Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 - A Year in Review

It's hard to believe that in 12 months, we've been to 128 cities in 17 countries. We rang in 2009 watching fireworks over the Acropolis and Parthenon in Athens, Greece and will be ringing in 2010 in Dublin, Ireland.

From Beautiful Budapest to Incredible Italia to Perfect Paris to Magnificent Madrid, we've seen some of the best that Europe (and the world) has to offer.

By the numbers...

3 continents
17 countries
128 cities
151 nights away from home (hotels/rental homes)
61,155 actual miles flown (by me)
17 kilometers (about 10 miles) driven in a single tunnel (in Switzerland)
46 AA batteries my camera 'ate' this year
16,067 kilometers (about 9,983 miles) driven this year
15,000+ digital photos taken

Enjoy the recap (click on the picture below to launch the slideshow).

2009 recap

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Another day, another country

We're off on another adventure.

This time, the destination is Ireland.

Neither one of us have been to Ireland, so we're excited to see what the country has to offer. And, who can pass up New Year's Eve in Dublin?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays from our little corner of the world

Best wishes for a very Merry Christmas! May your holidays be filled with laughter and happiness no matter where your travels may take you!

This is my wish for you: peace of mind, prosperity through the year, happiness that multiplies, health for you and yours, fun around every corner, energy to chase your dreams, joy to fill your holidays! --D.M. Dellinger

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You'd think all of Europe was on sale

I purposely told Chuck's mom that her packing limit was 40 pounds, when it was really 50 pounds per suitcase. It's a good thing, too.

You would have thought that Europe was on sale with all the stuff she bought. Actually, it might have something to do with the monopoly money she was playing with....pounds, euros, and kroner.

Check out all the stuff she bought...

Weekend in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Chuck's great, great, (great) grandparents hail from the Netherlands, so we decided to take a trip to the homeland while Chuck's mom was visiting us.

We spent a few days in Amsterdam and then stopped at the Zaanse-schans for a couple of hours.

Chuck and I visited Amsterdam, Alkmaar, and the Keukenhof last April, so it was a welcomed return to a city we enjoyed. For a chilly weekend in December, the city was bustling with activity.

Rather than check into a hotel, I found a B&B that had two bedrooms. We stayed at the Dumas and Considine Bed and Breakfast, which was a nice alternative to a hotel. I'll post more about the lodging later.

Some of the highlights:
  • Coffee at Café Thijssen while Chuck's mom explored the flower market
  • Finding a great little cheese store tucked in a little corner of the flower market
  • Taking a river cruise
  • Heineken Brewery tour
  • A trip to the ER
  • Watching the ice skaters
  • Noshing on a warm chocolate dipped waffle
A few pictures.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Zaanse Schans near Amsterdam

About 20 minutes north of Amsterdam is the Zaanse Schans in the town of Zaandam, Netherlands. The Zaanse Schans is basically a dutch park with windmills, a museum, cheese shops, wooden shoe shops, and other souvenier shops.

The park is free to enter, with the exception of a few windmills (3Euro per person), the museum (7.5Euro per person), and parking (7Euros for the day).

As Chuck and his mom wandered around taking pictures, I was busy shopping. Sadly, I didn't find anything in the diamond center, but I did find some shoes and a few paintings. No, I didn't buy those crazy wooden shoes!

Oh, and who can pass up some good cheese from the Netherlands? Yummy!

A few pictures.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Market in Bremen, Germany

In a word....fabulous!

Four hours just isn't enough time to spend at the Bremen Christmas Market. Chuck and I visited Bremen in August for his birthday and really enjoyed spending time in this great city along the river. On our way to Amsterdam, I thought it would be nice to stop in, once again, for a few hours to see their Christmas market.

Bremen did not disappoint!

Some how I missed Bottcherstrasse in August. Well, I found it in December. I probably dropped about 200Euro on this short little street. Bottcherstrass has some great shops with unique glassware, teas, and other Bremen related items. I also stumbled upon the Bremen Bonbon shop where you can watch them make lollipops and candies from scratch.

The Christmas market was spectacular. There are really 3 sections. One in the square in front of the Rathaus, one between the Rathaus and the information center and one near St. Peter's Cathedral. I found just about everything I was looking for in Bremen...and then some.

A few pictures...

Christmas market with St. Peter's Cathedral in the background.

Christmas market with Bremen Town Hall (Rathaus) in the background.

Yummy marshmallow filled chocolate domes.

Mother in law, Sue, buying some mind twisting games.

Chuck and his mom at the Town Musicians statue

Whirlwind tour of London

We had a visitor for the past 10 days. Chuck's mom flew over from the US. Because it was her first time outside the USA, I made sure to schedule a ton of things for her to do.

We went to 3 Christmas Markets in Germany (Flensburg, Lubeck and Bremen), flew to London and visited all the major sites and went to Windsor Castle, drove to Amsterdam and visited all the major sites including a stop at the Zaanse-schans.

Back to London.

We took a quick Ryanair flight from Billund over to Stansted and then the train into town. I think Sue was on stimulation overload with all the things to see and do in London.

The first day we spent touring Windsor Castle. I had never been there before, so it was great to pick up the audio guide and roam around the grounds for a few hours. Windsor Castle is amazing, impressive, over the top, oppulent, magnificent....need I say more?

Some of the highlights...

  • Taking the underground during rush hour and packing into the tube on the picadilly line.
  • ...and having my MIL get scolded by the London bobby for taking pictures in the underground (with the flash) after I told her not to.
  • Wandering through St. Paul's cathedral and the crypt
  • Listening to one of the beefeaters at the Tower of London
  • Seeing the crown jewels
  • River cruise from Tower Bridge to Westminster
  • Shopping at Harrods
  • Shopping with the hoards of people on Regent Street - Hamley's and Liberty were complete chaos.
  • Dinner at Hard Rock Cafe - sometimes it's the little things and when you've lived in Europe for 2 years the comforts of a (semi) American meal are welcomed!
  • Simply Food's death by chocolate dessert - simply divine.
  • Staying at the Rembrant hotel - lovely.

A few pictures.

St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle

Interior courtyard at Windsor Castle

Mother in law, Sue at Windsor Castle

Beefeater at Tower of London

Tower of London

me with long curly hair, oh my!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas Market in Lubeck, Germany

Going to the Christmas Market in Lubeck, Germany wasn't exactly an original idea as it seems all of northern Germany was there!

We arrived around 11:30, only to sit in traffic for another 30 minutes, crawling along trying to park. The goal was to be up and in Lubeck by 10am or so (the market opens at 11). This way we could get a parking spot, see some of the sites, and shop a bit before the hoards of people descended upon Lubeck. We didn't leave until 9:30, so getting there by 10 wasn't going to happen.

  1. Get there early! 10am is best. If you get there later in the day, park just outside of the walled city area and walk the 5-10 minutes to get to the market. It will save 30 minutes of waiting in traffic to find a parking space.
  2. Get there early! There are hoards of people mulling around. If you want to spend some time browsing the shops, get there early because shopping body to body is difficult. And, if you pass up an item you want, turning around to get it is virtually impossible.
  3. Enjoy the hot mulled wine, bratwurst, gingerbread, large pretzels, and great confections. Yummy way to eat your way through the market.
  4. Stop in the Marienkirche and browse through the Church. It's a good place to take a break from all the people and it has a great story, so pick up the English brochure at the door near the donation box.
  5. Check out the arts and crafts at St. Petri Church. There's a 2 Euro entrance fee, but the wares are worth a look.
  6. Skip the Niederegger (marzipan store) unless you enjoy being bumped and grinded (is that the right word?) by old men and ladies fighting to get a look at the latest Christmas marzipan candies. Wowee. It was intense. I'll buy my confections at Cittipark.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another solo trip

When we first moved to Europe, we had every intention of it being a 'forever' move, which is why we gave away most of our things to friends/family that needed a little help, and bought one-way tickets. For the past 2 years all of our round trip tickets have originated in Denmark or Germany. Recently SAS has had some great deals on Economy extra, but only on flights originating in the, I've had to do some creative round trips within round trips in order to take advantage of the bargains.

Well, I'm officially going to get on a schedule of having the US as my origination point and always having a return ticket (from Denmark) available.

How pray-tell will I be doing this? Ryanair does one-way trips to London at 50% of a round trip fare. Perfect. Then, I cashed in some American Airlines miles for a one-way first class ticket.

Next week, I'll be back on a Chicago-Copenhagen-Chicago schedule. Yippee!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On the road again...and in the air!

Let the traveling begin.

One of the busiest travel seasons is from Thanksgiving through the New Year. Generally, I try to avoid peak travel time at all costs.

Airfare prices are higher, planes are full to capacity with crabby and sick adults...and screaming kids that have far surpassed the amount of time they can handle waiting around doing nothing, hotels are full, people are rushing around pushing/shoving/being rude...just so they can be the first person in line, first person at the baggage they can wait some more, and security lines longer than the eye can see filled with people who have either been living under a rock and failed to pay attention to the liquids in a plastic bag rule...or they are first time fliers.

Grant me the patience to deal with holiday travel this year, as between Thanksgiving and New Years, I will be in about 30 cities in 6 different countries.

A few tips to get through, what will no doubt be a trying time:

  1. Place all your 3oz or smaller liquids in a clear ziplock baggie. The quart size freezer version is a bit more durable. Do this at home before you leave as many airports no longer carry the 'last minute free baggie.'
  2. Be prepared at security checks - take off your shoes and jacket, take your laptop out, remove liquids, and have your passport and boarding pass in your hand.
  3. Pick up some antibacterial spray and don't forget to place in your ziplock baggie. And no matter how much you want to, do not touch your eyes and face unless your hands are clean. Keep those germs at bay!
  4. Pack some antibacterial hand wipes to wipe down your tray table, arm rests, and inflight entertainment. They don't get wiped down between flights.
  5. Have your cell phone and battery charger in your carry-on; along with all important numbers, including the hotel, taxi pick up, and airline. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, it's easiest to pull out your cell phone and make some calls, rather than wait in the rebooking line. If you're traveling and a storm is coming, jot down the phone numbers of some hotels near the airport...just in case.
  6. Pack some entertainment - books, suduko, crossword puzzles, ipod
  7. Have your OTC meds and prescription meds handy in your carry-on. You never know when you'll need a few Tylenol or Aleve to drown out that screaming kid.
  8. Pack a snack - nuts and dried cranberries, granola, whatever you fancy.
  9. Pack an empty water bottle that you can refill with water on the other side of security.
  10. Throw in a few pieces of hard candy (in case you get a tickle or your seatmate is hacking away), some gum to help with pressurizing and popping your ears, and some tissues.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rental Cars

A few weeks ago, while in the US, we rented a Chrysler Sebring through Avis. Chuck insisted on the gasoline prepay ($2.68 a gallon), while this would not have been my choice, it was fine...or so I thought.

After driving the car with the gas light on for 20 miles, I pulled into a gas station and filled it up. 13.3 gallons @ $2.74 a gallon.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at our rental agreement and it stated the tank capacity is 16.9 gallons. Needless to say, in the prepay option, Avis charged us 16.9 gallons @ $2.68 a gallon.

My search online states, that indeed, the fuel capacity for a 2007 Chrysler Sebring is 16.9 gallons.

So, the questions remain...did I get 3.6 gallons of gas free from the gas station? Is Chrysler's published tank capacity wrong? Was there something in the tank that decreased the volume?

Lesson learned...don't opt for the prepay gasoline, even if it is 5 cents cheaper than at the pumps.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Picture pages, picture pages...

....time to get your crayons and your pencils.

Or, just click on the links and check out the slideshows from our recent travels.

Edinburgh, Scotland (November)
Barcelona, Spain (September)
Madrid, Spain (September)
Budapest, Hungary (September)
Northern Wisconsin (June)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cappellari Bis, Apartment Rental in Rome Italy - Review

Note: I have been holding off on posting this review in the hopes of some sort of resolution from Sleep in Italy. My correspondence has gone unanswered and unacknowledged.

While in Rome, Italy we stayed at Cappellari Bis , located just of Campo Fiori, which is a great location! I did a ton of research and worked with a woman named Gulia at Sleep in Italy . She was quite friendly and answered all of my questions. Well, that's the extent of the positives.

The apartment was just ok. When we arrived, a gentleman met us, walked us through the apartment, gave us the keys, and then was on his way.

The downfalls...a washing machine that didn't spin, so clothes were soaking wet; a homeowner who didn't pay the electric bill, so no electricity for 2 days; a kitchen where only one appliance could be running or the breakers flipped, so no microwave and oven at the same time (talk about a pain in the butt when it comes to cooking!); rooms with hardly any light and most had these lampshades and bulb surrounds in crazy colors (red) that did not lend themselves to emitting any light; no toilet paper; no soap; a TV with 3 channels.

The management company, Sleep in Italy was anything but helpful and when we had no electricity, due to nonpayment by the owner (from November until April!!!) they were extremely rude and condescending. As if it was our fault there was no power. And, heaven forbid we actually demand power on a rental property. How dare we! We contacted them at 11am when we noticed a 'Termination of Services' note on the door, and then subsequent no power. After waiting around for hours, we were moved to a Bed and Breakfast for 1 night, but were unable to check in until 6pm.

Sleep in Italy has yet to address our losses (over 50Euro in spoiled food and a huge cell phone bill).

Avoid this place (and management company) at all costs!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Edinburgh, Scotland in a little over a day

About a month ago, Ryanair was running a fare special. As luck would have it, this whole no working thing (professional tourist) worked to my advantage as I was able to fly out on a Monday and return on a Wednesday for a mere 1 penny. No check in fees, no taxes, no checked problem!

I stayed at the Hilton Caledonian. What a lovely hotel! I was in room 218, which is quite large and has an amazing view of the Edinburgh Castle. There was one small issue, but at no fault of the hotel....the construction crew, which has Princes Street all torn up cut the power to our block, which caused a blackout at about 19:30. The generator kicked in and power was restored, but the fire alarm was affected, so we were back downstairs 10 minutes later. Then, the fire department didn't clear the panel correctly, so 10 minutes later another fire alarm. All in all, about an hour of climbing steps. Luckily all the guests were good natured about it and the staff was very nice and apologetic.

Edinburgh was wonderful. I cannot wait to return in the spring/summer time when all the flowers are in bloom and the tram work is completed (late 2010). In one full day (and two partial days), I managed to take in some sights and do a little shopping, but next time I'll bring Chuck along and we'll spend a few days in Edinburgh and then head to the highlands for a few days.

I started my day at the Edinburgh Castle. It is quite the hike to get there, so if you plan to walk all day, I'd recommend hiring a taxi to take you to the castle, then walking down the hill and exploring the rest of the day.

The Royal Mile runs from the Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and is lined with cashmere and wool shops, souvenier shops, kilt makers, and pubs. As I walked from the Castle to the Palace, I shopped and I shopped some more. I even went into a few shops to buy an extra suitcase...but, in the end, I just crammed everything into my existing bags. Note to time, bring an extra bag!

At the end of the Royal Mall is Holyrood Palace, which is where Queen E stays when she is in Scotland. It's a lovely palace, but of course, is not as opulent as Windsor or Buckingham.

Princes Street is undergoing a major renovation, with new infrastructure (water/gas pipes) and will soon be getting a new track for the tram, which is supposed to extend from the airport to the city center. But, for now, getting around the Princes Street area is a bit of a challenge as you have to basically commit to one side of the street or the other because there are very few pedestrian passageways. I shopped at Jenners and felt a little giddy when I stumbled upon Mark and Spencers. Yes, I love the wensleydale cheese with cranberries. One little snack size piece and I was set for another few months.

I'll be back. There are so many things I didn't get a chance to do...and Chuck would love it there, so we'll plan a return trip that is sure to include a trip to the Highlands...and maybe a visit to some folks we met in Venice!

A few pix and the slide show.

The view from my room at the Hilton Caledonian.

The Edinburgh Castle

The Crown Jewels are located in here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Planning our European adventures

Over the past several months, I've received quite a few questions about how I go about planning our holidays and if, in fact, there is someone else that plans our various adventures. Nope, it's just me. Me, and my trusty DK Eyewitness Europe guidebook. Oh, I should probably mention that in 1996, I did get my travel agent certification. But, with so many online travel resources, it's not as though it is really worth anything today.

When we first arrived in Europe, almost 2 years ago, we were surrounded by amazing cities that we wanted to visit. So, we had a long list of 'must see' cities.

Living in southern Denmark, we are very fortunate that we can easily drive to many cities and have access to several airports.

As 3 day weekends approached, I'd pull out the guidebook and find out what was 'in season' or those cities that are best seen during a particular season....
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands in April - Keukenhof gardens
  • Alkmaar, Netherlands in Spring, Summer, Fall - cheese festival
  • Paris, France in Spring, Summer - Versailles in bloom
  • Dresden and Lubeck, Germany in Winter - Christmas market
  • Barcelona and Madrid, Spain in the fall - not too hot
In other cities, we planned to spend most of our time indoors at museums, so it really didn't matter which month we visited.

I typically have 3 or 4 cities selected for a particular timeframe. If we plan on flying, I'll do a quick search on Expedia to check flight costs. I also check Ryanair and see if we can get a super cheap flight out of Billund, Denmark or Lubeck, Germany. Low cost, no frill airlines are not included in typical search engines like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. However, I've found that Skyscanner does include the low cost airlines.

Once I decide on a city, it's time to figure out possible hotels. TripAdvisor is one of my favorite resources. I consult TripAdvisor for just about every trip and look for reviews on various activities, too. Because I'm an avid user of the service, I also contribute reviews...hopefully providing someone with another piece of information before they make a holiday decision.

Note: If you are looking to book a room at a discount, you may consider using or; however be aware that some hotels will put you in an undesirable room or one that has not been updated. If you want to save a buck and score a renovated room, be prepared to request a room change after checking in.

I tend to book directly with the hotel via their website. I've found that booking via a discount or consolidator usually only saves $10 or $15 a night. I'd rather not be irritated when I first arrive at a hotel because of a less than desirable room, the first time around. So, I save myself the hassle.

Prior to our departure for a particular city, I pull up the online tourist maps, read excursion and tourist site reviews and develop a plan of attack so we can make the most of our stay. Is there a particular brew pub that we should visit? A brewery or wine tour? A famous bakery or pub? Any plays, shows, or musicals we should see? Museums? Day tours? How is the metro? Can I buy a day pass? Does it make fiscal sense to purchase a tourist card? Can I buy tickets online? Can I skip the queue? There is nothing worse than wasting 2 hours in line trying to get into a museum or into Versailles, up the Eiffel Tower or in the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Don't do it. Be informed and buy your tickets online.

Yes, I always have an excel spreadsheet that has all our travel information, daily events, hours of operations, and fees listed. It takes a bit of time to pull together, but in the end, we see the things we want to see, avoid the crowds, and don't waste hours wondering around, waiting in line or the never ending..."what do you want to do?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?" We usually try to see the major tourist attractions right away in the morning before most people wake up and then in the afternoon or during peak tourist time we'll shop, wander side streets, parks, riverfronts, or beaches.

This approach is not for everyone. Some prefer to wander through cities, experiencing life and doing whatever feels good that particular day. Happening upon a great bistro in Paris or a stroll through Luxembourg gardens that results in meeting a Parisian family and joining them for a picnic are definitely not planned events. But, they are amazing experiences, nonetheless.
The best part about being on holiday is relaxing, enjoying, experiencing, and learning...on your own terms...with whomever you choose.

Up next, a few itineraries.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Quick trip to Aarhus

(from February)

We recently took a quick trip to Aarhus (or Arhus or Århus). It's a large metropolis of about 300,000 people and has some great museums and sights. It was a little chilly and big heavy wet flakes of snow pummled heavy and wet that my hair was drench and no amount of straightening my hair would get rid of the ringlet curls!

We visited with some friends in Aarhus and had a great time. We'll definitely have to schedule another visit when the weather is a bit warmer (and I'm not sick). I didn't take a lot of photos, so when we return, I'll incorporate the pictures into a slideshow. Below is a picture of the river that runs through the downtown area (it seems like all European cities have a river running through it) and Nils found a bike in said river. I wonder if the bike owner knows his/her bike is in the river. Hopefully it wasn't after a night of drinking...that would be funny....students walks home soaking wet....uh, I missed the bridge and landed in the river...I'll get my bike tomorrow

Some thoughts from our trip.
  • The Aros Art Museum is very nice. It is one of the largest art museum in northern Europe. The Action exhibit on the lower level is fantastic! Actually, the whole museum was wonderful.

  • We went to a great Italian restaurant, but I can't recall the name. Hmmm, I'll have to research that and update the blog.

  • We went to several pubs. I'm always a fan of non-smoking pubs! Waxies was nice; however their foosball table wasn't very good. Sherlock Holmes pub was a nice stop for drinks and a place for my hair to dry a bit!

  • We tried to take a break from the elements a few times; however of the 4 bars / cafes we entered they ALL said they had no room for us. One had a whole upstairs area that they didn't want to open. Hmmm, paying customers are better than no customers. Another cafe had three young women (mid twenties) sitting at a table with one, yes ONE, soda with a slice of lemon and THREE straws. I'm sure they made a boatload of money on that table. In the end, we found Sherlock Holmes pub and I'm sure they enjoyed the business. Ahhh, deep breath.

I'm looking forward to my next visit to Aarhus...hopefully when the weather is a bit nicer!

Update: Here's a link to our driving tour of Denmark, which included a return trip to Aarhus.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hop on Hop off sightseeing tours

I must admit, I’m a huge fan of the Hop on Hop off (HoHo) sightseeing tours in European cities. Major cities have sightseeing routes of the top attractions and for under 20 euro you get a 90-120 minute audio tour, complete with headsets and six different languages, a brief introduction to the major sites, and a break from walking!

We typically take the first bus of the morning and get a feel for the layout of the city and the sites we want to visit in more depth.

There are many cities that have HoHo sightseeing tour. Here are the ones that I've used...

Copenhagen, Denmark
Paris, France
London, England
Brussels, Belgium
Berlin, Germany
Vienna, Austria

Sightseeing canal or river cruises:

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Venice, Italy
Copenhagen, Denmark
Berlin, Germany

NB: This list is not an all inclusive list.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In two words...Incredible Italia

(from May)

We just returned from 6 days in Rome. Our Incredible Italia vacation started with 4 days in Sorrento, Italy (with side trips to Capri and Positano) and then ended with 6 days in Rome.

This summer our Incredible Italia experience will continue with several weeks of incredible-ness in Venice, Bologna, Firenze, Tuscany, Cinque Terre and the Lake Como area. 2009 is the year of Italy!

Rome is a wonderful city, rich with culture, history, amazing culinary smells, fabulous food, and cobblestone alleys filled with wonderful music.

Rome is a very 'walkable' city. Home base for us was near Campo di fiori and from there we could walk under 30 minutes and get to just about every site in Rome (Vatican, Coliseum, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Trevi fountain, Pantheon, Villa Borghese....).

Here's what we did...

  • Trevi Fountain - it is bustling with hundreds of people from about 9am until late in the evening. If you want nice photos, arrive by 7:30 for some beautiful early morning pictures.
  • Piazza Navona - is a wonderful piazza surrounded by restaurants with umbrella covered tables. It is a great place to watch life pass you by; however it is one of the more touristy-locations and thus expensive.
  • National Museum (near Piazza Navona)
  • Galleria Borghese (art museum in Villa Borghese)
  • Pantheon
  • Coliseum
  • Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
  • Campo di Fiori
  • Spanish Steps
  • Villa Borghese
  • Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums
  • St. Peter's Basilica
  • Papal Address
Along the way we had a few hiccups in Rome...
  • We worked so hard at not getting ripped off in the rip off capital of the world (Beijing), that no sooner did we get to the train station in Rome and get in a cab did we get ripped off. The cabbie had several meters in his car and the 'official' one started at 15 Euro, when it should have started at 5 Euro. A 9-10Euro cab ride, metered at 30Euro. After a heated discussion, he said 25 Euro was good. As I started writing down his license plate number and cabbie number, he came down to 20Euro. My first impression with Rome and Italians was not very positive.

  • The apartment we rented 'lost power' for 24 hours (due to the owner not paying the electric bill since NOVEMBER)...I'm not done dealing with that one and will blog more later.
Despite the hiccups, our time in Rome and the surrounding area was amazing. I cannot wait until our 3 week tour of Italy in July!

Day trip to Versailles

(from May)

In May, Chuck and I flew to Paris for a long weekend. We also flew in our niece from the US as her 13th birthday present. Her return flight was 6 hours earlier than ours, so Chuck took her to the airport and I ventured over to Versailles for a few hours.

A day trip to Versailles - Wow! You approach Versailles by walking up a wide boulevard to the golden gate entrance. Lines and tour busses snake everywhere. Pay the extra 1.5Euro and buy your ticket in advance online (or at the tourism center on the left, just before the entrance to Versailles).

If you only want to go to the garden, enter from the left side...and no need to stand in the massive ticket line! The gardens are extensive. Bring a book and find a little nook, amazing photo opps, rent a boat, take the shuttle train ride, watch the fountains, listen to the classical music piped in as you walk the garden. A great day trip from Paris if you have the time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Top 10 European Destinations

Europe is filled with amazing cities. There are varying opinions on the top 10 European destinations, but most include the big cities of London, Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona. All of these cities are beautiful and have great things to offer travelers; however there are several cities that I love.

One of the attractions to the normal 'big cities' is that you can easily spend a week in the location because there is sooo much to do. However, in my opinion, it's much harder in the 'big cities' to find that (what we Americans call the) European feeling, that coziness, that deep connection to history. It's there, just a little harder to find.

Here is my top 10:

  1. Munich, Germany - (Post 2) Have a beer in one of the many beer gardens, stroll through the marienplatz and escape the touristy stuff by heading to English Garden and lake (Englischer Garten).
  2. Cinque Terre, Italy - Hike the miles and miles of trails, many of which you will have all to yourself! Pick one city as home base and explore the others by train, trails or the ferry. Manarola is my favorite! You will not find a McDonalds anywhere in CT, which is wonderful!

  3. Madrid, Spain - Enjoy some vino at Plaza Mayor, visit Palacio Real, enjoy the museums on the Prado, then escape the touristy stuff by walking through Retiro Park and the botanical garden.

  4. Florence, Italy - Where to start? The pedestrian central city lends itself to that deep connection with history. Stroll from il Duomo down the cobblestone pedestrian street to Piazza Signoria, stop in Uffizi, then over the Ponte Vecchio. Spend an afternoon walking through Palazzo Pitti, the Medici residence and the beautiful gardens.

  5. Paris, France - Cliche? Perhaps. After having your fill of tourists at the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Pompidou Center, take a bike ride through the Latin Quarter or stroll through Luxembourg Gardens. Find a quiet bench in the Tuileries.

  6. London, England and surrounding area - You could easily spend a week in London. You could spend several weeks in London and still not visit all the usual tourist sites. After spending a day or two in the city, head out to the surrounding area...Oxford, Bath, Salisbury, the Cotswolds.

  7. Lucerne, Switzerland - A respite from the hustle and bustle of Zurich, which is about 1 hour away. Walk along the river, cross the famous wooden bridge, shop, take a lake cruise, take the cogwheel train to Mt. Pilatus, zip past the swiss cows (complete with bells) on a summer tobogan, shop, chug along in the tourist train, oh, and did I!

  8. Strasbourg, France - two words...Petite France.

  9. Berlin, Germany - After taking in the usual tourist sites and museums, walk from the Brandenburg Gate and through the Tiergarten. Do as the locals do, bring a frisbee, a picnic lunch and enjoy nature. Spend some time at Schloss Charlottenburg. Simply spectacular!

  10. Budapest, Hungary - Have a beer at one of the many sidewalk cafes along the Danube. On the Pest side, make your way to Heroes Plaza and the surrounding park. On the Buda side, stroll through Castle Hill and the Royal Palace. Enjoy the views of Pest from Fisherman's Bastion, which are amazing at night.

There are oodles and oodles of wonderful cities in Europe. So, limiting my top 10 list to just 10 wasn't an easy task. My honorable mentions would be...Rome and Tuscany, Italy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Upcoming Travel

I went on another shopping spree and booked a handful (or two) of trips. Thank goodness I don't mind the no frills airline, RyanAir! This should take me through the first of the year.

  • USA
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • London
  • USA
  • London
  • Dublin, Ireland (and the countryside)

Of course, we'll throw in a few famous German Christmas markets once December rolls around. Apparently, Lubeck has a wonderful Christmas market. Know of any other good ones?

Friday, October 23, 2009


It seems I also take a lot of pictures of bicycles.

Sonderborg, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

Florence, Italy

Siena, Italy

Bremen, Germany

Cotswolds, England

Aarhus, Denmark (sometimes they are in the river)

Doors and windows

Looking through the many, many pictures I've taken during our European adventure, it seems that I had a little obsession with windows and doors.

Some of my favorites...

Verazzano in Tuscany, Italy

Cotswolds, England

Frankfurt, Germany

Cinque Terre, Italy

Capri, Italy

Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China

Barcelona, Spain

Budapest, Hungary

Siena, Italy

Volpaia, Italy