Amsterdam: Out of the Box Thinking

Amsterdam is a relatively young city…for Europe.  Amsterdam has an incredible history derived from out of the box thinking and innovation, which is still alive and well today.

I enjoyed learning about Amsterdam, especially during the city bicycle tour.

Discovering Amsterdam by bicycle is a must. There is no other city in the world that is more bicycle friendly or has more bicycles. You don’t want to be a pedestrian in the bike lanes…

tandem bike

There are many bicycle tours to select from, I did a tour with Mike’s Bike Tours, and I would highly recommend them. The tour guide was very knowledgeable, funny and interesting.

It’s was about a 3 hours tour, and we hit most highlights of the city of Amsterdam.

The day prior, I took a river cruise, which covered some of the same areas, but it didn’t provide anywhere near the same level of information, details, or entertainment. I recommend doing a river cruise, but I would start out with a bike day tour, and follow it with a night river cruise.

River at sunset

The tours covered the establishment of Amsterdam, its growth, and the origin for its unique architecture. I would’ve loved the opportunity to walk through some of the slim houses that line the canals – to see how they are setup inside, and how people make it work. The slimmer the house, the lease expensive the taxes were at one time, some are seriously narrow. The houses were also built with a tilt, and a pulley attached to the top of the roof.  The pulleys are used to move furniture in from the outside since there’s no way to bring furniture up through the inside of the house. The tilt in the house is to keep the furniture being hauled up from hitting the side of the house, and windows in the lower floors. The pulleys are still used today.

Also lining up the Amsterdam canals, you’ll find a wide variety of house boats.

Sufficient housing in Amsterdam has been a challenge for many, many years, so people got creative, and apparently squatting is legal in vacated buildings.

Street with River Boats

As you tour and wonder about the city, you’ll be remiss if you don’t notice the Amsterdam Coat of Arms on the buildings, and flags. The tour guide explained that the three crosses represent the three major threats to the ancient Amsterdam: Flood, Fire and the Black Death (the plague).

Coat of Arms Amsterdam
Coat of Arms Amsterdam

The canal system reminded me a little of Venice, but otherwise, Amsterdam and Venice are nothing alike.

While Venice will likely someday find itself under water, I don’t see the same fate falling on Amsterdam. Over the centuries, the Dutch became masters of engineering to keep their city from flooding and they are constantly improving their architecture.

Another interesting fact about the canals, and the use of out-of-the-box thinking was to solve the problem of drownings in the canals.

On a yearly basis, over 200 people used to drown in the canals. After studying what the bodies had in common, it was discovered most were men, and most had their pants unzipped. They narrowed down that drunk men urinating in the canals were falling in and drowning. Instead of putting up fences, and raising walls, the Dutch instead decided to install urinals around the city. Drastic drop in drownings came as a result.  Problem solved.

Urinal

Part of the bike tour took us for a short walk through the Red Light District. In Amsterdam, prostitution is not only legal but it is also unionized. Prostitutes pay taxes, so they have benefits, protection, and are saving for their retirement. There are also programs to provide education and other opportunities to help women find a different lifestyle. It’s definitely a lot more progressive than other places. Same can be said about the drug policies for marijuana. Marijuana is actually not legalized in Amsterdam, it’s simply allowed. Marijuana is a safer alternative to the drugs that were at one time running rampant in the city and ruining lives.

Random Street

I really like the way the Dutch seem to handle problems by exercising out-of-the-box thinking, and instead of being restrictive, they bring issues out in the open to actually get at the root of the problems and find workable solutions.

Amsterdam Museums

There are many museums in Amsterdam, and I actually wish I’d had more time to visit more of them. There was no making it to Anne’s Frank house, unless I started standing in line at 8am for a 9am opening time. Online tickets are booked months ahead of time. Just getting into the Van Gogh museum was a 25 minute wait, although I got in line at 9:15am. Thankfully, my hotel was only a block away!

The Van Gogh museum turned out to be a lot more interesting than what I’d expected. I knew very little about Van Gogh prior to the visit, but learning about him while seeing his work, created a strong connection. I’ve never found myself fascinated this much by an artist. I’m currently reading a book of his letters.

There are some other museums such at the Cheese, Tulip and Bags and Purse museums I would have liked to visit, had I more time.

If you want to see one of the three outdoor Picasso work still in display today, head to Vondelpark. It’s part of most tour bikes.

Outdoor Picasso Amsterdam - Vondelpark
Outdoor Picasso Amsterdam – Vondelpark

Amsterdam Restaurants

Of all the European cities I’ve visited so far, Amsterdam had the most ethnic restaurants selection of them all. Finding a Dutch restaurant proved to be a challenge, but whatever else I could have possibly been in the mood for was available in duplicates within a few blocks of each other. It was also very easy to find healthy grab and go meals at the bakeries and stores.

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Amsterdam Miscellaneous Info

Street parking is expensive. It was 36 euros to park on the street – didn’t matter what time of day or what day of the week. They are also extremely efficient at handing out parking tickets (I know because I got one). If you drive an electric car though, you get to park for free, and take advantage of free electricity to refuel. Again, out-of-the-box-thinking to promote, encourage and get people to shift over to electric vehicles.  I don’t doubt that a year or two from now, Amsterdam resident will mostly drive electric vehicles – besides their bicycles!

The Dutch seemed to speak and be a lot more at ease with speaking English compared to other places I’ve been in Europe as well.

How About You?

Have you ever visited Amsterdam?  What was your favorite part?  Do you believe Amsterdam has a lot of “out of the box thinking” for such a thriving country? Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Tour Travel Writer here.

 

Morocco: Mountain Biking Adventure

I wrote about my overall Moroccan Mountain Biking experience with more specifics in another post .  I wanted to share more about what this trip meant to me.

I have been heavily pondering over exactly what about my mountain biking trip to Morocco made it so incredible, but have been coming short of a specific answer.

I prophesied before leaving this would be a once in a lifetime trip – and I was right. It seemed like everything was perfectly engineered to make it the ideal trip to bring joy and happiness into my life.

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Every trip I take, I sense God’s hands at play. I always recognize His work and presence in the little awesome coincidences, events and things that happen.

For this trip He was blessing me with His full Glory.

I was the only one who had a new bike…one that turned out better than the one I own. I ended up making the ideal friend to make me laugh, loosen up and keep me company. The weather was gorgeous, the oasis greener than they’ve been in seven years, and I ended with an awesome group of people to share laughs, stories and camaraderie. I discovered I was a better mountain biker than I thought, and answered the question of whether or not I wanted to do a lot more of it.

I haven’t been the same since I came back. I feel more alive, rejuvenated and ready to seek more adventures.

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The Adventure

I belong in the wide open space of the great outdoors. I was so incredibly happy pushing myself pedaling my heart out, absorbing the vastness around me and being free from all thoughts and responsibilities that fill my normal days.

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I love to travel, but there are many different kinds of traveling options.

By far the best one, in my opinion, is the type of traveling that offers me an adventure. An adventure takes me to a foreign land to experience new sights, sounds, and tastes, but it also offers new experiences that require me to push myself, step into the unknown, or maximize acquired skills.

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I wouldn’t call myself a thrill seeker, per se, but I have a desire for things that are challenging, slightly risky and incredibly memorable. I want adventures that leave me feeling satisfied with myself…adventures that help me grow and improve.

The best kind of traveling is the kind that touches you deep into your soul.

Morocco

It was my first time in Morocco, and my first time on the African Continent. Having traveled to many places in and around the world, I could compare some aspects of what I saw/experienced in Morocco, such as the hustle and bustle of daily life, to other places such as Iraq and Thailand, but it also had plenty of unique aspects to it.

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Morocco is a beautiful country. I did not get to experience its beaches, but its mountain and valleys are beautiful.

They felt isolated and mostly untouched. It’s a wonderful feeling to be where most won’t go. The people in the mountains lead lives foreign to the vast majority of us. Even within Morocco, the lifestyles of the people vary a lot.

Waterfall

Traveling by Mountain Bike

If you’ve never pedaled your way through a place, you’re absolutely missing out on a connection with the territory you traverse. Hiking is another way to experience a place in a personal way, but you can’t cover as much ground. We covered anywhere from 25-40 miles a day – up and down mountains, into valleys, through oasis, and crossing rivers. It’s you, and your bike – you find yourself focused on the pedaling, maneuvering, exploring and discovering. Some twist and turns challenge you, scare you and what’s around the bend awes you.

Credit Dries Rengle
Credit Dries Rengle

I spent a good while on my bike simply happy and feeling blessed. My mind was blank, and I existed in the present. It’s a form of meditation.

Eat, Sleep, Pedal, Repeat

This was the most relaxing trip I’ve ever taken. Everything was taken care of by the tour company. I had nothing to worry myself with but to eat, sleep, pedal and repeat the same the next day. It was glorious.

 

Photo Credit Dries Rengle
Photo Credit Dries Rengle

How About You?

Have you ever taken a trip that was one of the best adventures of your life?  I would love to hear about it!  Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Tour Writer and Blogger here.

Schwäbisch Hall: Medieval Germany

Today didn’t quite go as planned, but I’m glad I got out to enjoy what was predicted to be and turned out being – a beautiful sunny day. The plan was to take a day trip to Schwäbisch Hall, (a town a little over an hour East of where I live) followed-on by a visit to two different castles in the area: Schloss Neuenstein and Schloss Langenburg. Unfortunately, as it turned out, both castles were closed and not scheduled to re-opened until 1 April.

Schloss Neuenstein
Schloss Neuenstein
Schloss Lagenburg
Schloss Lagenburg

I was bummed the castles were closed, but I plan on going back another day later in the Spring, once they re-open. The countryside surrounding the castles made for a great drive today, so I can only imagine how much better it will be when nature is in bloom. Plus, the actual castles and the grounds surrounding them, will also be more impressing than today, once the trees are dressed in green, the grass is carpeting the grounds and the flowers are sprouting color and beauty.

Schloss Lagenburg Distant View

My first stop though was to the town of Schwäbisch Hall, and just that visit alone made it worth the drive. We all have images of what a German town should look like, and if you’re like me, it’s resembles something from the medieval time. Schwäbisch Hall does not disappoint, and delivers some wonderfully picturesque views. Its medieval roots are still visible by its towers, impressive wooden bridges, Fachwerk houses (half-timber houses), cobblestone streets and Gothic and Baroque styles buildings dominating the city center.

Schwabisch Hall Edited

Fachwerck House
Fachwerck House

Because I was in a bit of a time crunch to visit my other destinations, I did not spend the time to partake in visiting the museums and art gallery recommended as attractions. A list below is recommended – enough for an entire day, not just a few hours.

  • Michael’s church
  • Shakespear’s globe theater called the Haller Globe theater
  • Hällisch-Fränkisches Museum
  • Kunsthalle Würth arts gallery
  • Hohenlohe open-air museum
Schwabisch Hall Marktplatz
Schwabisch Hall Marktplatz
St. Michael Church
St. Michael Church

Instead, I ended up just walking around enjoying the wonderful architecture and shinning sun. When you go, be sure to also take the time stop in to one of the restaurants, and enjoy what I’m sure would be a delicious German meal…followed by ice cream which Germans love, or stop in to some of the bakeries, or café offering a variety of sweets.

Schwabisch Hall 3

Yummy! Yummy!
Yummy! Yummy!

Doner Kebab StandIn keeping with saving time, I made a quick stop at the window of a Doner Kebab. If you’ve spent any time in Germany, you’ve seen and hopefully have tried a Doner. I’ll admit it…they’re one of my favorite “fast food” places in Germany. It’s Turkish food…not German, but they can be found in just about every town in Germany. Once ordered, they’re in your hands a few minutes later and are totally delicious.

Perhaps I’ll find my way back to Schwäbisch Hall since apparently, there are quite a few festivals that take place there over the summer to include the Schwäbisch Hall open-air theatre festival that’s been going on since 1925.

How About You?

Have you ever visited Schwäbisch Hall?  If so what did you think of this unique area?  I would love to hear from you!  Comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Tour Writer and Blogger here.

Venice Travel: Don’t Forget the Museums

You know me, I much rather be wandering outside then be indoors, but I’m also all about avoiding crowds as much as possible.

Turned out, in Venice, during Carnival it was very crowded outside, but the museums were basically empty. Ralph (co-worker who was the reason I ended up in Venice) recommended I get the Hello Venice card – better known as City Pass Venezia Unica, which you can order online before even leaving, and add everything you think you’ll need to it, to include all public transportation. Anyway, I didn’t get the card before leaving, but I did get it at the information desk at the airport. Well, not a card, but a voucher printout with a bar code that provided easy access to a long list of museums and churches. The “card” was a bit expensive, but I expected it to rain, so I wanted to have something to do to get the most out of my visit to Venice.

The second day, after breakfast, I decided to head out to the Island of Murano, which is renowned for it’s glass making, and where the Glass Museum is located. It was a cold ferry ride to Murano, but worth getting away from the crowds, and doing some exploring. I found myself going to a glass making/blowing demonstration, visiting the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato, followed by some more walking around…until I found the Glass Museums. I walked in, got my voucher scanned, and walk through the rooms learning the history of glass making, its impact in Europe but more specifically in Murano, over the centuries. After spending about an hour in the museum, I headed back out, walking in and out of shops selling a variety of glass works.

I found a place to have a late lunch before heading back to Venice.

Murano Island
Murano Island
Church of Santa Maria e San Donato
Church of Santa Maria e San Donato

On the way back, I got off at one of the ferry stops closed to the Arsenal. After reading the book I, Iago by Nicole Galland, I was curious about the place since Iago was stationed there while in Venice. From there, I took my time wondering around the side streets before making it back to my hotel.

ArsenalVenice Arsenal

The following day, it didn’t rain either, but it was insanely crowded…especially around Piazza San Marco, so imagine my surprise when I noticed there were absolutely no lines to enter Doge’s Palace!?! I broke out my voucher again, walked right in, and a quick scan later I was exploring the luxurious palace in awe. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice, and the tour began by walking through where the political business of Venice was conducted. After visiting the armory, where a weapon’s fanatic can have a field day looking at the history of weapons, you eventually end up in the prison after walking the Bridge of Sighs.

Inside Dodge Palace

Bridge of Sighs - Ponte Dei Sospiri
Bridge of Sighs – Ponte Dei Sospiri

Doge Palace Prison

Took me awhile to get out of prison…it’s a bit confusing in there.

But once out, I looked at my voucher and decided to spend the rest of the day finding the museums, and exploring them. Following the museum pass took me all over Venice, getting on the ferry here and there, traveling the Grand Canal, and seeing probably much more of Venice than what I probably would have seen otherwise. It’s too easy to fall into the tourist traps…especially during Carnival.

The tour of Carlo Goldoni’s House, Ca’ Pesaro offered a look into what it might have been like to be a Venetian royalty in earlier centuries. The tour of the house through the richly decorated rooms helped me to imagine a life, we can now only imagine in our minds. The art work in the other part of the museum was quite extensive.

Venetian Life

The last day, after my run and breakfast, I decided to visit one more museum before heading to the airport. I went to the Museo Correr, which is right in Piazza San Marco. It was once more basically empty. A quick scan of my voucher again, and I was wondering from room to room. The most memorable part of the visit for me was all the globes, maps, and history of Venice’s former sea/Navy prowess.

Amazing Large Globes in Museo Correr
Amazing Large Globes in Museo Correr
Fra Mauro Map
Fra Mauro Map

I didn’t end up making it to all the museums, but those I did make it too were well worth it – with more time, I would have explored them all, and that says a lot since museums are not my thing!

How About You?

What museum(s) have you visited in Venice? Do you enjoy visiting museums to the new places you travel to? Leave a comment and tell me about it or contact Ann’s Adventure Tour Writer and Blogger here.

Venice: Carnival 2015

President’s Day weekend was fast approaching, and I had not decided where to go yet… Mr. Stebbins (Ralph) walked in, who by happenstance, started to discuss how much he loves Venice.

Ah yes, Venice, she’s on my list of places to visit and what luck, President’s Day weekend lines up with Carnival.

It was meant to be. Kinda. Sorta. Decisions had to be made…drive, fly, bring Little Man and where should I stay – Booking.com was confirming that plans to go to Venice during Carnival best be made early. Ralph came to the rescue, by sending me a link with flights and hotel packages via Expedia. Cautions to the wind in regards to cost, and a few clicks later, my trip was booked. Little Man would have to sit this one out since I selected to fly.

I scattled out of work early (4pm) on Thursday to get my hair done before my trip. Wanted to look pretty for my upcoming long weekend. Got home, grabbed a bit to eat and began to pack my bag. When I drive, I don’t necessarily worry about packing light but this time, I knew I would be rolling my suitcase down the Venice streets…so I needed to be smart about my packing. I did okay, but let’s just say, my packing shall remain a work in progress.

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I hit the sack early after setting my alarm for 3:21am. My flight left Stuttgart at 7:00am. I had attempted to figure out the transportation situation in Venice from the airport to my hotel the week before, but couldn’t quite make heads or tails of it. Figured it would be easy enough once I was on the ground to figure it out.

Venice Travel was easy enough, and I recommend going the public transportation route.

You can buy a one way ticket on ACTV Bus 5 to Piazzale Roma for 6 euros, or buy a one day or multi-day transportation ticket that also includes the vaporetto or water ferry. You’ll need transportation via the vaporetto – there’s really no way around that. Once you’re in Venice, all traveling is via the water or by walking, and it’s not a huge place, but it’s big enough to need to use the ferry. Plus, you’ll want to enjoy the boat ride on the Grand Canal.

Venice Italy

Google Map is my saving grace when traveling. Eats up my battery, but makes my life so much easier. I located my hotel via Google map and tracked down the appropriate ferry stop. It so happened to be by the Rialto Bridge.

Rialto Bridge

I was checked-in and in my room at little after noon. I was tired but ready to go explore. The sky was overcast, and weather a bit chilly as I made my way towards Piazza San Marco, which was conveniently located 5 minutes’ walk from my hotel.

Piazza San Marco

The narrow street I was following opened up to the wide opened Piazza San Marco, and I ventured in looking in amazement to all there was to see. I walked to the water’s edge to take in more of the view, saw and then began to take pictures of the beautiful people in costumes. I made my way back to the center of the Piazza where there was a stage setup and a Best Mask Contest was beginning. I was in awe of the costumes.

Costumes, Costumes, Costumes

Carnival in Venice is all about the costumes. The costumes are the most beautiful, intricate, and magnificent costumes I have ever seen in my life. The models (individuals) wearing them embrace their roles and pose for their admiring audiences. The audience is a mixture of tourists and professional photographer. To the credit of the models, they are as patient with those who have only phones, as with those with the expensive lenses. The crowds around the models get large – getting a good shot with no one else in the frame is a challenge.

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The themes of the costumes vary but there are quite a few Venetian Period costumes from the 13th -15th century. The mixture of Venice and the costumes acted like a time machine – I felt taken back in time, which is one of the most precious aspects of being in Venice during Carnival.

If life ever affords me an opportunity to return to Venice during the Carnival; I will only do so by renting or buying my own costume and attend a Masquerade Ball. I don’t think the Carnival experience is complete without attending a Grand Ball. They are quite expensive (cheapest one started at 200 euros) and you must be in costume to attend. However, I think it’s at the balls that the true magic of Carnival happens. I imagine attending a ball is a full return to a time past and a taste for what living in Venice was once like.

Slight Disappointment

Let me first say, Venice is all you need – she is incredible in her own right, but this was Carnival, and while I loved the costumes; I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more to it. The stage on the Piazza San Marco had some additional acts aside from the costume contests, but I expected more to be happening in the other squares. I expected more parades, music and overall festivities. I thought I would have seen acrobats, jugglers, playwrights and musicians entertaining the seas of tourists walking the streets.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a party everywhere…so I thought Venice would have been similar. It wasn’t so…which left me plenty of opportunity to go exploring.   More about that in another post.

Enjoy this video compilation of my pictures.

 How About You?

Have you visited Venice?  Did you ever get to experience the Carnival in Venice?  I would love to hear from you!  Comment below or contact Ann Bernard, Travel Writer and Blogger here.

Cross Country Ski: Seefeld, Austria

When I was a kid, I remember cross country skiing on my uncle’s property.

We would start out from his cabin, which was by a lake where we would also skate and play ice hockey during the winter months, and ski to a restaurant that catered to cross country skiers and snowmobilers. We would have some hot chocolate and a snack then ski back. This is a memory from well over 25 years ago. This year, for some reason, as winter settled in, my interest in being more active outdoors piqued.  This led me to explore what options were available to create new cross country skiing memories.

My online research lead me to Seefeld Austria, and taking advantage of the Martin Luther King long weekend to plan a trip for some cross country skiing.

Seefeld, Austria has 279 km of runs for cross country skiing, 125 km of which is for skating and 154 km for classic cross country skiing, which is one of the most beautiful and extensive in Europe. They even have nighttime cross-country skiing and various cross country skiing schools.

Unfortunately, as you might have already read in my previous post, I did not get to cross country ski.  However, from what I observed in Seefeld and the surrounding region, this is in fact a great place for cross country skiing. I passed many people out on the tracks skiing or walking around carrying skis on their way to the start of a trail.

The Seefeld official website is filled with excellent information to include links to live webcams, snow reports, events and maps to the trails and update information on what tracks are opened or closed and they are categorized by level of experience. There are plenty of places to rent equipment, also listed on the website.  I contacted a few prior to leaving and none required I book ahead.

My accommodations were at the Apartmenthaus Jagdhof which I found on Booking.com. While I had booked a studio apartment, I was upgraded to a two bedroom apartment. It was way too big for me and Little Man, but it was still a nice and comfortable stay. Linens, towels, and all kitchenware were provided.  However, there was no microwave. I brought food with me, so I didn’t need to eat out (still did for one dinner).

This is definitely an excellent and inexpensive way to travel with friends and as a family.

There was an indoor pool and sauna at the Apartmenthaus Jagdhof; spending time in the sauna and pool were a fabulous way to finish the day after my hikes. I also brought my yoga mat with me to do some yoga, and properly stretch to ensure top performance.  The landscape/views were beautiful. I really wish I could have explored/seen more of it.  The town of Seefeld has restaurants, a couple of bars, and shops to accommodate visitors

How About You?

Have you ever visited Seefeld, Austria? What was your favorite part?  Tell me all about it by leaving a comment or contacting me.