Tag Archives: travel photos

My Favorite Season: Fall

Maine - Somesville Bridge

Oh, fall… I miss you so much. I miss experiencing all four seasons and the benefits of each like leaves turning, snow falling or bulbs blooming. But mostly I miss sweaters and drinking hot cocoa at high school football games. I long for those days when you can step outside and see your breath. In the suburbs south of Houston, we have only two seasons – Summer & More Summer. Our change of season comes down to this: in February, we stop mowing for 3-4 weeks.

The Complete Package and I both love Fall. So much so, we usually travel north each year just to celebrate autumn. Since we’ll be remodeling our master bathroom instead of traveling this year, I’m celebrating the advent of fall with a few photos from our trip to Acadia National Park in Maine back in 2008. It was glorious. So welcome, Fall. Please come see us. We miss you something fierce.

Foliage in Acadia Natl Park

Acadia Maine - Sun Through Fall Foliage

Acadia Maine Leaves in Water

Acadia - Path to Jordan Pond

Somesville Main Tree in Fall

Ever thought of visiting Acadia National Park? Learn more HERE. Some of our other fall favorites – Glacier National Park, Calgary & Banff, Yellowstone & The Tetons, and the Oregon coast. Do you have a favorite place to visit in the fall? Please share! You may just inspire our next fall vacation or someone else’s.

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Where have I been? Vancouver!

Vancouver, British Columbia – it’s on Canada’s western coast. Ever been? It has been on our bucket list for years. So when The Complete Package & I decided to take a trip to celebrate our 30th anniversary, we picked Vancouver. Why? For the mountains and the ocean and the food and the culture and the whales, of course! And it was every bit as beautiful as I thought it would be.


I don’t usually photograph airports, but Vancouver’s is lovely. This gorgeous sculpture greeted us as we stepped off our plane. As far as airports go, Vancouver gets a solid A+ (in case you’re rating airports).

For lodging, we decided to rent an apartment in the Yaletown area of downtown Vancouver. Apartments are plentiful in Vancouver, and this one really stood out. The location was perfect, the apartment was beautiful, the private rooftop terrace was a total bonus, and the views were stunning. I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the floor when we walked in. Here are the snaps we took once we recovered.

I’ve mentioned HomeAway.com and VRBO.com before, and we used it again for this trip. I can’t say enough about our experiences except that each place we’ve rented has been completely different and each has been spectacular. This rooftop “Skybox” apartment in hip Yaletown was no exception. Everything about it was fabulous. Did I mention the views? Because I just can’t say enough about the views of Vancouver from this apartment.

It wasn’t easy, but we did actually leave the apartment long enough to see some of Vancouver. Here are a few of the places we visited:

The Capilano Suspension Bridge & Treetop Walks

Chinatown & The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden

Historic Gastown

Granville Island & Public Market

The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia

Whale Watching along the San Juan Islands

The Vancouver Aquarium

Miscellaneous Sights Around Vancouver

And in case you’re a foodie, there was food. Lots of food.

Recognize that last one? That’s poutine – it’s a Canadian thing. French fries topped with cheese curds, then smothered in gravy. It was on my “must try” list, along with Nanaimo Bars and local wild salmon. If you make it to Vancouver some day, give it a try. Poutine. Remember that name (if you love gravy).

Vancouver was glorious. The friendliest people on earth live there, and I’d be friendly too if I were lucky enough to live in such a wonderful place. They have a temperate climate. They have ocean views and mountains galore. They plant flowers on every corner and hang them from every street light. Vancouver is beautiful; plain & simple. And if it’s not on your bucket list yet, it should be.

Note from NanaBread: this blog post was long on photos but short on text, so if you have any questions please leave me a comment. I’m happy to answer anything I can about our Vancouver trip.

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My favorite wallpaper

A close-up of the Mucha stained glass window at St Vitus Cathedral

When I say wallpaper, I don’t mean wallpaper wallpaper. As in not on the walls of my home. This photo is the wallpaper or backdrop on my laptop. Many times a day I gaze at this photograph and still I can’t seem grasp all the glorious detail and exquisite color. I took this photo last fall on our trip to the Netherlands, Istanbul & Prague. This is the famous Mucha window in St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic. It was designed by Alphonse Mucha, whom I personally believe to be one of the greatest Art Nouveau masters of all time.

Note: to see the photos in a larger format, simply click on the photo. When you’re done, hit the ‘back’ arrow on your computer to return to this post.

Here is the window in its entirety:

A full view of Mucha’s glorious tribute to Prague’s Jubilee

Simply stunning. Until our trip to Prague, the stained glass windows at St. Chapelle in Paris were my personal favorite. But now? I just can’t stop looking at this window. No matter how many times I see it, I can’t get enough.

The detail and color in each panel is simply stunning.

Are you a stained glass lover? Do you find yourself planning visits to old churches when you travel just to see the gorgeous art? Because if you don’t, you’re missing some of the finest historical masterpieces the world has to offer. If you have any favorites, please share them in the comment section. I’d love to see what inspires you and perhaps add a few new destinations to my bucket list.

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Prague – The Food

I’m still going through vacation photos; sorting them out and reliving our trip. As I am, I realized it only seems fair to post a few photos of some of the food we tried in Prague. I mean, Istanbul got a food post. And The Netherlands got a good bit of attention with Claudia’s herring and my beloved oliebollen. So, in the interest of all things fair and right and foodie, here are a few of the food snaps I managed to take before stuffing my face. Note to self: I really need to work on that whole ‘pause, show some restraint, photograph, then eat’ system.

The first thing you need to know about food in Prague is that it tastes better when you eat it in a quaint neighborhood beer garden like this one.

You can't beat the food or fun offered at a neighborhood beer garden

And it’s even better if your neighborhood beer garden is rowdy and festive and brightly painted, and has great beer and live music.

Who could possibly resist this place? Or polka music?

Not much of a beer drinker? How about a cup of piping hot honey wine, then?

Honey Wine vendor at Old Town Square

I’ll warn you – it tastes a little like a hot, oaky chardonnay but with a healthy dose of paint stripper and Nyquil. And not the good cherry Nyquil, either. Gird your loins, kids. This stuff packs a punch. It was warming and sweet at the first sip. It was punching me in the gut and trying to steal my wallet by the last. Frankly, they could have sold a lot more of it if they’d just served it up in one of these beauties. That little bit of marketing genius is free, honey wine man.

I'm guessing everything tastes better in hand cut Czech glass. Pinkies up!

You know what else is really attractive (to me, anyway)? Big honkin’ hams smoking on an open fire pit. I can’t look at this stuff without wondering where the big pan of biscuits is hiding. Yes, I’m southern. Why do you ask, darlin’?

This is Old Prague Ham and That is the Old Prague Ham Master

I could go into the history of Old Prague Ham, but frankly I don’t care how it got here. I just want it really bad and I can’t stay focused on anything other than its smoky goodness long enough to put any more effort into it. Here’s what you need to know – it’s gorgeous and it smells like smoky meat heaven. Period.

Don't you wish you had smell-o-vision right now?

But wait! There’s more! The OPH man also sells sausages with rye bread and spicy mustard. AND kraut with little Czech dumplings and chunks of smoked ham in it. And Nestea, evidently.

Oh yeah, baby. We're about to get our Eastern European on!

The sausage was tasty and the bread was lovely and that kraut was a work of art, but let’s talk about the ham for a minute. Stay with me.

I would eat this on a boat. I would eat this on a float. I would eat this in a car...

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Dang! That’s a lot of smoky ham!” And you’d be right. Which brings me to my one and only tourist rip-off cautionary tale from our trip. The sign above the Old Prague Ham quotes a price. A very reasonable price. What you won’t notice (because I swear it didn’t say it anywhere) is that the quoted price is for a certain size portion of ham and that OPH is sold by weight. So unless you step up and say, “I’ll take the 80 Czech crown portion” (which translates to roughly $4.00 US), they will give you a giant plate of ham and tell you it’s 200 crowns (here, I’ll do the math – that’s $10.00 US). Now, ten dollars isn’t going to break anyone’s piggy bank, but what it will do is feed everyone standing within 10 feet of you. And that’s 10 feet of space in Old Town Square where all the tourists mingle in close proximity. I ate ham. The Complete Package tried the ham. The four Asian tourists sharing our tiny cocktail table were invited to try ham, but giggled at the absurdity of the size of my ham plate and politely declined. So instead, it fed two young homeless men who were scrounging through a garbage bin rescuing bread that others had tossed aside, and it also fed their little dog. Little dog got that crusty piece of ham skin, and he totally rocked it. Which leads me to my last two bits of advice about Old Prague Ham.

1. Too much Old Prague Ham may lead to massive stomach cramping and over-consumption of anti-diahrreal medications. It may also cause you to curse the day you ever laid eyes on 200 crowns worth of OPH, and say things to yourself like, “I’m sorry, Istanbul. I packed that Immodium assuming that I’d be sharing it with you. But I was wrong. So wrong. Please forgive me.”

2. If the wish I threw into that wishing well comes true and I do, indeed, return to Prague some day, I’m having what TCP had.

Because that's the way *uh huh uh huh* we like it

And now for something sweet. While at Prague Castle, a smell danced past my nostrils that was so intoxicating, I found myself drifting toward it much like those old cartoons where the besotted floats above the ground being pulled in a trance-like state towards something irresistible.

One whiff, and you'll want to hand over your wallet & credit cards

In this case, it was trdlo. I know. It’s an odd name. But what it lacks in vowels, it more than makes up for in aroma and flavor. Imagine the smell of warm cinnamon sugared toast. Picture the texture of soft warm white bread hot out of the oven. Now imagine the combination of those two things – a warm, soft cylinder of piping hot bread, enrobed in a crunchy cinnamon sugar hug.

Trdlo stands draw crowds of visitors, all following their noses

Here’s how it works. Bread dough is rolled into a thin rope and wrapped around a metal cylinder. A board is sprinkled with sugar crystals and cinnamon, and the cylinder is rolled through it, as though rolling out a pie crust or pizza dough. Rolling helps to flatten the dough onto the cylinder and helps the sugar/cinnamon mixture stick to the dough. The cylinders are then placed one at a time onto a special rack over a hot fire.

This stuff is heavenly, which makes those holy rollers

As each trdlo is taken off on one end, another new one is added at the other end. By the time each cylinder makes it across the fire, it is perfectly golden and ready to eat. Each roll is broken in half, forming two beautiful golden cuffs of deliciousness. If they weren’t so darned irresistible, I’d wear them like bangles on both wrists. So not kidding.

Another sweet treat was our stroll through the small but interesting History of Chocolate Museum. It’s tiny and kind of kitschy, but also fun. Your reward for paying the entrance fee is the live chocolate making demonstration, where a candy shop employee shows you the steps to making hazelnut creme filled chocolate stars.

The live chocolate making demonstration in progress

Oh, the magnificent aroma of that chocolate room. It’s so strong and so heavenly, it seems to permeate every cell of your body for at least 20 minutes. If I could bottle it as perfume, I could buy a summer castle in Prague. It was glorious. If you’re into tasting over smelling, the pay-off comes at the end of the demonstration when you get to sample the goods.

Twinkle twinkle little star, cuter than a Hershey Bar

And while I’ve always made it a practice not to publish photos of myself or TCP, he did manage to snap a shot of me coming out of the tasting room. It’s not flattering by any means, but what are you gonna do? Sometimes the truth hurts.

Oh, snap! I was sure NanaBread was a brunette!

Prague is primarily known for it’s pork dishes and dumplings, but there were a few culinary surprises. Take this appetizer, for example.

Fried Sardines & a cold Pilsner - TCP was one happy cat!

I don’t heart stinky fish, but The Complete Package does and he was tickled to pieces with this plate of sardines, fried up crispy and dipped in mayonnaise. And for the record, that’s not lumpy American mayo from a jar. That’s the good stuff. The homemade version. And if you ever eat it (especially on fries while in Europe), you will never look back. I think TCP could have sat in this little Italian cafe and eaten sardines all day long. The beer didn’t hurt, either.

And then there was this steaming platter of Spaghetti Carbonara. It was lovely, but it tasted even better than it looked.

Proof that everything is better with bacon

This was TCP’s lunch. I was hoping he’d filled up on stinky fish, but no such luck. Evidently he was just getting started. But I did get one bite, and it was tasty. Don’t feel bad for me, folks. Mama didn’t raise no fool. I did my research and knew October was at the peak of the wild mushroom harvest season. So guess what I ordered?

Read it and weep - Wild Mushroom Risotto

Oh, yeah. It was creamy. It was earthy. And it was fabulous. Which reinforces what I’ve said all along. When you travel, give yourself a gift you’ll always cherish. Try local foods. Immerse yourself in local customs. Try to live, as much as possible, as a local instead of a tourist and you will create memories that will last a lifetime. And, truth be told, that works just as well when traveling to other states as it does abroad.

If you missed the Prague post, you can click here for a shortcut.

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Vacation Photos, Week 3 – Prague

A violinist serenades tourists on Ke Hradu below Prague Castle

Words cannot capture the beauty of Prague. Simply put, it is breathtaking. It’s also romantic, historic and magical. Every day in Prague offers yet another opportunity to take a scenic walk back in time. From Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, to the Old Town Square with its gorgeous old churches and Astronomical clock, Prague offers visitors a chance to recapture history, from medieval times to the present day. And each step of the way, the Czech people have beautifully and lovingly preserved that history. Everywhere you look, you will find something to take your breath away. Prague has to be among the most beautiful cities in the world. Take a look, and see if you don’t agree.

The charming & historic Charles Bridge over the Vltava River at sunset

Prague Castle & the Mala Strana at sunset, from the Charles Bridge

An afternoon stroll into Old Town Square

One of the most spectacular timepieces in the world - The Astronomical Clock

A close-up of the fascinating faces of Prague's Astronomical Clock, built in 1410

An example of Prague's beautiful sgraffiti buildings

Beauty is everywhere in Prague; sometimes in unexpected places

The serene and uncrowded gardens of Prague Castle

A view of St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle from the top of the hill

St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle

The ornate tomb of King Wenceslas I, St. Vitus Cathedral

Alfons Mucha's stunning stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral

The tomb of St. John of Nepomuk, a beloved Czech national saint

View of the courtyard from the St. Vitus Cathedral Bell Tower

Prague as seen from Prague Castle; Charles Bridge at center of photo

The Zamecke Schody - the stairs below Prague Castle

The Senate & Gardens in the Mala Strana District

The Loreto's stunning Church of the Nativity

Prague at night is romantic, enchanting and magical

Prague's pastel buildings & orange tile roofs paint a pretty picture

St Nicholas Church, a Baroque gem in Old Town Square

Our Lady of Tyn Church seen from the Astronomical Clock Tower

If you dream of traveling the world and keep a list of “must see” places, you must add Prague to that list. From the friendliness of the Czech people to the stunning architecture, from their rich history to their young independence, Prague and the Czech Republic truly are a treasure; one I hope you’ll experience for yourself very soon.

This trip to Europe was a dream come true. To see more from this series:
Week 1, Netherlands – click here
Week 2, Istanbul – click here
Istanbul – The Food, click here

As always, all of the photos included in this blog were taken by me and are my sole property. Use without expressed written permission is strictly prohibited. Contact information, if needed, is listed in the ‘About’ page of this blog.

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Vacations Photos, Week 2 – Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia at dusk, as seen from our hotel window


Istanbul, Turkey – it’s ancient, historic, exotic, friendly, and awe-inspiring. It was Week Two of our 3-week vacation abroad. Why did we choose to include Istanbul? Because it was at the top of The Complete Package’s travel bucket list. It was his dream location. And since I got my German Christmas Markets trip last year, it was TCP’s turn to live out a travel dream.

We took thousands of photos in Istanbul, which speaks to the fact that it is one of the world’s great cities. The kind everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. This post is devoted to the highlights from Istanbul. I promise to post more photos over the next week to fill in the gaps on topics like shopping in the bazaars, the fabulous food, ancient sites, and our cruise on the Bosphorus. Words don’t do this city justice, so for now here are some of the highlights. I hope you are as blown away as we were. Istanbul was fabulous.

Click on any photo to enlarge, then use the back button to return to the blog.

The Hagia Sophia and park fountains at night

Interior of the Hagia Sophia from the upper gallery

The stunning ceilings of the Hagia Sophia

Example of the Byzantine mosaics in the Hagia Sophia

A view of the Blue Mosque through the domes of the Hagia Sophia

While the Hagia Sophia is dark, the Blue Mosque is bathed in light

Soaring domes and endless windows brighten the Blue Mosque

Every inch of the Blue Mosque appears to covered in colorful tiles

Topkapi Palace on a gray day is still just as lovely

The serene grounds of Topkapi Palace overlook the Bosphorus

An ornate door at Topkapi Palace. Understated? Hardly.

Topkapi's gorgeous Iznik tiles never fail to impress

The Basilica Cistern - Istanbul's underground treasure

The Egyptian Spice Market - selling exotic spices since the 1600's

The endless stalls of the Grand Bazaar are a visual feast

Traditional Turkish rugs are among the world's finest

Ferries help connect Europe and Asia as Istanbul spans two continents

Colorful homes and quaint villages line the Bosphorus

The old man and the sea. The Black Sea.

Everything in Istanbul is a delight. As is Turkish Delight.

That’s all for now, but don’t worry. There will be more to come throughout the week. If you have any questions, drop me a comment and I’ll answer as quickly as possible. Also, these photos and all others that appear on this blog were taken by me unless otherwise specified. All photos are the sole property of me, The Complete Package, and Inside NanaBread’s Head Blog. Use without written permission is prohibited. Contact info is provided on my “About” page.

For those who are anxious to see Week 3 in Prague, hang in there! It’s up next week, and you won’t want to miss it.

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Vacation Photos, Set 1 – Netherlands

This is Claudia. She makes me smile. She makes me laugh. Hi, Claudia.

Remember this face. It’s such a nice face. This face belongs to Claudia. Wonderful, funny, enchanting Claudia. She’s a reader of my blog and a resident of The Netherlands. Remember this face. She’ll be joining us again shortly.

I love to travel. Love, love, love it. And three weeks is a long time to be away from home, even for us. It’s a long time to be away from our kids. It’s a long time to be away from our sweet old smushy faced dog. But you know what? It’s a great gig if you can get it. Our three weeks away started with a business trip to The Netherlands for The Complete Package. The dates for his week-long business meetings came up sort of suddenly, but we were totally up for the challenge. And since his company was paying for his round-trip flights and hotel accommodations, we weren’t about to pass up this opportunity. I mean, he’s already going to Europe, right? So why not?

First up, business meetings in Den Haag (The Hague). If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that we were here last November as a first leg to our infamous German Christmas Markets Adventure. Boy, that was a great trip. This year, we found ourselves back in The Hague for a week and back at the Hilton Den Haag. If you’re visiting The Netherlands, I highly recommend it.

The Hague Hilton - what a lovely place to stay

I know I said this last year, but I L-O-V-E this hotel. The building is fantastic. The location is superb. The rooms are spacious. The bathrooms are luxurious. And the staff is friendly and helpful and engaging. It really is a dream hotel. And their beds are to die for. If I lived here, I’d rarely get out of this bed.

Big, fluffy king-size beds - the stuff dreams are made of

Just like last year, I planned to spend my days sightseeing and shopping while TCP slaved over a hot laptop, working (as usual, he would say). There are endless streets filled with countless shops, cafes, museums and interesting architecture in The Hague. There is just so much to discover here.

Sorry to hear about your demise but I love your view, Mr. DeWitt.

The Peace Palace - no photos inside, but it's a jaw-dropping type of gorgeous

The Royal Palace of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, right by the hotel

The Rizzerdaal (Hall of Knights) and its gorgeous gilded fountain

Restaurants on the shore of the North Sea at Schevenigen

The historic Kurhaus Hotel on Scheveningen's North Sea shore

As you can see, it’s beautiful here. And of the European cities we’ve visited, The Hague is the one I feel most at home in. I love it here. It’s a tranquil, historic, lovely place and the people are every bit as lovely.

And that brings me to Claudia. Dear Claudia. Last year, after I posted photos of our trip to The Netherlands and declared my undying love of oliebollen – (Dutch donuts), Claudia left a comment on my blog inviting me to spend a day with her in Rotterdam the next time I returned. What a fabulous invitation! This year as we planned our trip, I remembered Claudia’s offer and sent her an e-mail. True to her word, Claudia offered to take a day off and show me Rotterdam. Tuesday was a good day for her, and as luck would have it, TCP’s company scheduled late meetings and team activities on Tuesday. Perfect. And just like that, the stars aligned and I had a date to tour Rotterdam with Claudia. I can’t say this enough: I love my readers! So, let’s get back to this face.

This is Claudia smiling. Claudia has a very nice smile.

On Tuesday morning, I could hardly control my excitement. We’d exchanged photos prior to the trip so I’d know who to look for and she’d know not to let the wrong stranger get into her car. As soon as she pulled up, she jumped out of the car with a big smile on her face. What a great and accurate first impression. Claudia always has a smile on her face, and I love that about her. She whisked me away for a day in Rotterdam, and we spent the entire day smiling and laughing.

The real Claudia - always laughing. This is how I always think of her.

Our day started at a beautiful little cafe for coffee. Do you know what I love about Dutch cafes? They serve their coffee with little speculaas cookies. They’re spicy shortbread cookies usually shaped like windmills, and they are perfect for coffee dunking. You should know this in case you visit. Nobody does little gingerbread-style cookies like the Dutch. Seriously. Fuhgeddaboudit.

The best part of waking up is speculaas and a coffee cup!

The only thing that beats a good cup of coffee in a lovely cafe is a good cup of coffee with a new friend in a lovely cafe that overlooks a quaint harbor full of boats. This was our view from the cafe window. Nice, huh?

My local Starbucks does NOT offer a view like this. Not even close.

I'm in love with this boat. Think it will fit in my carry-on?

After coffee, we set out on foot to explore Rotterdam. Our walk took us along the banks of the Nieuwe Maas past the Maastunnel. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when this marvel was built. Opened in 1942, it is a deep tunnel used by pedestrians and cyclists to cross the river. And when I say it’s deep under ground, I’m not joking. I got a touch of vertigo just looking at the escalator that leads to the tunnel.

Maastunnel Entry Mural - depicting commuters in 1942

Steep escalator - I'm woozy & this girl is texting AND holding a bike

The tunnel is 20 meters (approx 65 feet) below sea level.

Our next stop was the Euromast tower to take in the sweeping panoramic views of Rotterdam. Sadly, the observation platform was closed when we were there, but we were able to visit the restaurant instead, and the 360-degree views of Rotterdam were spectacular. Unfortunately, most of those photos came out gray due to the rain. No worries, though. The rain cleared as the day progressed.

The Euromast on a rainy morning is just as tall.

Lovely park view from the Euromast tower

Same house & gardens seen from the Euromast, from ground level

So we’ve taken the steep escalator down into the Maastunnel, and we’ve ascended to the heavens in the Eurotmast to see Rotterdam from the clouds. What’s next? The scariest part of the day (for me, anyway). Tackling Claudia’s promise to introduce me to a traditional Dutch treat – raw herring. You heard me. Raw. Herring. To help calm my nerves, we ordered white wine with our lunch. So here’s how it went down:

She took me to this lovely little shop where it was obvious they took great pride in their fresh seafood. It really was a delightful shop, and I was starting to feel a little better about what what going to happen here.

The plethora of fresh seafood dazzled me and lured me in.


As we browsed the menu boards, Claudia suggested a sampling of Dutch delicacies. I let her do the ordering while I secured the last remaining cocktail table for our lunch. She’s the local, so that makes her the expert here.

She knows I'm nervous about the herring. She suspects I want to run.

I've just promised that I won't run or throw up on the table. Maybe.

First up, the dreaded much-hearalded raw herring in sandwich (broodjes) form, followed by a plate of fried fish (cod, I think) which was fabulous.

Raw herring sandwich. Makes the fried fish & wine look better, doesn't it?

Claudia loves herring so much she strokes it & whispers sweet nothings to it.

I’m just kidding about the heavy fish petting and sweet nothings. Actually, I think she was just wiping something off of it, but I got a good chuckle over the idea of her enjoying that fish a little too much. Cutting off about one inch of herring, Claudia handed over the fork and I was faced with my first raw herring.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I get a little weak in the knees at the prospect of eating herring. I can trace it directly back to a bad experience involving my dad, a dish of pickled herring in a dill & sour cream sauce, and a German restaurant in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I tried one bite and almost threw up on the table. I was horrified. It was awful (the fish AND the experience). Check a map. Fort Smith, Arkansas is land locked. It is nowhere near a source of fresh herring.

I vowed to never let herring cross my lips again, and yet here I was with Claudia – smiling and laughing and drinking wine and staring down a piece of RAW herring on a fork. So I tried it, and you know what? I didn’t throw up. I didn’t even gag a little. More than that, I found it interesting in texture and flavor. Why, I’d even go so far as to proclaim that it was okay! Would I eat one again? Maybe not. But maybe I would. Especially if Claudia was there urging me to trust her. Because I do trust her. And I did enjoy trying all of it.

Oh, I forgot mention she also ordered a cocktail of the teeniest but tastiest local shrimp (garnaal). Mmmm… now these I would definitely eat again. I think I’d eat them from a jar. I think I’d eat them in a car. I think I’d follow them with jam. I love these garnaal, Sam-I-Am!

Don't let their size fool you. These tiny shrimp are packed with flavor.

Now here’s where my blogging photography gets sloppy. After our wine and seafood lunch, we walked to a fabulous museum and took in a plethora of local Dutch paintings, sculpture, pottery & glass, and even furniture and home accessories. It was all lovely, as was our coffee break in the museum cafe. But it seems I took very few photos inside the museum, so we’ll just have to skip to our ride through the harbor and across the river.

Our sweet ride - a water taxi through Rotterdam

A view of Rotterdam from our water taxi ride

Sailboats, fishing boats, tug boats - so many beautiful boats

Our water taxi takes us across the Niewe Maas to the opposite side of the river, across from where our tour started this morning. As we pull up to the dock, I notice the beautiful old building that now houses the Hotel New York.

The grand old building that now houses the Hotel New York

What makes this building notable is not the hotel, although the Hotel New York captures the spirit of the building. It’s the history that makes it special.

The former headquarters of the Holland America Line

Rotterdam has been a point of embarkation for passengers seeking a future in the New World since the 1620’s and the Holland America Line has been transporting pilgrims since the 1880’s. This beautiful building is the Dutch counterpart to Ellis Island in New York. From here, families loaded their hopes and dreams onto Holland America ships and headed to points far and wide seeking new lives. Now, Holland America is known as one of the world’s leading cruise lines and their former headquarters house the Hotel New York and a lovingly restored space that now serves as a bar and restaurant. As our day wound to a close, Claudia and I stopped here for high tea. And that’s where this photo of Claudia comes back into play. It was taken just before tea.

Thank you for a wonderful day, Claudia.

After tea, we walked back across a nearby expansion bridge just as the sun was setting over Rotterdam. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

The sun sets over Rotterdam, but a new friendship dawns

We drank coffee, we sampled local delicacies, we took in spectacular views and stunning art. We walked under the river via the Maastunnel, we crossed over the river in a water taxi, and we ended with a sunset stroll over the bridge. And I enjoyed every single second of it. In fact, words fail to capture just how much I enjoyed Claudia’s company. I will be forever grateful that she found my blog, that we started a dialog over olibollen, and that she invited me to spend a day learning more about her city. But the greatest part of the day was gaining a new friend. A lovely, funny friend whom I will cherish forever.

And speaking of oliebollen, Claudia informed me just before we arrived that oliebollen, those awe-inspiring Dutch donuts I fell in love with last November, are a seasonal holiday treat. As such, oliebollen stands do not open until early November. I think she could sense the utter devastation in my response to her e-mail. I was heartbroken, since I had informed her that my favorite oliebollen stand would be the first stop once we got checked in at the hotel. Not one to be deterred, Claudia knew that we would be spending one last night in Amsterdam at the end of our vacation. When we left The Netherlands for other destinations in Europe, she contacted the local tourism bureau to inquire if any oliebollen stands would open early enough for our night in Amsterdam. Wow. Most people would say, “maybe next time.” Claudia e-mailed to tell me about stands opening early. Now that is a true friend.

And so, I’ll end this first chapter of our travels with one final treat from The Netherlands. Okay, two. First, The Complete Package enjoyed his favorite Dutch side dish – frites with mayonnaise. Don’t knock the mayonnaise until you’ve tried it. This ain’t no Hellman’s, baby. This is the good stuff.

Pomme frites with mayonnaise - TCP's ever-lovin' favorite

And just when I thought all was lost, look what I found at Schipol Airport:

That's right, baby! The oliebollerie is open for business!

And hot ones were coming out of the fryer as we walked up

But they're not done until they're coated in powdered sugar

And since Claudia wasn’t there to share them with me, I shared them with The Complete Package and another new friend.

I met someone who loves oliebollen like I do. I shall call her Claudia.

I wish Claudia could have seen me standing there, snarfing down hot oliebollen, covered in powdered sugar. I’m pretty sure I know how she would have reacted.

Yep. That's exactly how I picture Claudia's response.

Up next, The Complete Package and I live one of his travel fantasies – a week in Istanbul, Turkey. It was ancient. It was exotic. It was fabulous. And you will not want to miss those photos, so stay tuned!

Special thanks to our friends Kaki & Donny for taking such good care of Ziggy while we were away. And thanks to our other friends Pat & Carl who were willing to take Zigman if needed. Your care of our sweet boy is what allows us to travel worry-free, and for that we are forever grateful. Truly.

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