Archive for Travel

The Anne Frank House and more…

Our second day in Amsterdam included some rain but we didn’t let it stop us.

We began the day with a huge breakfast at a little breakfast spot we found online.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent the rest of the morning walking around the Jordaan area, which is a really nice area for a morning walk. We stopped at a cheese shop and a chocolate shop, and both smelled amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were lots of little canals and side streets that were really cute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We weren’t too hungry for lunch, but we decided to try some local street food, like pickled herring, waffles,  and french fries. We liked the french fries and waffles better, of course!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highlight of the trip for Felix was the cat boat. It is a sanctuary for cats and people can visit them during specific hours in the afternoon. There were so many cats and Felix and Anya loved it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, we headed over to the Anne Frank house, which is something you should not miss, if you ever visit Amsterdam. I remember reading the book when I was younger, but until you’ve set foot in the house where Anne Frank and her family hid, it is hard to really understand how quiet they had to have been during the day, so as not to be heard. The saddest part of it is that they were found and sent to the camps on the very last train out. What’s even sadder is that Anne and her sister both passed away at the camp only weeks before they would have been liberated. Her father was the only one who survived. While it was heartbreaking to walk through and learn about her life, it is so important that we remember what happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening, we took a boat tour. It wasn’t much of a tour, but we enjoyed the ride down the canal and the drinks that were included. It was a busy day but we saw a lot of the city!

Welcome to Amsterdam!

Our flights to Amsterdam were pretty uneventful and we arrived in Amsterdam right before 6 am local time.

We were exhausted but excited to have landed in the Netherlands! Apparently our options for taxis were a van or a Tesla…we chose the Tesla and were on our way!

We were lucky that we could get into our apartment right away. Out of all 6 of our European trips, this is the first time we’ve been able to get right into our room/apartment. We took advantage of that and made ourselves lay down and sleep for a bit.

Once we got up, we went out and bought tram tickets, purchased SIM cards for our phones, and grabbed some sandwiches for lunch.

A word about SIM cards…our phone plan does not have an option for international use, though I know several plans do. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about a plan that is $10 a day, which is not a bad deal really. However, keep in mind that in Amsterdam, we spent $70 for 2 SIM cards with more GB than we could use in the entire 16 days we were there. So depending on how long you plan to be there and if you plan to use your phone for the internet, it might be worth it to just get a SIM card for while you’re there, assuming your phone is unlocked.

We then headed towards the center of the city to try to catch a tour. We didn’t realize that the tour began at a church in the middle of the Red Light District. Somehow we didn’t know we were actually in the Red Light District until we started seeing ladies in lingerie in the windows. We just kept walking!

Unfortunately the tour we wanted to take was full so we had an hour to kill before the next one started, but fortunately, there was a coffee shop right around the corner so we got coffee and hot chocolate while we waited.

The tour was definitely worth waiting for. It was one of those “free” tours that runs off tips, and the guide was pretty great. It was about 3 hours long and she took us around lots of areas in the city and talked about things that Amsterdam is known for, such as prostitution, marijuana, and tulips.

In regards to marijuana, it is technically illegal in Amsterdam, but it is tolerated. I believe she said you are allowed to have up to 5 grams on you, because it’s considered personal use, and you can supposedly have 4 marijuana plants in your home for personal use as well. However, you are not legally allowed to sell it or manufacture it. Also, coffee shops (where marijuana is sold legally in Amsterdam) are taxed something like 59% on marijuana sales, so they definitely pay for it…

Prostitution was legalized/tolerated because it was assumed that sailors would be coming into the city and messing with the women anyway, and the idea was that if there were women willing to do the job, it kept the sailors away from the women who didn’t want the attention. Nowadays, labor laws continue to protect women doing this work. It is not legal to work for someone, so at least pimps aren’t taking most of the money they make. Instead, women register with the local government as business owners and they pay to rent their windows. They also pay taxes, just like any other business. It is also required that the room have an emergency button and the owner of the property must be there within minutes if the button is pushed. This insures the safety of the women working.

We were assured that the toleration of prostitution and marijuana don’t really have anything to do with a moral high ground, but that it is more related to the fact that the Dutch, being good businessmen, have found a way to monetize these businesses. Whether you agree or disagree with the policies, it is certainly interesting to learn about!

After the tour, we decided on Indonesian food for dinner. Apparently, Indonesia was formerly a Dutch colony, so their food is still popular in Amsterdam. It was different from anything we’ve had, but we actually liked it!

I’ll leave you with a few pictures of Amsterdam on our very first day!

Summer Vacation Ideas That Are NOT the Beach

A lot of people like to go to the beach for summer vacation, but there are lots of options for people who aren’t into the beach and want to stay in the US. Here are some options that are not too far from us here in the midwest!

1. Savannah

Though there is a beach near Savannah, you could spend all your time in Savannah and not even miss the beach! Savannah has a lot of historic sites and you could spend hours just strolling through the historic district checking out gardens, mansions, and monuments from the Civil War era. Paula Deen’s restaurant is there and if you are into the supernatural, Savannah is said to be very haunted and has a lot of ghost walks and haunted tours for you to choose from. There are also some great pubs to check out in the evenings. Eric and I visited before we had kids and spent an entire week exploring the area…we loved it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. New York City

It’s not hard to find something to do in New York City. There are tons of sites to see, such as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Ground Zero, and Central Park. Or you can check out the different neighborhoods or take in a Broadway musical or a play. We haven’t personally been there yet but it’s on our list of places to see sooner rather than later!

3. New Orleans

I visited New Orleans over spring break one year in college. Like Savannah, it is known for its hauntings, but there are also many more options here. Take a cemetery tour, check out the French Quarter or the Garden District, or stroll down Bourbon Street in the evenings. And don’t forget a late night stop at Cafe du Monde for your beignets!

4. Gatlinburg

 

Gatlinburg can be a little cheesy on the strip, but try breakfast at one of the many pancake houses and check out the oddities at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Then, spend a few days hiking in the Smoky Mountains. You can even rent cabins nearby if you want something other than a typical hotel room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital is a great educational experience, especially if you have kids old enough to understand what they are seeing. Lots of things to do here are free, including the Smithsonian museums. I highly recommend the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but make sure you are emotionally prepared for it the day you go. I think it’s a must for everyone at least one in their lifetime, but it’s not for the faint of heart. If you want a break from D.C., you could spend a day in nearby Alexandria (Virginia) and check out the historic district for something a little different.

 

Where in the Caribbean?

People are currently planning their summer vacations, and a common question I get has to do with where to go if you want to go to an all-inclusive, but you’re on a budget.

First, I want to say that all-inclusive resorts are the way to go if you want to relax, lay around, and not do much of anything. They are the ultimate haven for people just needing to get away from life for awhile. That being said, they are not all created equal. You do get what you pay for, but there are moderately-priced resort brands worth checking out if your budget has a limit.

All-inclusive resorts are generally found in the Caribbean. Contrary to popular belief, there are no true all-inclusive resorts in the United States. You do have to leave the country to get to what you are imagining when you are thinking of all-inclusive resorts. Many islands offer these kinds of resorts, including the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Aruba, and Antigua. However, the main three that are the most cost-effective and easiest to get to are Jamaica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. (For the record, I do know that Mexico is not an island, but they do have some great all-inclusive resorts!)

So how do you know which one to visit? Here are some ideas to get you started…

 

Mexico

Parts of Mexico do not have the best options for beaches. Some tend to have a lot of seaweed and rocks that impede the view, but there are some stretches of beach that are really beautiful, so be sure you know what to expect if you go.

Mexico is probably the most cost-effective and there are resorts both near and far from the airport, so you have a lot of options.

As far as sightseeing, Mexico has a lot of adventure parks (think Xcaret), snorkeling opportunities (Cozumel is supposed to be wonderful!), and lots of options to see amazing ruins like Chichen Itza and Tulum.

 

 

Jamaica

Jamaica has a special place in my heart, as it is where we spent our honeymoon. We visited for our 5th anniversary and then again over our 11th anniversary. The main area for resorts are Montego Bay (which is where most people would fly into), Negril, Ocho Rios, and the South Coast if you are staying at Sandals South Coast. Negril, Ocho Rios, and South Coast are approximately 90 minutes from the airport.

Those sound like long transfers, but they are worth it! Negril is known for it’s beautiful beaches and Sandals South Coast has a long beach that is not in the middle of town, so only guests from the resort are hanging out there.

I was recently in Montego Bay. We stayed at Secrets St. James, and while the beach there was small, they utilized the beach area they did have and there were some really beautiful spots to relax.

Excursions include Bob Marley sites, hikes and trips into the mountains, and Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios. There is also the bio-luminescent bay near Montego Bay

 

Dominican Republic

Punta Cana has some beautiful beaches. Many water excursions are offered, such as snorkeling and swimming with dolphins. The food isn’t as great as resorts in other Caribbean countries, but there are some very affordable options in the Dominican Republic. We spent 7 glorious nights there a year and a half ago, and we were perfectly happy to just lay on the beach, drink in hand.

Another perk of Punta Cana is that there are several options near the airport, so you don’t have to wait long to start your vacation!

If you are still planning your summer vacation and would like some help, make sure to contact me!

 

First Impressions: Tarifa

We have been to Europe 5 times and have traveled through numerous countries. In this series, I want to share our first impressions of the cities we have visited.

Tarifa

Tarifa is a small town on the southern tip of Spain. Most people probably haven’t heard of it, but it is a great place to stay if you want to visit Gibraltar and/or Tangier. There isn’t a lot to do there, compared to other Spanish cities, but it has a kind of “edge-of-the-world” feel to it, especially when you’re able to see the coast of Africa in the distance and the point at which the Atlantic and the Mediterranean meet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a lot of cool restaurants there and they have some things worth seeing, like St. Matthew’s Church, as well as a beach, though it is really windy there. Actually, it is supposed to be the windsurfing capital of the world! The views in Tarifa are also pretty amazing!

 

Our first impressions?

Worldly. Windy. Crossroads.

 

 

International Travel Tips

A lot of people are booking trips for spring break or summer or maybe even both! If you are travelling outside the country this year, these are some things you should consider before leaving…

  • Make sure you have a valid passport with at least 6 months left on it. Many countries will not allow entry if your passport expires within 6 months of your visit.
  • Make copies or take a picture of your passport and all the credit cards you will be traveling with. If some or all of these documents are lost or stolen, you will be able to contact your credit card company, and you will still have your passport information. Take a copy with you and leave a copy here with a family member.
  • Call the credit card company and the bank before leaving so that they are aware you will be using your card out of the country. Some banks and credit card companies must unlock your cards before they can be used, and some may not allow you to use them at all. This is very important to avoid being locked out of your account. Also, be sure that you know your PIN numbers on your debit cards and know the maximum amount of money your bank allows you to take out per day.
  • Register your trip with the US State Department at https://travelregistration.state.gov/. This lets the State Department know where you will be and when. The State Department will also send you notifications if there is a travel warning in the area you are traveling. Also, check for any travel tips or warnings for the country you will be visiting.
  • Know where the US Embassy is located in the country you are traveling in in case something happens and you need to get there.
  • Bring a charger adapter, if necessary. Some countries require different chargers.
  • Be sure to purchase travel insurance, as your medical insurance likely does not cover you while out of the country. Bring copies of your travel insurance cards.
  • If you plan to drive while there, be sure to obtain an international driver’s license. This can be done at AAA.
  • Check with your cell phone carrier to see if you will have service in the country you are visiting and inquire about any international charges for use of your phone in that country.

Another thing I always encourage is to do a little research about where you will be travelling. Not everywhere you may visit is the same as your hometown. Lots of things could be different, such as food, pricing, language,and the overall culture of the people. It helps to learn a little of the language; most locals really appreciate the effort, even if you know very little. The best advice I can give is to expect things to be somewhat different and be open to something new.

 

Something to Look Forward To

With all the crazy snow we’re having around here, I am so ready for some nicer weather! I’ve been trying to catch up/get ahead with my travel planning so I’ve been researching tons of places in the Caribbean, which makes me wish we were planning a spring break trip, too. I’ve also been working on a lot of European trips, so I ended up spending one late night with a cup of coffee and a map of Europe pulled up on my screen…which can be dangerous in our house!

So of course, I’ve come up with a possible itinerary that looks like this:

Amsterdam (4 nights)

Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges (3 nights staying in Brussels or Ghent)

Paris (4 nights)

London (4 nights)

We have not been to Amsterdam or Brussels and it has been over 10 years since we have visited London and Paris, but the kids have never been. Felix is oblivious and has been requesting to go back to Greece to check on all the cats we saw last year, but Anya seems pretty excited about going somewhere else in Europe, especially Paris.

This is still pretty iffy and it may not work out but we have been looking at possible accommodations in each of those cities and just brainstorming ideas for things we’d like to do. I’ve also been playing around with different dates and flight combinations trying to figure out the least expensive way to get there and back.

Here’s hoping it all works out…After the crazy 2 and a half weeks I’ve had, I need something fun to look forward to!

Greece 2017: Day 15

The worst day of vacation is always the day before you leave to go home. Of course, we always want to enjoy every second of our vacation, but it’s hard not to think about having to go home the next day.

 

We spent that last day walking around Athens. We did a little shopping at some local stands and got to see the Olympic stadium. We didn’t pay to go in but were able to get some shots of it from the outside.

 

 

I also had to take some pictures of the police vehicle outside Exarcheia in case of riots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent the afternoon walking around the National Archaeological Museum, which was the perfect way to spend the last day. The museum houses lots of artifacts from all over Greece, including some of the sites we visited while we were in Greece, so it was really neat to have seen all the sites first and then view some of the pieces that came from some of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, the kids were kind of over it, so we gave them old cameras and a phone so they could take pictures. At one point, Eric found a series of selfies with funny faces that Anya took of herself!

We were so sad to leave Greece, but we had so many great experiences and learned a lot about Greece and Greek culture. We still miss the food!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out the rest of our trip!

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

Day 6 – Nafplio

Day 7 – Nafplio

Day 8 – Nafplio to Rhodes

Day 9 – Rhodes

Day 10 – Rhodes (Lindos)

Day 11 – Rhodes

Day 12 – Rhodes

Day 13 – Athens (Rhodes to Athens)

Day 14 – Athens (Aegina)

Adventures at the Luminous Lagoon

One of the nights we spent in Jamaica, we left the resort. I hired a private driver who drove us first to Rose Hall. For years, we have wanted to tour Rose Hall, especially at night, because it is said to be haunted by Annie Palmer, the “White Witch” of Rose Hall. She was raised mostly in Haiti, and when her parents passed away, she was cared for by a Haitian nanny who was said to have schooled her in voodoo. Upon returning to Jamaica, she married the owner of the plantation. She later murdered him, as well as two other husbands and numerous slave lovers. It’s a very interesting story that makes for a creepy feeling while you’re in the house!

The night tour was a little bit history and a little bit “haunted house.” Actors were dressed in period costumes and jumped out during integral parts of the story being told, which served to both scare us and bring the story to life. I would have liked a little more history and a little less theatrics, but it was still fun. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any pictures, but it was a beautiful house. If you are ever in Montego Bay, it is worth a visit. If you’re too afraid to go at night, you can always go during the day.

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The highlight of the evening, though, was our visit to the Luminous Lagoon. We were the only ones there at the time, so we pretty much got a private tour. They took us out on a boat and explained that the micro-organisms in the water, called dinoflagellates, gave off a glow when moving. You can even see it in the back of the boat as it raced through the water.

 

The guide filled a bucket with the water and dumped some of it on the floor of the boat, and it just lit up the floor. It was so cool. At one point, we all got to get in the water. It was weird because it was partially river water and partially ocean water, so there were hot and cold patches, and if you touched the bottom, you could feel the mud. It was kind of gross in that way, but totally worth it to get to experience the glow of the dinoflagellates firsthand. We swam around and watched the water light up around us as we tread water and swam. Luckily, there was a photographer on the boat who took pictures for us while we enjoyed our swim. Once we got back in the boat, if I touched or moved my swimsuit, it was just enough movement to make my swimming suit glow!

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There are only a few parts of the world where you can swim with the dinoflagellates, and Jamaica is one of them. This is definitely one of the coolest things we have ever done, and I’m glad we got to check it off our bucket list!

Greece: Day 12 (Rhodes)

On our last full day in Rhodes, we did a few things that were left on our list. One of them was the submarine tour. Basically, the boat takes you further out from shore and then you go downstairs where there are windows looking into the ocean, and you get to the see the fish swimming around. There was also a diver who was swimming around and showing us things in the water. It was cool, but I’m not sure we would do it again, just because it was expensive and not a very long tour.

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In the afternoon, we did a wall tour, which was an opportunity to walk on top of some of the old medieval city walls and see the view of the city. One cool thing about Rhodes Town is that these walls are still standing, so it still has that medieval look. If you are ever visiting Rhodes, though, and you want to do the wall tour, you will want to plan a little ahead, because the hours for this are very limited. It isn’t a guided tour, but they only allow people during certain hours on certain days.

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Afterwards, we found some lunch, and Felix was still looking around for Ginger, the pregnant cat we saw outside our apartment the first night we were there. The kids were obsessed with finding her because they were worried she was too pregnant to get food anywhere and they were worried about her. Just in case you wanted to know, we never saw her again, but every once in a while, the kids still say “I wonder how Ginger is doing” or “I guess Ginger had her babies.”

A few days prior, we had met a British family staying in a nearby apartment who had told us about some tunnels in the moat. They gave us a general idea of where they were, so we decided to go check them out. We walked around the moat for a bit until we found what she was referring to: tunnels built into the moat. There were so many of them and they went back so far that you could see where people had attached string to the walls so they could find their way back out. We had brought a flashlight and it was a good thing, because if you went too far in, it was pitch black! We explored a little in a few of these but didn’t linger because Anya was freaking out. She kept asking if we could leave, so finally we did, but about 15 minutes later, she said “That was really cool. I wish we could have explored more.” Sometimes I don’t know about that girl! The weird thing about these tunnels is that I could never find any information about them and what they were used for.

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That evening, we got some dinner and headed back to the apartment to get packed up to fly back to Athens the following morning.

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Check out our other adventures in Greece!

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

Day 6 – Nafplio

Day 7 – Nafplio

Day 8 – Nafplio to Rhodes

Day 9 – Rhodes

Day 10 – Rhodes (Lindos)

Day 11 – Rhodes

 

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