Archive of ‘Travel’ category

Top (Secret!) Hiking Trails in Duluth, MN – Congdon Park Trail at Tischer Creek

Duluth’s BEST HIKING TRAIL— hiding in plain sight

Hello all! I’m coming at you today with a hiking guide for Congdon Park Trail, located along Tischer Creek in Duluth, MN.  Nearly seven million people visit Duluth every year, and yet, this trail only has 15 TripAdvisor reviews.  It’s a very well-kept secret!  As a local,  I’m often asked for hiking recommendations.  There are so many trails in this city, essentially hiding in plain sight.  This one is tucked into a residential neighborhood.  Websites like alltrails.com don’t even mention some of our best trails, including this one.  So, I’m sharing an inside look at one of my favorite hidden gems!

Moss tischer creek

Locating the trailhead

When we moved to Duluth in 2016 – our real estate listing noted that we were just a block from this trailhead.  After some quick unpacking, we ventured out to explore what quickly became a daily walking path for us that year.  There isn’t a parking lot dedicated to this trail. I recommend parking at the Mount Royal Fine Foods grocery store and then locating the trailhead at the intersection of St. Marie Street and Vermilion Road.  The parking lot is circled in green and the trailhead is marked with a yellow ‘X’ in the photo below. 

Congdon Park Trailhead Duluth MN

You could start at the other end too, located at Superior Street and 32nd Avenue East.  I prefer starting at Mount Royal, however, because the trail is a lot more impressive on the Superior Street end.  I prefer to hike in a direction that gets better as you go.  

What you’ll see

This trail has a lot to offer!  There is a creek, with tidepools and waterfalls, that follows the full length of the trail.  As you move along, you’ll notice a distinct ‘canyon feel’ develop.  You’ll also notice several 1930’s bridges amongst the billion-year-old volcanic rock walls.  People swim and fish in the creek.  The path is gorgeous in any season.  On the Superior Street side, you’ll see several bridges, During the winter, I advise wearing Yaktrax for safety on the ice.

Winter Congdon Park Trail

Duluth Mn hiking trails

Options

This trail has 3 options. 1) If you have a stroller or aren’t wanting to concentrate too hard, stay on the blacktop.  2)Scoot down closer to Tischer Creek — there is a gravel path that runs parallel to the blacktop which puts you closer to the water.  3) Walk right next to the creek, which provides the best view, but calls for paying closer attention to your footing, and definitely holding hands with any small children

Volcanic rock creek canyon

Trail Difficulty

It’s a pretty easy trail!  I’ve hiked it while carrying a baby, with my 5-year-old nephew, and with my Mom while she had a chemo port in her stomach.  I will note that the trail has a decent incline.  For this reason,  I have never ever seen anyone biking up the trail, despite it being paved.  I saw a cross country team training on it on time, going uphill, and they did not appear to enjoy their workout that day!  Going down is nice and easy, and going back up is slightly more work.   If you get tired, there are plenty of benches where you can stop and rest along the way.

Hiking with kids in Duluth

Fun facts

Chester Congdon who resided with his family at Glensheen Mansion developed this trail.  There are similar bridges on the Glensheen estate, and restoration efforts are underway to reconnect the estate trails with this one.  

Tischer Creek, Duluth, MN

Also note, while this trail is in town, there are bears and deer in these woods.  Deer in Duluth act like dogs — they aren’t too scared of people.  For this reason, you might have to walk around them — they will not skitter away like most deer in the world.  While I have not personally seen a bear on this trail, the year my yard butted up against it, we saw a bear in the yard three times.  

Duluth, Minnesota's best kept secret

3 Day Weekend in Memphis with a Newborn Baby 

Memphis weekend with a newborn family travel guide 3 day itinerary

Hello all!  To cap off my final week of maternity leave, we took a weekend trip to Memphis.  This is Hattie’s first official vacation!  Joe and I are committed to helping Hattie develop an appreciation for exploring, right from the start.  Of course traveling with a newborn is a little different than a couple’s getaway, but we’re welcoming this new stage of life and are excited to show Hattie all that this world has to offer.

Where we stayed

We really enjoyed the historic Peabody Hotel, which is famous for its Duck March!  The ducks march out every day at 11 am, with great pomp and circumstance.  They enjoy their day in a fountain located in the hotel’s lobby.  At 5 pm, they march off to bed.  It’s quite silly and fun, and a perfect event for folks of any age to enjoy!

Our room at the Peabody historic hotel

The National Civil Rights Museum

The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is was perhaps the most fascinating museum I’ve ever visited.  Hattie enjoyed riding with Dad in the Baby Bjorn throughout our entire visit.  The museum chronicles the American Civil rights movement, beginning with resistance to slavery, to the Civil war, to the sit-ins and marches of the 1960s.  The museum is attached to the hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King was shot.  It has been preserved to maintain the look of the period, from the cars parked outside, down to the very small details — there was food and ashtrays in the room, exactly how they found it the day he died. This was really powerful and made me feel like I had traveled back in time to that very tragic day.    

Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel – where MLK was shot


Civil Rights Museum

Where we ate

Hattie enjoyed her first meal at the Hard Rock Cafe.  I was tempted to get her a t-shirt, but ultimately decided she has time for one of those in the future.  It’s always fun to see the memorabilia in these restaurants!

Hard Rock Cafe


The Peabody Ducks


Ducks with Dad

Graceland

If you’re traveling with an infant, you definitely don’t want to miss Graceland!  Seeing Elvis’s home was fascinating.  You have the opportunity to tour the first floor.  There’s also museum-type exhibits outside the home.  Seeing Elvis’s grave was also oddly emotional — people were pretty serious  in this area of the property.  And finally, at the end of the tour, there’s a short concert with a light show that Hattie adored. Her face lit up and I think she would have stood up and danced if she could have!  

Baby loved Elvis!

Pool time

The pool at the Peabody isn’t super large, but we were the only ones there.  This 0-3 month swimsuit is too cute for words! 

First hotel swim!

All in all, this trip was an absolute success for us and for Hattie.  If you’re looking for a quick getaway with kids, Memphis has more than enough options to keep everyone entertained.

Our Babymoon!

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Happy New Year! We spent the first 4 days of 2015 on our babymoon in San Francisco. We set out at around 2:30 am on December 31st — blarg. We made it to California around 2 PM and checked into our hotel — the Radisson at Fisherman’s Wharf around 4 PM. We made a quick stop for a late lunch at IHOP (of all places — it was right next door to our hotel and we both love it!). Next, we wandered around the wharf taking in the street performers and bayside views. Sea lion’s congregate year-round right off of Pier 39, so we spent some time watching them bark and topple over one another in a large heap. We made our way into an arcade that hosts antique machines from the 1800’s up through the 1980’s. Many of the machines had a sign that said– be careful — this machine is older than you’ll ever be! But all of them worked and we played nearly all of them. A lot of the games were fun, some were odd, and others were just a little creepy! Overall, it was interesting to see how arcades evolved over time. We made our way back to the hotel to clean up and get ready for dinner. We met up with our friends Marty and Candice and their little daughter Natalie for supper at Boudin — a restaurant famous for their sourdough bread. The food was delicious and the company was even better. There is nothing better than catching up with old friends while ringing in a new year!

Antique arcade

Antique arcade

Fortune typing machine

Fortune typing machine

Sea lions at Pier 39

Sea lions at Pier 39

Ready for dinner!

Ready for dinner!

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

The next morning we slept in a little and set out for some city sightseeing on a San Francisco double-decker bus tour. We looped around the downtown area, taking in the architecture and history of buildings including the Cannery, city hall, Coit Tower, the ferry building and many others. We stopped for lunch at King’s House of Thai Noodles — wonder of all wonders! Joe is not really known for agreeing to each in such establishments. Back on the bus, we headed into union square — a large shopping district. I found some great deals on maternity dresses — less than $5 each! Next, we wandered through China town, an area that I have always been curious about. There was less food in the area than I expected, but a lot of interesting stores. We made a stop at In n Out Burger for supper — a California fast-food chain that was founded in 1949 but never really franchised much outside of the state. It was good — and a good way to replenish after the 7.51 miles we walked that day. Fitbit stat #1!

The Cannery

The Cannery

China town

China town

The second day we took a tour shuttle across the Golden Gate Bridge into Muir Woods — home of San Francisco’s redwood forest. The park was chilly and foggy, which gave it a mystical feel. The suns rays were visible between the trees which made for a heavenly aura. We hiked around for 1.5 hours before we had to return to the shuttle. I think we could have stayed a good deal longer if we had the choice. These trails were a small step above the ones we trek in Missouri! The shuttle dropped us off in Sausalito — a small bayside town known for its mansions and it’s bike trails. We had lunch at a cafe and wondered along the bayside taking in views of the San Francisco skyline. After a few hours, we took a ferry back across the bay and made the challenging trek up to Lombard street. San Francisco is filled with hills. Many of their sidewalks would make more sense as stairways. The walk up to Lombard street was one that required us (okay, me, the pregnant one!) to take a couple of breaks. But we made it — and the view was a good one. It’s a funny site — the most crooked street in the US — constantly filled with traffic that is there for no other reason but to drive down the goofy street. Next, we made our way down to Aquatic Cove beach where we saw some crazy person swimming in a Speedo. The weather in California was cold — high 40’s, low 50’s. You might think — that doesn’t sound cold, but add in some humidity, and yes, it really is. Having lived in Southern Mississippi where January = wet cold and Northern Minnesota where January = dry crazy cold, I consider myself an authority on “feels like” winter weather conditions. Both are bad, and neither is meant for swimming! We had supper at a beachfront restaurant (more sourdough!), before heading to bed. Fitbit stat #2: 8.49 miles walked!

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

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Lombard Street

Lombard Street

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Our last full day in the city, we took a bay cruise to Alcatraz island. I wasn’t entirely sure that I would enjoy Alcatraz. High-security prisons don’t really equate with “happy place” or “vacation destination” in my mind. But, on the other hand, I felt like it was one of those things you should do if you have the chance. I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. I wasn’t aware that the Alcatraz history stretched back to the Civil War, where it served as a military fort for the Union. Later, it served as a high-security prison that closed in 1964 due to high operating costs and new trends in corrections leaning away from punishment and towards correction and rehabilitation. Finally, in the later 60’s the island was inhabited by Native Americans, protesting their mistreatment by American settlers. The island views were gorgeous from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate, with the San Francisco Skyline in between. We did an audio tour of the cell house, where we learned about prison life as well as the prisoner’s failed escape plans. We also learned about the many guards’ families who inhabited the island. I thought it was interesting that many admitted to never locked their doors. After taking in most of the exhibits on the island, we returned to the boat and ate lunch as we traveled back across the bay. Next, keeping with the “locked up” theme of the day, we went to the International Spy Store for a lock picking lesson. This was a Groupon purchase inspired by something Joe said on our way home from a trip to Mexico a few years ago. We’d locked our keys in the trunk of the Mustang and had to hire a locksmith. Since convertibles don’t have a trunk release, the locksmith had a really hard time getting into the trunk itself. Joe said watching someone attempt to break into his car was kind of an entertaining vacation excursion in itself. Ergo — when I saw the Groupon — I just had to get it as part of Joe’s Christmas present! The spy store itself looks cool on the outside, but it could have been set up better on the inside, in my opinion. We learned how to pick handcuffs, padlocks, and door locks. From what I can tell — it takes practice, but it’s not impossible for anyone who has some time. Of course — we will use our powers for good — if you get locked out of your house — give us a call! Next, we took a ride on a cable car! I can’t believe these things still exist — it seems like a major liability for a city to allow random citizens to hang off the side of public transportation running right alongside normal city traffic. But, they are certainly fun — as Joe says — they’re kind of like a wooden roller coaster. After doing a little more shopping (more maternity clothes!) we returned on the cable car, had supper (at IHOP, again — yes!) and went to bed. Our alarm went off at 2 am and we spent the day making our way back to Rolla. I have one funny travel story — but I refuse to publish it on the internet! If you see me — Katie — be sure to ask!

Arriving at Alcatraz Island

Arriving at Alcatraz Island

On the island

On the island

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Cable car

Cable car

Babymoon is kind of funny word, and from what I can tell, a new concept that probably leaves some people rolling their eyes. Traveling with Joe for the last 9 years has definitely been one of the best parts of my life. Throughout this trip, we had babies on the brain and we kept our eyes peeled for baby travelers. They are out there and soon enough we’ll have one of our very own! We can’t wait!

3 Day Weekend in Hot Springs National Park

Hot-Springs-National-Park-Guide-to-the-Bathhouse-Buckstaff-Travel-Guide

Hello from Hot Springs! It’s the last long weekend of Summer 2014 and we decided to make the most of it with a little getaway to someplace we’ve never been — Hot Springs, Arkansas!

Hot Springs is a National Park that contains plenty of water, hiking trails, and some hot and steamy natural springs. Throngs of Americans flooded this area in the 1920’s in search of relaxation and the natural elixir found in the city’s many bathhouses. With the rise of antibiotic treatments, the public bathing business has taken a dive, leaving the city of Hot Springs itself with the vibe of a historic era — gone, but not forgotten.
Hot Springs Arkansas Chapel

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We hit the road on Saturday around 9 am and rolled into town around 3:30 PM. Our first stop was Garvan Woodland Gardens — home of St. Anthony’s Chapel and miles of hiking trails. We spent a few hours winding around the path, checking out the lake along with many streams and waterfalls.

Next, we went to dinner at the Bleu Monkey Grille, a casual restaurant right next door to our hotel. We both ordered fresh pasta and ate more than enough.

After a good night’s sleep at Country Inn and Suites (a hotwire deal), we headed downtown to check out the city. We went on a Duck Tour, which was a good way to get a lay of the land, but I don’t think either of us really shared in the guide’s humor. Regardless, ducks are a fun way to tour most anywhere — we saw the sights in town and enjoyed a tour around Lake Hamilton.
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Next, we did a little more hiking along the Grand Promenade — a paved walkway where well-to-do folks used to strut along like peacocks –showing off their fine fashions before or after indulging in the baths. Today, it’s still a nice nature path — filled with a variety of people in hiking gear. We stuck our hands in the HOT water — the streams steam like pots of boiling water. Stand close enough to the spring and you’ll get the same sensation you would get standing in a sauna. Perhaps it’s the power of suggestion, but I felt like my hands were extra soft after dunking them in the springs.

We ate lunch at the Copper Penny Pub — an Irish bar with live music and hearty food. After lunch, we headed towards bathhouse row — a line of historic bathhouses, some of which are still in operation today. The first building hosted the National Park visitor center. In here, we both drank a cup of the spring water. The water is tasteless, but it contains large amounts of minerals including calcium and fluoride. Outside the bathhouse, we noticed people filling bottles and jugs in the public spring taps. One man, in particular, had a dozen 10-gallon jugs. Nice guy — he warned me that the water was hot. Hot? Really? Where are we right now?
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Anyway! The next bathhouse we toured had been converted into an art gallery. Local artists mostly focused on the city’s history. The building retained its original layout and materials, so it made for a very fancy antique bathroom feel.

Next, we entered Buckstaff Bathhouse- the only bathhouse that sustained continuous operation since 1912. I decided to give the public bathing scene a try. Joe Jackson opted to wait for me on the porch. Really, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’ve been to lots of spas in several different states, but this particular place prides itself in maintaining a historic bathing experience. Upon entering the spa, I put all my clothes in a locker and one of the attendants wrapped me up in a sheet toga style and led me to a waiting area to sit down. I felt like I had jumped in a time machine and ended up in a 1950’s hospital. Looking around, most everything was white and there was no air conditioning. The air was humid and dozen’s of female staff scurried around with towels, guiding other sheet clad women from bathtubs to cooling tables.

The public bathing process has several stages. First, a 20-minute bath in a claw foot tub. After getting into the tub, the bath attendant covers you in a towel and then scrubs you down with a loofah. Pretty sure no one has given me a bath in a really really long time — so this was very weird. And not what I expected given my other experiences in all the other spas in all the other states! The bathtubs have a metal motor that looks like it belongs in an antique store. The motor agitates the water and somehow, my towel got tangled up in it and the attendant had to come and help me get it out. Ahem — did I really pay for this bizarre experience? Yes, yes I did. Moving on. After 20 minutes, the bath is over and out you go to the cooling table. My legs were both packed with hot towels and I got an ice towel for my head. Next, you sit in a sitz bath — which is sort of like sitting in a sink. The water is hotter and it is supposed to help with lower back problems. Then, you go into a steam chamber, which is a metal box, filled with steam with a hole for your head to stick out. Finally, a needles shower and a massage round out the whole experience. It’s a fun experience in that it’s historic, and relaxing, and other-worldly — people don’t do this anymore, except for the die-hards at Buckstaff who refuse to let their tradition die its potentially deserved death.

Next, we toured Fordyce Bathhouse which is the most ornate bathhouse. This building has been preserved to function as a museum focused on the heyday of bathhouses and public bathing. At the height of the bathhouse craze, Hot Springs gave nearly a million baths a year. Most bathhouses went out of business in the early 80’s. As an aside, all the bathing equipment pictured above is similar to everything I encountered at Buckstaff.
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After some snacks, we drove up a mountain to take in some scenic views. We rode up the mountain tower which had 2 observation decks. The top deck offered an open-air view and the lower deck was enclosed with a 360 timeline of the city’s history. For only 6 dollars a person, it was a steal of a deal for over an hour of fun.
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We ate supper and Perkin’s and we’re headed home tomorrow morning. Hot Spring has been a good experience — kind of like a little time capsule in the middle of Arkansas!

Back to reality

Hey all. We’ve been home for a week now — whew! The jetlag has worn off and while vacations are what I live for, it’s good to be home. Joe is already gone again –he left for Portland on Saturday. What happens in Portland? Software conferences and homework! Joe has one paper to complete for his final MBA course. He’ll be home Thursday.

I went to the Lake of the Ozarks yesterday with my dear friend Melissa. Lots of fund in the sun was just what I needed because today, I dusted off my dissertation. I’m not exaggerating — there really was dust on the literature that lives in piles on my office floor — ack! I finished about 5 pages of chapter 5.

For folks who do not have Facebook, here is the link to some of our photos from Europe: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.849859139057.1073741826.74601262&type=1&l=e030ff0623

London: Last Day!

London: Last Day!
Hello from up in the air somewhere! We are couple hours away from Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s been such a relaxing flight — after a couple really busy weeks, it’s feels great to zone out and relax.

Yesterday, we spent our final day in London. We had a great breakfast at the BnB which actually ended up lasting a for few hours — good food and fun conversation. The BnB is operated by a British woman who is a retired business executive. I would recommend her accommodations to anyone with high regard. Next, we went to tour the Tower of London, a castle which used to house Britain’s royalty and was later converted to a prison. Today, the crown jewel’s are stored there deep inside a vault which contains moving walkways for the continuous crowds who come to view these historic treasures. Yeoman wardens, also known as Beefeaters, give tours of the tower which mostly focused on executions. For me, the tour guides stories were unenjoyable — but, I have an aversion to violent stories– no matter how old or ridiculous they are!

We had a nice lunch in an Italian restaurant we later realized was a chain — oh well! It was good! Next, we took a train to the Docklands and checked out a shopping mall — this area of London felt very different. In fact, we both agreed it felt quite a bit like Des Moines, IA! Not much hustle and bustle with some nice scenic lakes.

After a little shopping, we headed back towards Central London and toured the Tate Modern museum. This gallery showcases works by Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, Monet, and Picasso. We appreciated some works more than others. A few pieces didn’t look too complicated. One in particular was just regular medicine chest hanging on wall — its significance was lost on us. But overall, I think the impressive pieces outweighed those we found somewhat questionable. We stayed until the gallery closed at 6 pm.

Wanting to take in as much of the city as we could in our last day, we walked a few miles along the river Thames. After returning to the BnB, we headed back out for a late night dessert at a pub.

This morning, we got up at 5:15, bid adieu to our BnB host and took our final ride on the underground. At the airport, we did some last minute duty free souvenir shopping and now, here we are on the plane!

Tonight, we have a 4 layover in Charlotte, North Carolina. Joe’s parents dare driving up from South Carolina to meet us for supper — yay! Then, we’ll head out to St. Louis and finally, sweet home Rolla, Missouri! By the time we get home, it will be around 10 pm, which will actually feel like 3 am. Doesn’t sound too bad — we’ll see!

London : Day 12

Today began with a 5:30 am wakeup call at sea. We spent a night on the Stenaline Ferry — sort of like a mini cruise ship. The ship contained a condensed amount of amenities — private cabins for sleeping and showering, a store, restaurant, movie theatre, basketball court and a few slot machines. After boarding, we explored the areas, but then jumped into bed in preparation for an early wake-up call. I fell asleep right away, but Joe had a tougher time — the water was really choppy and ferry’s don’t really stabilize — so lots of ocean motion!

After we landed, we took a train from Harwich into London. After stowing our luggage at the train station, we headed straight for St. Paul’s Cathedral. This tour marks our sixth and final cathedral tour of the trip and it did not disappoint! Using the audio guide, we learned all about the church’s history. This church survived the Blitz of WWII, in fact a group of 40 volunteers guarded the church as a “bomb-squad” every night — extinguishing the small bombs before they detonated. The dome of the building spires above the London sky-line. We hiked up hundreds of spiraled steps to to all three dome look-outs. The first look- out, called the whispering gallery, is essentially a ledge around the interior of of the dome. The architecture is such that whispers carry astoundingly well around and across the dome. The next two look-outs required that we hike up several steep metal spiral staircases surrounded by metal fencing to provide some additional safe-guarding. These stairs scared the be-jeebers out of me — but I found some comfort in their sacred location! The bird’s eye view of London was nice — our climb paid off.

Next, we headed to the West End, London’s theatre district, for a matinee showing of Stomp. I loved it and Joe fell asleep! This is actually pretty typical for Joe at theatrical performances, but I was somewhat impressed on this particular occasion — Stomp is not a quiet show — it’s basically two hours of garbage can percussion. There were a few times when it got so loud, I kind of wanted to cover my ears. I am tempted to share a list of other mildly entertaining occasions when Joe has fallen asleep, but I shall refrain.

After the play, we picked up our bags and headed to check into our final accommodations — the Pooters BnB. This particular BnB is quite small with two guest rooms. It’s owned by a lovely British woman named Allyson who has been a nice host so far. There is an Italian man staying here too. We haven’t caught a glimpse of him yet, but we should all meet tomorrow at breakfast!

Amsterdam: Day 10 and 11

Amsterdam Days 10-11
Hello from the train tracks! We just wrapped up our final 2 days in Amsterdam. Tonight, we’re headed out to sea on an overnight ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich (England). We are spending 2 more days in London before we fly out of Heathrow on Saturday morning.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Amsterdam. Yesterday, we toured the church where Rembrandt is buried. We actually stumbled upon the building on our way to the Anne Frank House. It was a Protestant church, which (perhaps under the power of suggestion) made it feel more familiar than the other Catholic cathedrals we’ve visited on this trip.

Touring the Anne Frank House was one thing I was most looking forward to on our trip. When I was in third grade, my Mom started reading parts of Anne’s diary out loud and then convinced me to finish reading it myself. The majority of the story came flooding back as we toured the rooms of the secret annex. The house is now a museum and a large and persistent crowd tours the space every day. The bookcase that hid the entrance to the secret annex is completely intact. The magazine pictures that Anne glued to her bedroom wall were also preserved, along with a map where Otto Frank had tracked the progress of the Ally invasion. At Otto’s request, the rooms were left empty of props or furniture to signify the mass extinction of Jewish life and culture that occurred. Certainly, the horrors of the Holocaust are not lost on many, but what is difficult for me to wrap my mind around is how recent the events actually were to my lifetime. Did you know that (if all were still alive today) Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barbara Walters would all be the same age?

After the tour, we grabbed some pizza for a late lunch (we eat meals at the oddest hours, and rarely make 3 meals a day — eating in restaurants takes a lot more time in Europe — their service is purposely slow and relaxed. It’s nice, but sometimes it’s a little stressful when you’re hoping to make it to the next site before it closes. On this particular occasion, we didn’t make it to our next site — the Gassan diamond polishing demonstration. Oh well! We took a detour through the red light district instead. This particular neighborhood is quite small — in fact, we checked our map a few times to locate it. The district hosts prostitutes, who rent out store windows and solicit business — one of the world’s oldest professions. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this neighborhood. I ended up feeling a little startled by the women knocking on the glass as we walked by. It was awkward and neither of us was really sure where to look. Curiosity brought us there and after 3 blocks, I think, I was glad I could check this item off my list as done, saw it, won’t need to see it again.

Today, we booked a day trick to see the Holland countryside. We boarded a double-decker motorcoach at 9 am and headed towards our first stop in, Zaanse Schans, a small town that still operates windmills from the 1600s. We were able to tour the interior of one of the windmills where peanut oil is still produced today. The windmills were beautiful and the town had a real storybook quality with cute little houses, Dutchman riding bikes, and the cleanest looking farm animals I’ve ever seen — sheep and goats — happily chomping on grass.

Our next stop was Volendam, a fisherman’s village with several sea-side eateries and a cheese factory. We toured the factory and sampled several different varieties of fresh cheese. We had lunch in a gorgeous little cafe and we had the place completely to ourselves. I had a salad with fresh goat cheese which was made right in town — delicious!

After lunch, we boarded a boat to Marken, another small seaside village. Here, we toured a clog-making factory. I thought this activity looked kind of hokey in the tour brochure, but our tour guide was very engaging. She demonstrated a pair of clogs being made from a block of poplar wood. She also told a story about how clogs used to be used for marriage proposals in Marken. When a man went out to sea, he would bring some wood along with him on the boat. He’d carve the clogs by hand and then put his name on one foot and the name of his sweetheart on the other. Months later, upon his return to the village, he would leave the clogs on his sweetheart’s doorstep. In the morning, if the clogs were taken inside, the proposal was accepted. If not, the proposal was declined. The tour guide shared that her father proposed to her mother 3 times with clogs before she accepted (the third proposal included a diamond ring from Amsterdam:)) The tour guide admitted that she wears clogs every day with a pair of thick woolen socks. Suddenly, I wanted a pair of these ridiculous wooden shoes too! Luckily, i held strong and the moment has officially passed!

We returned to Amsterdam on the motor-coach and decided to check out The Art of the Brick exhibition right next door to our hotel. This exhibition actually highlights a New York artist’s work with lego blocks. I think these pieces speak for themselves! The exhibit was so fun and it was nice to be inside — it has been in the 50s and raining throughout these past 2 days. Isn’t it July? Brrr!!!

Amsterdam: Day 9

Amsterdam Day 9

Hello from Holland! Our day began bright and early with a 5 am wake-up call. We showered and ran out the door of the Hotel Metropole. The running continued at the train station as we jumped on the Thalys training without a minute to spare. Once the train started moving, we both fell asleep as we traveled through Antwerp and Rotterdam. When we arrived in Amsterdam, we got oriented and checked into our next hotel — Citizen M Amsterdam City. This particular hotel has a modern Ikea vibe. Half of the room is taken up by a square extra-long King size bed. The other half has two glass capsules — one with a shower and the other with a commode. You can adjust the light color for both the capsules using the room’s mood-pad. I am calling this our spaceship room.

After checking in, we got some breakfast at a cafe and decided to hop on a canal cruise to start exploring the city. Joe’s first impression of Amsterdam was that it reminded him of Minneapolis. It’s not too hot and not too cold. The city feels very clean and new. I was pretty surprised — I was really expecting something with more of a New Orleans vibe, but I haven’t felt that way so far. There are bicycles and canal boats everywhere you turn. There’s modern architecture in some neighborhoods while others contain long lines of tall, skinny historic homes with gabled roofs.

The city natives speak Dutch to one another, but it seems like everyone also speaks flawless English to out-of-towners. The canal tour included a narration that looped in 4 different languages.

After the tour, we did a little more exploring on foot. We wandered the flower market, which offers every variety of flower bulb. I wish I had some room in my suitcase for the “Queen of the Night’ black tulip bulbs! We also toured some cheese shops, sampling all the locally made varieties — again, more room in the suitcase would be great!

After shopping, we headed in to tour the Van Gogh museum. Vincent is one of my favorite artists, so I was really looking forward to touring all 4 floors of his work. The curators of this particular museum did an amazing job of creating exhibits that draw you into the story of Van Gogh’s life. While I think a lot of his life story is common knowledge, I felt I was hearing about it all for the first time, sort of like when you read a good novel or see a good movie about a historical event. One thing I was surprised to learn that Van Gogh wasn’t actually a self-taught prodigy. He actually struggled to develop his artistic talent and often relied on artistic tools that were frowned upon by other artists. He also engaged a number of meticulous processes to develop his masterpiece, often creating multiple practice paintings on site before even starting the version inside his studio. His style swung like a pendulum, starting out exclusively with dull, almost black earth tones before swiftly transitioning into the century’s first modern colorist. I was thrilled with this particular museum!

Next, we hit up the Hard Rock Cafe for supper. The restaurant is located right on the canal and we got a table with a great view of the water. We are back at the hotel now and getting ready to watch a movie and rest up for tomorrow. Good night all!

Brussels: Day 8

Brussels Day 7

Hello from Belgium! I’m typing this post in a huge puffy bed in the Hotel Metropole — our one and only 5-star accommodation on this trip. Joe and I are both pretty thrifty people, but since Brussels is the EU capital city, hotel prices are slashed in July and August when their government is out of session. I was excited about the birdcage elevator and the lavender crystal chandelier above our bed.

We packed up this morning and headed for the train station. The morning was pretty uneventful until we sat breakfast in the train station. We were chomping away at our final french pastries when suddenly I heard a plop and Joe’s doughnut was covered with something. I was so confused, for a second I thought he had thrown up. But, Joe set me straight — a pigeon had flown into the station and pooped right over our table. How’s that for keeping it real?

After the train ride and checking into our hotel, we set out to stroll the streets of Brussels. This is by far the smallest city we’ve visited so far with a population of about 1 million people. While Brussels doesn’t have many well-known ticketed attractions, it’s high on ambiance. Our first destination was the Grand Place, which is known as the most beautiful square in Europe. We ate a late lunch — ordering many Belgian specialties including waffles, beer, and frittes (french fries, cooked twice and served with mayonnaise). Joe also ordered some lasagna and we shared everything. It was all amazingly delicious.

After lunch, we took in some of the action in the square. We checked out a few of the shops which host other Belgian trademarks — chocolate and hand-made lace. Due to pouring rain and neither of us feeling the best (Joe has a cold and I ate too many waffles) we decided to call it an early night. We have both been enjoying some R&R — I took a bubble bath and Joe has been watching Wimbledon. Tomorrow, we head out on the early train to Amsterdam — good night!

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