Basel, Switzerland

As with many flights to Europe from the east cost of the US, ours was an overnight affair.  We departed Boston Friday evening, arrived in Munich, Germany mid morning Saturday, then flew to Basel, Switzerland – arriving early afternoon.  We flew Lufthansa as it was the best price (paid to pick our seats and for stowed luggage) and while we were a bit cramped, we had a fine flight.  Great in-flight entertainment and the service was just fine.

We arrived easily in Basel, picked up our luggage, and sought to navigate the public transportation to our hotel in the Old Town area.  This was free (it seems that all hotels in Basel offer guests a “Basel Card” that gives them free access to public transportation – buses, trams and the like) and we are pretty adventurous, so we took on the challenge.

Public transportation is big in Europe – especially the cities where parking is at a premium – it is not unlike the US, but Europeans embrace this opportunity to take the bus, ride a bike or scooter, or walk.  Finding our bus stop at the airport was easy, thanks to the clear and helpful directions from our hotel, and while we had to figure out the switching of bus lines once, it was easy and the bus literally dropped us off outside our hotel!

Our hotel was Hotel D and the location was fabulous!  I paid $149.00 per night, which for Switzerland is a deal!  Our room was small (typical for Europe) but very comfortable and quiet.  The bathroom was great as well and we were very happy.  Our hotel stay did NOT include breakfast, so we winged it each day and were very happy with that. Breakfast at Hotel D was continental style and cost 26SF (Swiss Francs) per person – um, no thanks!  Have I told you yet that Switzerland is expensive!!!

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Outside our hotel window….

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Where do you keep your liquor cold?

Our first night we roamed, explored the walk along the Rhine, got my hubby set up with LIME (the best thing EVER), scooted and walked around a small portion of the Old City and enjoyed a most fabulous al fresco dinner (Europeans eat outside all year long….with those big propane heaters and a blanket – it was awesome!).

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Warm goat cheese salad! Heaven!

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White wine, beer and pumpkin soup!

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LIMES!  You download the app, scan your ride and off you go!  We LOVE these!!!  In Switzerland it was 1 SF to unlock it then .35cents per minute.

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People….the sweets were AMAZING!

The next day, we got up and rented a car (about $100USD for the day) and drove to the Alps (about 1.45 hours away) and spent the day fulfilling a dream!!!  That post will be coming up soon – it deserves its own!

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The Rhine River at around 7:15am.  Stunning!

We wrapped up Basel with a lot more walking around, getting breakfast and lunch from one of the many local corner stores (I HIGHLY recommend this because restaurants are SUPER expensive in Switzerland) and having a picnic lunch by the river.  It was everything I wanted it to be!!!!

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Look at the detail on the soffit of this roof!! Amazing!

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Many European cities have free flowing fountains perfect for drinking! They are functional AND beautiful!

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Gorgeous post structured home.

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The “munster” in Basel.

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Another gorgeous fountain.

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(Free) public bathrooms! Gotta love the Swiss – they aren’t uptight about life!

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Look closely at the AGE of these homes.

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The detailing of this home is amazing.

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Our stash from the corner store – about 20 Swiss Francs total!

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Best bite in the city!

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Market Joy

You know, sometimes you have an opportunity to take a trip that resets your soul.  Just over Thanksgiving, I had that opportunity!

If you follow my business Facebook page, Live It Well Travel, you will have seen some of the highlights of the fabulous Christmas Market river cruise my husband and I took over Thanksgiving.  It was everything I believed it would be and more!

Let me give you and overview of our trip here and post some of my favorite pictures, then I will dive deeper into my river cruising experience, each of our destinations and then some fun facts and finds from our trip!  It promises to be a cool series to wrap up this years’ blogging adventures!

We departed the Friday before Thanksgiving and arrived in Basel, Switzerland the following day.  We got settled in our hotel, and attempted to stave off the effects of jet-lag by taking a wonderful walk around the old city of Basel.  We enjoyed a wondrous walk, an alfresco meal and a great first night’s sleep!

The next morning (Sunday) we awoke and walked to a nearby hotel where we picked up a car we had rented for the day.  We drove to the Alps and took the cog train to the highest train station in Europe!

Monday we walked around Basel some more (and Limed, too), checked out, then boarded our river cruise, the Monarch Countess.  This was our first river cruising experience and to say we loved it is an understatement!

Over the next 6 days, we visited Strasbourg, France, Frankfurt, Wertheim, Wurzburg, Bamberg and Nuremberg, Germany.  We visited Christmas Markets and wandered ancient streets.  We sipped wine on the Main River and traversed 52 locks between Basel and Nuremberg.  We met people from all over the US and made friends with so many more.  We learned some German, practiced our French and broadened our perspective.

It was splendid!  Here are few of my highlight photos!  Be on the lookout for posts to follow!

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Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. We had spent much of the day in Grindelwald and climbing Jungfrau (by cog railway), then decided to take another small mountain pass at dusk and were treated to this delight!

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Strasbourg, France. Some of my new friends – I made a LOT of feathered friends on this trip!!!

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Our home for the week docked in Frankfurt. This is the beautiful Monarch Countess.

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Christmas Market at Frankfurt, Germany.

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An evening toast to the good life. We are standing on the Old Stone Bridge in Wurzburg, Germany, marveling at the fortification in the background and enjoying a common daily activity.

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Early morning sun on the Main River between Wurzburg and Bamberg.

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Bamberg, Germany. Photo taken of one of the seven hills that make up the city. The colors are breathtaking!

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Bamberg, Germany

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Main Christmas Market, Nuremberg, Germany.

 

My Yearly Travels as seen through my Ornaments

I used to find it really hard to choose a special keepsake from each of our trips.  I loved so many cool “things”, but it just isn’t reasonable to get them all!  So a while back, I decided to get an ornament from each of our trips.

Every year, when we put up our tree, it is a wonderful opportunity to remember our travels and stories as a family.  It is something I treasure and our tree is really full of US.

Here are the ornaments I got this year.

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Paris. January 2019

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Disneyland Paris. January 2019

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Symphony of the Seas. February 2019

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February 2019

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Disney World. February 2019

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Tuscon Arizona. April 2019

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Tombstone, Arizona. April 2019

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Bearizona. April 2019

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Las Vegas, Nevada. April 2019

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O’hau, Hawai’i. October 2019.

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Strasbourg, France. November 2019

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Switzerland 2019

6 Things I learned in Hawai’i

I loved so much about Hawai’i.  Not the least of which was visiting my sister and nieces.  But some things surprised me about Hawai’i and I wanted to share those thoughts with you!  I loved visiting a state in the US that was so different and because of its distance from the mainland and/or its unique history, has maintained so much of its Polynesian heritage and held tight to the characteristics that make it so wonderfully distinctive.

Here is my list….

1.  Everyone called me “Auntie”.  I heard this a dozen times or more from Hawai’ians – as a sign of respect in their culture, a woman (I cringe to say “older”, but let’s face it, I AM older than those who called me Auntie) who is older is afforded this lovely term of endearment.  I would imagine this is similar to women being called “ma’am”.  Now, I am guessing with how foolish some people are, some women would be offended by this title – but clearly they do not understand the honor.  An Auntie is a mother – but better!  Someone who can nurture and love; direct and give advice.  They are the favored adult as they offer much of what a parent does, without the harshness that should befall parents as they train their children.  Being called Auntie was a treasure.

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I am the Auntie of these two adorable princesses!!  Here we are at the beach at Hickam AFB!

2.  While I did see some stray kitties here and there, chickens roam the island at will! This was fun to see, as all the hens had chickies following them around this time of year!  They were fun and adorable and we got to see a lot of Hay-Hays!

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Hay-hay!!!!

3.  I don’t believe there are any squirrels in Hawai’i – but they have the mongoose, which takes its place as they island scavenger.

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I didn’t get an mongoose pictures, but here is Char with one of the resident kitties at Hanauma Beach.

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Sable meets a kitty that lives at Kualoa Ranch

4.  This makes sense but I hadn’t thought about it before in these terms – the cost of things in Hawai’I are really high. Of course, that is somewhat a reflection of the tourist economy, but it more so a reflection of the cost to import all these everyday goods to an island stuck literally in the middle of the Pacific!

I have some group space reserved on a Hawai’ian island cruise for June 2021 on Norwegian’s Pride of America.  This is probably one of the more expensive cruises most people I know will take, but there is a good reason for that.  This particular ship, Pride of America, is one of the only sea-going cruise ships registered in the US.  That is really important to note because of regulations for vessels registered in the US – the crew MUST be Americans (who demand a higher wage, require health insurance, workers’ comp and so on and so forth) and the registration is much more expensive than the typical cruise ship registrations in the Bahamas (where most US market cruise ships are registered).  Add to the US regulations for US registered vessels, and you have the high cost of goods needed to outfit such a cruise weekly – once these things are examined, it is easy to see why Hawai’i is so expensive.  For the traveler considering either a Hawi’ian island cruise or a trip in general, you have to ask yourself is the cost worth the trip?

5.  Black Sand Beaches are hard to find!!!  This was one of my desires, but it just didn’t work out!!!  This leaves something cool for me to seek out when I go back in 2021!

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I’ll be searching for those black sand beaches when I go back….but clearly, there was nothing to complain about!!!!

6.  All beaches in Hawai’i are public!  This is so cool and neat to think about – even the fancy hotel BEACHES are public (not the pools and amenities) so you can go to Aulani on O’ahu and even if you are not staying at the resort, you can still swim in the cove that has so many neat tropical fish and snorkel there!

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Hanauma Bay

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Beach and cove at Aulani

I really enjoyed my trip tremendously and look forward to the next!  I would love to hear about what YOU found interesting about your visit to Hawai’i!  Explore the world, learn from your surroundings, and bring home the best souvenir available; a new perspective!

 

 

Hanauma Bay

As I ventured around the island of O’ahu, I could easily see how import the preservation initiative is there in Hawai’i.  There is definitely a lot of development, but the afterthought of that development is on the minds of Hawai’ians and those who visit.  The conservation effort and protection of the ‘aina, or land, is viewed as a matter of Hawai’ian kuleana (responsibility and privilege) and I wanted to highlight one of the efforts I saw on this short trip.

We visited the amazing Hanauma Bay State Park.  This bay has a long, beautiful history that includes use by native fisherman to the recreation of kings.  In the mid 1900s, this location gained fame as a fabulous snorkeling area due to its unique horseshoe bay shape and volcanic rock coral beds.  This area is home to species of fish that are only found in this sweet little bay.  By the early 1990s, efforts to “save” this bay from over exposure to humans and maintain the rarity of its ecosystem spurred a conservation effort whose results are seen today.

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The snorkeling here is nothing short of amazing!  I saw more species of fish here than I have anywhere else!  And we even saw an octopus that was beyond amazing!!!!  I tried to get a video, but my phone in a water-safe bag just didn’t do the trick as well as I would have liked!!!!  Our video isn’t the best quality, but you can see the really awesome octopus we saw!  Thanks to my videographer, Char!

One of the fabulous initiatives at the Hanauma Bay State Park is the request that those who enjoy the park’s gorgeous swimming area adhere to the upcoming Hawai’ian Reef Safe sunscreen law that will take effect January 1st, 2021.  Hawai’i is the first state in the US to ban the sale of sunscreens containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.  With my own reef safe sunscreen in hand, I enjoyed the beautiful snorkeling in this gift from mother nature!!

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There are so many ways we can help maintain the glories of this earth and still enjoy them.  Using Reef Safe Sunscreen is an easy choice to make.  Also, making sure we pack out what we pack in, we didn’t feed the fish (although I wanted to) and we did not step on or remove any coral from this reef.  Here are a few more pictures from Hanauma Bay.  I look forward to returning here with the rest of my family and enjoy once again the majesty of this gorgeous place!

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The Gift that Keeps on Giving

If you are not one of those people who purchase Christmas presents all year long, October is the month you start to think about what you are getting those you care about for Christmas.

A few years ago, in about October, I started re-thinking my approach to gift giving.  I was thinking back to gifts I had been given as a child – either for Christmas or for my birthday.  I knew I got gifts – I saw pictures of me at Christmastime or my birthday opening presents, but my own personal memories of what I got during those special times is faded.

I DO remember ONE singular gift I received as a child – I remember waking up on the morning of my 10th birthday to find staring at me an adorable Cabbage Patch Kid.  Her name was Diana Mindy and I was SO excited to get her!!!!  But she is the only gift I can actually ever pinpoint.  Isn’t that strange?  What do you remember getting as a child?  I remember gifts I DID NOT get as a child – I wanted an Easy Bake Oven and a Lightbright but never got those.

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This is Diana Mindy – still looking good after all these years!

 

Do you know what I have specific and a multitude of memories of?  Things I DID with my family – learning to ski with my dad; going camping; going on road trips with my mom; going to Disney with my mom; going to Aruba with my mom as a senior in high school.  I could tell you a handful of details about each and every one of those experiences, and THAT is what changed my mindset about gift giving.

Experiences change our brain.  Encountering NEW situations and taking on new adventures rewires us, renews us, re-entwines us with our loved ones.  It reconnects us to ourselves, to each other and to this life.  What better gift is there?

The giving of experiences doesn’t have to be a big trip somewhere…although it could be!  Last year we gave our children a short trip to Quebec (we live within driving distance and went between Christmas and New Years last year), a concert experience, season’s passes to a local water park, a  2-week high adventure Boy Scout summer camp for my son and my daughter and I took a super cheap flight to Paris in January and spent 4 nights in an AirBnB and explored the city.  It was the BEST Christmas we have had in a long time!!!  We still talk about every single one of those adventures and will continue to do so.

Life is short.  Take the trip.  See the concert.  Go to the show.  Get the pass.  Bypass the mountain of gifts that get forgotten by January 15th and give the gift that keeps on giving…memories to last a lifetime!  Don’t miss out!

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I didn’t know she stuck her tongue out until I looked at the pictures that night!!! Notre Dame in the background.

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Lined up for the toboggan ride! Quebec City, Quebec.

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My daughter and her BFF meeting their favorite musician, Jon Foreman from Switchfoot – he signed my daughter’s Ukulele!

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Fabulous concerts at Soul Fest 2019!

 

Taking it slow

Last month, I wrote a bit about Impact Travel and my own experience with the emerging trend.  Another emerging trend in travel in Slow Travel.  This type of adventure engages the traveler in an experience that revolves around not only immersing one’s self in the cultural aspects of a destination, but that idea is reinforced and made possible by the ACT of traveling slowly.  Examples of slow travel include rail vacations, river cruising (all over the world) and the American favorite – the road trip!  Traditional ocean/sea cruising can also take the form of slow travel, but the idea would be staying overnight or multiple nights in one port before moving on.

I think this concept was brought about by the fact that we desire to slow the revolution of the earth.  Time is fleeting and the older we get, the faster it seems to go!  We are so busy; we have so little vacation time; we realize our kids grow so fast and our parents are aging before our eyes.  Our family trips to Disney are wonderful and anything BUT a vacation and hopping from spot to spot on a cruise ship is not only filled with constant entertainment, but endless stimulation options that busy the mind and exercise the spirit.  People are realizing the beauty in slowing down, stopping to smell the roses, and the knowledge gained by personal interactions in culture and with people who are different than we are.

Every vacation can contain some aspects of slow travel – whether you are traveling abroad or to another part of your own country.  For example, instead of aiming to visit four destinations in a week-long trip, choose two and dive in – eat where the locals eat.  Shop where locals shop.  Ask a local about the hidden treasures of their city – they want to brag about THEIR place on this big blue ball and they are the EXPERTS!  Try a new mode of transportation!  When my daughter and I were in Paris earlier this year, we not only did a bike tour but also “rented” Lime scooters (the kind you stand on like a big kid) and scooted around everywhere!  Find a quiet place and reflect.  This single act allows me to inhale a place.  Become a people watcher and learn through observation.  Basically, slow it down.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a time and a place for the hurried vacation – I am planning a group cruise to Hawaii in 2021 for my son’s graduation (wanna go?) and know that we may never go to Hawaii again – especially as a family – so we are seeing as much as possible!!!  In the meantime, I plan on enjoying a few slow travel experiences in my near future – a river cruise in November and our weekly long camping trip coming up later in July – it doesn’t get much slower than camping!!!  The world is big and time is flying by….take it slow!

Here are some ways we have experienced aspects of slow travel on our adventures.

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Amtrak Downeaster on a gorgeous summer’s day in New Hampshire! Old school slow travel.

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Anyone need a hat?

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Harbour Island – ACTUAL pink sand!!!

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Cadiz, Spain. Churros and chocolate and a little bit of people watching.

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Try a new form of transportation….Char and Sable on a Segway tour of the city – in Europe, kids can do many things they aren’t “allowed” to do in the US.

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Try to blend in. Zurich, Switzerland – these are our “Polish faces” – my sister in law is Polish, and she said Americans smile too big in pictures – so this is how we imagine the Poles smile!

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June 2018. Shortly after sunrise over Vatican City. I ache for another opportunity like this one….we were high tailing it to our private Vatican Tour so we could barely stop to smell the roses, but man, I wish I could’ve frozen time in this very spot. It was so peaceful and serene.

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Well, I am not generally a wine drinker but I was in PARIS!!! A glass of wine was a requirement. Eat and drink like the locals.

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The Eiffel Tower was closed due to the weather, but we scooted all the way there to take in the rare sight!

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Eating like the locals in Quebec….this place was off the beaten path and we were rewarded with an amazing dinner. Everyone got a platter of thinly sliced beef, then there was shrimp and chicken to fondue as well!

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Our appetizer..bread dipped in cheese!

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Taking it easy at the Siberian Spa outside of Quebec. A family trip to remember.

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It isn’t hard to eat like a local in Italy. Lemon risotto – the most amazing risotto ever!

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Scooter pick up! Try a new form of transportation….the best way to see the Amalfi Coast!

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Limoncello to end the evening! Drink like the locals! This is the restaurant near the Vatican – halfway through our meal about 20 priests walked into the restaurant….a good beginning to a joke!

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Eat where the locals eat. Giuseppe and his biggest fans!

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So much Caprese!

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Our greatest find! Just hop off the highway to find your treasure!

Christmas in July

Last fall, I had some friends contact me about taking a river boat cruise for the Christmas Markets in Europe.  Most people plan these a year or so out, but I love the spontaneity of these folks, so getting a last-minute request for such an amazing trip was both awesome and a bit hurried!  But, we had sweet success in finding the perfect trip and my clients really enjoyed their experience.  They have given me permission to share some of their photos and it is always fun to show off other people’s travel experiences as I get to see the world from someone else’s eyes!  Check out these fabulous memories!!!

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The lobby of AmaWaterways’ beautiful ship AmaPrima

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The AmaPrima decorated for Christmas

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Gegenbach, Germany

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Great eats at Heidelburg, Germany

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Heidelburg Market

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Rudesheim, Germany

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Strasburg Market, Germany

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Strasburg, Germany

Downton in Bean Town

Sometimes it is fun to tour at home.  I live in a gorgeous part of the Northeast – not too far from Boston and close to the coastal Maine towns of Ogunquit, York and Kennebunkport.  I also live less than two hours from the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire and lakes galore in both states.  My husband and I love taking local weekends – even off season – to enjoy the beauty that is in our own backyard.  A simple date night in Perkins Cove, Maine makes me feel a bit like I am on vacation.  If you have never heard of Perkins Cove – Goggle it.  You will love it!!!

A couple weekends ago I had the pleasure of joining some girlfriends in a day trip to Boston.  While it is lovely to just get together, we did go with a purpose – and that was to see the special Downton Abbey exhibit that was in town for two short weeks.  We decided to make a day of it.

We left Dover, New Hampshire (close to our home towns) via the Amtrak train Downeaster in the morning and headed to North Station in Boston.  We splurged on the Business Class seats ($31 per person round trip) and enjoyed some visiting and relaxing – watching the world go by.  I had forgotten how much I love traveling by train….the train trip is coming back in vogue!  It is part of a travel movement called “slow travel” and it is emerging as we begin to love our journeys as much as our destinations!  Stay tuned for a blog I am working on about slow travel and what it’s all about!

While in Boston, we road the “T” – the subway, walked a ton, ate at “Cheers” in Faneuil Hall, shopped, saw our exhibit, got caught in a rain shower, passed through some type of filming (movie or TV show, we aren’t sure – we didn’t see anyone famous!) enjoyed Boston Commons (a lovely park) and made our way back to the train station to catch our ride home!  It was a fabulous day with friends and I got indulge my Downton Abbey obsession just a little!  Perhaps there will be a post about that someday as well!!!

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Amtrak Downeaster on a gorgeous summer’s day in New Hampshire!

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The ever busy and fun Faneuil Hall

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I love the juxtaposition of old and new on the east coast – our cities are a blend of history and modernity.

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Outside the Downton Abbey exhibit

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Mr. Carson’s pantry.

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The famous maid’s bell board.

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Bell board up close.

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The amazing costuming is something I really love about period dramas. Downton Abbey really shines in this department!

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The dining room!

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Outstanding evening dresses for Lady Edith, Lady Mary and that FABULOUS pants outfit by Lady Sybil!

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This car was on the “set” of the movie/show we saw while in Boston.

TBT…BEFORE the cruise…

Before our fabulous cruise in May of 2015, we hung out in London for 5 days and toured the area!  We arrived in April and we were met by my brother in law and his wife and daughter.  They live in Poland and we took advantage of being close to them and arranged a short holiday!  This was our second visit to London and we enjoyed it very much!  We stayed in a suburb all together and did some AMAZING touring!  Here is a photo journal of that visit!

 

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We walked EVERYWHERE and this photo was taken on way to Harrods!

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Windsor Castle – one of our favorite stops! We were rushed in our visit and I cannot wait to go back. This castle is really a fine example of Royal castles and it was a highlight of my stay in London!

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Windsor, Char and Sable – you all haven’t met Sable yet, but this kitty gets around. She even has her own book series in the works!

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Windsor!!!!

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My first favorite thing about this London visit (aside from seeing family, or course) was scoring coveted tickets to tour Highclere Castle – AKA Downtown Abbey. Here, Sable checks out the grounds as “Downtown Tabby”.

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My handsome hubby and I at Highclere Castle.

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Family photo taken by dad. Yes it was cold, rainy and windy – it was April in England!!!

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Kelly and I ate out one night while the kids went back to the flat with the family. We ate at a restaurant in the basement of Harrod’s that specialized in TRUFFLES!!!!! It was SO good!!!!

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Kelly and Freddie Mercury at Madame Tussauds.

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Sable MIGHT have been getting a bit too familiar with the queen. Madame Tussauds.

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Kelton’s hair resembled Albert Einstein’s a bit too much!! Madame Tussauds.

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Oh Char….well this is a statue representing the overindulgence of King Henry the VIII’s court at Hampton Court – another FAVORITE stop of mine – a must see!

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Char strikes again….sleeping next to the famous wine fountain that was created for a treaty meeting in northern France between Henry the VIII of England “and France” and King Frances I of France. This fountain flowed with wine in front of a “castle” built out of golden cloth to represent King Henry’s magnificence. So famous is this amazing tent that the event in history is referred to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. My history buff side shines through!

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Gardens at Hampton Court

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My beautiful rose petal and Hampton Court gardens.

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Iconic Tower Bridge!

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Mind the gap. We got an Oyster Card and used all manner of public transportation throughout London! I love this shot of Char and Sable!

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A view of Parliament from the London Eye.

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Westminster Abbey

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Big Ben!

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These adorable sheep were all over the city and the kids posed with them whenever possible! The sheep were dressed in outfits that represented the area where they stood.