Archives for April 2015

Travelly Picture: Brighton, England

This picture was totally taken only three days ago. After spending a few days with Julia’s family in Northern England, we headed for the southern seaside resort of Brighton, and true to its name, the weather was bright and sunny the entire time we were there. We were walking down some street and since I had my digital camera on me, I took this picture.

Oh yeah, if you click on it, I think it gets bigger.

Brighton England

Five Places To Get Your Fairytale Europe Fix

When people are asked to come up with a collection of words that define Europe, “historical,” “romantic” and “fairytale” are often among the first descriptors that crop up. The last one is certainly no coincidence, as Europe was the setting for fairytales from famous yarn-spinners like the Brothers Grimm and is the modern inspiration for many of the make-believe lands in films, televisions shows and animated movies that generations around the world have grown up with.

Another word that is typically associated with European travel? “Expensive.” But that may be well on its way to becoming a relic from the past. With the dollar currently at its strongest standing in years against European currency, now is the perfect time to set off on a quest in the faraway land of fairytale Europe.

The following five fairytale Europe places all do a good job of making you feel like you have been thrust straight on to the silver screen, the well-worn pages of an old book of tales or on to an animator’s sketch pad.

fairytale Europe

Ceský Krumlov, Czech Republic

Prague attracts the bulk of the tourists in the Czech Republic, and while there’s no doubt that when walking across its Charles Bridge, you might mistake your stroll for the flipping pages of a storybook, the true fairytale is being told a few hours south in Ceský Krumlov. Ceský Krumlov and its cobblestoned old town are nestled in a beautiful bend of the Vltava River, and the town’s towering castle is the second largest in the entire Czech Republic. The serene waters of the Vlatva River serenade the riverside cafes, medieval pubs and local brewery (they got to know me very well), raining a happily-ever-after atmosphere down on the town. The colorful Ceský Krumlov Castle Tower completes the charming image by keeping watch over things day and night, and looks like the precise kind of place a princess would sneak down from.

fairytale Europe

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Found in the foothills of Slovenia’s sunny side of the Alps, Lake Bled is a seemingly ordinary lake save for one stunning feature: an idyllic island floating in the middle home to a romantic church. It isn’t just any island — ancient Slavs worshiped the goddess of love there, and nowadays the church is a popular pilgrimage for newlyweds. Tradition holds that the groom carries his bride up the 99 steps to the church and consequently over the proverbial threshold. If a lovey-dovey lake full of swans and an island isn’t enchanting enough for you, you’ll be glad to know that Lake Bled is looked down upon by a majestic medieval castle. Bled Castle clings to the nearby cliffs surveying the entire scene from above and is home to some of the best views in all of Slovenia. The lake lies directly next to the town of Bled, which is only an hour train ride from Slovenia’s bustling capital of Ljubljana.

fairytale Europe

Bergen, Norway

The colorful framed buildings on Bergen’s wharf and its surrounding fjords served as the inspiration for the animated film “Frozen,” and after visiting this misty and mysterious town that sits on Norway’s west coast, you’ll have a hard time “letting it go” (get it?). The fjords surrounding Bergen are steeped in Norse legend, and the dramatic inlets are hands-down the star attraction of this snowy slice of Europe. Seeing Bergen and the nearby fjords from the sea will truly make you feel as if you have stepped on to the screen.

fairytale Europe

Venice, Italy

An empire built upon hundreds of lagoon islands must defend itself from a daily onslaught of selfie stick wielding invaders while simultaneously finding a way to save its land from sinking to the sea floor. Is this the premise of the latest fantasy adventure movie? Nope, it’s just daily life in Venice. While you’ve been bombarded for years by images of Venice on commercials, pizza boxes, and labels of pasta sauce, there is just no substitute for laying eyes on it in person. Venice may be crowded, but don’t let that discourage you, as there’s a good reason everyone wants to see this city once before they die. Fairytale Europe images abound in Venice, but nothing quite compares to a trip down the Grand Canal on a vaporetto (or water taxi), where you will be flanked by palatial mansions and iconic gondolas.

fairytale Europe

Toledo, Spain

Toledo has inspired artists to fill their canvases with beauty for centuries. These renderings are usually created from the surrounding hills across from town, as Toledo is truly a sight to behold from the outside. Once inside the city walls, wandering the cobbled streets of this marvelous maze of a city in the evening is enchanting, and don’t fret if you get lost because it’s part of the fun. Toledo has historically been home to expert silver sword artisans who have most recently provided the swords for blockbuster films like “Lord of the Rings.” This UNESCO World Heritage Site, only 40 miles south of Madrid, is an ideal place to step out of one character and into another.

Go forth my friends and live happily ever after.

An earlier version of this post appeared on U.S. News & World Report.

Photo Credits: 1,2,3

Travelly Picture: Toledo, Spain

We only planned on spending one night in Toledo, Spain but we loved it so much we stayed two. Lots of people just do Toledo as a day trip from Madrid, but I totally recommend staying the night. While there, we took this cheesy little tour where they drive you around town on this wheely-train and a recording gives you a bit of history. I took this picture with a digital camera during the tour.

Oh yeah, if you click on the picture, I think it gets bigger.

toledo spain

AZ To Amsterdam Chapter 2: The Grand Canyon to St. Louis

shamrock texas

We were living in Arizona when we decided to move to Amsterdam. Our flight to Amsterdam left from Boston, so we had to drive clear ‘cross the United States in the space of a few days. This is the story of those few days.  

After our criminally-quick hit of the Grand Canyon and a long day of pushing the pedal of our rental wagon east, we capped the first night of our AZ to Amsterdam trip with dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The ‘Querque was supposed to be our hotel stop for the evening, but after shuffling out of the “restaurant” in a deep-fried daze, we decided to push on for another couple of hours.

Call it wanting to end the day on a higher note than a basket of boneless wings.

The first stop of our final push was at an energy drink store that also sold gas for cars. I fueled up our car, and fueled myself up on some coffee. I say coffee, but I’m not entirely sure the sucrose spray that spits from those premium cappuccino machines is legally allowed to be called coffee. But since it’s the internet and you can say anything on here, I should be alright.

Oh, you didn’t know? That’s right, I go premium cappuccino machine at the gas station, baby.

You know the ones I’m talking about. The machines where you put your cup under, hit the button, and then according to the posted instruction, are supposed to release the button when your cup is 2/3rds full. Boy, did I fall for that one the first two or three times. Like a sucker, I let go of that button on the premium cappuccino machine when instructed, and guess what I ended up with?

A 2/3rds full cup of coffee.

Nowadays, I wait until I see the entire cup filled before I even think about releasing my finger from that rectangle, and I make no apologies with this strategy. While there might be a little spillage over the side, this collateral cappuccino damage is necessary to ensure I get a full cup of coffee for my hard-earned 79 cents, and I think we all agree this is a just cause.

With my 3/3rds full cup of coffee in my hand and a bag of sunflower seeds in my lap, we reentered the interstate and pressed on like champs until heavy eyelids forced us to land a couple hours later in Tucumcari, New Mexico. We glided into town around 2:30 in the morning, and as it turned out, just in time to end the evening on that high note we were looking for.

I entered the vestibule of the nearest Superb 8 Motel to the exit ramp, twirled my thumbs for a few minutes, then was greeted from behind the glass by a groggy gentleman sporting green hair, wearing makeup and dressed in a ladies nightgown (not that there is anything wrong with that).  He was also plainly high as a kite in flight.

So high in fact that that he could barely string together a sentence and looked at me with a mix of curiosity and fascination reminiscent of a primate behind the glass at the zoo. You could almost see the cogs grinding in his head trying to figure out where he was, why I was there, and what should happen next.

Remarkably, through a bit of primal body language, slurred speech, and hand motions, we managed to hammer out a deal for a room for the night. His motor skills also shockingly allowed him to hand me the keys, collect the cash, and then stagger off to the back of the office mumbling something about someone having a good night.

I don’t want to be harsh, but I don’t think that young man has much of a future at Superb 8.

I went out to car, let Julia and Holly know about my new buddy, and then we all scurried into the room for the night. We scampered off the next day at dawn with another full day ahead of us and a couple Route 66 attractions to knock off our list.

shamrock texas

Now, just to be clear, we weren’t “doing Route 66” per say, we were just shooting off the interstate to see a couple of the more noteworthy attractions and to get a little bit of the flavor of America’s Mother Road. Certainly, one day we would like to drive from Chicago to Santa Monica over the course of a few weeks and do the entire Route 66 right, but this wasn’t the time.

First up was Shamrock, Texas and its famous old Conoco gas station and adjoining U Drop Inn. Both of which were bustling landmarks on Route 66 when the route was rife with holiday-maker life. I was pleasantly surprised by Shamrock. I turned up “green”, not knowing anything about the town, but it seemed like a cute little place, and “i-rish” I could have spent some more time there if our schedule would have allowed. In fact, I consider myself “lucky” to have seen Shamrock!

The only negative thing we experienced in Shamrock was in the form of a verbal altercation with a fellow tourist. Some photographing hotshot didn’t appreciate the fact that we had the audacity to stand in front of the Conoco station, inadvertently ruining her picture, so barked at us to get out of the way. I responded with a phrase that cannot be repeated here or on any website.

Route 66 is dog eat dog, I’m telling you.

blue whale catoosa

We blew through Oklahoma except for a quick stop at the Blue Whale of Catoosa. What’s the Blue Whale of Catoosa you ask? Well, it’s a giant whale on a lake that some guy built for his kids to play on, but that’s not important right now. What is important is that people from all over the world stop and take pictures with it.

Like many of these Route 66 attractions, it’s not that the attraction itself is that spellbinding, it’s just that it offers such an insight into a space in time of America and travel that will be romanticized to the end of time.

We ended the day with a disgusting dinner at Wendy’s in Joplin, Missouri that may have single-handedly done more to turn us into the the 98% vegetarian eaters we are today than any other meal we’ve ever encountered. We pulled in to my parents place in St. Louis around midnight, covering nearly 1,700 miles in a day-and-a-half.

It was time to rest and relax for a brief two nights before pressing further east.

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

 

Photo Credit

Travelly Picture: Giant Sheep Head, Tirau, New Zealand

We spent a few days driving around New Zealand in a campervan. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the country was chock-full of oddball roadside attractions, including this one of a giant sheep head made out of corrugated iron in Tirau. It seems weird until you consider that sheep outnumber people in New Zealand, oh nevermind, it’s still weird.

Oh yeah, if you click on the picture, I think it gets bigger.

Tirau

Travelly Picture: Water Polo in Cavtat, Croatia

We spent a few days in Cavtat, Croatia which lies on the far outskirts of the world famous Dubrovnik. One thing I have noticed from my trips to the Croatian coast is that they really love their water polo, and it’s not unusual at all to just see pick up games going down. Speaking of that, we were walking along the harbor and saw this one-on-one battle going on. I took my camera out and well, you know the rest.

Oh yeah, if you click on the picture, I think it gets bigger.

cavtat Croatia