Tag Archives: travel tales

Utah: we really kept them hopping!

Okay, so I shared where we stayed in my last post. Now it’s time to share what we did during our vacation in Ogden & Salt Lake City. The question should be what DIDN’T we do? Here’s a rundown of our week with the grandkids and all the fun we had. And boy, was it fun. Exhausting, but fun. We wore those kids out!

A drive through Ogden Valley & the Pineview Reservoir:
The drive up Ogden Valley into the Wasatch Mountains began just blocks from our vacation rental. After a brief stop for Farr’s ice cream (the kids had Play Dough, which tasted like Fruit Loops) we were on our way to the scenic loop around Pineview Reservoir through the tiny townships of Eden and Huntsville. We stopped at a campground on the south shore so the kids could swim. What a breathtaking place to soak up the sun and take advantage of the clear cool water.

Ogden Canyon Drive

Ogden Valley Drive - Farr's Ice Cream stop

Ogden Mountain Drive - Wasatch Range from Pineview Reservoir

Pineview Reservoir - Lilly & Jonah in the sand

Pineview Reservoir - Sibling Love

Huntsville, UT - view of the mtns near Pineview Reservoir

A day at the Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden:
This fun park is located at the mouth of Ogden Valley on the edge of town. We arrived just before it opened and were surprised to see a pretty good line forming. As it turned out, we were there on a free day. Bonus! We started by walking through the indoor museum, but it was the outdoor area that the kids truly enjoyed. The paved walking path meandered through a beautifully landscaped and hilly area dotted with dinosaur statues. It wasn’t long, though, until the kids spotted the playground area and all bets were off. Still, they had a great time and we enjoyed the rolling hills and view of the mountains.

Ogden - Eccles Dinosaur Park

Ogden Dinosaur Park - Lunchtime

Ogden Dinosaur Park - Lilly tames the beast

Ogden Dinosaur Park - Meat Eater

Ogden Dinosaur Park - LOOK OUT!

A hike through the Ogden Nature Center:
On the northern edge of town, the Odgen Nature Center is a combination of a windswept prairie, desert garden and small forest. We enjoyed the collection of birdhouses that dotted the walking path from the parking area to the visitor’s center. Over 100 birdhouses that were part of a local contest were stationed along the path. After a visit to the gift shop and puppet theater, we hiked around the grounds following the paths to the bear den, observation tower and several ponds. While the only wild creatures we encountered were a swarm of rogue mosquitoes, we had a great time hiking the trails and looking at the local wild flowers and grasses. We also enjoyed the small collection of birds that were being rehabbed at the center, including a bald eagle, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, a few owls and a turkey that was allowed to roam the grounds freely.

Ogden Nature Center - Gift Shop & Visitor Center

Ogden Nature Center - Hiking the Birdhouse Trail

Ogden Nature Center - Lighthouse Birdhouse

Ogden Nature Center - Bee on Wild Flowers

Discovery Place Children’s Museum at Gateway Mall in SLC:
Best. Children’s Museum. EVER! You know when you spend five hours in a museum and the kids beg to stay longer that you’ve found a good one. Jonah & Lilly absolutely loved the Discovery Place in Salt Lake City. We played a few hours, took a break for lunch, came back for a few more hours and they STILL wanted more. Play stations they loved included the Construction Zone, the Farm-to-Market area including a grocery store, and especially the rooftop terrace area that included a real rescue helicopter complete with command center and mini-hospital with triage and ER. That rooftop terrace was their favorite, as they spent hours changing costumes, piloting the helicopter, and playing ER doctor, nurse and patient. They talked about it for hours after we left, and asked if they could go back the next day.

SLC Children's Museum - Construction Zone

Discovery Place SLC - rooftop rescue helicopter

SLC - Discovery Place - Dr Lilly on Call

SLC - Discovery Place - Triage Area

SLC - Discovery Place - Jonah in the Wind Tunnel

That last shot shows Jonah in a Hurricane Simulator. Even though it only lasted 60 seconds, wind in the tube peaked at 75mph, which was pretty intense. It also proved to be a valuable lesson for us. While Jonah loved it, Lilly got spooked and clung to him, screaming as the wind grew stronger. She was fine as soon as it shut off, but it helped clarify a few questions about our next adventure.

iFLY Ogden:
We talked about this with the kids before we left for Utah and at that point, both Jonah & Lilly planned to participate. After our museum wind tunnel experience, however, Lilly opted out and Jonah went full steam ahead. After sitting through the training video with a room full of adults, Jonah suited up and was ready to fly. He looks so grown up to us at seven, but next to his flying group, he looked so tiny. Still, he was pumped about getting into that air chamber while some of the teens in his group were nervous. Here’s our fearless flyer.

iFly Ogden - Jonah in his flight suit

iFly Ogden - Jonah Geared Up & Ready to Fly

iFLY Ogden - Jonah Waits for His Turn

iFly Ogden - Jonah in Flight

iFly Ogden - Jonah & Instructor Soaring

That last photo was snapped just as the instructor picked up his feet and they shot up to the top of the wind chamber. Twice! It was thrilling. After the students finished their rounds, the instructors played in the wind chamber showing off some of their moves. One guy would go so high you couldn’t see him, then shoot straight down like a rocket, turn just as he reached the cage floor, and fly out the door landing standing up on the bench just outside the air chamber. We all gasped. He was Super Man. Jonah came out of his experience high five-ing the instructors and bouncing with excitement. I think he will definitely remember his flight, and thanks to The Complete Package, who recorded it on his ION camera and the iFLY DVD, he can relive it over and over.

Speaking of flying, we visited Hill Air Force Base & Museum:
It’s hard to miss this museum when you see the planes in the outdoor exhibits from the highway. We passed it several times during the week and each time, Jonah would point them out and ask if we could go see them. Of course! We started with the indoor exhibits then worked our way through the airplanes outside. Besides the airplanes, we also had a great view of the mountains and saw several airplanes practicing for the air show that took place the next day. The kids enjoyed the exhibits and were thrilled to get a toy plane from the gift shop. Jonah picked a stealth bomber while Lilly picked a stunt plane.

Hill AFB - Aerospace Museum - Old Planes

Hill AFB - Aerospace Museum - Awesome Paint Job

Hill AFB - Outdoor Exhibits & Mountains

Hill AFB - Outdoor Exhibit - Cargo Plane

The Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City:
I’m not going to lie – we took the kids to this museum just to see the dinosaur exhibit. What surprised us was we found so much more and enjoyed all of it. With five floors of exhibits, we started at the top and walked our way down. This was a great place to spend half a day and it had just enough hands-on interactive exhibits to keep the kids interested. The Complete Package and I also enjoyed the architecture and views. The dinosaurs were still the star of the show, but the rest of the museum was terrific as well.

SLC Nat History Museum - Exterior

SLC Nat History Museum - Display Wall

SLC Nat History Museum - Dinosaur Hall

SLC Nat History Museum - Dig Site

SLC Nat History Museum - Ancient Bison

After the museum, we popped into a small cafe downtown for Belgian frites, burgers & waffles, then hit the LDS Conference Center to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s weekly practice, which is open to the general public regardless of religion. After dodging thunderstorms outside and taking a brief tour of the center inside, we settled in to watch the choir. Growing up, I’d seen them from time to time on television and have always marveled not only at the sheer size of the choir, but how perfectly heavenly they sound. With approximately 360 vocalists and 110 orchestra members, it’s not just large – it’s HUGE. Seeing it in person was amazing and a really special treat.

SLC - Mormon Tabernacle Choir - Public Practice

A drive out to Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake:
Our last adventure was one I think The Complete Package & I enjoyed more than the kids – a drive to Antelope Island to see the Great Salt Lake. The geology and science behind the region was a little beyond both kids, but they enjoyed seeing the American bison (not buffalo, as I was schooled) and a few pronghorn antelope. While we found the landscape beautiful, stark and fascinating, the kids were bored and bickering in the back seat. Ahh… reality. Still, it was a ‘must see’ and we can only hope they’ll look back someday and remember seeing it in person. Here are a few shots from our day at the lake.

Salt Lake - lake& mtn view from Antelope Island

Salt Lake Park - Bison on Antelope Island

Salt Lake Park - Jonah & Lilly & the bison statue

That’s Jonah telling us if we find rattlesnakes, he’ll karate chop them.

Salt Lake Park - Jonah Master of All He Surveys

That’s Jonah, looking for rattlesnakes to karate chop.

Salt Lake Park - Pronghorn on Antelope Island

Salt Lake NP - Buffalo & Tourists

For the record – YES, that is a wild bison as big as a truck out on the beach, and YES – those are families with very young children getting dangerously close to him. WHY?!?! We had our own close encounter with the bison, even though it was unintentional. When we noticed a group walking near the road, we stopped the car so the kids could see them. When they turned and crossed the road in front of our car, we all held our breath collectively.

Salt Lake Park - Antelope Island bison crossing

We’ve been in bison jams in Yellowstone but it never ceases to take my breath away when they come so close. This small group with two babies crossed right in front of the car. We had to keep the kids from squealing with excitement. It’s hard to be quiet when you’re young and bison are right outside your car window. Heck, it’s hard for adults, too!

The Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island are really lovely. The contrast between the salt flats, desert flora and rocky terrain against the water and mountains is both surreal and stunning. It’s a little like being on the surface of the moon, with a view of Salt Lake City in the background. And that contrast is what makes the Salt Lake area beautiful. It’s a mix of high desert and mountain landscape. It can be lush one moment (Ogden Valley & the Pineview reservoir) and stark the next (the salt flats). It’s thrilling one moment (iFLY) and supremely relaxing in yet another (evening sunsets on the back patio). You can be as adventurous (mountains & rivers) or as zen (museums and parks) as you like, and have access to all of it within an hour’s drive.

We spent seven full days in Ogden and Salt Lake City, and still didn’t make it through our ‘must see’ list. If we are able to return, we’ll take those scenic drives through Big & Little Cottonwood Canyons up to Park City and Sundance. If you haven’t visited this part of Utah, maybe it’s time to add it to your bucket list.

Salt Lake Park - view of causeway & lake

Travel Links from Our Trip (click to open):

HomeAway.com: Vacation Home Rentals

Farr’s Ice Cream in Ogden, Utah & images of Farr’s Ice Cream

Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden, Utah

The Ogden Nature Center in Ogden, Utah

Discovery Place Children’s Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah

iFLY in Ogden, Utah

Hill Air Force Base & Aerospace Museum north of Salt Lake City, Utah

The Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City, Utah

Bruges Waffles & Frites in Salt Lake City, Utah

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, Utah

Antelope Island State Park & Great Salt Lake in Syracuse, Utah

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Utah: they wanted to see mountains

It happened because they wanted to see mountains. ‘Real mountains with snow on top’ they said. So last week, The Complete Package & I took our two young grandchildren – Jonah Bear & Lilly Bug – to Salt Lake City and Ogden in Utah to see the Wasatch mountains. Real mountains. With snow on top.

Wasatch Mountains - Ogden, Utah

Why Utah? That’s a legitimate question, I guess. Our answer is “Why not Utah?” It is beautiful, and the Salt Lake City to Ogden area offered us a unique opportunity to not only show the kids mountains, but also a high desert environment and the Great Salt Lake. More bang for our buck, if you will. While we stayed in Ogden most of the time, we were close enough to explore and play in Salt Lake City. And while the mountains were mere minutes away, so were the activities of both cities. It was a really good choice.

For this trip, as we do for most vacations, we found a vacation rental home at HomeAway.com. The craftsman style house we chose in the historic district of Ogden was perfect for us. It looks small. Don’t let that fool you. This house had four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a breakfast room, formal dining room, sitting area, living room and a basement laundry room. It also had a great fenced backyard for the kids to play in when we spent time at the house.

HomeAway Rental - from the webpage

Ogden Rental House - Living Room

Ogden Rental House - Sitting Room

Ogden Rental House - Kitchen

Ogden Rental House - Kitchen Kitsch

Ogden Rental House - Breakfast Nook

Ogden Rental House - One of 4 Bedrooms

We loved the craftsman-style details of the home, but I especially loved the vintage kitsch that gave it personality. For antique junkies like me, it was a dream come true. Every room was adorned with pieces of the past and touches of fun. Check out the funky upstairs bathroom and some of the old paint-by-number pieces from around the house. They are a blast from my past.

Ogden Rental House - Upstairs Bath

Ogden Rental House - Vintage Paint-By-Numbers

The kids were really good about not trying to play with all the antiques. Instead, they were focused on the big screen TV, the fenced backyard and the front porch. Each evening, we spent time playing in the yard while the sun set. I’m including a diagram of Jonah & Lilly’s use of the backyard living space. I’m all for giving children a creative outlet, but if I hear ‘Let It Go’ one more time…

Ogden Rental House - Back Yard

Most mornings, their attention was focused on the front porch. Jonah loved to sit on the front steps and whittle the sticks he collected from everywhere we went. Sticks and rocks, sticks and rocks. That boy LOVES sticks and rocks.

Ogden Rental House - Jonah Whittles on the Porch

Lilly fell in love with the porch swing. If she wasn’t swinging in it, she was pushing it or laying across it. Some day, boys will line up to woo her on a porch swing like that, but not too soon. (Somewhere, her parents just shivered.)

Ogden Rental House - Lilly & the Porch Swing

Oh my gosh, we love these kids so much. They have our hearts, for sure.

Ogden Rental House - Lilly & Jonah on the Porch

When the weather was nice, we took evening strolls to explore our historic neighborhood. We especially loved the street behind ours, which was lined with huge trees and beautiful old mansions from a bygone era. To say it was lovely is to sell it short. It was like stepping back in time, which was magical.

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks1

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks3

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks2

I fell in love with the tiny barking squirrels in Ogden. They ran the phone lines each evening, and every time Jonah or Lilly started singing those squirrels would join in with their high-pitched yipping. It was hilarious. Throughout the week, they would come close enough to check us out, but not so close that we could touch them. This little guy ran circles around a tree, then started popping out of the knothole on the right like a jack-in-the-box. It was adorable. I tried to convince him to come home with us, but he was having none of it.

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks - Furry Friends with Arrow

Lilly, who loves all creatures, also found a neighborhood friend. Not as furry or cute, but just as friendly. Meet Turbo.

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks - Lilly's Snail

Next up: what we did with the kids during our week in Ogden & Salt Lake City. It involves flying (but not in planes), swimming (but not in the Great Salt Lake), bison (not buffalo), and a few of these monsters. KIDS – LOOK OUT!!!

Ogden Dinosaur Park - LOOK OUT!

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Postcards from Small Town Texas

The Complete Package and I have been enjoying scenic drives to small towns throughout Texas. This is the fourth in a series of photos documenting our lazy day adventures and highlighting these small town Texas treasures.

Fourth Stop: Gonzales, Texas
Gonzales - Come & Take It 2

No single statement sums up Gonzales, Texas more than “Come and take it!” Why? Because that single defiant phrased uttered about a tiny but powerful cannon is believed to have launched the Texas Revolution in 1835. Rarely has such a small piece of hardware launched such a contentious battle.

Gonzales - Masonic Building

In a nutshell, it was borrowed from the Mexican military by the citizens of Gonzales for protection from native Indians. When the Mexican commander asked for it to be returned a few years later, the citizens of Gonzales declined his invitation. In fact, their response was “Come and take it” which, judging by the ensuing battle, was not well received. To learn more about this tiny cannon and its impact on Texas history, you can click here. As if to prove that Texans are tenacious by nature, the cannon still resides to this day in the Old Jail Museum. There you’ll also find the Gonzales Visitor Center.

Gonzales - Visitor Center & Jail Museum Bldg

Gonzales - Visitor Center & Jail Museum

But there’s more to Gonzales than one cannon. A town rich in history, this little gem is what leisurely drives to small towns are all about. Besides friendly people and a laid back atmosphere, Gonzales is beautiful. Just take a look at their Grand Dame of buildings – the historic Gonzales County Courthouse.

Gonzales - Gonzales County Courthouse

Gonzales - Courthouse Clock Close-Up

The Old Jail Museum, county courthouse and historic Gonzales fire department can all be found on the city’s main square. It’s a lovely picnic spot.

Gonzales - Town Square

Gonzales - Town Square Marker

Established in 1884 when the city first authorized the purchase of 200 feet of fire hose, Gonzales takes great pride in their fire house history. The original firehouse bell hangs in the town square as a tribute to the firefighters who’ve protected the citizens of Gonzales throughout the years.

Gonzales - Fire Station Bell

This great old vintage fire truck totally charmed my socks off.

Gonzales - Antique Fire Truck

We parked next to it while we walked around downtown. When we returned, we found this cute little stowaway on our truck tire. If only he knew how much I love squirrels. I took it as a lucky sign this would be a lovely day.

Gonzales - Tiny Stowaway

Just across the from the fire station, you’ll find a lovingly restored movie theater. I just love it when a small town takes the care to restore these great old landmarks. Too many of them are gone, replaced by giant mega-theaters. It’s a shame, really. The small, quaint & historic theaters are so much more fun.

Gonzales - Classic Old Movie Theater
Speaking of nostalgia, who remembers these great old gas stations from the road trips of our childhoods? This one is still in remarkably great shape. Makes me want to open a donut/coffee shop in it. Cool, huh?

Gonzales - Vintage Gas Station

And that’s convenient, because the perfect house is for sale across the street. What do you think? Too big for just the two of us?

Gonzales - Gorgeous Old Home

Yeah… you’re right. It’s too big. Maybe this one. It’s smaller.

Gonzales - House Built in 1895

Nah… probably not. Still too big. But this one? I think this one is just right.

Gonzales - Beautiful Home Fabulous Porch

I’m such a sucker for a big wrap-around porch, and I’m in L-O-V-E with this one. It’s easy to fall in love with Gonzales. It’s charming. It’s friendly. It’s proud of its heritage and comfortable with its place in Texas history.

Gonzales - Hero Square Monument

It’s a great place to spend a day, and a great excuse to take a day trip. And that’s my advice to you. Take advantage of the next pretty day, get in your car, and…

Gonzales - Come & Take It

Gonzales - Header with Courthouse

To learn more about Gonzales, Texas visit the Texas Escapes website.
To see the other small towns featured in my Postcards series, click on:

Postcards from Small Town Texas: Halletsville
Postcards from Small Town Texas: Yoakum
Postcards from Small Town Texas: Shiner

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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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Postcards from Small Town Texas

The Complete Package and I have been enjoying scenic drives to small towns throughout Texas. This is the third in a series of photos documenting our lazy day adventures and highlighting these small town Texas treasures.

Third Stop: Shiner, Texas


Shiner has an unconventional downtown compared to other small towns we’ve visited. Instead of a town square, Shiner’s downtown appears to be one long street running parallel to a railroad track, with shops running for a block or two on either side of the tracks. While I missed that town square vibe, there were plenty of historic buildings to ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ over. Most of these were built in 1910-1911. I can never get enough of the gorgeous brick details in these old buildings. The craftsmanship is just stunning and so colorful.

This might just be my favorite downtown shop. Why? Because my mother’s name is Martha and she is an avid quilter; has been ever since she was a wee girl. If she ever decides to move away from Oklahoma, I think she could step right into this place and take over. How perfect is that?


Once you’ve hit all the shops and taken a lunch break, take a short stroll down 6th Street to this bridge over the creek (that’s downtown in the background).


For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with a visit to the Spoetzl Brewery, home of Shiner Beer. For Texas beer lovers, this place is sacred.


There’s something about visiting the Spoetzl Brewery that makes you feel like you’re experiencing Texas history firsthand. Heck, I’m not even a beer drinker and I get excited seeing those gorgeous, enormous copper brewing kettles.


Tours of the brewery are only available Monday through Friday (I know… I don’t get it, either) so plan accordingly if you want to take in the heady brew room in person. If you find yourself in Shiner on a weekend, don’t despair. The gift shop is open on Saturday from 11am-3pm, and you can sample Shiner’s many varieties while browsing the t-shirts, ball caps and other treasures.


If you’re lucky, you might even find yourself there during a beer-themed trade fair. We found table after table of antiques & collectibles under the live oaks in front of the brewery. While we didn’t find anything we couldn’t live without, there was certainly plenty to see and some really interesting people to chat with.


Our last stop was one of the famous painted churches of Texas. Built by Czech and German immigrants, these churches are among some of our most treasured Texas historical buildings. This historical marker tells the tale of Saints Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church in Shiner (click on the photo to see it in a larger format, then click the ‘back’ arrow on your computer to return to this post).


Just outside the church, we found this pretty little grotto/shrine.


But the real show-stopper is the church itself. Built in 1920-21, it’s a testament to the faith and perseverance of Shinerites as well as a nod to their history and heritage. As luck would have it, the church was locked when we were there. To see photos of the painted interior, you can click on this link to a Google Images page or visit the Texas Escapes page for Saints Cyril & Methodius Church.


What I can tell you is that it’s enormous and absolutely gorgeous from the outside. Even if you find it locked, it’s still worth a leisurely stroll around the church just to enjoy the details of the exterior. It really is a lovely church.

Shiner is located approximately 125 miles west of Houston, 80 miles southeast of Austin, or 90 miles east of San Antonio. For more information on Shiner, visit their website at http://www.shinertx.com/ or visit the Texas Escapes Website.

To see the other stories in this series, go to:
Postcards from Small Town Texas – Hallettsville
Postcards from Small Town Texas – Yoakum

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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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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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