Saturday, October 31, 2009

Quick trip to Aarhus

(from February)

We recently took a quick trip to Aarhus (or Arhus or Ã…rhus). 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

Northern Wisconsin

(from June 2009)

While visiting the US in June, my mom, sister and I took a driving tour through northern Wisconsin. Stops along the way were Minocqua, Ashland, Bayfield, and Cornucopia. The boys (dad and Kasey's husband Kelly) got to stay home and babysit Lincoln...Chuck got to stay in Denmark to work (and fund my travel addiction)....Jesse was in Chi-town working.

I had a list of things to do and see, based upon recommendations, TripAdvisor, and travel guides. Some of these folks should be out of business!!!

The Gourmet Garage was highly recommended on TripAdvisor. What a bust. I would skip it and advise that you skip it too. The Gourmet Garage is a small bakery in a transformed garage of a three-bedroom ranch single family home. The 'gourmet' part is truly a misnomer. As you walk through the door you are greeted by a wall of stainless steel sinks and racks...turn to the right and there is a small bakery display case. Behind the display case are racks and racks of 'stuff'. The place has so much potential and could be a cute little bakery, but instead it comes off as a garage that has barely passed the health inspector's review. Yuck! Oh, and once you walk in, you are under the watchful eye of a staff member, so the pressure is on to buy something, anything. We had Kasey's husband be the taste-tester of the apple need to buy that again!

We rented a condo in Bayfield called the Ada O'Day condos through the Winfield Inn. We stayed in Unit 1, which was a huge 2 bedroom condo that was decorated very nicely and in a great location! I can only assume the other units looked just as nice and they were lucky enough to get a fabulous view of Lake Superior. Our unit, even though it was advertised as having a view, didn't.

We shopped quite a bit on the trip as there really wasn't much else to do. There was one cute little general store that had big barrels of salt water taffy. In a matter of 3 days, I think we visited the store no less than 5 times!

Some pictures from our trip.

I love the last part of the sign!

Bayfield Pier

Ashland coastline

Bayfield coastline


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What's in my carry-on?

I travel quite a bit and I actually enjoy it. But, I enjoy it because I choose the destination and the time one is telling me when and where to go. It's a control thing, typical of being a "Type A" and a first-born.

Sitting in economy class (when I don't have enough miles to upgrade) is always a trying time for me. I get bored easily and being confined to a tin can for hours with sneezing, coughing, and snoring people is just a bit much to handle.

Here's what you can find in my carry-on to make the long flight a little more bearable.

  • Vera Bradley Baby Bag (works great as a carry-on)

  • Ziplock plastic bag with all my liquids (the freezer bags hold up better)

  • Hempz hand lotion

  • True Blue Lip Balm

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste

  • Makeup bag

  • Empty water bottle to fill on the other side of security

  • Gum

  • Pill container with Aleve and motion sickness drugs

  • Cris Notti sleep mask
  • Anti-bacterial hand sanitizing spray

  • Ipod

  • Camera and extra batteries, misc. cords

  • Book

  • A few pages from my sudoku book

  • Slippers

  • A snack, usually dried cranberries and cashews or almonds

  • Hard candy, in case I start coughing or someone around me is hacking away

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A rocky ferry ride to Egeskov

I should probably just invest in Dramamine stock. I sure do take enough of it and I think everyone around me is happy to know that before a plane ride, car ride, or a boat ride, I will have taken one of the little round white pills...and I won't be the one looking a bit green!

This morning we were up early to catch the 8am ferry to the island of destination...Egeskov Castle.

The seas were pretty rough today and it was extremely windy out, so we had quite the rocky 50 minute ride across the sea. Thank goodness I don't have to make that trip very often!

Egeskov Slot (oak forest castle) was built in the mid 1500s as a home for a Danish nobleman. Today it is a full fledged tourist location complete with the castle museum, a vintage motorcycle museum, vintage car museum, gardens, mazes, tree top walk, deer park...and the list continues.

Egeskov Slot is only open for a few months each year (April - October) and we were lucky enough to visit it on the last operating day for 2009.

A few pictures from our visit.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Beautiful Budapest

Several months ago, I found a great deal on airfare and the Hilton was offering 50% off on weekends in September, so I quickly booked a weekend getaway to Budapest. It was one of those ‘impulse buys’ that I am so good at! Although, in the US, my ‘impulse buy’ of a sweater or a pair of shoes often results in buyer’s remorse and a trip back to the store to return the item.

For the record, Budapest was simply spectacular and I would NEVER have buyer’s remorse.

We stayed at the Hilton-Castle Hill, which is located on the Buda side. I read some horror stories about taxis in Budapest, so I decided to arrange for ground transportation through Airport Minibuz service. Apparently, taxis aren't regulated, so they can charge whatever they want...even though they have a 'meter' running. The shuttle service was great on the way TO the hotel. It was a complete nightmare on the return.

We decided to divide our time in Budapest by spending one full day on the Pest side and one full day on the Buda side.

We strolled through some of the quaint streets and various stairs down to the Chain Bridge, which crosses the Danube River, and then walked over to the Pest side. We debated whether or not to take the subway or walk, but decided it was a nice day for a walk and made our way to Heroes Square and City Park.

We seem to be on Church/Cathedral/Museum overload, so we bypassed them on this trip. I hope it wasn't too big of a mistake!

We took the subway (yellow "millenium" line) back to the main square and then found a great little outdoor cafe to sit and have a few drinks. A little history....The Budapest subway is the second oldest subway in the world and it so simple and easy to use. Trust me, it's not as high tech as some systems, but the simplicity lends to the old-time feel. The yellow line was built between 1894-1896 and was recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Rather than climb up the hill back to the Buda side, we walked across the Chain Bridge and then took the funicular up to Buda Castle and then walked around the Castle Hill area.


Our hotel was on the Buda side and in the Castle Hill district, so exploring was right out our (front) door. We walked over to the Buda Castle (Royal Castle), through the gardens, Fisherman's Bastion, Matthias Church

We thought about giong to Gellert Baths or another of the communal bathing houses that are popular in Budapest. However, shared warm water kind of freaks us both out, so we passed.

A few pictures until I get the slideshow posted.

See, we were there!

Chuck and a local beer (with the Royal Castle over his shoulder)
Fisherman's Bastion

The subway, with one of the trains approaching

Apetito Restaurant in Budapest, Hungary

I usually don’t blog about restaurants, because, quite honestly, I rarely find one that is anything more than overpriced fare.

Throughout Europe you will find signs like these….

My advice is to avoid the establishments that advertise "Turist Menu". Translation: food and drinks that are overpriced, waitstaff that isn't interested in you, a room filled with tourists, food that locals wouldn't touch with a 3 meter pole, and a prime location for pickpockets!

While in Budapest, we stayed at the Hilton-Castle Hill. Across the street is a nice restaurant called Apetito. The appearance from the outside is white table cloth, wine glasses, WMF cutlery….which reads, expensive. Honestly, by European standards, it is very reasonably priced.

Chuck ordered the pumpkin cream soup and a gingered boneless chicken on cornbread with a polenta type mush underneath. I wasn’t that hungry, so I ordered the pasta with spicy vegetables, grilled tomatoes and a farmer’s ham. I tried Chuck’s pumpkin soup and I desperately wanted to order my own bowl. Our meal also included a large bread basket (gratis), two large beers and two Coke lights. The total bill was 30 Euro!

After we ordered, our server brought us the bread basket and two little dishes. He said (in perfect English), here is some bread and some…….(about a 10 second pause) fat. We both smiled at him and said, fat? Yes, it is schmaltz or rendered goose fat and chicken fat, which we use as an appetizer spread on bread.

Here’s a picture for your enjoyment. Chuck tried some and quickly said, maybe I put too much on. So, he tried another piece with not quite as big of a slather of the ‘fat’. Ah, much better. I smelled the, um, ‘fat’ and decided to have a piece of plain bread. It, too, was tasty!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Madrid - contender for the 2016 Olympics

Chicago has pretty tough competition for the 2016 Olympics (Madrid, Rio de Janiero, and Tokyo).

Well, I haven't been to all the cities, but if Rio and Tokyo are anything like Chicago or Madrid, it is going to be a tough choice for the 2016 Olympics.

After my visit to Barcelona, I took a morning flight over to Madrid to explore for a few days. It was just under a 1 hour flight and cost about $120USD; however I was going to rent a car for 4 days and the 6.5 hour drive....but it was going to set me back about $400. So, I opted for the plane ride. Good choice, in my opinion.

Madrid was a little more my style. As much as I enjoyed Barcelona, it is a pretty fast paced city, filled with young(er) travelers and backpackers. From my estimation, the tourists in Madrid were 1) far fewer than Barcelona (always a good thing!) and 2) a little older than the 20-something crowd of Barcelona.

You could easily find a place to sit in Plaza Mayor for either lunch or a drink and watch and people passed by. Entering the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) was quick and need to queue forever just to be part of a huge mob moving from room to room.

I strolled through Retiro Park, the Botanical Gardens, Paseo del Prado and took in a few wonderful museums (The Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza).

A few pictures.

Palacio Royal (Royal Palace)

Plaza Mayor

Retiro Park

A monestary and cava tour

That is (kindof) an odd pairing, if you ask me. But, I wanted to see both the monestary at Montserrat and get in a little cava tour and tasting.

I'm not a fan of the large tour bus, so I searched high and low for a small (6-8 people) tour. Viola! I booked the Montserrat and Cava tour through Private Tours Barcelona. It was a nice tour; the other travelers were fun and interesting; the sights were good. It wasn't one of the best tours (Cotswolds and Absolute Touring), but it was good, nonetheless.

Our day started with a stop of Friexenet in Sant Sadurni d'Anoia for a cava tour and tasting. Cava is similar to champagne; however it does not come from the champagne region of France (trademark)...just as Chianti is from the Chianti region of Italy (trademark) Cava is Spain's version of champagne.

Our next stop was Montserrat. I think the biggest disappointment was spending 30 minutes on the winding roads up to the monestary. I was under the impression that we'd be taking the aerial gondola to the top. Luckily, I was prepared and had pre-emptively taken dramamine or it could have turned ugly.

Once you reach the monestary area, there's a main cathedral that has a boys choir singing at 1pm. Get there early to get a seat! There are plenty of hiking trails, of varying difficulty, to see the surrounding area. We only spent about 2 hours there and it's really best to allocate at least 4 hours, if not a full day.

A few pictures from our day.

Jesse double-fisting his cava.