The Windmills of Holland

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#windmill

We spent the majority of our time in Holland exploring Amsterdam, but I felt I couldn’t visit Holland without seeing at least one windmill up close and personal! I know, I know, that’s a very touristy thing to do, but hey, sometimes I’m a tourist!

#zaanseschans

Located just a 30 minute ride from the city, Zaanse Schans, is quintessential Holland!  Beautiful meadows filled with grazing cows, fluffy white clouds and windmills, their sails slowly turning, in the distance.

#zaanseschans

There are many things to see and do while visiting Zaanse Schans, demonstrations inside the  windmills, a wooden clog museum, and tasting cheese of course, but also museums, walking and biking trails, boating and of course shopping. We arrived later in the day, but made the most of our limited time. We all loved this experience which offered something for everyone and was a great taste of Holland.

The Windmills

#zaanseschans

There are eight windmills onsite, all of them are centuries old, and all are still operational. Although from a distance they look peaceful, it’s a different story on the inside where they are hard at work sawing, grinding and pounding. The noise is unbelievable!

#hetjongeschaap

The Zaanse Schans windmills produce, mustard, lumber, dye, and oil. We visited Het Jonge Schaap which is a sawmill and De Bonte Hen an oil mill. During our visit we learned about the processes from start to finish, but also about the lives of the people living in and operating them. I found this entire experience fascinating and incredibly worthwhile. Imagine living inside the mill all year long, the constant loud noise, the cold winters, your livelihood dependent on the wind.

#debontehen

The Wooden Clog Workshop

#zaanseschans

Located inside the Wooden Clog Workshop is the Wooden Clog Museum and I really got a kick out of all the different types of clogs on display. There were wedding clogs, ice clogs, carved, painted and art clogs to name just a few. It’s hard to imagine actually walking around in any of them, as I do best on a flat shoe!

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The boys weren’t as interested in viewing the already made clogs, but enjoyed the how to demonstration, while I browsed the gift shop, filled with you guessed it: clogs! In every size and color they lined the walls making quite a pretty picture! For me the highlight was the large statue of Miffy the Bunny, a favorite of mine.

#miffythebunny

The Catharina Hoeve Cheese Farm

#zaanseschans

Of course you can’t be in Holland and not eat cheese. The Catharina Hove Cheese shop is a replica of a cheese farm. Inside you’ll find the shopkeepers, dressed in traditional costumes, ready and willing to tell you all about the different types of cheese. There are samples available and of course you can purchase some to take with you. We happily picked up a few different varieties in anticipation of our upcoming train ride to Paris.

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We had a wonderful time during our visit to Zaanse Schans. It was a perfect afternoon!


#windmill

 

Visiting The Anne Frank House

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#annefrankhuis

Anne Frank’s house was my first destination upon arriving in Amsterdam. Entering would have to wait as my tickets were for another day, but something in me just needed to see it. Standing outside this important place in history, which I’d read about my entire life, and that seemed to be just any other ordinary building, was surreal. I suddenly felt as if I were in a fog, I could see and hear the other people around me, but felt strangely outside myself. Sorrow, incredulity, anger rolled over me like a wave. In that moment, right there on that regular sidewalk the joy was sucked right out of me. Simultaneously I was grateful to be standing there. Outside. Grateful that I could be, and that no one was telling me otherwise.

Amsterdam Holland The Netherlands

Maybe you’re reading the above and thinking, why would anyone willingly put themselves through emotions like that if they didn’t have to? I don’t blame you, but I strongly believe that in order to protect future generations we must step outside our comfort zone. Keeping these memories alive, no matter how unpleasant, is paramount.

 ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ – George Santayana

#annefrankshouse
The Anne Frank House is on the left side of the Canal

The next morning I got up early and knowing my family needed their rest, I wrote them a note and then went out for a walk around the neighborhood. I wandered back over to the Anne Frank House as I wanted time for a little introspection. I found a cup of coffee and a bench and watched the people go by.

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Surprising to me, many of them posed happily by the front door, smiling and laughing while acting goofy. Some seemed to be making a show of being dramatic, a caricature of sorts.  Somehow this felt wrong to me. Strange I thought… is this a happy place?

#amsterdamcanal
Canal across the way from the Anne Frank House

A short while later standing across the canal I listened in on a bike tour. Although the guide did mention the Nazi occupation, the secret annex and that their had been people hiding inside for over two years it was very perfunctory and felt quite shallow.

What you need to know before visiting

#annefrankhouse

As soon as we decided upon a visit to Amsterdam I knew I’d be visiting Anne Frank’s house and with that knowledge immediately researched making it happen. As it turned out it can be somewhat complicated. Tickets are required, timed and are only available from the official website exactly two months in advance. Due to the museum’s popularity they will sell out, so I highly recommend setting a reminder on your calendar. Hopefully, you’ll have some flexibility, as even armed with this knowledge I was only able to secure two tickets during the entire duration of our five night stay. This worked out for our family as my little one wasn’t quite old enough for this experience.

Here are some other things to keep in mind when planning a visit:

  • The Anne Frank House is located in the center of Amsterdam at Prinsengracht 263-267
  • Visitors between the hours of 9:00 am and 3:30 pm must purchase their tickets in advance online.
  • You can show your ticket directly from your smart phone.
  • From 3:30 PM until closing time you can buy a ticket at the museum entrance. I don’t recommend this as the lines are extremely long and you won’t be guaranteed entrance.
  • Last entry to the museum is 30 minutes before closing time, but the queue for the Anne Frank House closes earlier. Depending on how busy it is, this can be as much as 2 hours before closing time.
  • No photographs are allowed inside the museum.
  • Strollers and large bags aren’t allowed inside the museum.

Thoughts on our visit:

Our timed entry was 2:15 pm, so after a morning exploring the city, Simon and I went to the Museum. Here are some of my thoughts as I wrote them directly after the visit:

It was simply heartbreaking, but so worth while. I silently cried my way through the entire thing.

Though Simon recently studied Anne Frank in school, and even after we stood in the very places Anne and her family stood, I’m not sure it really got through to him that her and her family only died because they were jews. That prior to going to hiding they weren’t allowed to swim at the beach, go to school, visit friends or really do anything at all just because they were jews.

Seeing the rooms, staircases and the bookcase, which hid the entrance to their secret annex was incredibly surreal. After reading and hearing about Anne my entire life and then to actually stand in the place where they hid for over two years is very difficult to put into words.

Peeking out the window onto the street below. Knowing that on the rare occasion that Anne herself could look out that she looked out these same windows. She saw the same things we saw, people freely walking by, laughing, playing, boats on the canal, heard the nearby church bells, only unlike us, she couldn’t leave.

The visit to the Anne Frank house is self guided, though Anne’s words are written on the walls throughout. You’ll walk through the office below the secret annex, the annex and have an opportunity to see Anne’s diaries. There are many.

The video interviews of Otto Frank, her father, and other people who knew her are fascinating and really help bring her to life.

With the exception of a few items on display most of the rooms are empty. This is deliberate as Otto Frank specifically requested they be kept this way as a symbol of all the people who never came back.

Surprisingly, even after this moving and educational experience I could tell that it was hard for Simon to grasp when he saw during our visit. How could he? Thankfully, he’s only known acceptance and tolerance. However, all the more reason why this visit was so important.


#annefrankshouse

Day Trippers: An Afternoon in Ghent

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#gravensteencastle

Determined to see as much as I could during our visit to Belgium, we chose Bruges as our home base with a plan for quick trips to other nearby cities. Ghent, The 2nd largest municipality in Belgium, not only has beautiful architecture and a large medieval castle, but it was only 30 minutes away, making it the perfect day trip destination.

Getting There

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St. Nicholas’ Church

Purchasing our tickets at the station the day of, we traveled from the Bruges Station to the Gent-Sint Pieters Station. If you’re traveling with kids, keep in mind that under 12s are free on the trains in Belgium. Upon arrival to the Ghent station there are multiple ways to get into the city center, we chose to ride the tram.

Tram tickets are available outside from a machine or at the Ticket/Information office inside the Gent-Sint Pieters Station. Advised by the clerk to purchase one 10 ride ticket, all four of us rode roundtrip for a total of 14 euro. As soon as you board the tram you’ll validate your ticket once for each passenger and use the same ticket again on the way back.

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Our stop was the Korenmarkt, which is the center of town. Immediately upon arriving you’ll see the St. Nicolas’ Church and the Belfry, and if you look a bit further down the street you’ll see St. Bavo’s Cathedral too! These three tall towers on the same street are quite fittingly known as the Three Towers of Ghent! The very modern Ghent City Pavilion located between the Belfry and St. Nicolas’ Church is used for public gatherings.

Gravensteen Castle

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Our first stop was Gravensteen a medieval castle. Although there isn’t a lot to look at inside, as most of the castle is empty, there are brief explanations of each room along the way and the numbered path is very clearly laid out. The visit was only about one hour and for me the highlight was walking the castle walls with views of the canals and city rooftops. Simon enjoyed the weapons exhibit quite a lot. Admission prices are 10 euro per adult and kids under 19 are free.

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View from Gravensteen Castle

We walked along the River Leie on our way to lunch and although it was a really pretty walk there seemed to be a lot of construction going on, so I didn’t take many photos. We enjoyed a lovely lunch right on the river bank, but I was so busy enjoying my meal I forgot to take any photos. Oops!

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Walk along the River Leie

Grafitti Street

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Wanting to see something a bit off the beaten path and big fans of street art, we were excited to learn that Ghent has a dedicated graffiti street called Werregaren straat. Really more of a pass through or alley than a street, its pedestrian only, and if you like street  art definitely worth a look.

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Due to the temporary nature of street art and graffiti the walls of Werregaren straat are constantly changing. We really enjoyed this and loved the idea of a dedicated place where anyone can express themselves freely. Elliot really wished we’d had a can of spray paint or two, so he could contribute. Maybe next time!

St. Bavo’s Cathedral

#stbavos
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

If you’re an art lover you might like to visit The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb painted by the Van Eyck brothers in 1432. This important piece of Flemish artwork has survived mostly intact throughout quite a turbulent history which includes, Protestant Iconoclasm as well as seizure by Napoleon, and the Nazis.

For the past 50 years it’s been hanging right where it belongs in St. Bavo’s Cathedral.

The painting can be viewed for a fee of 4 euro, but if you’re not interested in paying the fee there is a replica of the painting (which worked perfectly for my needs), inside the cathedral, which can be viewed free of charge. There are many other works of art, some more modern (one is pictured above), throughout the Cathedral.

St. Nicholas’ Church

#stnicholaschurch

Much less ornate on the inside than St. Bavo’s we also visited St. Nicholas’ which was undergoing some renovation, but beautiful nonetheless. After our long day wandering we opted not to climb to the top of the Belfry. Instead, we stopped for a soda and a rest in a little shop nearby before boarding the tram and heading back to Bruges.

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We really enjoyed our afternoon in Ghent and would have loved more time in this lovely city. An evening walk along the canals to see the award winning lights would be at the top of my list!

Three Days in Brugge

Bruges Canal

Bruges Canal

Having done very little research prior to my arrival in Brugge, I was surprised and delighted by the incredible beauty of this quaint little medieval town. I immediately fell in love and spent the better part of my three days there taking endless photos (sorry in advance). In hindsight, I’m not sure how this gem of a city wasn’t already on my radar (oops!), but thankfully it was on Tim’s… And apparently everyone else’s!

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The view from our hotel room.

Yes! Bruges is very touristy, but even in the height of tourist season the city quiets down after dinner when all the daytrippers head out of town, and if you’re patient you’ll have the entire place to yourself! Of course Brugge is more than just a pretty face and we enjoyed exploring and tasting everything it has to offer.

#brugge
The Venice of the North

Getting There

Departing London after a three week road trip through Ireland and the UK, we traded in our rental car and set off for Belgium via train. The entire ride takes around three and a half hours, including a transfer in Brussels. Purchasing our tickets at St. Pancras Station one day prior to departure, we were really lucky to find seats together. An added bonus: we got table seats, meaning the four of us could sit around a table and look at our electronics and not each other. HA HA!
#Brugge

Three stops and one hour later we’d arrived!

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Rozenhoedkaai View
My first impression upon our arrival to the center of the city:

Suddenly we were in one of the most beautiful cities I’d ever seen! Seriously! It’s not even fair to other cities, which don’t even stand a chance against the beauty of this place!

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The view from our hotel room.

Arriving in time for dinner, we chose a little place just off The Markt, the city center and main square. Mussels, frites and of course a Belgian waffle were on our menu!

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The Markt

Brugge is a great place to wander, and although the chocolate shops (there are so many!) had all closed for the day we enjoyed window shopping and wandering through town before heading back to enjoy the amazing view from our room at the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce!

We loved this little hotel, and if you’re interested in a splurge I highly recommend it. The accommodations, location and service were all perfect! They even have their own box of cookies!

#brugge

Day One

By the way is it Brugge, Bruge, Brugges, Bruges? You say tomato…

Our first day in town also happened to be American Independence Day. I must admit it felt a bit funny waking up in another country where the 4th of July is just another day. I’m not one to make too big a fuss over The 4th, but as we wandered through town, on our way to the laundromat, we noticed a number of rib restaurants and decided it would be fun to have an “American dinner”. We choose a place called Ribs n’ Beer (Really!), made a reservation for later, and set off to explore until dinner.

#brugge

With no real plan beyond enjoying the city, we spent the afternoon wandering in and out of shops, many of them selling chocolate, visited a park and went on a boat ride through the canals.

Boat Tours

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When in Brugge a boat tour of the canals is pretty much a must do, after all they don’t call it the Venice of the North for nothing. No need to plan ahead as there are several companies offering tours and the stops are conveniently located.

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The ride was lovely, though at 30 minutes, a bit short. The guides speak English, French and Dutch, however when our guide spoke English, he affected such a funny accent we had no idea what he was saying. Afterwards when we asked him a question he sounded completely regular. We decided giving the same tour every thirty minutes all day long must be somewhat tedious and that he was entertaining himself with funny voices.

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View of our hotel from the boat tour

Boating, Beer and BBQ

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Ribs n’ Beer

Our meal at Ribs n’ Beer was delicious and after our day of shopping and “boating,” Simon was delighted to discover they were all you can eat! We’d enjoyed three popular american favorites, boating, beer and BBQ, making our 4th of July celebration a complete success!

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Continuing our tradition of sampling cocoa in every new country, we found ourselves a table at T’ Klein Venetie a little cafe overlooking the famous Rozenhoedkaai View. We met some lovely people visiting from Mexico City and Tim chatted with them in Spanish while I took more photos. A lovely end to a great day!

#cocoa

Day Two

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Starting our day off with waffles, we sampled two kinds. The boys were interested in waffles on a stick, which were then dipped in chocolate and coated with the topping of their choice (marshmallows), while Tim and I went for a more traditional style.

Brugge Museums 

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If you’re planning more than one day in Brugge you might consider purchasing the museum pass, which will give you access to 14 of the city’s main attractions. Over the course of our visit we saw The Belfort, the Archeological Museum, Brugse Vrije, O.L.V-Kerk. Sint Janshospitaal, and the Stadhuis.

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Highlights were the city views from The Belfort, viewing Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in the Church of Our Lady (O.L.V- Kerk), and the apothecary museum at Sint Janshospitaal.

#sintjanshospitaal

After a long day of museum hoping we found ourselves at Brasserie Souffleur where we enjoyed a lovely meal before heading out to see Brugge at night.

Day Three

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Starting our day off with a visit to the Wednesday food market in The Markt, we picked up some fruit and a few other snacks to enjoy while wandering up and down the aisles. Many of the vendors displayed their foods in glass cases built right into the trucks they used to transport their wares.

Brugge is not only famous for chocolate, but also diamonds and we visited both the Choco Story Museum and the Diamond Museum.

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Highlights were the chocolate making demonstration with yummy samples and the learning the fascinating science behind diamonds including interactive exhibits.

#chezvincent

Recommended by a friend as the best place for frites in Brugge, our next stop was Chez Vincent. That said, we enjoyed our fries, and the many dipping sauces available, but I’m not sure they were the best. The hours are somewhat erratic and because of its popularity there are a lot of rules…

Brugge at Night

#rozenhoedkaaiview

If you do plan a day trip to Brugge, I highly recommend sticking around to see it at night. The lighting is absolutely stunning, which makes for some pretty great photos!

#belfort

#bruggenight

 

 

2016 A Year in Pictures

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Like many people I’m eager to wrap up the whirlwind that was 2016 and welcome the end of what seemed to be a year that didn’t pull any punches. However, there were also many great moments that helped to make this year one I’ll never forget. I’m so grateful for the many opportunities my family and I had to explore and discover many new places and meet many new people around the world both through travel and this blog. Of course with my wanderlust spirit I’m already thinking about what amazing adventures 2017 will bring, but before I move on here is a look back at some of my favorite photos and moments from 2016!

January

A Girls Weekend in Capitola! Beaches, shopping, food and friends…Not a bad way to start off the year!

February

Quirky and fun was the theme of February’s quick trip to Seattle where we “pressed” our luck at both the Mystery Coke Machine and the Gum wall! An unexpected trip to New York was a nice surprise as was the Florence + Machine concert we were treated to! Can you find me in the crowd?

#tab

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#837washington

March

March found us a new home! As bittersweet as moving is, we are making the most of our new surroundings with lots of surfing, becoming tourists in our own town and welcoming many visitors!

#sunset

April

I know what it means to miss New Orleans, which is why I do my best to get there at least once a year! 2016 was no different, and April found us making the most of our visit, enjoying all our favorite foods like beignets, bbq and snowballs, while wandering the French Quarter and discovering new neighborhoods. I’m already thinking about our next trip…

#frenchquarter

#beignets

May

Back in SoCal to sign up for new schools we found time to explore our new neighborhood!

#santamonicabeach

June

Embarking on a six week trip we spent June driving through Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England! It’s taken me months to sort through all the photos, and I’m still working on it. Represented here are The Cliffs of Moher, The Dark Hedges, Glasgow’s Street art, The Battlefields of Culloden in the Highlands, Edinburgh Castle, Hadrien’s Wall, and The Tower of London.

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#dark Hedges

#muralwalk

#cullodencottage

#edinburgh

#hadrianswall

#beefeater

July

Continuing our six week journey into July, we swapped the car for a train and set off for Belgium, The Netherlands, and France where we spent time in Brugge, Ghent, Amsterdam and Paris! Another fabulous three weeks of travel where we met up with friends, ate fabulous food and did our best to fit it all in. I’m still working on pulling together my notes on these amazing cities, and Brugge is next… Represented here are The Rozenhoedkaai View in Brugge, Gravensteen Castle in Ghent, Amsterdam’s Canals at night, a view from the top of Notre Dame, and Marie Antoinette’s Petite Trianon at Versailles.

Bruges Canal

#gravensteencastle

#amsterdamnightcanal

#gargoyle

#petittrianon

August

Moving day! Evening walks to the beach at sunset were our reward for all that hard work unpacking. Thankfully, family and friends came down to help!

#momandme

September

Embracing our new beach life!

Los Angeles Surfing

October

Good things come to those who wait! Almost a full year after purchasing tickets to the Maroon 5 concert it was finally time to go in October! Auntie, Simon and I had a fabulous time!

#maroon5

November

In November we celebrated our first holiday in the new house, Thanksgiving! We also found time for a visit to one of my favorite castles. Sleeping Beauty Castle in the Magic Kingdom!

#sleepingbeautycastle

Decemember

This December, we’ve decided on a staycation. We’ve been day tripping to nearby towns and exploring more of what our new home has to offer. Hopefully this will keep my wanderlust at bay, that is until we work out our next adventure… Stay tuned…

Happy New Year!

#delmar

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

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Tourist in my own town a continuing series…

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Looking for things to do over the winter holidays I decided on a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood and more specifically the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We had a wonderful time! However, you might be surprised to hear that none of us were all that excited, and I had to drag the kids. In fact it was only the promise of Butterbeer (which we had in Orlando four years ago) that got Simon excited…

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Now I don’t mean to start off negative, but unlike the Orlando location , I remembered the SoCal park as a much smaller place in dire need of an update. The last time we’d visited (10 years ago) the attractions already seemed outdated and irrelevant. The movies they were showcasing… Terminator, Waterworld, Backdraft… were movies from my own youth, which meant nothing to Simon and honestly, you couldn’t have given me free tickets to go back. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case! Enter Minions, Jurassic World, and Harry Potter!

First Stop: Butterbeer!

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So, our most recent  visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was largely driven by our desire for Butterbeer and as soon as we parked the car we made a beeline right for it! In my humble opinion Butterbeer is the only beverage in the world that might be worth a 3000 mile flight and was absolutely worth a one hour drive! Over the past four years, we’ve tasted many imitations in our attempt to find it, and while some have come close, they just weren’t Butterbeer.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Los Angeles

Hard to describe, Butterbeer is a delicious mix of flavors which could be butterscotch, marshmallow, cream soda and even shortbread, but one can’t really know exactly what it is, because the recipe is a secret! The creamy foam on top is my favorite part and cold is the most popular way to drink it, but you can also order it frozen and hot!

#butterbeerfoam

Arriving to the park at lunchtime, we decided to enjoy our Butterbeer while waiting in line for a table at The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade Village.

#butterbeer

The line for the Three Broomsticks moves quickly and just like the other park attractions the ambiance inside the restaurant is perfect and immersive helping to make the wait time go by. The process is seamless from start to finish and once you order your food the friendly staff will find you a table. I wish more theme park restaurants would do this!

We enjoyed our food very much. I had the Sunday Roast, while the boys went safe with fish and chips. We decided to try hot Butterbeer, which I loved, and topped it all off with some Sticky Toffee Pudding! Now that we’d taken care of business it was time to explore Hogsmeade Village and some of the other attractions!

#hogwarts

#hogwartsHogwarts Castle is really impressive! One can almost believe it’s as real as any castle you might see traveling the world.

There are two ride attractions in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and while we all enjoyed The Flight of the Hippogriff, Simon rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey on his own. Elliot does meet the height requirement, but as soon as they buckled us into the seat restraints I panicked! Call it a mother’s intuition, but I knew he wasn’t going to like it and I pulled him off the ride just before we entered the tunnel. I’m so glad I did! Simon confirmed my fears and while many people might enjoy the very immersive 5 minute experience, which includes, darkness, Dementors, being shaken this way and that, and a squirt of water in the face, I knew my little guy would have been terrified!

#forbiddenjourney

My new theme park rule: If they tell me to lock up my purse and take off my glasses, it’s not the ride for me! That said, even if you don’t plan to ride,wandering through the castle is fabulous and there are many surprises to make you feel as though you’ve stepped inside the real Hogwarts! There is a cozy little room where Harry Potter movies are playing to keep littles and their keepers occupied while waiting for the riders.

Even on a rainy day Hogsmeade was crowded, so we weren’t able to do everything, but we really enjoyed wandering around the village and were able to pop into Honeydukes where we picked up a few treats before we set off to see what else Universal Studios had to offer…

One last stop at the Butterbeer cart before we set off for home, made our day complete!

 

Oh Christmas Tree

#glitterholiday

#glitterholiday

I haven’t always celebrated Christmas, but I’ve always loved it! The twinkling lights, those annoyingly hard to unwrap, but oh so worth the trouble, miniature candy canes, hot cocoa with marshmallows, Christmas Carols, those stop motion holiday tv specials and the list goes on… But the thing I loved the most was, and still is, the Christmas Tree. We didn’t have a tree in my childhood home, but a highlight every season was visiting my neighbor’s homes and helping to hang their ornaments. I recall there being many homemade items and loved watching them unwrap and remember each one.

#ohchristmastree

Now years later I’ve built quite an ornament collection of my own, each with their own memory attached. Every year I look forward to opening up the boxes and taking out what I’ve come to think of as little treasures. Each one a precious reminder of some beloved character, far away place or special moment in our lives. Not only that, but many happy things have taken place around our Christmas tree, not the least of which was Tim’s proposal of marriage, but wait, before we get to that, there was another tree…

That First Christmas Tree

The first ornaments I purchased were for Tim, who I was dating at the time, he was having a party and mentioned that everyone should bring an ornament. I wasn’t exactly sure what to purchase, so decided on some silver snowflakes and a silver bell. The silver bell representing my favorite Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life! A premonition maybe?

#everytimeabellrings

What I didn’t know was that the whole party was planned to impress me! I guess he’d been listening when I mentioned my love of Christmas Trees? When I arrived at the party I  saw that he’d decorated the most amazing tree I’d ever seen. It was the perfect shape and covered with lights, bows and sparkling ornaments. In my eyes It couldn’t have been more perfect!

I found out later that he’d gone out and purchased everything on the tree just for the party, and I only found out this year that he’d spent an entire paycheck on that first tree! Of course there was also mistletoe at that party and somehow we managed to find ourselves under it at the very same time… imagine that!

Now 18 or so trees later, we’ve still got those original silver snowflakes and the bell along with many of those first ornaments.

#ohchristmastree

Over the years I’ve continued to collect memories and ornaments in almost every major city we’ve visited: Raggedy Anne and Andy in Portland, Oregon were some of the first along with a Yellow Cab in New York City. I picked up Fleur-de-lis ornaments in Paris, Versailles and New Orleans. In Ireland I found a harp and in Scotland a Scottie, Nessie and a set of pipes!  Of course London has its place on the tree along with Victoria, Lisbon, Toledo, Rome, Glasgow, Kyoto, and Hawaii. Also just a few of our favorite characters making appearances are Hello Kitty, Spiderman, Captain America, and Spongebob.

Each year I go to the tree lot in the hopes of finding a replica of that first perfect tree. While I don’t always come home with my ideal tree I know that once I cover it with all of our treasures, old and new and surround it with the people I love, “this year’s” tree will be the most beautiful tree yet.

Here’s to finding your “perfect tree!”

Happy Holidays! xo

#ohchristmastree

Three Days in London Family Style

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around-london-4655

No matter how many days we allow for London, it’s never enough, and our most recent visit was no different. I’m not sure what I was thinking when planning our itinerary, but somehow we ended up with only three full days*. I did however manage to plan the visit over my birthday, and what better way to celebrate than time in my favorite city! As always, I was on a mission to see as many new things as we could while still fitting in some old favorites, and I think we did a pretty good job of making the most of our time.

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Street art in London’s Chinatown

Arriving in the late afternoon after a long drive from York, and having had nothing to eat other than a light lunch during our stop in Nottingham, we were ready for an early dinner! Not in the mood for our usual wander, we decided on a repeat for dinner, Plum Valley in Chinatown. We’ve been here three times now and it never disappoints. Afterwards we walked around the neighborhood while eating our dessert, Tayaki, which are little fish shaped cakes filled with cream. Yum!

Day One

The Victoria & Albert Museum

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Happy Birthday to me! Choosing our itinerary for the entire day with no objections from the peanut gallery was my birthday gift. I chose a museum and shopping! The Victoria & Albert Museum, or the V&A, was our first stop. I won’t lie and say the boys enjoyed the Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear exhibit, but as a lover of fashion I sure did! There are many things to see and do at the world’s leading museum of art and design and there was no way we would see it all in one visit, but we spent most of the morning trying.

#v&Amuseum

Carnaby Street

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If like me, you’re a shopper, you’ll love Carnaby Street! Located in the West End, Carnaby Street is part of a larger collection of 13 streets lined with shops, restaurants and bars. The iconic Union Jack hanging high above and the fun vibe of the area make this a favorite shopping destination. I love wandering in and out of all the shops, many of which are one of a kind. Like many places in a city as old as London, Carnaby Street has a long history dating back to 1682! The place to be in the 60s, 80s and still to this day!

Covent Garden

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Another great London destination is Covent Garden located on the edge of the West End. We usually find ourselves here at least once every visit and with beautiful architecture, street performers, entertainment, theater, shopping, museums and more you can’t go wrong. There is always something to see or do!

Corinithia Hotel Cocoa

#corinthiacocoaWhile we don’t always stay at The Corinthia, we never pass up a chance for Corinthia cocoa in the lobby! A nice alternative to traditional tea, though they have that too, we’ve taken to sitting down in the Corinthia’s lovely lobby for a relaxing cup of cocoa at least once every visit and sometimes more…

Day Two

Crosstown Donuts

We stumbled across this yummy place, and loved it so much we found ourselves back the very next day. The cinnamon rolls were my favorite! Alas there are no photos, as we ate them up too quickly for pictures!

The Changing of the Guard

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In what turned out to be a very happy accident we got off at the wrong Underground stop just in time to see the Queen’s soldiers marching down the street on their way back from the Changing of the Guard! Super neat! Not one for standing around trying to see over the very tall person that always stands in front of me, we’d never even bothered to try and see the guard ceremony before. I highly recommend seeing it via happy accident!

The Royal Mews

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The Royal Mews is responsible for the transport of the Queen and other members of the royal family via horse drawn carriage and motor car. Unfortunately we just missed the guided tour, but found the 45 minute audio guide to be quite adequate and enjoyed moving along at our own pace. During the visit you’ll be able to view many of the carriages including the Scottish and Irish State coaches, the Diamond Jubilee Coach, and the Gold State Coach,  as well as motor cars, and even some of the Queens horses.

Camden Town

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Camden Town a popular North London neighborhood reminds me a lot of Venice Beach, California. Fun & quirky! Shops filled with everything imaginable line the streets, from mainstream brands to vintage treasures. Camden Market is a maze of wonderful stalls and shops filled to the brim with tasty treats, funky art, clothing, toys, housewares and so much more! Somehow this popular neighborhood has managed to keep it’s “off the beaten path” feel, while at the same time making itself completely accessible to everyone!

Leicester Square

As is often the case in London, it was quite a rainy day, and in the late afternoon when the rains came back with a vengeance we decided a movie in Leicester Square would be the perfect thing! Leicester Square is the heart of British Cinema, much like Hollywood in California, and many European movie premiers take place here. We’ve been to movies here before and we love the reserved seating, which has only recently come to America.

Dozo Sushi

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The perfect way to end our day, we had a delicious dinner at Dozo Sushi, in Soho, where both the food and service were excellent. The restaurant was packed and without a reservation we felt lucky to get a table.

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Day Three

The Houses of Parliament Tour

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Waking up on the last day of our visit to London, we had big plans! A tour of Westminster Palace and the Houses of Parliament was first on the list! I was pretty excited about finally getting a peek inside this historic and important place. While on the 90 minute tour you’ll be treated to 1000 years of history, modern politics, and amazing art and architecture. I absolutely loved this experience, our guide was so knowledgeable and funny and the interior spaces were so beautiful I was in awe of my surroundings the entire time.

The Borough Market

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The sun was shinning bright, so after our amazing tour of Parliament  we set off for a walk along the River Thames and ended up at The Borough Market in Southwark. After exploring the stalls and vendors we grabbed lunch at the Market Porter, a famous Public House with an upstairs restaurant which overlooks the Market. We all enjoyed our food very much. For more information and even more photos of this awesome neighborhood check out 24 Hours In London!

London Bridge

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Taking advantage of the continued sunshine we decided to keeping walking along the river crossing the famous London Bridge where we stopped to take photos of Tower Bridge!

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The Tower of London

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If you follow my blog, then you know that The Tower of London is probably one of my favorite places on earth and I can’t imagine a visit to London without stopping there! It’s absolutely on my must not miss list! A very family friendly place with ever changing exhibits I love that each time we go there is something new to see. This time we enjoyed the Crowns of the Past exhibit and the room replicas of the Medieval Palace dating back to the times of Edward I and Henry III.

Imli Street

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Just as we were exiting the Tower the sky opened up and we made a mad dash for a taxi back to our hotel. It was time to pack for our next destination, (Bruges!) but we did find time for a lovely, but spicy, Indian dinner at Imli Street in Soho.

Nadler Soho

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During our visit we stated at the Nadler Soho, which was conveniently located and walking distance to many places.

*We did get one extra day just before our return trip to the United States, but more on that later…

London: Houses of Parliament Tour

#westminsterpalace

#westminsterpalaceWaking up on the last day of our most recent visit to London, we had big plans! A tour of Westminster Palace and the Houses of Parliament! We’d walked by and photographed this iconic and historic building on many occasions, but we’d never been inside.

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View of the London Eye and Big Ben from the security line

Embracing the idea that guided tours are a good thing and always up for visiting another palace I signed us up! I was pretty excited about finally getting a peek inside. In fact our visit to this historic and important place was a highlight of our entire six week adventure!

Houses of Parliament London

Guided tours of the Houses of Parliament are available on most Saturdays and on weekdays when Parliament is in recess. The tours are timed and I highly suggest arriving slightly before your scheduled time, as the check-in and security lines can be long. If you find yourselves with some time to spare before your tour you can enjoy a coffee in the onsite cafe and have a look around the gift shop.

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While on the 90 minute tour you’ll be treated to 1000 years of history, modern politics, and amazing art and architecture. Highlights include visiting both the Lord’s and Common’s Chambers, the Queen’s Robing Room and the Royal Gallery.

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You’ll meet your guide in Westminster Hall, one of the few places photos are allowed, and proceed to walk quickly through the entire building, catching only glimpses of all the amazing art and ornate decor, before finally stopping at the other end where the tour will officially start. Don’t worry, you’ll be walking back at a much slower pace and will be able to enjoy the amazing artwork of kings, queens and politicians of past and present while you listen to your guide tell you their history.

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I absolutely loved this experience, our guide was so knowledgeable and funny and the interior spaces were so beautiful I was in awe of my surroundings the entire visit.  Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who loved this activity, all three of my boys loved it too!

Photo opportunities were very limited, but I managed to get in a few snaps!

Westminster Hall

St. Stephen’s Hall & New Dawn Stained Glass

The Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben