Ideal for people watching, picnicking or interacting with the art structures. Cloud Gate or “The Bean” as it’s known to locals, offers unique reflections of visitors and the city’s skyline. The Crown Fountain thrills as waders anticipate when the fountain’s faces will spew next. The interactive art was fun for the kids. They liked making goofy faces in The Bean and kicking water in the Crown Fountain. Bonus: it’s FREE

navy pier

Chicago has a special connection to Ferris wheels. It’s that connection and the Pier’s adventure park that brought us to Navy Pier. The Pier’s Centennial Wheel pays homage to the city’s special place in Ferris wheel history. The very first Ferris wheel was unveiled in the city at the 1893 World’s Fair. It’s fully enclosed cars allow riders tummy tickling views of the city and Lake Michigan. The Pier also has a few restaurants and fast food options, so we let the boys choose where we ate. Allowing them to choose, even if it was McDonald’s, kept them happy and gave us leverage for when it came time to choose a restaurant for dinner.

ohio Street beach

Just a few blocks from Navy Pier is Ohio Street beach. Smashed against the bustling city, it offers an escape from the chaos. Beach amenities include lifeguards, lockers and a cafe. With the iconic Hancock Building as a backdrop, we hiked up our shorts and leaped in at Ohio Street beach. Our beach stop allowed the boys to play in the water while we plopped ourselves in the sand with a beverage.

River Cruise

Chicago is known for its architecture so we carved out time in the itinerary for a boat tour. Cruises from various providers leave so frequently that we didn’t need advanced tickets. I enjoy guided tours as you typically hear personal stories from a local guide as well as learn a bit of history. The bonus of a boat tour is that your feet get a rest and there’s beverages and snacks available on board. For the boys, the narration was not as entertaining. They did however enjoy being on the water, passing under bridges and trying to locate the unique features of various buildings.

SkyDeck at willis tower

Skydeck and the Ledge at Willis Tower provide edge of your seat vistas of the lake, the city and on a clear day good chunks four states; Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. Though lines for the tower can be long (go early and purchase advance tickets online) we entertained ourselves with the interactive displays while waiting. Once on the 103rd floor, we inched our way onto the Ledge. We were all a bit uneasy walking out onto less than 2 inches of glass suspended 1,353 feet above Wacker Drive. On shaky knees and with nervous laughter, we crept out and were able to snap these pictures. Memory made.

Eat Pizza
“Why is the sauce on top?”

You can’t come to Chicago and not eat pizza. The city has enough pizzerias serving up saucy Chicago style deep dish that you might be able to eat at a different one every night. Pizzeria Uno, Gino’s East, Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s are among the most popular, with lines outside their restaurants and hour long waits (just for seating). We chose Gino’s because it was close to our hotel. I appreciated that they had us place our pizza order while we were waiting to be seated (since cooking a deep dish pizza also takes about an hour). Turns out, you can come to Chicago and not eat pizza. We discovered our boys are not fans of Chicago style za. Chicken strips for the win.

stroll michigan avenue

Known for its high end shopping and dining experiences, the Magnificent Mile along Michigan Avenue is a destination. Even though our boys are not shop till you drop fellas, they did enjoy the ambience and the sights on the Mile, plus we bribed them with popcorn and a stop at the candy store. On our boat tour we’d heard about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 so Paxton was excited to see the Chicago Water Tower. The water tower was one of just a few structures to survive the devastating fire. Bridger had to hug practically all 100 fiberglass dog statues along the Mile. The statues are part of the K9s for Cops Police Memorial fundraiser. They adorn the Mile each summer between Memorial and Labor Day.

field museum

Little boys and dinosaurs go hand and hand so a stop at the Field Museum was a must. There are many great museums in Chicago; the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum , the Art Institute of Chicago, the Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium to name a few. We chose the Field because when we visited in 2017 the museum was hosting Jurassic World: the Exhibition. The Field has excellent displays on ancient Egypt, dioramas on wildlife and several dinosaur fossils. The Jurassic Exhibition was the boys’ favorite with 24 foot tall animatronic dinosaurs that brought the Jurassic period to life. It was so well done that Bridger actually believed we went to Isla Nublar and saw real dinosaurs.

take me out to the ballgame

Growing up in North Dakota and having no major league sports teams in his home state, Scott became a fan of the Chicago Cubs. He and several friends make an annual pilgrimage to Wrigley each year. When we decided to take our family to Chicago, a game at Wrigley went without saying. Even if you don’t cheer for the Cubs or you’re not a baseball fan, one can appreciate the history and spectacle of a 105- year-old ballpark. The area around Wrigley has recently undergone a revitalization, so there are new restaurants and bars in the area each year. We came to the field early to be sure to beat the dinner crowds and enjoy the atmosphere; a Cubs win was an added bonus.

twilight tour

Nightlife on a family vacation does not include rooftop drinks, so we opted to board a double-decker bus for a rolling tour of the city. The tour covered many of the sights we had seen over the passed day and a half days, but this time in their evening glow. We allowed Paxton to take his iPad on the tour and all the pictures above were taken by him. The boys were more entertained by the bus tour. Maybe the fact that they got to ride atop an open air double-decker bus had something to do with it, or maybe it was the story of the guy who tried to scale the Hancock Tower dressed as Spider-man. Either way, the twilight tour was a fun way to end our time in the Windy City.

Bonus

Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is touring the United States and has long standing productions in Chicago, London, New York, San Francisco and Australia. We didn’t go to see the performance while on our 2017 family vacation, but did take advantage of a work trip to see the show. When planning a trip, we typically browse through ticket selling websites to see if there are any concerts, performances or professional sporting events we want to see while we’re in town. We’ve been able to see artists and shows that maybe don’t make it to our part of the country. Seeing Hamilton was certainly a site in Chicago that left a lasting impression.

Posted in Travel Adventures

Iceland/Germany/Czech Republic

September 2016

Hill topped medieval castles, juicy curry wurst, and frothy bier halls. All images I presented to my husband as I was trying to convince him to book a trip to Germany to celebrate our tenth anniversary. Germany and more specifically, attending Oktoberfest, was on his life list but when I pitched the idea of adding side trips to Prague and Iceland, he was sold. He’s all about biggest bang for his buck. If I can add more passport stamps to the itinerary, it increases the odds he’ll agree to go. It was settled; we’d be packing our bags for 12 days in Germany and the Czech Republic with a very short stopover in Iceland.

Itinerary

  • Day 1
    • 7:30PM departure from Minneapolis; round trip to Munich on Iceland Air. We chose to stopover first in Reykjavik for a mere 18 hours.
    • The overnight flight was just 6 hours but meant we landed at 6:30AM local time in Reykjavik.
Iceland-Beautiful, Rugged and Intense

With just 18 hours in Iceland we rented a car and drove the Golden Circle to see Thingvellir, Strokkur Geysir and Gullfoss. We ended our short adventure with a drink and a soak at the Blue Lagoon.

  • Day 2
    • By 7:00am, as the sun was rising, we had retrieved our bags and rented a car to drive the Golden Circle.
    • Our Thrifty Car Rental associate gave us a good map of the drive we planned to take and off we went.
    • Strokkur Geysir was our first stop. The geysir spews 80-100(F) degree water about 50 feet into the air almost every 10 minutes.
  • Next stop; Gullfoss or the Golden Waterfall
    • Gullfoss is Iceland’s most famous waterfall. It’s hard to capture its size and its beauty in just one picture.
    • Our lunch stop was at the cafe at Gullfoss. We had lamb stew, Skyr (like greek yogurt, but not) and a local Icelandic brew.
  • After Gullfoss, we went to Thingvellir National Park. Here the Eurasion and North American tectonic plates meet. Thingvellir is also the site of the world’s oldest parliament.
  • 4:00pm reservation at the Blue Lagoon
    • After a long flight and a day of driving the Golden Circle, we ended our time in Iceland with a dip in the Blue Lagoon. We spent three hours floating, sipping drinks and pampering our skin with algae and silica mud masks.
    • Then it was back to the airport for a midnight flight to Munich.
willkommen in Deutschland

We spent our first day in Deutschland learning of the dreadful history of the Nazis’ first concentration camp at Dachau.

  • Day 3
    • With a 7:00am arrival in Munich we didn’t attempt to check into our hotel. Instead we took the train from the airport to Munich’s central station and rented lockers. For $5 euros per locker (we only needed one large one) we thought it a steal and a big time saver.
    • We rode the SBahn to Dachau and rented the museum’s audio guide for the self directed tour. The museum and travel to and from Dachau took about five hours.

The somber tour of the camp’s grounds including; the guard tower, barracks, crematorium and gas chamber left me feeling gutted. The museum’s displays and audio were very well done and were a good combination of facts and personal stories. We had a snack at the museum cafe and then rode the SBahn back to Munich to collect our bags and check in at our hotel.

  • Hotel Litty (2 nights)
    • Location over ammenities again on this hotel choice. Our room had a shower and sink, but the toilet was shared and just down the hall. Small sacrifice for free Wi-Fi, breakfast and proximity to the sights.
  • Dinner: We rested a little at the hotel before we went to dinner at Hofbrauhaus. Hofbrauhaus is the oldest beer hall in Munich and delivered in terms for rowdy drinkers who stood on tables jugging glass boots of beer while an oompah band played. The roasted chicken and grilled bratwurst were excellent too. It was here that I discovered radlers, half beer-half lemonade. Yum.

For this trip and really all our trips to Europe we have relied heavily on Rick Steves’ Guidebooks. Purchase one, you will not be sorry.

  • Day 4
    • Munich City Walk (from Rick Steves)
      • Marienplatz/New Town Hall/Glockenspiel
      • Old Town Hall
      • Stroll through Viktualienmarkt to St. Peter’s Church
        • climb the spire for great views of the city
Prost!

After our sightseeing in the Marienplatz area, we went back to the hotel to get ready for Oktoberfest. We rode the SBahn and arrived early. Tents fill and beer drinkers are turned away from popular tents by early evening. We began at the Spatenhaus tent. It had a pleasant, laid-back vibe and attracted an older crowd. We ordered ox tail with potato salad and drank our first Oktoberfest liter.

By 4:00pm we moved to the Hofbrauhaus tent. The music was louder, the crowd was younger and we had to elbow a few people to find a table. We ended up alongside our new friends, Snoopy and Markus. It wasn’t long and we were singing German anthems and toasting Prost! to anyone who made eye-contact while eating gigantic pretzels.

Bavaria

We had to drag ourselves out of bed today so we could get to Hertz Car Rental at the central train station and head to Rothenburg ob Tauber.

  • Day 5
    • It took 2 hours at 95 mph on the autobahn to travel from Munich to Rothenburg. We stopped along the way to eat lunch at a Burger King, good for Oktoberfest hangovers.
    • Hotel: Pension Elke (1 night)
      • The small hotel is above a grocery store and just one block from marktplatz. Great location, great price. Definitely recommend.
    • Our overnight in Rothenburg was just enough time to walk the old city wall, tour the Crime and Punishment Museum, satisfy our sweet tooth with a snowball at Striffler Bakeri and have dinner at Glocke Restaurant.

We ended our evening in Rothenburg with the very popular and very well done, Night Watchman’s Tour. Highlight of our time in Rothenburg.

  • Day 6
    • Neuschwanstein Castle
      • Advance reservations are a must. Our ticket pick up time was 11:55am.
    • I loved, loved, loved Neuschwanstein. People go to Rome to see the Colosseum, they go to Paris to climb the Eiffel Tower or London to see Big Ben. I wanted to come to Bavaria to see Neuschwanstein. It was breathtaking.
    • Only 15 of the planned 80 rooms were finished as King Ludwig II died before they could be completed. The young King lived at Neuschwanstein for a mere 150 days before his untimely death, but the tour does a nice job of depicting his life in the castle.
    • Before the tour we really enjoyed sipped cups of steaming glogg. One of my favorite memories of our time in Germany.

After our tour, we drove back to Munich. We were going to catch a train to Prague the next morning. In all my planning and prepping for this trip, I neglected to make hotel reservations for this segment of the trip. By the time I did start looking, prices were sky high and every hotel near the train station was booked. Not a room to be had, except at the hostels. That’s when I discover that during Oktoberfest, Jaeger’s Hostel, lifts their age restrictions. I was finally going to live out my fantasy of backpacking through Europe, I just wasn’t in my 20s anymore. We splurged and upgraded to the 40 person room with bunk beds.

The hostel was noisy and I found sharing just close quarters with stranger a little awkward. We dropped our bags and went to MarienPlatz for an excellent dinner at Augustiner Stammhaus Beer Garden.

Prague
  • Day 7
    • 9:00am Train to Prague-we left the hostel early; just brushed our teeth and went. We ate breakfast at the train station and planned to shower when we reached Prague.
      • It was a 5.5 hour train ride through some pretty countryside to Prague.
    • Hotel: Green Garland Pension (2 nights)
      • Green Garland is very close to Old Town and the Charles Bridge. It also has breakfast included.
    • Anniversary Dinner-Certovka
      • Certovka is right on the river overlooking the Charles Bridge. We walked from our hotel to the Little Quarter and the restaurant.
      • Scott had beef with carrot sauce and roasted potatoes and I had roasted beef in mushroom sauce with dumplings.
      • We celebrated with a bottle of Czech wine and cake. Czech cake is sort of like a honey flavored tiramisu.
      • We ended our evening with a stroll over the Charles Bridge to Old Town and the Astronomical Clock. We had a second dessert of strawberry ice cream and mulled wine from the rooftop terrace at the U Prince Hotel.
  • Day 8
    • Charles Bridge- climb the tower on the old town side
    • Old Town Walk (Rick Steves)
      • Astronomical Clock
      • Powder Tower
      • Havelska Market
      • St. James Church
      • Wenceslas Square
    • Lunch-U Medvidku Beer Hall where we ate schnitzel and goulash
    • Prague Castle
      • We took the tram to the castle and did a walking tour of the Old Palace, Basilica of St. George and St. Vitus Cathedral. We walked the Golden Lane back to the Little Quarter.
      • Early dinner in the Little Quarter at Lokal Restaurant. They specialize in fried cheese and boiled butter potatoes.
      • After dinner treat: Trdelnik (pronounced chimney). A trdelnik is a sugared pastry rolled into a cyclinder shape, sometimes filled with either whipped cream or ice cream. Yum!

Our last Czech experience before heading to Berlin was a beer spa. At Spa Beerland, we basically soaked in a beer hot tub. Tubes (as they are called at Spa Beerland) are filled with hot water, hops, and brewers yeast that guests soak in for 30 minutes. While soaking, you the access to your tube’s built in beer tap. Soaking in beer, the spa claims, reduces stress and tension, improves circulation and cleanses pores and has other medicinal properties. Not sure we can attest to any of that, but it was relaxing and a unique experience we haven’t done on any of our other travels.

Berlin
  • Day 9
    • 9:00am train to Berlin-4.5 hours
    • EastSeven Hostel (2 nights)
      • We cut corners on cost here as well. We had a separate, private room, but the bathroom was communal and shared among 4-5 rooms.
    • 6:15pm Reischstag Building-dome tour reservation.
      • I found the UBahn in Berlin confusing. So confusing, that we got a little lost our first time using it and basically had to run half way across the city to make our reservation at the Reischtag.
    • I like the symbolism behind the clear dome atop the Reischtag Building. The clear dome reminds lawmakers of their pledge to be transparent.
  • After the audio tour of the Reischtag, we went to Augustiner Gendarmenmarkt. It was a very cozy, traditional German restaurant where we had very tasty pork knuckle and pork chops.
  • Day 10
    • Our agenda today was to visit the Ghost UBahn Station at Nordbahnhof and the Berlin Wall Memorial.
      • Seeing the wall was a highlight of the trip for me. The film in the visitor center was great and really helped me visualize how the wall tore the city apart.

After a morning at the memorial, we had curry wurst at Bier KuDamm which as close to our next stop; the bombed out Kaiser Wilhelm Church. Curry wurst is sausage in a curry powder and ketchup sauce. Very tasty. You can’t tell from this picture, but I ate this one and then ordered another.

After seeing Kasier Wilhelm, we walked Unter den Linden and strolled through a couple chocolate shops. We passed by the Book Burning Memorial before we ended our walk at the Berliner Dom.

  • Dinner: at this point on our trip we were craving familiar food, so we opted for pizza. We found ourselves at I Due Forni which was a short walk from EastSeven Hostel in the Prenzlauer Berg area of Berlin. There comes a point when I’ve been away from home for a bit where I just want things to be easy and comfortable. Pizza to the rescue.
  • After dinner we took the UBahn back to the Brandenburg Gate area of town to get night pictures of the gate was well as the Reichstag Building.
  • Day 11
    • This was our last day in Berlin before we boarded an overnight train bound for Munich.
    • We walked through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie, the Topography of Terror and finally the Jewish Museum of Berlin. All were fascinating.
Memorial to the murdered jews of europe
checkpoint Charlie
Jewish Museum of Berlin

Next we were headed to the train station for a 7:50pm overnight train to Munich. We booked a private sleep car. It was pricey, but when you consider we were purchasing a train ticket and hotel stay in one, it was easier to swallow. For me, it was also worth it to arrive in Munich having slept a few hours before our transatlantic flight (I can’t sleep in planes).

  • Day 12
    • The entire day was devoted to the journey home. Our overnight train arrived in Munich at 8:00am and then we went to the airport to catch a flight to Reykjavik and then onto Minneapolis.
    • We had an amazing trip, but were so happy to be home with our boys.

Tips and Tricks

  • 18 hours in Iceland is not enough. Stay at least 24 hours if you can. Our stopover was SO short because we were trying to make the absolute most of our time away. We were relying on grandparents to care for our boys while we were gone. More time in Iceland, meant more time away for the kids and more stress for everyone.
  • Reservations are a must at the Blue Lagoon.
  • Dachau Concentration Camp will take about half a day, but SO worth it.
  • Use the official Oktoberfest App on your smart phone to learn out the atmosphere in each tent and monitor crowd sizes.
  • Get the gear! We ordered my dirndl dress and Scott’s lederhosen from German companies online months in advance. If you can’t order in advance, you’ll find vendors selling Oktoberfest garments all over the city this time of year.
  • Neuschwanstein Castle. Arrive plenty early. Take the bus to Mary’s Bridge and stop to take pictures before the walk to the top.
  • Hostel stays are for the young. It was an experience, but I don’t think I’d CHOOSE to do it again.
  • Do a beer spa. Pricey, but fun.
  • There is SO much to see and do in Berlin. You need at least 2 full days to do it.
  • Sleeper cars save time, but not necessarily money. Also, every tilt of the train while you are lying down feels like it’s about to derail. Yikes.
Posted in Travel Adventures

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park
july 2018

RV There Yet?

Last summer, we loaded up a 28 foot Class C RV we rented and drove about 3,000 miles west to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks for an 8 night trip in two of American’s most beautiful National Parks. We put on a lot of miles and equally as many smiles as we traversed landscapes and geology millions of years in the making. For this trip, I consulted with friends who had been to the parks before, poured over the park websites and used a guidebook. We made the journey in late July (a very busy time year) so we knew there would be no sleeping in as we tried to beat the hoards of guests as well as the heat at very popular attractions.

Itinerary

  • Day 1-Load up and move out
    • We picked up the rented RV at 2:00pm (the earliest available time) and brought it home to be loaded with clothes and gear. Then it was off to Walmart where we picked up the online grocery order we’d placed the day before. Then we hit the highway.
    • Our first day consisted on loading and packing and about 6 hours of driving to Abraham Lincoln State Park in west central North Dakota. Here we spent the night and were wheels up early the next morning. Wyoming or bust!
  • Day 2-Drive to Yellowstone National Park
    • We spent the entire day on the road.
    • We had planned to cover 630 miles in about 10 hours, but we made a couple stops for lunch in the RV and walked around the town of Bridger, MT. I mean, we have a son named Bridger, so we were obligated right? This meant we didn’t get to Yellowstone and checked into our campsite until about 8:00pm.
    • Bay Bridge Campground (3 nights)
      • We chose Bay Bridge because it is inside the park, could accommodate an RV our size and we could reserve in advance.
      • Camp site are close together here but the location can’t be beat. Since we were in the RV and gone most of the days, we didn’t mind.
  • Day 3-Yellowstone National Park
    • Old Faithful and Geyser Hill
    • We arrived around 7:20am. There were very few people and parking was a breeze. Old Faithful erupts about every 90 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Get there early!
    • After the eruption we explored Old Faithful Lodge and walked the 1.3 mile Geyser Hill loop to see other geysers including Castle and Grand Geyser.
    • Lunch: we made sandwiches in the RV at a pull out near Midway Geyser Basin.
  • Noon-while everyone was headed to the park restaurants for lunch, we snagged a parking spot at Grand Prismatic Spring.
  • Grand Prismatic Spring was spectacular and photos can’t capture it’s beauty.
  • Fountain Paint Pots-boys were delighted by the sulphur smell
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
    • Highlight: an elk had parked himself on the lower terrace of Mammoth
  • Dinner: we made tacos in the RV at the parking lot at Calcite Springs Overlook.
  • Back to Bay Bridge Campground for campfire and bedtime.
    • Pro tip: We brought a bean bag game, scooters and helmets and soccer balls so the boys could burn energy at the campground while we made supper or took care of other needs.
  • Day 4-Yellowstone
    • We started early again today at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We walked to Artist’s Point on the South Rim.
    • We had wanted to hike Uncle Tom’s Trail, but it was under construction so we improvised. We drove to the North Rim to hike Red Rock Point.
    • Then on to Canyon Village where the boys shopped for souvenirs.
    • Then to Mud Volcano to see Dragon’s Breathe and then Sulphur Cauldron.
    • Lunch: picnic area on the way to the Lamar Valley
    • Drive Lamar Valley
      • Trip highlight: before going back to campground we stopped near Pebble Creek where the boys splashed in the icy, rocky river.
  • Day 5-Grand Teton National Park
    • We pulled out of our Yellowstone campsite around 5:30am for the 1.5 hour drive to Grand Teton National Park.
      • Don’t tell anyone but we let the boys sleep while we drove and just enjoyed the sunrise and coffee together.
    • We wanted to get a camp spot of Signal Mountain Campground (2 nights) which is a first-come, first-serve site. We had to circle the campground a couple times, but scored a spot around 7:30am.
  • Once settled in our spot, we got ready for the day and headed to Colter Bay for a short hike. This picture was taken about 10 minutes before we encountered a mama bear and her two cubs. No photos of that thrilling experience.
  • Lunch: On our way into Jackson, WY we stopped at a pullout overlooking Mt. Moran to make a quick lunch in the RV before we went to Jackson Village to ride the Aerial Tram to Rendezvous Peak; elevation 10,540 feet. We didn’t do it, but the waffles at Corbet’s Cabin at the top look good. Boys wanted a cookie instead.
  • Dinner: Jackson at Caldera Pizzeria. A nice break from cooking in the RV every night.
  • Ended the evening at the nightly old west show on Jackson Square.
  • Day-6
    • We were up early again today to get to the Taggert Lake trailhead. The views were amazing!
    • Our boys are young, just 5 and 8 years old so we need to choose hikes that are easy enough and not too long. Taggert checked all the boxes. They wore their National Park Ranger vests with the batches they’ve located from the various parks we’ve visited.
      • Pro tip: let the littles lead and go at their pace. Find them a hiking stick from a fallen branch. Our youngest will often pretend there are dragons on the trail and he will run ahead and slay them for us.

Of all the paths you take in life, I hope a few of them are dirt.

John Muir
  • After our hike we drove Lake Jenny Scenic Drive, Antelope Flats, Signal Mountain, Schwabcher’s Landing and Mormon Row.
  • Dinner: we grilled burgers and hotdogs at Oxbow Bend and watched the sunset over Willow Flats.
  • Day 7-Devils Tower National Monument
    • We hit the road about 5:30am for the 8 hour drive across the state of Wyoming to Devils Tower National Monument. We arrived at the park around 3pm.
    • Walk Tower Trail around the monument. Let kiddos climb rocks and count prayer cloths tied to trees near the monument.
  • Day 8 and Day 9
    • We drove the rest of the way home to Minnesota on day 8 and unloaded and cleaned the RV. It needed to be fully cleaned and ready to be returned to the RV rental company by 10am on day 9.

Tips and Tricks

  • RV travel is great. Kiddos were able to play games and do activities. We didn’t need to stop at restaurants for lunch or snacks. I made lunch while we were moving. Same with bathroom stops, there’s no need with an RV.
  • Pro tip: There is very limited cell/data service in the national parks. Bring an atlas or map.
  • Camp at Devils Tower National Monument-if possible. It’s an awesome campground with a spectacular view and amazing ranger led night program.

Posted in Travel Adventures

Athens/Santorini/Mykonos

On the balcony of our tiny apartment in Oia, Santorini
June 2018

White washed, blue- domed buildings dangling above the Aegean Sea; twisty, narrow streets with bougainvillea clinging from buildings and ancient ruins keeping watch over the city; Athens and the Cyclades are all these things and more.

We logged time in both Athens and the islands of Santorini and Mykonos into nine days of bustling and busy as well as laid back and sun soaked. Here’s how we did it.

For all our travels, I make extensive itineraries with confirmation numbers, addresses/phone numbers and details referencing page numbers in the guidebooks I have poured over for months leading up to the trip. I find the itinerary making and planning part of the trip really exciting! For this trip and really all our trips to Europe we have relied heavily on Rick Steve’s Guidebooks. Purchase one, you will not be sorry.

Itinerary

  • Day 1-Departure
    • 10:45am flight to Athens with a layover in Toronto via Air Canada
    • Arrive in Athens on Day 2 about 9:30am
      • Purchase $8pp metro ticket. Take Blue line Metro to Monastiraki stop. Make sure to validate ticket before entering Metro.
  • Day 2- Ancient Athens
    • 2 nights at Tempi Hotel-Aiolou 6 near Agia Irini Square
    • Lunch: Souvlaki Row; Thanasis-page 174
    • Agora-commercial, political and social center of ancient Athens
Temple of Hephaistos; great views of Acropolis Hill from here
  • Acropolis Hill
    • $20 euro pp-entry to Agora, Roman, Forum, Parthenon, Temple of Zeus-valid for 4 days; see page 92
  • Acropolis Loop-page 48
    • Dionvsiou Areopagitou and Apostolou Pavlou
  • Dinner-at Arcadia (full disclosure: we went back to the hotel for a 2 hour nap before dinner).
    • Scott had the Mousaka-sort of like Greek lasagna and I had lamb chops. We also tried a small glass of ouzo. Ouzo is a traditional Greek drink with a black licorice flavor. We thought is was terrible, but I guess we can say we tried it.
  • Day 3- Modern Athens
    • Breakfast-pancakes with fruit and honey at Melilotos; steps from Tempi Hotel
    • Athens City Walk-page 68
      • Syntagma Square, Parliament Building, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Evzone Guards and Ermou Street
  • Greek Orthodox Athens
  • Old Town Athens
    • Arch of Hadrian and Temple of Zeus
  • Acropolis Museum-plan at least 2 hours here
    • $5 euros per person
  • Another full disclosure-we stopped at a street side vendor for a koulouri ring and a couple beers which we ate in a square near our hotel. Then we took another 2 hour nap.
  • Dinner-33 Adrianou
    • This time I had the Mousaka and Scott had orange chicken
  • Day 4-Santorini
    • 7:15am flight to Oia, Santorini
      • Thea Studios (2 nights)
    • Take bus from Oia to Fira-purchase ticket on the bus
    • Walk trail along Caldera back to Oia-11 km
      • Took us about 3 hours to walk with many stops for pictures like the ones below.
  • Back in Oia-walk to Ammoudi Bay
    • We rested a bit after the Caldera Walk before venturing down 250 steps to Ammoudi Bay.
    • We were rewarded with tasty drinks and some of the best seafood, including grilled octopus and shrimp saganaki at Fish Taverna.
  • Dinner-our later day Ammoudi Bay meal meant we weren’t really hungry for a big dinner so we bought a bottle of wine, cheese and crackers and just enjoyed the sunset and balcony at Thea Studios.
Our wheels for a full day of exploring Santorini
  • Day 5 – Santorini
    • Rent a “buggy” in Oia
      • First stop; Fira where we got a iced coffee and some breakfast before we explored the city and then walked down to the Old Port (alongside several dozen donkeys).
      • At the Old Port we grabbed a drink and a snack and then rode the cable car back to the top.
  • Continue “buggy” tour to Akotiri, the red sand beach. Dip a toe in the Aegean.
  • Next stop; Perissa and the black sand beach then back to Oia.
  • Dinner: King Neptune. Markos (from Thea Studios) had reserved a table with a sunset view for us here. We ordered the lobster spaghetti for two.
  • Ended the night with gelato at Lolita’s.
  • Day 6-Mykonos
    • Markos (from Thea Studios) arranged a ride for us to the port in Fira where we boarded a ferry to Mykonos. We arrived plenty early so we had omelettes at one of the cafes near the ferry dock. We had purchased our ferry tickets the day before in Fira when we were on our buggy tour.
    • After a 3 hour ferry ride we arrived in Mykonos town and snaked the windy streets to find the Carbonaki Hotel.
      • Carbonaki Hotel-Panachrantou 23 (2 nights)
    • Explore Old Town and windmills
      • We had appetizers and drinks at Sunset Cafe and then got a to-go drink to belly up to the sea wall to watch the sunset.
  • After sunset with took a nap and prepared for Mykonos nightlife. We joined the electric crowd at Scandanavian Bar for watered-down, over-priced drinks and thumpin’ music.
  • Day 7-Mykonos
    • Sleep in
    • Throw on a swimsuit and head to Paradise Beach.
    • Sit under a beach umbrella and waste the day away sipping drinks and taking dips into the sea.
      • We spent about 8 hours at the beach. The Tropicana Club started pumpin’ music and brought out the dancers about 4pm.
    • Dinner: Eva’s Garden
      • I had the mushroom chicken fillet and Scott the Greek meatballs. Best meal in Mykonos.
  • Day 8-Back to Athens
    • Take high speed Blue Star Ferry back to Athens (5 hour trip).
    • This time we stayed closer to Syntagma Square; Hotel Acropolis (1 night)
    • Last dinner in Greece: Old Ithaki. I had the beef skewers and Scott had lamb kleftiko (a dish of vegetables and lamb cooked in parchment paper over a pit fire). We also had one last cheese saganaki.
  • Day 9-travel back to Minnesota

Tips and Tricks

  • The Tempi Hotel in Athens is in a GREAT location, but lacks amenities. Like as in single beds lacks amenities and the bathroom was more like a closet. Price was right.
  • Don’t wear shorts in the churches. A little, old Greek lady chased me right out of there!
  • If I had a due over, I’d go to the Acropolis Museum BEFORE Acropolis Hill. We didn’t do that because rain was in the forecast and we saved the museum for a wetter day.
  • Our early flight to Oia meant we needed to be to the airport at about 5:30am. We walked from Monastiraki to Syntagma Square at 4am to catch a bus to the airport and surprisingly, I felt really safe.
  • Thea Studios was incredible! The balcony, the sunsets, the service are all so great. Markos arranged for pick up at the airport and transport to Fira for ferry to Mykonos.
  • If you eat the shrimp saganaki and you should, be sure to ask for it without the heads. Our waiter was kind enough to ask if we were Americans and clarified how we wanted the shrimp prepared.
  • Be prepared to wait for buses in Mykonos. You may need to be more aggressive than normal or you’ll find yourself waiting for several buses before your able to board. Frustrating.

Posted in Travel Adventures

Belgium and the Netherlands

July 2019

Chocolate, waffles, fries and beer are what first came to mind when I heard that a career professional development opportunity would be taking me to Hassalt, Belgium this summer. A quick glance at the globe led to tacking on a few side trips to Amsterdam, Bruges and Brussels.

For all our travels, I make extensive itineraries with confirmation numbers, addresses/phone numbers and details referencing page numbers in the guidebooks I have poured over for months leading up to the trip. I find the itinerary making and planning part of the trip really exciting! For this trip and really all our trips to Europe we have relied heavily on Rick Steve’s Guidebooks. Purchase one, you will not be sorry.

Itinerary

  • Day 1-Departure
    • 7:00PM flight with layover in Dublin via Aer Lingus
    • Arrive on Day 2 at about 1:00pm local time in Amsterdam
      • Purchase Metro ticket at baggage claim $5.30 euros pp for Centraal Station.
      • From Centraal Station go outside to find Tram #13 or #17 to Westermarkt.
      • Find how to ride tram on page 45 and tram map on page 48.
  • Day 2-Amsterdam
    • 2 nights Hotel Mr. Jordaan-Bloemgracht 102
    • Drop bags and refresh before enjoying Dutch pancakes at Pancake Bakery-page 223
    • Do Amsterdam City Walk Tour-see page 95
      • Centraal Station to Flower Market with detour at Dam Square to see Red Light District
      • Approximately 3 hours
    • Dinner: Cafe van Zuylen-atop a canal bridge with good food and even better views
  • Day 3-Amsterdam
    • Breakfast
    • 9:15am Ann Frank House Tour-tickets are pre-paid and in email
    • Lunch-Brown Cafe; Cafe Hoppe-page 233
    • Canal Boat Tour-page 53
    • 4:00pm Van Gogh Museum-page 173 (1 hour)
      • tickets are pre-paid and in email
    • Drink and slice of pie at Winkel-page 222
  • Day 4- Bruges
    • Train to Bruges, Belgium-1 connection in Brussels Midi
      • 9:15am departure train #9328
      • 12:30pm arrive in Bruges
      • 2 nights at Hotel Bla Bla-Dweerstraat 24
      • Food: Chez Vincent Fries-Best in Bruges
      • Afternoon: Bruges City Walk-page 41
        • Markt Square, Bell Tower, Burg Square, Basilica of the Holy Blood, City Hall, Postcard Canal and Bridge View, Church of Our Lady, Chocolate Row, St. John’s Hospital
      • Dinner: De Hobbit Beer Hall
  • Day 5-Bruges
    • Rent Bikes and ride canal to Damme-Markt to Moat Path-page 27
      • 4 miles each direction; bike rental information page 17
      • Lunch ??-we didn’t have anything planned in advance but found a panini place in Damme.
      • 4:00pm-De Halve Maan Brewery Tour-first crowd source funded beer pipeline; cool!
      • Dinner: Bistro in den Wittenkop
      • Beer Hall: Cambrinus
  • Day 6-Brussels
    • 9:00am Train to Brussels; arrive at 10:09am
    • 1 night at Hotel La Legende-Rue du Lombard 35
    • Do Grand Place Walk-page 150
      • Town Hall to Mannekin Pis
      • Choco Crawl; Mary, Neuhaus, Galler, Leonidas-page 154
    • Mer de Nordzee-try the scampi a la plancha
    • Cremerie de Linkebeek for cheese snack/picnic
    • Waffle Factory
    • Must eats; mussels in Brussels, Belgian style fries and beers as well as waffles and chocolate.
  • Day 7-Departure
    • 10:20am flight with layover in Dublin via AerLingus
    • Arrive home approximately 4:20pm local time

The above is what was planned, but what really happened is slightly different. Here’s a cheat sheet of a few tips for things that really worked for us as well as a few things that left us frustrated:

Tips and Tricks

  • The Jordaan Neighorhood is delightful and so was our hotel. Great location with easy access to trams. Picture perfect canals and dreamy strolls in the early evening. I took pictures of people’s personal property i.e. bikes/flowers/front step like it was a tourist attraction.
  • Dutch pancakes are delicious-EAT THEM.
  • Check out the Red Light District around 4pm/5pm when you can get the gist of the neighborhood without the “pressure.”
  • Amsterdam likes to sleep in. Most places don’t open until 9:00am.
  • Ann Frank House is a must. Read the book before you go. I actually teared up while doing the audio tour. I had just finished reading the book and it felt like I was visiting the memorial of a friend. Very moving.
    • Reserving tickets in advance is a must. You can make a reservation as early as 2 months in advance. Reservations WILL sell out.
  • Same for the Van Gogh Museum. Reserve in advance.
  • We did a Canal Boat tour on a smaller 10 passenger boat and it was amazing. Bring sunscreen. Our tour guide was very informative and funny.
  • We made plans to eat at a couple of specific restaurants, but ended up making a meal out of frites, pie and ice cream and street food on our last night in Amsterdam. The best frites are at Vleminckx. Though the Dutch like piles of mayo on their frites, we are “hold the sauce” sort of people.
  • Use your phone for walking directions from place to place and even what train platform to stand on.
  • We made a train reservation to Bruges and were glad we did, the train was full. We paid more, but were pleased we did.
  • Hotel Bla Bla was great. Stay there.
  • Bruges has the best frites and waffles. Chez Vincent and Chez Albert. We ate there ….daily.
  • De Halve Mann Brewery Tour was interesting. Make a reservation in advance.
  • RENT BIKES. I mean , see pictures above. So. Much. Fun. We chose to do this in Bruges, because the Amsterdam bike scene is intense. Bruges was easy an we didn’t have to worry about traffic and pedestrians as much.
  • Word to the wise: Bistro in den Wittenkop is closed Saturdays. We found this out the hard way. We ended up at Bistro Brugis. The croquettes did not disappoint.
  • Go to Ghent. We had not planned to, but when a train conductor and a Brown Cafe bartender said we should, we went. I guess Ghent was meant to be.
  • Mary is the official chocolatier of the Belgian Royal Family. We got excellent service from a staff member there who explained all the chocolates. We purchased about a dozen bite sized pieces to sample.

There’s not a country that I’ve visited that I haven’t fallen in love with, whether it was for 10 minutes or 10 years.

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