OUR NETHERLANDS TRIP (Summer 2014)

OUR NETHERLANDS TRIP (Summer 2014)

OUR NETHERLANDS TRIP!!
We went on a full day trip to the Netherlands. Wow, can I just say that you need to spend more than one day in this place? There is so much to see here! We went on a tour bus—which was convenient for us our time frame on that particular weekend. Plus, having someone else drive you there opens up lots of opportunities—you can sleep on the way there and back and you can enjoy some drinks on your tour. Our bus left at midnight on Friday and returned at midnight on Saturday.

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Some of the highlights of our trip included:

  • Seeing a traditional wooden shoe factory and cheese factory in the Dutch countryside.
  • Visiting the city of Amsterdam and taking a boat ride through the labyrinth of river canals and even catching a glance of Anne Frank’s house.
  • Going to The Van Gogh art Museum in Amsterdam—THIS IS A MUST SEE!
  • Visiting a densely packed bar and chatting it up with the locals.
  •  Perusing through the notorious “Red Light (SEX) District” and seeing sultry prostitutes standing in the windows, waiting to get purchased by excited young males coming from all corners of Europe.
  • Checking out all the “Coffee Shops” from a distance.
  • Wandering all over Amsterdam and seeing bicycles galore—also, seeing all the tall, slender houses with the characteristic “hook” on each roof that is used to pull furniture to the upper floors.

Amsterdam was a super fun place to take an adventure; I just recommend a couple of days as this city has so much to offer. The Netherlands is a beautiful country. Next to Ireland, the countryside in the Netherlands is quite possibly one of the greenest places I have ever seen!

Luxembourg Trip!! (Summer, 2014)

We went to Luxembourg on a quick day trip. We visisted Luxembourg City and wandered all over the central district. I found a few garden stores and bought some exotic looking tulip bulbs as well as several packages of sunflower seeds. Both of us can speak a little French so it was fun using our French to order food or buy cups of coffee. In Luxembourg three languages are spoken: French, German and Luxembourgish.

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In the afternoon, our tour bus brought us to the Vianden Castle. This castle is monstrous and perched high on a hill. I learned a lot about the difference between Roman and medieval masonry. My husband was able to help me identify the subtle differences in the brick layers of the castle.

Apparently, Roman brick-laying is very orderly and neat and has an almost “perfectionist” quality to it. The brick laying method that came later—in the middle ages—was actually more disorganized and hap-hazard in appearance. By a rough glance, I can now distinguish between more ancient types of brick-laying (Roman) from more recent types (medieval masonry).

We walked through all the levels of the castle and noticed that there were various medieval displays in each section. One of the rooms was temporarily featuring the work of Otto Dix—an artist whom we both appreciate.  An entire room was dedicated to his series of 33 lithographs that depicted scenes of the Life of Christ per the book of Matthew—the Matthaus Evangelium—or, “The Story of Matthew”.

Pictures from our trip to Luxembourg and Vianden castle 🙂

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Happy!

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The Vianden Castle

RHINE RIVER CRUISE! (August 2014)

Our journey started early. We arrived at our bus stop at 6:00AM and the bus left promptly at 6:30. We were on our way towards the Rhine River. Our travel bus brought us through landscape that suddenly began to burst with many cornfields, wheat fields and Riesling Grape vineyards. The countryside was lush and verdant. Interspersed through the open landscape were compact villages with red and gray roofed houses and always a church with a tall steeple.

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The tour bus dropped us off in the village of St. Goar which sat right along the Rhine. From there we entered various little shops where we sampled delicious desert wines including a $495 bottle of Eiswein (Ice wine). We also tried a peach brandy that made you feel like you were lying in a peach orchard, eating peaches on a warm summer day.

Next, we trekked our way through the village square and encountered little shops selling notoriously unfashionable Cuckoo Clocks and other wooden toys—endearing as they were—but  screaming with bright, obnoxiously fun colors.  Window boxes hung from nearly each and every window sill and were overflowing with red and pink geraniums. We discovered quaint eateries and cozy little cafes offering apple Streusel and coffee with freshly churned cream. I noticed many of the locals were sitting outside, under umbrella covers and exchanging lively conversations.

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After our village adventures, we embarked upon a Rhine River cruise ship which forged its way up the Rhine river. Many villages were situated along the Rhine and some had castles peering over the river from high up in the hills.

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Our tour bus dropped us off at Reichenstein, a notable castle that was up for public tours—provided that you purchase apple cake and coffee upon your departure. We were given a walk-through tour of the castle. Afterwards we enjoyed the apple cake and coffee in the castle courtyard. From the vantage point of the highly positioned castle one could see the murky, olive green Rhine carving through the valley below. All along the sides of the river were patches of land comprised of Riesling vineyards. Many of these were on steeply slanted terrain that almost seemed to descend into the river. The German’s seemed to be adept at using every spare piece of land in a productive way.

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We went into the town of Rudesheim to have a late lunch. Our lunch which was included in our tour package, consisted of jagerschnitzel with a richly delicious mushroom gravy and also French fries and salad.

I’ve noticed that restaurants in Europe typically do not serve water with the meal. In fact, you have to specifically order water and when you do, it costs money, usually between 2-3 Euros. In the U.S., I’ve taken it for granted that a glass of water is something you automatically get with your meal. Another thing that I’ve noticed about eating in German restaurants is that the portion size is not suitable for the average American glutton. For instance, a small coke is really just a small coke. I measured a scanty 6oz in my glass; it did come with a lemon slice floating on top, perhaps to compensate for its’ paucity in size.

After our meal in the little German restaurant, we ended our day by trying the famous Rudesheimer Kaffee. It is a specially made coffee made of brandy, sugar and whipped cream. They actually make it right at your table!

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Our HONEYMOON IN THE ARCTIC (Norway)! August 2014

Our HONEYMOON IN THE ARCTIC (Norway)! August 2014

Our trip to Norway was eventful and full of delicious surprises. This was my first ever venture to a Scandinavian country and I must say has been an enlivening and truly different European experience. Scandinavia has a flair that rivals the traditions and feelings evoked by mainland Europe.

My husband is a trip planner from heaven. He has cultivated a unique skill-set for finding out-of-the-ordinary excursions and manages to fill every moment of the day with wine festivals, art museum visits, chamber music concerts, jaunts to historic districts, hiking expeditions or a trip to the local aquarium. Thanks to his extensive knowledge of art, history, culture and tradition, he can always think of several meaningful sites to include on any vacation we go on. He outlined a glorious vacation for us during our week-long honeymoon in Norway.

Our first 2 ½ days we stayed in the city of Bergen—the 2nd most populous city in Norway. Bergen lies in the southwestern part of Norway and sits right on the North Sea. With high wooded hills that surround the city and an inner harbor that abuts the central district, Bergen is an unusually picturesque city. Large, brightly colored houses dapple the surrounding hills and city. Along the waterfront are bustling fish markets and also a covered area with many kiosks offering freshly grilled seafood platters to tourists or locals who wander the grounds. Everything is expensive in Norway. Seafood is plentiful here but it isn’t cheap. A plate of grilled shrimp will cost you around $35. Without much consolation, a Big Mac at the local McDonald’s will cost you $17.  

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Bergen Norway, the famous “Bryggen District” near the Hanseatic Museum we also went to.

On our first day in Bergen we went to a nearby art museum which included a free guided tour featuring notable Norwegian artists. A sizable collection of Edvard Munch’s paintings were present. Our museum tour guide was superb. Not only did the paintings seem to grip her emotionally but she had a knack for uncovering many of Munch’s hidden devices used in his paintings. Many of Munch’s paintings were entrenched with elements of symbolism. Anxiety, depression and also an obsession with the FEMME FATALE seemed to be themes in his own life that were interwoven into the brush strokes of his paintings. Unfortunately, “The Scream” is not located in Bergen but in Oslo. 😦 

We did get to see one of my favorites though, “Evening of Karl Johann Street”.

The first evening in Bergen we attended a chamber concert in an old, stately Lutheran church. The musicians raptured the audience with the sounds of Camille Saint Saens and Edvard Grieg.  The cellist—a rotund, flamboyant German—seemed to emote and throb in synchrony as he played his musical piece to perfection. I highly recommend ending a vacation day in Norway with a classical music concert like this; it is a feast to the ears!

Our hotel in Bergen was lovely. It was probably the most affordable hotel and conveniently located in the heart of the city. My favorite part was the free Norwegian buffet breakfast that lasted until noon. The breakfast buffet showcased a variety of hearty, freshly baked breads, yogurt, cold cuts, cheeses and smoked salmon. Large plates of sliced bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers seemed to be a Norwegian breakfast staple. I always loved getting the crepes and smothering them with homemade strawberry preserves (grown fresh from the agricultural village of Valdal) and butter.
Our 2nd day in Bergen was full of new and exciting treats including a visit to the Edvard Grieg museum. We also attended a piano music recital here. The young pianist played the music of Grieg. We learned that some of Grieg’s compositions were inspired by baroque music. Indeed, some of his work seemed to have a baroque style to it.

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Our 3rd day we were ready for the Hurtigruten cruise. Our cruise came packed with added adventure options. We chose two excursions on our four night cruise. Our first excursion was a bus trip that took us up the zigzaged treacherous Trollstigen road all the way to the top of the mountain where we had spectacular views of the most famous fjord—the Geiranger.  This area of Norway was also famous for its troll sightings. To my dismay, I learned that only children are able to see trolls (or act like them).

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Our bus tour drove us all over the mountains and the countryside that the surrounded the Geiranger Fjord. The landscape was some of the most dramatic I have ever seen. Tall, 1,500 meter mountains jutted out of rocky outcroppings and formed craggy, rugged mountain tops. Pastures of the brightest green sprinkled the land to the ecstasy of grass munching sheep, cows and goats. Rivers from melting glaciers weaved their way through the enigmatic terrain. Every once in a while a stone bridge made of neatly placed cobbles could be seen arching over a river or stream. I thought of these as little troll bridges. Other interesting sightings included many houses with grassy roof tops. There were also classic red barns in the sparse countryside. (I learned that only 3% of Norway’s land is available for agricultural use).

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Geirangerfjord, along the Trollstigen road. Norway 🙂

Several of the planned stops along our bus trip were at restaurants and gift shops. This seemed almost clandestine—as if to urge us tourists to spend our money there. At one stop, we entered a lodge-style restaurant nestled in the core of the mountains. It was cold and wet outside and the Norwegian afternoon snack of warm baked waffles with cream and local strawberry preserves hit the spot! I must say I grew quite fond of the Norwegian snack of waffles and strawberries during our trip.

The following day the cruise ship plowed its way through the Arctic Ocean and upwards, through the Arctic Circle.  Large, granite rock cliffs jumped out of the land and formed much of Norway’s mountainous coastline. Small patches of farmland with green pastures and even some yellow grain fields could be seen scattered among the low-lying areas of coastline.

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Some light reading and reflecting while on the ship.

When the light hit the ocean water a nearly translucent cerulean blue emanated forth. Even from our seat on the cruise ship, we could observe waves crashing against the rocky cliffs that formed Norway’s coastline.

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Breakfast on the cruise ship was a chance to indulge in some of life’s most glorious fare. Not only was the variety of food overwhelming, the setting was unmatched. During breakfast you could look out the window and witness the changing scenery of the Arctic and Norway’s radical coastline while sipping coffee or plunging your teeth into toast coated with Nutella. If that wasn’t enough, you could serve yourself heapings of fruit, vegetables, fish, crepes with strawberries and all the other typical breakfast food imaginable. The only problem with a cruise ship breakfast is that you are allowed to keep going back and serve yourself infinite amounts of food.

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I had never been inside the Arctic Circle before, or even a cruise ship, but I felt this adventure yielded the intensity and surprise that could not be achieved in other locations.

Visiting the Lofoten Islands in the Arctic Circle was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. While on this island we went to an ancient Viking longhouse where we partook in a traditional Viking feast with Vikings, dressed in typical Viking garb. This made the event very fun and seemingly realistic.

The Viking feast was rustic but very tasty. We were given plates of savory herbed lamb meat paired with a cloudberry preserve. Chalices full of Mead were offered, one after the other! Root vegetables and something that appeared to be barley-style gruel were added as tempting side dishes. After the filling meal there was group dancing, singing, laughter and happiness.

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In front of the Viking LongHouse. A typical Viking stands in the background.

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MEAD with a Viking feast 🙂  SKAL!!!!

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Lofoten Islands countryside

When our Viking field trip was over, we headed back to our bus. We were given an extra tour of the Lofoten Islands. We even got to see a wild moose chomping on arctic tundra.  By 10pm we were back at the cruise ship which was anchored at the Island’s harbor in the city of Svolvaer.

At 11:30pm that night our ship brought us into the famous Troll Fjord. It was cold outside, not crisp, it was cold.  The Troll Fjord was unduly narrow with high walls of rock that appeared to dive straight into the frigid Arctic Ocean. At this point the Captain of the ship advised everyone to purchase a “Troll Toddy”. This is a hot tea spiked with Rum—a concoction that trolls apparently drink. Since we were headed through the Troll Fjord, “It might be nice to have a troll toddy to go along with the ride” he gushed. Like tourists being suckered, we succumbed to the suggestion and bought troll toddies to drink while going through the Fjord.

If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I always enjoyed dining on the cruise ship. While I was entertained by the changing arctic scenery I found it most pleasurable to sit by a loquacious geriatric couple from Canada and another couple from Australia.  Dining with well-traveled tourists and exchanging discussion while one-upping each other on countries visited is always a mature way to handle any civilized discourse over brunch.

We spent our final night in Tromso, gateway to the North Pole. We were finished with our cruise and would spend a day and night here. Tromso is one of Norway’s northern-most cities and resides at 70 degrees latitude.  This city features the famous “Arctic Cathedral”, the northern-most brewery in the world and also Polaria, the northern-most aquarium.

Polaria was awesome. We got to see bearded seals being trained and all sorts of starfish. We also learned a lot about the Svalbard archipelago.  The brewery turned out to be very fun. The bartender was a Tromso native—born and raised—and was quite amiable. He pulled up a chair and told us all about city of Tromso and about the famous Tromso polar bear hunter from the 1930’s who killed more than 700 polar bears and would frequent this very bar. He told us all about Norway and was excited that we chose Tromso as one of our honeymoon destinations. We asked him how much bartenders make in Norway. He told us that if he was to covert the amount he made in NOK to dollars per hour, it would be about $30 an hour (tips are not expected in Europe as they are in the states, so this is without tips).

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The northern-most bar on planet earth. 70 degrees latitude. Tromso
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POLARIA: aquarium in Tromso, Norway

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Fun Facts I learned about Norway:

  1. Norway is NOT part of the European Union.
  2. Norway is part of NATO
  3. After the discovery of petroleum in 1969 Norway has become one of the richest countries in the world.
  4. Before 1969, Norway was a very poor country with over 42% unemployment. It was during that time that many Norwegians moved to the US.
  5. Norway is a leading producer of oil.
  6. Just 3% of Norway’s land is used for agriculture
  7.   Prices in Norway are high—McDonald’s Big Mac is about $17 a small container of yogurt at the convenience store is $6.
  8. One of Norway’s exports is Frozen Pizza.
  9. The AVERAGE SALARY per month in Norway is $5000 EURO. (when NOK is converted to Euro)

WHY VISIT THIS TRAVEL BLOG?

Hi, my name is Renee and I have finally succumbed to starting a WordPress blog. I have been using the Blogger platform for a while but have decided to switch to WordPress to detail specifically all my travel/adventure/discovery write-ups (pictures too)! You will find that many posts from my other blog are now here. This blog will be streamlined for travel and learning.

My husband and I are life-long explorers. In this blog we want to share with you (family, friends or anyone else) our adventures. While many travel blogs are heavily focused on pictures with captions, in my blog you will find lots of writing—as I do enjoy the creative act of wordsmithing (heart-felt attempts, at least).