Tips for planning your first visit to NYC

ESB in fog

Happy New Year! Are you planning a trip to New York City this year? I’ve recently had a few family members ask for advice about their first trips to NYC, so thought I’d put my tips into a blog post.

First of all, New York City is HUGE – and most first-time visitors spend their time in Manhattan, one of five boroughs that make up the city (the other four are Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx), so this post will focus on Manhattan. Secondly, this post will NOT include a list of “must see” sights. What I will do, however, is give you tips for making the most of your limited time, navigating your way around the city, and designing an efficient sight-seeing plan. I’ll also alert you to some things that surprise first-time visitors.

Where to stay – There are thousands of hotels in Manhattan; I’ve written an entire post on how I choose hotels in NYC.  Here’s the short version – where you should stay depends on what you want to see and do as well as cost, your tolerance for noise, and how you plan to get around. Stay away from hotels directly on Times Square if you don’t like crowds and noise; moving just a couple of blocks away can drastically cut the crowds (I’ve stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn on 8th Ave. between 48th and 49th Streets and had a great experience). Midtown East is quieter but still close to many of the Midtown area main attractions (St Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and Times Square, among others), but doesn’t have great subway connections once you’re east of Lexington Avenue. If you want to spend most of your time exploring the 9/11 Memorial/Museum and the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island complex, the Financial District might be a good location. Chelsea and the Fashion (Garment) District are walkable and have good subway connections to Midtown, the West Village (with some amazing restaurants) and the Financial District; this is often where I choose to stay. Here is a map outlining the neighborhoods of Manhattan, from the folks at nyctourist.com – their website has TONS of info about New York City!

nyc-neighborhood-mapImage source: http://www.nyctourist.com

When to go – New York City is a year round destination – the museums and sights are phenomenal no matter when you go. January is one of the cheapest months for hotels, and I’ve also gotten great rates for the Fourth of July weekend (I guess everyone goes to the beach instead?). December is generally expensive, although I had a friend report last month that she found good hotel rates for the third week in December. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is both incredibly crowded and extremely expensive. Spring and Fall have the nicest weather and the parks are beautiful. Time Out NYC lists the best places to see cherry blossoms here, and the fall foliage in Central Park is gorgeous!

Sightseeing – My biggest tip here is to group your sightseeing geographically! Minimize the time you spend traveling around the city by visiting all of your sights in the Financial District one day, then spend another day enjoying the museums on the Upper West Side and Central Park and a third day seeing the sights of Midtown. I star my activities on Google Maps, then plan my days by location. After many visits when I’ve been too ambitious with my sightseeing plan, I now divide my days into morning, afternoon, and evening, and schedule no more than ONE activity per segment. However, I also keep a list handy of other sights in the vicinity that I’d like to see in case I have extra time and can squeeze in something else.

Better NYC plans photoHere’s a screenshot of  my “midtown/theater district” day – everything is within a ten block area to make for convenient and quick walks between activities

Visiting the Statue of Liberty – Okay, so maybe THIS is my biggest tip – if there is one thing that surprises first time visitors more than anything else, it is the amount of time you have to block out to take the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. If you are planning on visiting both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, I’d recommend blocking out the entire day, especially if you want to climb to the crown and enjoy the museum at Ellis Island. Even with advance tickets for the ferry, you wait in a long line and go through security (the entrance time on your ticket is the time you enter the security line – you might not get on the first ferry after you’re through the line). The ferry stops first at Liberty Island, the home of Lady Liberty, then proceeds to Ellis Island before circling back to Manhattan; even if you don’t want to visit Ellis Island, you still have to ride the ferry and wait while others disembark and embark. My family loves history; we took the very first ferry in the morning and the very last ferry back in the late afternoon and still wished for more time! Both islands have cafes, so you can buy coffee and lunch. If you’re just going to the Statue but don’t plan on getting off at Ellis Island, you will want to block out at least 4 hours (more during busy times like Spring Break, Easter, summer and December), so be cautious about what you schedule directly after your Statue excursion. I’d recommend planning this for a day towards the beginning/middle of your trip – I once booked a visit for my last morning in the city, but due to a snow storm, the ferries didn’t run until afternoon. The company offered to put me on a later ferry, but I had a flight out, so had to miss the experience.  Ha – aren’t you glad I make these mistakes so you don’t have to??

 

**For those of you with kids between 6-12, Ellis Island has an AMAZING Junior Ranger Program – and even though the islands are a National Park site, the state of New York is providing the funding for them to stay open during the government shutdown (thanks, State of New York!)**

Click here for info about the ferry and the different types of tickets available. If you want to climb to the crown, book your tickets as far in advance as possible and keep in mind that the inside of the statue is not climate controlled, so it can get very hot in the summer.

Doug and I in Lady libertyHubby and I in the crown of the Statue of Liberty

**Time-saving tip – If you are tight on time and okay with just seeing the Statue of Liberty from the water, I’d recommend taking the Staten Island Ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island and back – it’s FREE, you get great views (albeit from farther away) and it takes about 1.5 hours tops – the ride is 25 minutes each way, but you have to disembark on Staten Island and circle around to get back in line for the return trip**

If you want to see a show, you can book tickets ahead of time (playbill.com and broadwaybox.com sell discounted tickets for some shows) or use the TKTS booth to get discounted tickets the day of the show. If you’re flying in and arriving in the late afternoon, book a show for your second night and plan something like a walk around Rockefeller Center for your first night, in case you end up with a flight delay.  If you have your heart set on seeing a specific show, I’d recommend booking ahead; if you’re flexible about what you want to see and would be happy with a myriad of choices, then I’ve seen some great shows using the TKTS booth. Here is the link to the TKTS website home page, and you can see what’s currently available at the booth here (there are no guarantees what will be available the day you go, of course, but I’ve always been able to find something fun). Many first time visitors don’t realize you can meet the actors at the stage door after the show – take your playbill and a sharpie if you want autographs! To be the among the first in line, scope out the stage door location before going into the show and leave the theater as soon as possible after the show ends – don’t stay through all the curtain calls.

Stage door HamiltonMeeting Michael Luwoye (aka Alexander Hamilton) at the stage door after the show!

Advance tickets – You’ll definitely want to buy advance tickets for the Statue of Liberty, and if you want to go to the Top of the Rock, Empire State Building, or One World Observatory, you’ll save a TON of time by buying tickets online. This blogger has a great article about when to book ahead…the Statue of Liberty tickets and Broadway tickets are in the #1 and #2 spots!

To go to the top or not? – Top of the Rock, the Empire State Building and the One World Observatory all give you the same type of experience – you go to the top of the building and get amazing views over the city. They all offer advance booking (and together hold the #4 spot on the above list) but are slightly different.

One World Observatory is the newest of the three, honoring the former World Trade Center Twin Towers. It overlooks the 9/11 Memorial and the Financial District, with a great view of New York Harbor. There are three types of tickets, all of which include a multimedia experience in the visit. They seem to have the earliest closing time of the three (when I checked times for today, the last entry was at 8:15 PM).

The Empire State Building is the oldest, with great views of midtown. The Empire State Building is the classic experience for fans of Sleepless in Seattle, King Kong, or An Affair to Remember, and is open the latest of the three, until 2 am, so if you’re a night owl or trying to squeeze every last bit of sightseeing out of your visit, a late night visit is a great option. Click here for ticket info.

Top of the Rock – Another option is to go to the top of Rockefeller Center, where you get great views of midtown and Central Park, as well as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and One World Tower.  To me, there’s something magical about being at Top of the Rock during sunset, watching the sky become a blend of colors before it fades to dark and the lights of the city come on, including a fantastic view of the lights coming on at the Empire State Building. The latest entry time is generally 11:40 PM, so this is also a good “after dinner” option.

**These tickets are usually pretty easy to get a day or two in advance, so I wait to book until I can see the weather forecast for the days I’ll be in NYC, and choose a sunny day! If you want the sunset view, book a time for about 30-45 minutes before sunset (find sunset times here, although Top of the Rock makes it easy with a little sun symbol next to entrance times that will let you see the sunset) to allow for time to get up to the observation deck. Once you’re up there, you can stay for as long as you like.**

new-york-city-105860From Top of the Rock, you’ll get this gorgeous sunset view!  Photo courtesy of pixabay

Eating – I’m not a foodie, and while I enjoy a nice dinner, I don’t want to spend $100 per person either, so I look for food that is fresh, tasty, inexpensive-moderately priced, and convenient to sightseeing rather than adventurous. I rely heavily on Yelp and suggestions from friends or Instagram, and I stay away from chain restaurants. I’ve gotten tons of great recommendations from With Love from Kat – two of the places we’ve tried from her app (and loved) are Buvette and Momoya. I’ve also enjoyed La Bonne Soup (french bistro), S’mac (an entire restaurant devoted to mac and cheese? yes, please!), Gigino’s at Wagner Park (Statue of Liberty views), Serafina (several locations for wood-fired pizza and pasta), Hurley’s Saloon (Irish Pub in the Theatre District with a beer garden out back in nice weather), Carmine’s (family style Italian in Times Square), Serendipity 3 (if you’ve seen the movie with Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack, it’s especially fun!), Doughnut Plant, and Alice’s Tea Cup (Alice in Wonderland themed tea room with three locations). I’ve also been known to chow down on Shake Shack, Pret a Manger, or Chipotle while in line for show tickets or riding the Staten Island Ferry!

 

Transportation –  I don’t recommend driving around the city to get from one sight to another – parking is just too hard and expensive, and traffic is crazy crowded. If you are driving to New York City, be prepared for parking charges of $40-50 per day at your hotel, and plan on parking your car and not using it again until you leave. Parking at hotels is generally valet-only, so be ready to pull up, get all your stuff out, and have a few singles on hand for tipping the valet.

New York is a great walking city; I walk whenever possible, but when my destination is too far, I use the subway or a cab/Uber. I could do an entire series of posts on transportation in New York, but I’ll just give you a helpful link with details about getting around the city by subway, bus, cab, Uber, walking, and more!

traffic-691870Believe me – you DO NOT want to try and drive from sight to sight in NYC traffic! photo courtesy of pixabay

**navigation tip – In Manhattan, anything above 14th Street is on a grid pattern, which makes navigating easy. Streets run east/west (with 5th Avenue as the dividing line) and Avenues run north/south, while Broadway runs diagonally. Below 14th Street, it’s a little less predictable, as this is the oldest part of the island. Most people use cross streets to navigate rather than numerical addresses, so when giving your destination to a cab/uber driver, say “The Hilton New York Fashion District on West 26th St. near 7th Avenue”**

Weather in NYC –  if you are going in the winter, the skyscrapers create wind tunnels, so you’ll feel much colder than you might expect! Bring warm gloves/mittens (mittens are warmer than gloves because of the body heat from your fingers being together), a scarf (or you can buy one on nearly any street corner for less than $10 – these make great souvenirs) and a hat. If you’re going in the summer, the converse is true – temps can feel warmer, as all the concrete holds heat.

img_1626We got lucky with a day full of sunshine for our Statue of Liberty day – but the wind on the ferry was COLD!!!

**I often see recommendations to wear thermal base layers in winter, but then I get way too hot when indoors, so my secret trick is to layer a lightweight down coat under my heavier winter coat! I have this one and it works like a charm – kept me toasty warm even standing outside for two hours in 34 degree weather trying to get lottery tickets for Hamilton! It packs down into a small pouch for packing, is super lightweight but an invaluable layer in the winter! There’s a longer version, as well**

Wow! If you’ve read this far, you’re a champ – I really hope these tips were helpful! In my next post, I’ll list my favorite sights and restaurants by neighborhood, to help you plan geographically 🙂  Leave me a note in the comments below if you have specific questions or want to add a recommendation to my list!

My best (and worst) travel moments of 2018

Happy December!  I’ve been on radio silence for a while…after working so hard on the midterm elections, I needed time to rest, recharge and nest at home. But I don’t want to let December pass without a post or two, so today I thought I’d share my best (and worst) moments of travel this year! In no particular order, here they are…

Best:

riding-through-forest.jpg

Biking through the forests of South Bohemia – in September, I went on my second bike trip with two girlfriends. This time we biked through the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, with more varied terrain than we experienced on our first trip. My favorite days were spent biking through the forest…the trees, rivers, shade and the gigantic mushrooms (the biggest I’ve ever seen) combined into pure joy!

duckhuntersThese men welcomed us, fed us, and laughed with us – thank you for sharing your hospitality!

Sharing lunch with the Duck Hunters – If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen this post about meeting the group of duck hunters. We basically thought we were going to a restaurant (thanks Google maps for the adventure!) but ended up crashing a private hunting lodge and sharing food/beer/schnapps/hunting ceremonies/crazy attempts at communicating with a group of duck hunters! I have to admit…after two beers and three shots each, we were a little wobbly as we mounted up to ride the last 20 kilometers of the day!

Stage door HamiltonMeeting Michael Luwoye (aka “Alexander Hamilton”) at the stage door!

Seeing Hamilton on Broadway – For my birthday in January, we met up with our kids for a quick 48 hours in New York City to see Hamilton. It was as amazing as I expected, and the fact that my kids all took the time to fly in to join us made it extra sweet!

**Tip…get on the email list here for notifications when new blocks of tickets go on sale (Scroll to bottom of page where it says “Join the revolution”, and enter your email), and listen to the soundtrack as much as possible before you go!**

IMG_2283The original 12th century foundations of the Louvre

Introducing my youngest to Paris – I LOVED introducing my son to  one of my favorite cities in the world and and seeing it again through the eyes of a first-time visitor. We explored differently this time as well, with a more relaxed schedule, which only heightened my enjoyment of the city. When I first started traveling internationally, I felt pressure to see as many sights as possible, which led to packed schedules and stress (how many of you can relate??).  This visit, I let my son dictate the schedule – he likes to sleep in, so we enjoyed relaxed mornings, fewer sights each day, and long wanderings just soaking in the city.  We took a walking tour from Paris Walks (we did the French Revolution of 1789 tour) which was incredible; we learned so much not just about the Revolution, but also about how the current French political system works. My son wanted to spend an entire day at the Louvre, so I wandered the less-crowded sections and discovered an exhibit in the basement about the Louvre as a building, where you can still see the original foundations of the fortress which was built in the 1100’s (and had the entire room to myself for a few minutes)!

lennon wall pragueThe John Lennon Wall in Prague at 8 am, with just ONE other person!

Running through Prague – You may have seen this post about our running tour of Prague. Although my natural inclination is to sleep in, it was worth rising early to experience Prague in the peaceful morning hours. During our run, we stopped by the John Lennon Wall at 8 am, and there was only one other tourist there; at 3 pm, we went back, and there were several hundred tourists waiting to try and get photos.

Sheldon Church gate good oneThe Old Sheldon Church Ruins, one of my solo discoveries this year

Hopping in the car and exploring by myself – This year I’ve done a couple of short trips by myself (read about those herehere and here). There’s a freedom in traveling alone –  I relish the ability to change plans on a whim, or sit at a cafe for hours without worrying whether my travel buddy is bored. While I would never choose to travel exclusively by myself, I do cherish my alone time and am hoping to plan a few short solo getaways in 2019.

Now for the worst; because we all have those moments where we hit the wall of exhaustion or things go wrong, right??? Two moments in particular stick out in my mind…IMG_7944Geared up and ready to ride – but that first day was SOOOO hard!

The first day of our bike trip – Our first day of biking through the Czech Republic was demoralizing; I had to walk my bike up ten hills that day and was in tears going up one particularly long hill. Despite the training I had done, I was questioning whether I was physically capable of completing the ride (the hills were much harder than I expected), wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into, and dreading the six days of biking still ahead. To make matters even worse, it was pouring rain. That day was both a mental and a physical challenge…I had to dig deep and find reserves to keep going.  Thankfully, the remaining days were easier and the sun came out, but that first day still lingers in my mind.

**Lesson learned – for our next trip, I’m going to include more strength training, and book an electric bike to help with the hills**

beynac crepe myrtlesThe day after my bout with food poisoning…moving slowly but enjoying the beautiful town of Beynac-et-Cazenac

Getting food poisoning in the Dordogne region of France – the worst case of food poisoning I think I’ve ever had…read this post for the full story, but overall a horrible 24 hours which left my stomach uneasy and my body dehydrated for days. However, not feeling my best led me to embrace a slower pace of travel, which I LOVED, so there is that…

I’d love to hear about your bests and worsts – feel free to share in the comments!

 

 

 

A Day Out at Fontevraud Abbey (Wednesday Wanderings)

F Abbey in arch

When we went to France in August, we had one day to fill between our arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport and our stay in the Dordogne region (to read about our stay in the Dordogne, click here and here). I had just read a fascinating trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine, so we decided to spend our free day at The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.

**Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres – reading about a place before visiting brings it to life for me. Anyone else out there feel the same? What are some of the best historical fiction books you’ve read recently?**

We only booked our flights about three weeks out, so didn’t have great transportation options. We ended up taking the RER B from the airport to the St Michel-Notre Dame stop in central Paris, then (after a brief visit to Notre Dame, which was nearly empty at 8 am on a Saturday morning) we rode Line 4 of the Paris Metro from St Michel to Gare Montparnasse, after which we took the TGV train from Gare Montparnasse to Poitiers. In Poitiers, we rented a car and drove to our Chateau B&B near the Abbey. It sounds harder than it actually was, but it was still a multi-step process that took a good chunk of our arrival day, so we were ready to relax when we got to our B&B!

**If we had booked farther ahead, we could have taken the TGV directly from the airport (Terminal 2) to Tours, which is much closer to the Abbey than Poitiers.  However, the TGV was sold out from CDG and I couldn’t find an available rental car in Tours; one of the pitfalls of booking last minute!**

chateau B&B 2JPG

We arrived at Château de la Roche Martel in the late afternoon, and were given a brief tour then shown to our room. The historic property was built in the early 1400’s and has an addition from the 1600’s. It’s a historically quirky place and the owners, a Viscount and Viscountess, are careful to share that it is not a luxury hotel (no A/C; does have private bathrooms) but rather a privately owned chateau where they are delighted to welcome guests. I spent a relaxing couple of hours enjoying the garden on a chaise with a good book, and found myself wishing we had booked more than one night. Next time!

view from chateau b&BThe view from the garden at Château de la Roche Martel

Our hostess offered to make us a dinner reservation nearby, and she recommended the Restaurant Le Montsorelli  on the terrace at the Hotel Le Bussy.

chateau montsoreau 3Our view during dinner at Le Montsorelli

Watching the sun set over the Loire River, next to the Chateau Montsoreau, while dining in the garden of the restaurant, was the perfect beginning to our French adventure!

loire sunsetSunset over the beautiful Loire River

 At breakfast the next morning (the food was AMAZING, wish I had taken a photo), my husband, son and I shared a fascinating discussion of US politics with our hostess, a retired couple from New Zealand and a young couple from Moscow (one of the best parts of staying at a B&B is the fellow guests that we meet).  After breakfast, we packed up and headed out to the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.

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Founded in the 1100’s and now the largest remaining monastic city of the Middle Ages in Europe, Fontevraud housed, in four separate priories, monks, nuns, women who retreated here after the deaths of their husbands (as did Eleanor of Aquitaine), and a hospital for lepers, all overseen by an Abbess.

Pretty flowers and gate F Abbey

Originally in an area of France belonging to the King of England, the English royals were great benefactors of the Abbey (hence the distinction The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud). Eleanor of Aquitaine, a complex and strong woman way ahead of her time, struggled with the constraints placed on her because of her sex. She was the heir to Aquitaine, but as women were thought unfit to rule by themselves, she was married off at age 13 to the future King Louis VII of France. After 15 years of marriage during which she only gave birth to two daughters, King Louis annulled their marriage and she then married King Henry II of England, who was eleven years her junior.  She had eight children with Henry, including King John and Richard the Lionheart. After Henry died, she spent the last 20 years of her life at the Abbey, and is buried there with Henry II and Richard the Lionheart, as well as King John’s second wife, Isabella of Angouleme.

Eleanor of AquitaneEleanor of Aquitaine and her second husband, King Henry II of England

After the French Revolution of 1789, the monastery was dissolved and the last Abbess was evicted in 1792. Napoleon turned it into a prison in 1804, in which capacity it served until 1963, when the French Government restored it, opening the Abbey to the public in 1975.

Cloisters 2 F Abbey

As we wandered the grounds and explored the buildings, it was easy to imagine the life of the nuns, going about their daily routines of work and prayer in silence. Did you know they went to EIGHT services a day?? The cloisters still exude peace and serenity, and the crowds were minimal, despite it being the height of tourist season. The Abbey hosts cultural performances, exhibits and events throughout the year, and also serves as a conference center with an onsite hotel, a restaurant and casual cafes.

Best Cloister Garden F Abbey

We finally had to drag ourselves away from this fascinating place…but will be back to explore more of the Loire Valley at some point!

 

A Day Out on the Glen Burney Trail (Wednesday Wanderings series)

Glen Burney Trail

Happy Wednesday! My husband and I spent today hiking in the North Carolina mountains with our dog.  I love having these midweek adventures with him; it will be one of the things I miss most when he goes back to work!

Perfect pose!My favorite hiking buddies!

We chose the Glen Burney Trail because it showcases several waterfalls and was only about a 90 minute drive from Winston Salem. An extra bonus is that the trailhead is located a block from Main St in downtown Blowing Rock, so it would be super easy to add in some shopping, strolling and eating to round out your day! We didn’t spend any time downtown today, but I’ve loved my meals at The Speckled Trout in the past. And if you really want to indulge, Westglow Resort and Spa is just a few miles outside of Blowing Rock; my husband gave me a day package there for Mother’s Day, and it’s incredible!

hiking 4

But today we just hiked and enjoyed the gorgeous sunny fall day. The trail is an out and back 3 mile route, which goes downhill on the way out and then heads straight back up. I was definitely glad I had my trekking poles with me. It wasn’t super strenuous by any means, but the poles take some of the pressure off my knees when going down steep steps. We had to scramble a little bit crossing the stream, as the bridge is washed out, but some kind soul laid a plank in exactly the right spot to help us out!

crossing bridgebridge 4

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my recent post about being a “river through the forest” kind of girl, so today’s trail was just what I love – we meandered through the woods beside the stream and passed several beautiful waterfalls.

scooby 6

waterfall 5

Scooby enjoyed exploring as well and happily posed for multitudes of photos (be sure to check out the last photo – I caught him mid-shake and it’s hilarious!) So much fun to hike with this cutie!

Can I jump?Can I jump, Mom?

hiking 1

mid shake!

What are some of your favorite hikes in the Boone/Blowing Rock area? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Our running tour of Prague

winged lion prague 2The Winged Lion Memorial – a thank you from Great Britain honoring the 2,507 Czechoslovak airmen who served in the Royal Air Force during WWII.

Hello from the Czech Republic! I’m currently biking around South Bohemia with two girlfriends (follow my adventures on Instagram here) – if you haven’t been to the Czech Republic, add it to your list! It’s a beautiful country with warm, friendly people – we’ve had so many great experiences! We flew into Prague and spent a couple of days there before we started biking. I found this running tour of Prague, and it sounded like so much fun that we booked it for our second morning. Our guide, Marek, met us at our apartment at 7:30 am, and took us around the tourist areas of the city, pointing out landmarks and good places to eat.  We covered about 4.5 miles, but Marek let us set the pace, which as a beginning runner I greatly appreciated. It was a great way to get some exercise, especially after being cramped in a plane for the overnight flight just a day or so before, and as a bonus, we saw the tourist areas when they were blissfully uncrowded! Here are some of the things we saw…

babies with face

The Babies – these sculptures used to be “climbing” up the side of the TV tower in Prague, but now reside in a park on Kampa Island. We never did figure out why they have no faces…if you know, please enlighten me!

lennon wall prague

The John Lennon Wall – a spontaneous tribute to John Lennon when he was assassinated, this wall became an expression of hope for freedom during the Communist years. Every night, the government would paint over the graffiti, and every day, new graffiti would appear. We saw it with one other tourist at 8 AM; later that afternoon, we returned and there were close to 200 people at the wall.

wallenstein gardens 2

The Wallenstein Garden – built in 1623, this geometric, early Baroque garden used to be private, belonging to the adjacent palace.  Now, open to the public, the garden is a peaceful place with free-roaming peacocks, including some rare white peacocks.

white peacock pragueThe white peacocks of Wallenstein Garden

radio memorial prague

Memorial to Dr. Milada Horakova –  a Czech politician, she was convicted of fabricated charges of conspiracy and treason, then executed by the Communist Party in 1950. The memorial is in the form of a microphone like the one she stood in front of during her show trial, where she was given 30 seconds to speak in her defense. It honors her and all those who stood up against totalitarianism.

fruit market pragueA local market, founded in 1232!

And last but not least…

Charles Bridge prague

The Charles Bridge – the most famous bridge and an iconic sight of Prague, the bridge was practically empty when we ran across. Later that afternoon, it was full of caricaturists, souvenir stalls, street performers and tourists!

We loved our running tour of Prague – if you’re a runner, I highly recommend it! If you’ve done a running tour somewhere, let me know where and whether you enjoyed it!

**This post is not sponsored; we just had such a good time we wanted to spread the word!**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Days in the Dordogne region of France, part 2

burnt out car oradourHello again! If you’re still reading, I’m glad I didn’t scare you away with my last post! But these things happen, right? We have these images in our head about how it will be the perfect vacation, and it’s never quite the same…real life happens instead.  This trip was very different from others I’ve taken, and I ended up LOVING the differences! Because I wasn’t feeling well for much of the trip, and our son wanted to sleep late most days, we ended up moving more slowly than I normally do in Europe.  But it was so relaxing, and I enjoyed it even more than past trips where I’ve put pressure on myself to see more sights.

This time, I still did lots of research ahead of time, but we had a very loose schedule. Each day, we’d meet up with our son for a late breakfast/early lunch, and while at the meal, we’d discuss options for the day and make a plan based on what we felt like seeing that day.

danijela-froki-391486-unsplash.jpgDaily plans always involved cappuccinos!

We only pre-booked two activities, and those were the prehistoric caves with the cave paintings. My husband and son went to the Lascaux International Centre for Cave Art on the day I was sick in bed. They said it was fantastic and the interpretive center was amazing, although the actual cave is closed to visitors, so you walk through a replica of the cave instead. I was sad to have missed that, but on our third day in the Dordogne, we went to Pech Merle, another cave with paintings and a small museum. I studied the paintings in both Lascaux and Pech Merle during an art history class, and I have to say it was incredible to stand in the actual cave itself and see the prehistoric cave paintings from over 20,000 years ago. I thought they’d be faded and hard to see, but they are still vibrant – this was easily one of my favorite experiences of the trip (and probably on my top five list of all my trips to Europe). Pech Merle is very strict about controlling the number of visitors per day, so I highly recommend booking ahead, especially during the summer high season. I booked about three weeks out so that we could get an English tour, as there were only two or three per day. In order to preserve the paintings, they are very strict about no photos in the cave, so I don’t have any of my own to share with you, but you can click here to see some of the paintings

Gouffre di Padirac 2 Part of the underground river at Gouffre de Padirac 

After our tour at Pech Merle, we drove to Gouffre de Padirac, an underground cavern with a river and a lake. We did not book ahead, but were able to walk right up to the ticket window and get tickets for the next time slot. It is super crowded, but the line moves very quickly, so don’t panic if you get there and it looks like there are thousands of people in front of you! They have two options to travel down – you can take a lift (elevator) or hike it down (and back up) hundreds of stairs! We chose to hike down the stairs, after which you walk through the cavern (with an audioguide) until you get to a lake. Then you get into a boat with a guide, and travel across the lake to continue the journey through the cavern. The whole experience is otherworldly – you’re 130 meters underground and walking along a river…it was completely touristy but super cool at the same time (and a great stair workout)!

IMG_1911The stairs at Gouffre de Padirac – but don’t worry, there’s a lift as well!

**Day three in the Dordogne – Skipped my planned morning bike ride because I’d only had one light meal in the previous 48 hours. By end of day could eat normally again…yippee! 10,991 steps for the day, most of them up and down the stairs at Gouffre de Padirac**

Thursday was a travel day…we were leaving the Dordogne and driving to Poitiers to turn in the rental car and take the train to Paris. I FINALLY got to ride my rental bike, but we wanted to stop at Oradour-Sur-Glane on the way to Poitiers, so I rode from 8-9 AM, then turned in the bike and away we went. Added to the list for my next visit – schedule a full day to rent a bike and ride the entire trail, stopping along the way for coffee and lunch!

bike path sarlatThe Sarlat Voie Verte bike path – so beautiful!

Oradour-Sur-Glane is midway between Sarlat and Poitiers, so it made a perfect stopping point to break up the drive. The town lies along the line which divided Occupied France from Vichy France during World War II –  a few days after the D-Day invasion in Normandy, Nazi officers gathered up all the people in town, shot the men in the streets, locked the women and children in the church then burned the entire town, including the church. In all, 642 people died that day (I think only 1 person escaped). As a memorial and a reminder of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, the town has been left as it was the day the Nazis burned it.

church bell oradourThe remains of the church bell…

A new town was rebuilt just next to the old, and there is now a museum as well as a portrait wall with photos of most of the people killed that day. They are still collecting photos and hope to eventually have a photo of every man, woman and child who perished.

portrait wall oradour.JPGThe portrait wall at Oradour-sur-Glane museum; white squares represent victims for whom they don’t have a photo yet…

We spent about 90 minutes here, but could have easily spent four or five hours if we didn’t have a deadline to return our rental car. You first enter the museum, where the exhibits talk about the rise of the Nazi party and the history of the invasion in France. Exhibits educate visitors about other massacres committed by the Nazi’s – did you know that the Nazi officers were never held accountable for any of the massacres that were committed? Then you walk through the portrait gallery into the town itself.

cafe oradourCafe tables and chairs in the ruins of a cafe

Silence is requested, but a hush naturally fell over the crowd as we entered the town. It was hauntingly eerie and sobering to see cafe tables overturned, sewing machines sitting on ledges in houses, and burned out cars parked in the streets. It’s not an uplifting day, but oh so important to remember and mourn.

Have you traveled to any WWII sites? Which ones have you seen? I’d love to hear about your experiences….and as always, thank you for reading!

Three days in the Dordogne region of France, part 1

beynac 2The riverside town of Beynac-et-Cazenac, with the church and chateau perched at the top of the town

Happy Monday all! We recently got home from ten days in France –  this trip marked a transition for me, as it was the first family vacation we’ve taken without our two oldest children, who now work and live in different cities. I think our youngest may have missed the company of his siblings after spending ten days alone with his parents….

Anyway, I’m planning to write a blog post about each segment of our trip, plus a post about driving in France. I also have a few other ideas swirling around in my head, so if you have any questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Early in our trip, we spent several days in the Dordogne region. The Dordogne refers to both a river and a department (county) in the southwest/south central part of France. It’s a beautiful, mostly rural region with small towns, villages, castles, canoeing and prehistoric caves, many with cave paintings from over 20,000 years ago. The river itself is amazingly lovely, with some of the cleanest water in France. The villages rise steeply along the river, and chateaus and castles are dotted along the hillsides.

dordogne river 2The beautiful Dordogne River

We spent four nights at Hotel La Hoirie, just south of Sarlat la Caneda (the main tourist hub, often just called Sarlat), which I chose for two reasons. First, it had air conditioned rooms, and at the time I booked our trip, the temperatures in the area had been in the mid-high 90’s for several weeks (self-knowledge is a wonderful thing…I knew that without A/C at those temps, I wouldn’t be able to sleep and would be a total grump, thus negating the idea of a fun vacation). Second, despite being on vacation, I still needed to train for my upcoming bike tour through the Czech Republic, and the hotel is only one kilometer away from the Sarlat Voie Verte bike path, a 29 km railway line which has been converted into a pedestrian and bicycle route. I arranged a four day bike rental from Liberty Cycle, with visions of getting up early’ish each of the four days and riding 20-30 miles each morning before heading out to sightsee for the afternoon and evening. The path passes through several towns, so my husband and I had even planned to ride together one morning and stop for breakfast along the way.

**You can feel that there’s a story coming, right? RIGHT???**

We arrived at the hotel in the early evening, after stopping to pick up my rental bike. At that point, my stomach was a little upset, but I attributed that to being carsick from the windy roads. The hotel is GORGEOUS – it’s an old thirteenth century hunting lodge, with several old stone buildings, beautiful gardens, a swimming pool, and a restaurant with a lovely outdoor terrace. We had dinner reservations at the hotel restaurant (really good food, if a smidge pricier than other places we ate), so after checking in and dropping our bags in our room, we walked out to the restaurant. Before we even got a chance to order, my stomach started feeling worse, so I left without eating and returned to my room and went to bed.

**You KNEW there was a story coming – if you are easily grossed out, you might want to skip the next paragraph!**

Around midnight, I woke suddenly with that horrible feeling that I was about to puke. My side of the bed was about five feet from the bathroom door…but nope, I didn’t make it. If you’ve ever seen The Exorcist, it was like that – vomit spewed forth all over the floor, the walls, myself, and the bathroom. My husband is my hero…rather than running over to sleep in our son’s room for the rest of the night, he gamely got up and helped me. I think we finally got back to bed around 4 am, after which I fell into a restless sleep.  Once we woke up, my hubby ran and picked up ginger ale, Sprite, crackers and Rice Krispies for me. I slept most of that day…finally dragging myself into the shower around 6 pm, then venturing out to the hotel garden for a brief respite in the fresh air before taking the dirty towels (securely tied up in the plastic laundry bag from the room) to the front desk and trying to say in French “Please throw these towels away and charge them to my room; I was very sick and used them to clean up vomit” (Thank goodness for Google Translate!)

**First day in the Dordogne – no bike ride, no food, 719 total steps for the day, but successfully covered hotel room in vomit, showered and sat in garden for ten minutes before getting rained on**

hotel la hoirieJPGThe one photo I took that day, while sitting in the hotel garden

The next morning, I was able to get up and gingerly participate in the day’s activities, although I again wasn’t able to do my planned bike ride. We drove along the river to the town of La Roque-Gageac (considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, for good reason), where we tried to get tickets for a boat tour along the river. The tours were sold out for most of the day, (the months of July and August are high season) so we jumped back in the car and continued on to Beynac-et-Cazenac.

beynac crepe myrtlesBeynac had the prettiest crepe myrtles!

We were able to get an afternoon boat tour in Beynac, then wandered up the village’s steep streets to the church and the chateau. Once we got back down to river level, we sat and watched the multitudes of canoes heading down the river. Canoeing is a very popular pastime on the Dordogne…if I had been feeling better, I would have loved to float down the river in a canoe, but the one hour boat ride was fun and interesting – the narration was in French, but the guide gave us quick highlights in English and also gave us a copy of the narration in English so we could follow along.

beynac canoersCanoeing along the river is a great way to enjoy the region!

After our boat tour, we drove to Chateau Castelnaud-de-Chapelle, which is a medieval chateau/fortress with a museum of weapons. It was a fascinating look at medieval warfare and I learned lots of details about the Hundred Years War. From the tower of the Chateau, you could see three other chateaus/fortresses – they really could all keep an eye on each other! These are the kinds of things that get the history nerd part of me excited, so I loved our visit here.

castelnaud

For dinner that night, we drove back to Beynac and ate at La Petite Tonnelle. The food was absolutely delicious, the staff was friendly, and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner on the terrace.

**Second day in the Dordogne – no bike ride, stomach still queasy, ate one light meal, failed to get pics of restaurant, but sat on a boat and somehow managed to survive 12,350 total steps for the day without fainting**

Since I’ve reached 1200 words, I’ll stop here for now…stay tuned for the next installment in the adventure! As always, thanks so much for reading!

A Day Out in Baltimore

water-3199668Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I’m adding a new post to my Wednesday Wanderings series today. For Mother’s Day weekend back in May, I traveled to Baltimore to spend time with my sister, aunt and cousins. All of our mothers are gone, so we spent Friday and Saturday that weekend celebrating the fact that we had, and are, kick ass moms. We laughed, shopped, chatted, ate and just generally celebrated being together for the first time in over a year. On Sunday, I met up with my son and a family friend in downtown Baltimore for a day of exploring. It was such a fun day!

me and boysMe and the boys!

We started late morning at Miss Shirley’s Cafe at the Inner Harbor for brunch. They don’t take reservations, and of course everyone was eating out for Mother’s Day, so we were told it would be a 90-110 minute wait. No worries! We walked a block over to Barnes and Noble, where we spent a lovely hour and a half browsing (and buying) books. I’ve read that due to Amazon, brick and mortar bookstores like Barnes and Noble are in danger, so was happy to do my part to keep B&N alive 🙂 Once our wait was over, we headed back over to the cafe.

Miss Shirley’s focuses on southern food, and does it extremely well. Their menu is extensive, which makes it so very hard to choose. I debated between breakfast and lunch; cinnamon danish waffles were calling my name, but I decided to go with a cup of vegetable crab soup and the jumbo lump crab & corn grilled cheese sandwich. I figured I was in Maryland, so I should enjoy the chance to have crab while I could! I also tried a Shirley’s Crush – the Orange Crush is a Baltimore alcoholic specialty and Miss Shirley’s version was oh so yummy! The service was great and our food was delish; we longingly eyed the dessert menu before deciding that we were just too full to order anything else. If you’re in Baltimore, I highly recommend a stop here for breakfast, brunch or lunch (Miss Shirley’s is open 7am-3 pm). They have three locations, but the Inner Harbor location is handy for exploring the waterfront after you eat!

water-3279614Fells Point – Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Afterward, we drove down to Fells Point and walked around, poking into some of the shops and enjoying the waterfront views. Fells Point is an area along the harbor which was first settled in the 1760’s by William Fell, a Quaker, who built a store here. After the ship yard was established, the neighborhood expanded to include homes, stores, and bars. The Fells Point Ship Yard produced over 800 ships, including the Continental Navy’s first frigates and the speedy “Baltimore Clippers”  (Click here for more details). The area was home to seamen, sailmakers, merchants and sea captains. Now a residential area, there is an open air market along the waterfront that has been operating since 1786. It was also the setting for Annie’s house and the pier where she sits along the water in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Fells point

One of my favorite activities when traveling is to find hidden, quirky places and things to see.  I dug around on Atlas Obscura and found quite a few in the Fells Point area, so the boys indulged me. “It’s Mother’s Day; we’ll go anywhere you’d like” were their exact words; what great people they are! We found the Fell Family Cemetery, tucked between two townhouses at 1609 Shakespeare St; the “Vote Against Prohibition” ghost sign painted on the side of a building at the corner of Shakespeare and South Broadway; and the Shot Tower, where lead shot was made by dropping molten lead from a platform at the top, forming perfect spheres as it fell into a vat of cold water at the bottom. Built in 1828, the 234 foot high shot tower was the tallest building in the United States until the Washington Monument was completed after the Civil War (for more details, click here)

**Fun fact: Back in the 1910’s-1940’s, companies would pay building owners for the use of their walls, and hired roving street artists, called “wall dogs”, to paint advertising signs on the walls. Now they are fading so have become known as “ghost signs” – there is actually a book titled Ghost Signs: Brick Wall Signs in America**

Fell Family Cemetery

Fell family cemetery 2The Fell Family Cemetery, 1609 Shakespeare St.

IMG_9878 2“Vote Against Prohibition” Ghost sign

shot towerThe Baltimore Shot Tower

That morning, my husband sent me a text, saying, “Tomorrow is our bulk trash pickup; is it okay if I put our living room out?” Yes, indeed, he put the entire living room into the bulk trash…the rug, sofa, two chairs and ottoman included! After our much-loved sectional succumbed to the effects of boy and dog jumping on it, we had cobbled together an old sofa from my dad and a couple of garage sale/discount store finds as a temporary measure while we hunted for new stuff.  Our “temporary” solution lasted four years; my husband decided that putting it all out in the trash would force us to finally get our behinds in motion and buy a new couch. So the boys and I even did a little couch shopping at Su Casa Furniture, a fun and inviting furniture store.

**Three months later, we still don’t have living room furniture, but we have bought a new rug – baby steps!**

old couch with dogThe “temporary” couch – dog approved, but not terribly pretty!

fort-2498672Fort McHenry – take the water taxi out and enjoy the history!  Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The Inner Harbor at Baltimore is a great destination – there are shops, restaurants, free music performances, a huge Barnes and Noble for book lovers, the Baltimore Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, Fells Point, etc.  A water taxi takes you to various points around the harbor and out to Fort McHenry, bombed by the British during the War of 1812. It was during this battle that Francis Scott Key wrote our Star Spangled Banner; he watched the bombardment from a ship in the harbor. Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles baseball) and M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens football) are very close to the Inner Harbor as well. History, entertainment, good food, sports and shopping; all in all, a fun city in which to enjoy a weekend!

baseball-3363346Camden Yards – home of the Baltimore Orioles.  Photo courtesy of Pixabay

As always, thanks so very much for reading and let me know if there are any places you’d like me to explore and write about!

Serendipitous Detours – Old Sheldon Church Ruins, SC

Sheldon Church Ruins better

Today’s post is the first in a new series – Serendipitous Detours. Have you ever noticed that sometimes the BEST things in life are the unexpected twists and turns? On my first bike tour in 2016, we hit a detour along the path, and it ended up being one of my favorite biking days. We rode extra miles that day, but experienced quiet country roads, lovely little villages and even found a WWI/WWII cemetery that looked like it was just a place where a battle took place and the dead were buried right there.

Sheldon Church gate good one

While on a road trip, I love to find quirky, cool places to stop. My family has come to expect this from me (as they get older, they appreciate this talent of mine more); they either tolerate or enjoy my finds depending on the day and the place. Register Cliff, in the southeast corner of Wyoming, is one of my all-time favorite road trip finds. Originally a stop on the Oregon Trail, thousands of travelers stopped to camp and carve their names into the cliff as a remembrance. In one spot, you can see where three generations of one family passed through; the Unthanks engraved their names in 1850, 1869, and 1931. If you ever drive through Wyoming, I highly recommend a stop; it’s not far off the route from Rocky Mountain National Park to Mount Rushmore.

Sheldon Church Side view good

Last weekend, moseying home along I-95 from a week in Florida, I made another such serendipitous find; the Old Sheldon Church Ruins. Believed to be the first building in America built to resemble a Greek temple, and originally named Prince William’s Parish Church, it was built in the 1750’s, and burned by both the British during the Revolutionary War and the Union Army during the US Civil War. All that remains today are Greek Revival columns, walls & scattered graves amongst noble live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. As Lt. Governor William Bull paid for much of the church, locals gave it the nickname “Sheldon Church” after the Bull family’s ancestral home in England.

Sheldon church graves with spanish moss

Today it is owned by St Helena’s Parish Church, and members of the church can get married in the ruins (think Ross and Emily’s wedding from Friends). It’s open from dawn to dusk for visitors. These evocative ruins are just ten-fifteen minutes off I-95 from exit 35 or 33 in Yemassee, SC (depending on whether you’re coming from the north or south). Three picnic tables are tucked off to the side, and in a cooler, less buggy season, the ruins would make an amazing lunch stop, although there are no restroom facilities. I wandered about for 20 minutes or so, but then the bugs drove me back to my car (if you plan to stop in the muggy summer months, bring bug spray). Even so, I quite enjoyed reading the gravestones scattered about and taking photos from every angle. Sharing the spot with only two other families, it was blessedly peaceful and atmospheric. If you are ever passing by (it’s not far from Beaufort), make the time to explore!

Sheldon church baby grave

I’d love to hear about your roadside discoveries! Leave a comment below and let me know about your favorite places!

Lessons learned from my first (and tenth) trip to Europe, part 3

IMG_7692Sydney Opera House at sunrise

Hello and happy Friday! I hope all my USA readers had a Happy Fourth of July. This is the third and final installment in my “Lessons I’ve Learned from Traveling” series – I’d love to hear if you’ve enjoyed my stories! If you missed the first two installments, read them here and here!

Make jet lag work in your favor – When we traveled to Australia, our body clocks were all messed up.  We took advantage of being wide awake at 5 am and scheduled an early morning backstage tour of Sydney Opera House. My daughter, who is a stage manager, loved getting a peek at the backstage workings and hearing the stories of things gone wrong during shows. It was a great chance to experience something I normally might miss. On a normal day, I never see the sunrise; but seeing sunrise at Sydney Harbour was spectacular! If you know you’ll be awake earlier than usual the first day or two of your trip, make full use of those mornings to enjoy sightseeing with fewer crowds or to schedule a special tour that you wouldn’t otherwise consider.

adult-1868988Picture courtesy of Pixabay

Shoes must be comfortable – If you’ve ever gotten horrible blisters on the first day of a trip where you are walking 10-15K steps a day (or more), you’ll understand this one! When forced to choose, prioritize comfort over style – sometimes you can find the holy grail and get shoes that are comfy AND cute, but sometimes you have to settle for shoes that are cute ENOUGH in order to get comfort, which is key. I have learned through trial and error to always pack blister bandaids, moleskin (pack scissors or precut pieces sized for heels and toes) and a pair of flip flops. 

Try to learn a few basic phrases in the language – Anywhere I’ve traveled, people have appreciated my efforts to say “Hello” “Please”, “Thank You”, “Where is the toilet”, “May I have” and “Where is” in their language. Even when I butcher it, I laugh and smile and try my best and generally get smiles and help in return.

**When traveling by bike, I also learn “Please help, my bike is broken”!**

IMG_2340Our hotel room in Austria

Beds may not be what you expect – In some countries, you will get a bottom sheet and a duvet, with no top sheet on the bed. I’ve found this particularly in the Germanic speaking countries. You will also sometimes get two twin beds pushed together for a double, with a space between the two mattresses which can make it hard to cuddle if traveling with a significant other.

Yes, we have no bananas – Many hotels with a breakfast buffet in Europe have stopped serving bananas. I’ve been told this is because Americans take them for later in the day. In Europe, hoteliers generally expect that you will take what you need for that specific meal, not stash extra food for snacks.

IMG_7961Making memories!

Pictures of you and your travel companions will provide better memories than pretty pictures of landmarks and scenery – so make sure you get pics of yourself and your loved ones!

Currency – the best place to get currency is the ATM at a bank. I used to always get cash at the airport ATM’s, but lately the airport ATM’s seem to be connected to the currency exchange booths (which are horrible places to get money) so I’ve started bringing a small amount of the local currency from home. I generally bring enough to get me from the airport to my hotel, plus the price of one meal in case I want to check in and eat before finding a bank. Another tidbit – when given the choice between paying in dollars or the local currency at a store, choose local currency for a better exchange rate.

IMG_1636One of my favorite restaurants in New York City

If you find a place you like, make a note of the address/location so you can go back – This lesson was reinforced  for me on our last trip, when we spent several hours wandering around Venice looking for a restaurant that we thought was “right around the corner” from our hotel! Try to grab a business card or jot down the address when you find a place you like, to make it easier to find if you decide to go back.

Always carry your hotel name and address with you – So you can show it to a cab driver or use the street name to ask for directions if you get turned around in a new city.

IMG_8416First time in first class!

Don’t fly 17 hours straight in coach if you can help it – three years ago, we flew from Dallas to Sydney (17 hours nonstop) in coach, and I will NEVER do that again – it was absolutely miserable! We broke the flight up on the way back into 8 and 9 hour flights with an overnight break in between…so much better!

IMG_2161Windows that open are a wonderful thing!

A/C is not as prevalent in Europe as it is in the USA – If you are traveling in the summer, and air conditioning is important to you, make sure you confirm that the hotel you are booking has air conditioning. Also, in winter, many hotels and restaurants will have the heat blazing. In your hotel room, you will sometimes have a radiator which is adjustable – on our last bike trip, my friend spent an entire night hot and uncomfortable, only to find in the morning that her radiator had been on full blast all night long!

IMG_2412Who says you can’t spend an afternoon reading at an outdoor cafe?

You don’t HAVE to spend every waking minute sightseeing – it’s perfectly valid to sit at an outdoor cafe and read for an entire afternoon. I’m just saying – it’s YOUR vacation, so do what makes YOU happy!

Keeping a trip journal is so worth it – even if you just make short notes about best/worst thing each day, where you ate, etc. I used to try to write several pages each night, but found that impossible to maintain; so now, I jot down best, worst, good restaurants, best quotes, funniest mistake, etc. Super quick notes but they are so fun to look back on and even short notes jog my memory!

Be wary of over scheduling – Try not to jam pack your itinerary. Traveling between attractions will take longer than you  think, and you may not have as much energy as you anticipate. If you’ve been moving a mile a minute and just can’t stomach one more museum, change your plans and sit at a cafe for an hour instead. Allow time for bathroom breaks, coffee stops, and spontaneity. I like to travel slower than some…I break my schedule into morning, afternoon and evening segments, with only ONE planned activity per segment. I do, however, jot down lots of notes about nearby sightseeing options in case we have extra time.

 

Rental cars are usually manual – When renting a car, you must request an automatic if you want one and it will often cost extra. And not all manuals are created equal; I once got stuck in a rental car lot in Pisa because the manual I was driving had a funky trick for getting into reverse! Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the rental car attendant. When driving, it’s also nice to know the city names along your route, as road signs in Europe often point toward towns rather than route numbers.

IMG_2216 (1)This detour sign led to a great day – and gave my blog its name!

Above all, roll with the punches and be flexible – You WILL experience frustrations, hiccups, and giggles. My husband and I stayed in a hotel in Heidelberg where the light over our bed fell down on us, so we slept with our feet at the head of the bed and our heads at the foot of the bed. We’ve gotten parking tickets because we didn’t understand the payment system and the signs. We‘ve made five circles through a roundabout because we couldn’t figure out which exit we needed to take. I told a policeman at the Eiffel Tower “I have a little stink” when I was trying to say “I speak a tiny bit of French”. But if you think of it all as a grand adventure and bend to accommodate these unexpected hiccups, you’ll end up with great travel stories and meet amazing people along the way.

**As my dad always used to say when things went wrong…”we’re making memories!” Here’s wishing you incredible memories!**