A Travellerspoint blog

Turkey: Istanbul: Even the New Mosque is Old!--FOODIE ALERT

August 29-31, 2014

sunny 88 °F

  • ****Sorry guys, we are sad to report that our back up hard drive crashed when we came back to Orlando in Sept/October and have lost a lot of photos from the rest of Germany, as well as Dubai and Nepal so we are posting any photos that we could recover from our iPhone and/or GoPro :) *****

Au Feiderschein Germany! Hello Turkey! The minute we arrived in Istanbul I knew we were in for a treat. The sounds, the smells, the colors and of course the friendly people! We immediately felt the fast moving energy of the city and couldn’t wait to explore. . . the only downside was all the crowds on the trains because of peak tourist season.

We hopped on the train into town and decided to stay in Sirkeci “the tourist quarter” walking distance to most of the famous historical sites and after circling a few blocks we arrived at the Yeni Hotel. The location is great, they have a working A/C and internet but there’s only one shower on each floor!?!? Can you believe that, ten rooms one shower?

We were happy to get some local recommendations and headed out. First stop: Kebabs! Hocoposa street is lined with kebab shops but we must say that by the end of our time in Istanbul the best place was still the first one we tried! Kardesler kebab . . . . pure deliciousness, fresh bread and veggies and the most flavorful meats. While eating we met a lovely family from Turkey now living in Florence Italy. Murat Guezzler, his wife Cris and their adorable daughter Vitorria. Murat’s uncle owns the shop which has been around since—— so he helped us pick out some deliciousness. . their white bean stew is famous and runs out quick and the kebab with yogurt was to die for! We had fun talking with them and hope to meet again on their trip to California and Hollywood!

Ruby is a sucker for massages and tries to get one in every country we visit. . . so we went in search of a hamam (Turkish bathhouse). There are two famous ones in the Sultanhamet area but they are very expensive ($70+ for use of the facilities and a 30 min oil massage) we were looking for something with a little more local flare and of course affordable. The receptionist at Yeni recommended Mihrimah Sultan Hamam and we were off on another mission. This time we took the local bus to the Edinnekapi area and on the way we discovered the remains of an old city wall.
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We also found the local hamam she had recommended . . . oh boy, first Ruby and I accidentally walked into the wrong entrance (the mens side) and got all kinds of stares and then when we finally made it to the women’s side Ruby could hear blaringly loud Turkish music and went in to find women smoking cigarettes in their bras and panties while dancing in circles. . . uh not exactly the relaxing experience she had imagined so we gave up on the local bathhouse idea!

Instead Ruby opted for Cemberlitas bathhouse, a bit expensive at $70+ for the bathhouse and massage experience. . . the brochure makes it look amazing! It’s not quite as polished as it looks in their ads but it is still quite impressive. It’s hundreds of years old and it’s easy to imagine why a sultan would come up with the idea of a bathhouse for his harem of women. . . just picture a huge room filled with scantily clad women being washed down with soapy bubbles by other scantily clad women . . yup that’s right straight out of any man’s fantasy. Of course due to past experiences I opted to skip the men’s version. . .and after that description from Ruby I have absolutely no regrets about that decision!

In the evening we enjoyed the stunning views of fireworks over the city from the panoramic deck over the Bosphorous River at the rooftop Golden Horn Sirkeci Hotel. The only thing that would have made it more perfect is if they served alcohol! We settled for a delicious glass of turkish tea and baklava instead.

We spent the next couple of days exploring the beautiful Sultanahmet area. This city is one of the oldest in history and it's hard to believe that some of these buildings are still standing after all these thousands of years. We visited the Hagia Sophia which is incredible. . can’t believe it has been rebuilt at least 3 times already?! The Blue Mosque is a site to behold (sorry we don’t have any recovered photos of it)! Bascially we drank Turkish tea and sat in cafes enjoying the scenery passing us by.

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On our last day in Istanbul we headed over to the Taksim area via tram and walked down the cable car street of Istikal Caddesi. At the end of it, we went up to the Galata tower for the panoramic views of old Istanbul from across the water. . WOW! Quite an impressive city, never have I seen so many gorgeous mosques in such a small space.

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We wanted to visit Cappadochia next and while sitting in traffic I just keep thinking “how did Ruby talk me into another night bus (Suha bus $37 pp)?” There was a crying baby most of the night (AKA Ruby birth control) that wasn’t too helpful with our desire to sleep, but we did manage to get some good rest anyway. 


Posted by Tony.Ruby 22:01 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Germany: Munich: Augustineer, Sausage and Castles

August 24-29, 2014

all seasons in one day 68 °F

  • **** Sorry guys we are sad to report that our back up hard drive crashed when we came back to Orlando in Sept/October and have lost a lot of photos from the rest of Germany, as well as Dubai and Nepal so we are posting any of the photos that we could recover from our iPhone and/or GoPro :) *****

The distance between Berlin and Munich can be covered in a short six hour roadtrip but the difference between the culture of the two cities is tremendous. Munich is the epicenter of Bavarian culture and we loved every second of it. . . the beer, the sausage, and the awesome outfits. We are just sad we didn’t stay for Oktoberfest which actually starts in September! Aaaaah there’s always next time :)

On the way down to Munich we made a quick stop in Nuremberg with it’s beautiful red-roofed buildings for some famous Nurnberger Bratwurste which tasted like Jimmy Dean grilled sausages LOL. I think next time we’d like to spend a little more time there exploring the castle and grounds.
Just like our time in Stuttgart and Hamburg, we would have some local friends helping us explore this area. King and his wife Meschtildt, (friends of our friend Doc from Kenya), greeted us at their house with German baked goods and tea mmmmm. We’d like to think that we’ll be like them when we grow up :) They are fellow adventurers who hitch-hiked from Kenya to Munich together in their younger years. King is Punjabi but born in Kenya and she is German - so much fun getting to know them.

King spoiled us with a personalized tour around the nearby German alpine lakes and small cities like Garmisch and Mittenwald . We also got to check out his super modern office (he owns a coal freight business). They also generously put us up at Hotel Seehof, a very nice place nearby since Meschtildt was feeling a bit under the weather and didn’t want to get us sick. Schupfnudeln (cooked mashed potatoes formed into finger-thick noodles that are then pan fried in butter until crispy and golden brown) were our favorite part of the meal at their favorite German restaurant. Mmmmmmm Ruby definitely preferred this to the Spätzle we had before.

Munich is beautiful and there’s no better way to explore it than on foot. We took a free walking tour and found the stories about Hitler and his history in Munich to be fascinating. We ended the tour in the main square watching the clock tower while drinking Augustineer (our fave German beer) and having some bratwurst :)

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Just a short drive away from Munich is the famous Neuschwanstein Castle built by King Ludwig II and of course we had to stop there. This is also known as the “Disneyland Castle” as Walt Disney was inspired by this place. We had a great time exploring Neuschwanstein castle although we skipped the interior (having seen tons of castles already). It was a gorgeous sunny day so we hiked up to the Marienbruke bridge. There were tons of tourists since August is the peak of the summer season and we wondered if possibly busier than Disneyland?

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We ended our time in Munich with a wonderful Italian dinner with King, Meschtildt and their daughter Rasna and a crazy humongous dessert!

Posted by Tony.Ruby 03:52 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Austria: Salzburg: Mozart's Home and Delicious Chocolate

August 27, 2014

rain 58 °F

  • ****Sorry guys, we are sad to report that our back up hard drive crashed when we came back to Orlando in Sept/October and have lost a lot of photos from the rest of Germany, as well as Dubai and Nepal so we are posting any of the photos that we could recover from our iPhone and/or GoPro :) *****

Ruby and I have a saying at it seems to be true in Germany…”we bring the rain”. What a wet and rainy European summer we’ve been having. It also seems that all of Germany is under construction right now and every place we drive has BAD traffic!!! Apparently we learned that summer is when they do all their public works projects. . .

Despite all that we made it to Salzburg after a two hour drive from Munich. It’s a very walkable city on the Salzach river. It’s beautiful with gorgeous views of a castle overlooking the city (so sad we lost our photos that we would otherwise share!)

The cute aldstadt (old town) is where you can find Mozart’s home and lots of delicious chocolates. You can hear classical music playing all over the city and the sound of horse drawn carriages is everywhere. Just across the river is a flower garden fit for a king and we even spotted a unicorn…no it was only Ruby! :)

I also need to apologize to our friend Kim Fields Shah aka my dentist for eating a Sacher Torte—so sweet that I think I have a new cavity!

Posted by Tony.Ruby 04:07 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Germany: Berlin: Uber Cool Artsy Alternative Walking Tour

August 22-24, 2014

sunny 70 °F

  • **** We are sad to report that our back up hard drive crashed when we came back to Orlando in Sept/October and have lost a lot of photos from the rest of Germany, as well as Dubai and Nepal so we are only posting photos that we could recover from our iPhone and/or GoPro :) *****

It’s only about 300 km to Berlin from Hamburg but today it felt much further with gridlock traffic and construction. . . remind us to never drive into the largest city in Germany on a Friday afternoon in the peak of summer season :)

Phew! We finally made it there — 48 hrs in Berlin is perfect for a first trip. This city is old, dirty, gritty and bursting at the seams with culture, music and art. It reminds us a lot of New York and London and like those other cities, this one can be a bit overwhelming at first. We took our friend Ross’ sage advice and joined a free “Alternative” Berlin walking tour. We hoofed it around the neighborhoods of Mitte, Kreuzberg, and Friedrichshain for several hours. It was terrific to get an insider’s view on the street art around the city and visit some super cool undercover spots. We even made it to a Jamaican beach party on the river! Friedrichshain is a hip area and central for getting around on the train so that’s where we decided to stay.

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It was great to learn about what the people of this city have lived through and how it reflects in their attitudes towards personal privacy, video cameras, companies tracking your credit card purchases etc. . . It also made us realize how we as Americans are nowhere near as sensitive to these issues and even offer up tons of free information about ourselves to these companies via social media, our own blog, and the use of credit cards. Definitely food for thought. . .

Did you know that there are lots of Turkish people in Germany? We didn’t know this either but we learned that the Turks were encouraged to immigrate during reconstruction of cities after WWII but instead of leaving when the job was finished they chose to stay and brought their families over. We could still feel a friction, similar to how some Americans feel about Mexican immigrants.

We also visited the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie and we were both sobered by the horrific things that went on in this country . . .but to forget about that for the night we ended up at a party called the Hoffest at the Schwarzenberg art house. This place is covered in beautiful graffiti, it was full of musicians and artists who were smoking too much for our lungs to our lungs to handle so we ended up at a crazy play going on in a nearby park. This play appeared to be a version of Shakespeare meets the Rocky Horror Picture Show in German! Interesting to say the least. . .LOL
The cool thing about Berlin is that anything can and probably will happen: we had so much fun walking around town and on museum island. These were some of the most impressive buildings and sculptures we’ve seen to date! Somehow we ended up watching a silent movie accompanied by classical music at the Pergamon museum.
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Another highlight was finding Burrito Dolores, a Mexican food restaurant…YES good Mexican food in Northern Germany! There was something so familiar about Burrito Dolores that we had to stop. . . then we noticed that it’s a San Francisco restaurant, what a coincidence! :)

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We most definitely could have spent more time here in Berlin. . . but we have to save something for another trip!

Posted by Tony.Ruby 16:09 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Germany: No Hamburgers in Hamburg!

August 18-21, 2014

rain 68 °F

  • **** We are sad to report that our back up hard drive crashed when we came back to Orlando in Sept/October and have lost a lot of photos from the rest of Germany, as well as Dubai and Nepal so we are posting any of the photos that we could recover from our iPhone and/or GoPro :) *****

We said goodbye to wine country and headed off the Hamburg…I know it wasn't the most direct way to Hamburg from Dusseldorf but we’re on vacation. The highlight of our visit in Hamburg was definitely visiting our two friends Andreas and Katharina who we met while crossing the border from Thailand to Cambodia on our last around the world trip! I’m not sure exactly how much wine or German beer we went through while visiting them but boy was it fun!

These two are such adventurers! Andreas’ photography blog at photos.andreastephan.com is so inspiring! He is so very talented! Katharina works for a tour/travel agency and specializes in Southeast Asia so of course we picked both their brains about photography and got expert help planning the rest of our trip :)

They spoiled us the whole time— as fellow world travelers they know how simple things like doing laundry and having a home cooked meal can make a long trip just a little more comfortable. First it was the fresh sole filets from the Baltic Sea for dinner and then on our last night they treated us to a traditional Raclette (which is apparently for special occasions like holidays!) We will miss them on this trip but we definitely look forward to a visit from them in California next year!!

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Our main purpose of visiting was for our friends but there are also some pretty parts of Hamburg. Michael’s church has a gorgeous white/marroon interior with stained glass windows, Moenckebergstrasse Street is great for shopping and the coffee and breakfast at Cafe Paris can’t be beat!! :)

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The Rauthaus Town Hall is a nice building to walk around and has a beautiful fountain in the center atrium that we enjoyed in the sunshine.
We learned about the North vs South German rivalry: the Northerners are annoyed that the “Bavarian” culture is what has been stereotyped as German in places like the U.S. while the south views the Northerns as “fish heads” since they live in mostly port cities like Hamburg.

Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:45 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Germany: Traveling Up the Romantic Rhine — FOODIE ALERT

August 17-19, 2014

semi-overcast 65 °F

We loved the Mosel Valley so much we couldn’t resist visiting the Rhine River Valley as well. It was supposed to be a 3 hour drive us to ——- but we detoured in Heidelburg and got lost so it ended up taking closer to 5 or 6 hours. The small town of St. Goar is smack dab in the center of the Rhine and a perfect takeoff point to visit the other towns via ferry or car. There is a gorgeous castle just across the water from the hotel we stayed at: Hotel An de Fahre (which translates to On The Ferry).

St. Goar by day:

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St. Goar by night:

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The hotel An de Fahre (45 Euros/night) is in a super convenient waterfront location just next to the ferry station. We totally fell in love with the owners Max and Alyssea! He’s German and she’s from Kazakstan (the first person we’ve ever met from there!) We got to know them over a couple of beers and blog writing in the hotel lounge. They were super sweet and did everything to make our stay as comfortable as possible. The beds were soft, the bathrooms spotless! We would definitely stay there again. We were spoiled by Alyssea’s home cooked breakfast (which was included in our room rate). Super delicious food with huge portions big enough to fill yourself up for the entire day. They also treated us to a lovely home-cooked barbecue which was really special for us (especially after being on the road for so long). We are really looking forward to going back to the area to see Max and Alyssea! They lent us their local guidebook so we could explore the area. . . . and explore we did:

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We drove to the adjacent small town of Bacharach and found a path to hike up the steep vineyards for a view of Rhine. WOW!

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I thought Ruby was going to have a heart attack as I chose to hang precariously on the hillside to take some of these grapevine shots!

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Bacharach is pretty adorable with a village type feel. . .

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While walking around we found a great Greek restaurant called Zeus. It was authentic and super delicious. The ouzo shots at the beginning were a nice surprise :) We had the pork plate, zucchini and tzatziki and are still thinking about it today. The chef is actually Greek and his wife is German which explains why the food was so good!

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On the way back from Bacharach we saw a huge rainbow across the Rhine and it was super close to the famous rock called Loreley which is a grey cliff that towers 433 feet above the Rhine. Legend has it that this was the most dangerous section of the River Rhine during the middle ages and the spot where the mythic siren Loreley used to sit atop the cliff combing her hair. Her beauty and singing would lure sailors to their deaths on the cliff below:

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On our last day in St. Goar we drove through another town called Braubach and enjoyed views of another gorgeous castle.

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Our friend Phil Raffa had nominated Ruby and I for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It was much harder to find ice than one would think—for future reference, in Germany, only specific gas stations sell ice (not grocery stores) and it’s expensive for ice! We ended up completing the challenge in Kobern-Gondorf one of our other favorite little towns.

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We were sad to leave the Rhine River Valley but we got on the road for our six hour drive North to Hamburg by the early afternoon.

Posted by Tony.Ruby 18:05 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Germany: Stuttgart: Heiko and the Huge Hohenzollern Castle

August 15-17, 2014

sunny 68 °F

Amazingly we made it to Heiko’s without getting lost at all!?! WOW! We must be getting better at driving in Germany :) He has an awesome flat super close to a nice church which we walked by at night. Like all good things in Germany. . . his apartment required an uphill hike up 4 flights of stairs LOL :)

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We got the true Bavarian experience with Heiko and his girl Yvi—an awesome German dinner with some local specialities like “Spätzle”, a pasta made with large amounts of eggs, another dish that reminded us of an omlette. . . .and of course Schnapps shots!! We stopped at some local bars in Stuttgart and checked out the scene while having a few beers. Very low key night, just what we needed after all that driving around the Mosel.

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Recovering from the shots, we woke up late and had weitwurst (white sausage) with sweet mustard a pretzel and topped it all off with a Hefeweizen! Heiko says this is a true Bavarian breakfast. . not sure about that. . . but it was delicious!

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We spent the rest of the day exploring some of Stuttgart. We saw the center of town, views from a rooftop and the Mercedes logo of course (since this is where Mercedes is manufactured!).

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We showed Heiko some places he hadn’t been either. The library is amazing!! We love the symmetry and clean lines.

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Heiko also promised us a huge castle. . . and he did not disappoint! Yvi, Heiko and the two of us went to Hohenzollern which was straight out of a fairytale. The hike uphill was definitely worth it: great views, history and not a bad place to stop for an afternoon beer and currywurst—definitely the fanciest Biergarten we’ve ever been to! :)

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That night we hung out with some of Heiko, Yvi and Heiko’s local friends Ollie and Kathie. . . we had such a great time and hope to see all of them in California next year! Of course the German Giant had to have Ruby climb one last hill. . this one was to see Stuttgart by night!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 06:12 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Germany: Moseying Along the Mosel Wine Valley

August 14-15, 2014

rain 62 °F

With the rental car fiasco out of our hair and the freedom to drive anywhere. . . we were finally off! I was super excited to be driving on the autobahn but luckily for Ruby our rental car wouldn’t go that fast. . . small economy Opel cars aren’t exactly known for racing LOL.

Originally we were heading straight to Stuttgart from Dusseldorf and on the way we stopped for our first Bratwurst of many. . . unfortunately it was at a gas station (I know, I know we are risk takers!). It also came in the smallest bun for such a large sausage. . weird. . . but it was yummy.

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Looking at the map, Ruby (the navigator) noticed that there were lots of grapes on the tourist map and detoured us straight to wine country. Wow! What an awesome surprise, this was not even on our itinerary for visiting Germany but would definitely come back here in a heartbeat. We started in the Mosel Valley at a town called Kobern-Gondorf and loved the feel of the area immediately. It’s hard to describe the beauty but all along the Mosel River is a small windy road lined with vineyards rising steeply on both sides of the hills. It’s even more stunning when you notice all the medieval castles perched above the small towns along the way.

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We ended up in Alken and admired the grapevines before an an elderly couple showed up and led us to a local restaurant where we had our first glass of German vino. We were in such awe of the beauty of this place that we lost track of time. . . okay, so maybe it was the wine? :)

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A that point we decided to stay right in the middle of the Mosel Valley. We found the perfect place: Guesthouse Am-Markt in Treis-Karden: nice rooms with a great view of the steep vineyards— a steal at 45Euros/night or $60 USD.

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Dinner was at a local “weingut” haha— it means winery in German but Ruby and I like to say that we don’t have beer bellies— we have “weinguts” LOL! Our waitress Barbara at Weingut Weinstube Otto Knaup was super sweet and she gave us a great mini-introduction to German food. . . we had our first ever authentic German Schnitzel that night. .. Jaeger Schnitzel actually (which is pork with a mushroom sauce), a german salad which was pretty good. . . and a non-sweet riesling from the Mosel Valley of course. Barbara loves to travel too so perhaps we’ll see her in California one of these days.

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The next day we continued along the Mosel with a plan to make it to the end of the Mosel Vine Valley in Trier and then continue on to our 3 hour drive to Stuttgart in time for dinner. In the morning we thought we would try a waffle for breakfast, and I played a crazy game of charades at the German Bakery downstairs in order to get a topping on the waffle—I ended up with cherries which is common in Germany. Forget about syrup and strawberries though! We enjoyed it in our room with a view of the grapevines outside.

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Burg Eltz (a beautiful castle) was just across the narrow Mosel River from Treis-Karden so we decided to cross over and see it for ourselves. You can easily park at the base, pay 3 Euros for parking in the lot and hike up about 45 minutes through the forest. Wow! This was our first castle and I know that Neuschwanstein Castle near Munich is supposed the be the inspiration for the Disneyland castle but this one looks like a close contender to me!

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It was raining which got us moving again, we ended up in Cochem. The bridge crossing the Mosel was decorated with beautiful lamp posts and flowers. It was an idyllic place to stop for a photo for sure!

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Lunch was spent in Beilstein. An adorable little town, wish we had more time there! Next time for sure. . . We found that the last few towns after Beilstein were not nearly as nice, so our advice would be to turn back there and head back toward Koblenz stopping at towns on the opposite side of the river. Skip Trier altogether and see Roman ruins in Italy!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 10:34 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Germany:Dusseldorf: Crazy Trains and Rental Car Disasters

August 14, 2014

sunny 68 °F

We thought the trains in India were bad. . .but the ones in Amsterdam were just as crazy! We could see people walking up and down the aisles confused over where to sit and luggage everywhere! Of course these ones are exponentially more expensive, at 70 Euros per person to take the ICE train from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf Germany. I thought Ruby was going to have a heart attack over our budget!

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When we arrived into Germany we immediately noticed the difference in attitude from people in The Netherlands. Not to say there’s anything wrong with people from the Netherlands but sometimes we got the feeling that they just wanted us to spend money and go home. Meanwhile, Germans seem to be straight shooters, really a no-nonsense type of people that really don’t care who you are, where you come from or what you think of them.
Who knew that Dusseldorf would have a cute little aldstadt (aka old town) and people hanging out along the waterfront.

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There was also great shopping and every type of food you could imagine. We had the most delicious tapas at a restaurant called “La Copa” in the main square. Tony had his first beer in Germany

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. . . and they really did a good job with our usual Spanish faves of “pimientos de padron" and “gambas al ajillo”.

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While eating dinner outside it was fun to watch this wacky old Bavarian guy (you can recognize them by their silly outfits) pushing a cart that played German organ music!

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We finally got back to our attic room and watched a beautiful orange-red sunset over the buildings from the Altus Guesthouse (which by the way was a steal at 44 euros a night with our own bathroom and super convenient location close to public transportation). We would definitely stay there again and would book the top room in the attic— even though it’s a hike to the top room, the skylight and lack of noise upstairs from neighbors make it worth it!

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  • ***************************************Small Note on Car Rental Disaster Avoidance*************************************************

We had such a fiasco when renting our car at the Dusseldorf airport. We always use CarRentals.com and love it but we are going to try and AVOID FROM DOLLAR/THRIFTY CAR RENTALS in Europe!! They have the cheapest daily or weekly rates to lure you in but then they require you to have/buy collision insurance (for hundreds of extra dollars!!) and then they have a silly policy requiring you use ONLY a PLATINUM MASTERCARD (not a regular mastercard) if you want to use your credit card to cover the collision insurance. They also require PROOF of your Collision Damage Waiver from your U.S. credit card company with your name, credit card number, location and value of coverage in writing at time of rental. After a few hours of trying to get all this sorted out we gave up! Next time we won't bother with all that nonsense and rent with Sixt which doesn’t require any of that silly hassle and knows that almost all good US Credit cards provide Collision insurance when you use their credit card!?!

Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:41 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Netherlands: Amsterdam: Cheesy Bikes Along the Waterways

August 11-13th, 2014

rain 68 °F

After a little confusion and a lot of euros we managed to make our way from the Hook of Holland into Amsterdam. The train ticket machines take only Euro coins! They don’t currently take US credit cards which is really annoying and of course our tickets were 20 euros each to get to Amsterdam. Luckily, a local woman took our cash and bought us the tickets on her card. The best option is to buy an OV-Chipkaart for 7.50 Euros and refill it as you travel around the Netherlands because it gives you discounted rates on fares and is easy to refill.

We stayed in the Almere area which is some of the newest, quietest and cleanest suburbs in the area but it is a little far from Amsterdam proper than we would want for next time. Our host Marc from AirBNB was super sweet and even had Karamel Stroopwafels waiting for us in the room! These things are super delicious — especially with some tea in the morning!!

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On the train ride into Amsterdam we had to laugh at some of the towns such as Muiderpoort which literally sounds like “Murder Port” when they announce it and we wonder. . who’d want to visit there?? Of course now whenever Ruby gets mad at me, she says “Do you want me to buy you a one-way ticket to Muiderpoort”?” LOL

You can also see the iconic windmills on the train ride into Amsterdam and since we weren’t going anywhere else in the Netherlands we thought we’d stop in Weesp and try and see them. . . but it was a failed mission and we ended up on an hour plus detour in some little town LOL because a local bus driver eagerly nodded his head when we asked if we could see the windmills on his route (clearly he didn’t understand English!)

The Amsterdam train station is huge and is super convenient to all the places you’d want to see. We started walking the town and started at Dam Square and watched throngs of people collecting there to feed the pigeons.
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We must say, it’s a really cool artsy type of city full of beautiful waterways
. . . by day:

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. . . and by night:

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and there's lots of bicycles!

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As per our usual we had bad weather and were in between pulling out our umbrella and putting it away our entire time there! We wanted to go to Anne Frank’s House but the line was too long :( We got lost walking around in the art district of Jordan and decided to have a mini-picnic complete with the ubiquitous gouda cheese and wine at the waterfront.

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We walked though the Flower Market on our way to Rembrandt Park and a stop for a snack turned into dinner at an Italian restaurant called Vapiano. It was delicious but we soon discovered that it is actually a chain restaurant?!?! So on this trip, instead of a “McDonald’s Moment” when we are either too tired or hungry to find a decent restaurant, we now have “Vapiano moments” where we have to resort to eating at a chain because it is cheap, easy to find, has wifi and consistently good Italian food :)

There are free ferries behind the central train station and we would recommend visiting the Film museum aka the Eye Museum. We tried to meet up with our friend Antonio who lives just next door but unfortunately with no phone or internet we couldn’t coordinate. The basement portion of the museum is free to visit and they have some cool visual art projects and a touch sensor color projector that we would love to have for our kids someday.

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Since the Dutch colonized Indonesia you can find a lot of Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam and Ruby was on a mission for some exotic food so we found a local Indo place and got takeout for a picnic in Vondelpark.

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This city has tons of shopping opportunities and we went on a bit of a shopping spree because Ruby forgot a few things in our haste to pack our apartment for the movers.

Of course a trip to Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete with a trip to coffee shop. . .but we didn’t partake. We did however walk through the Red Light District which is definitely packed with people and was like nothing we have seen before.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 02:48 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

England/Netherlands: Crossing the English Channel on Stena

August 10, 2014

storm 63 °F

A quick 35 min drive from Sharon’s house in Coggeshall and we arrived at Harwich where we would board a 6 hour ferry across the English Channel dropping us off in the Hook of Holland port. The Stena Line is one of the most affordable (albeit slow) ways to get to mainland Europe. At 36 pounds per person or 60 USD p.p., it’s a steal, especially when you’re booking last minute. It’s easy to get from the Hook of Holland to Amsterdam via train— just be sure to BUY A TICKET ON THE FERRY for about 18 euros because the ticket machines in the train stations in the Netherlands do not accept euro bills, ONLY COINS and don’t accept any US credit cards?!?

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Hurricane Bertha has been following us around with a vengeance and today we had choppy waves, rain and clouds as we crossed the English Channel.

As for the ferry itself, is pretty comfortable and more like a cruise ship with restaurants, casinos, children's playareas, an arcade etc. They also do night ferries where you can rent a cabin for the ride, we would suggest this because a cabin is only an extra 30 British pounds a night. If you do decide to take the day ferry, get there early and grab a comfortable seat near a power outlet. If you're running late like us then you will be sitting in the cafeteria next to the kiddie corner!

Posted by Tony.Ruby 16:27 Archived in England Comments (0)

England: Essex County: Friends and a 500 Year Old Farm House

August 6-10, 2014

all seasons in one day 65 °F

Oh our dear friend Sharon spoils us every time we visit her and this time was no exception. We first met her in Ecuador on our last Around the World Trip before she was married, a mother, or the owner of a 500 year old farm house! This is another example of the fact that if you invite us to visit you— there is a good chance we may actually show up at your doorstep! :)

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Sharon took us on a short walking tour through Coggeshall and got some “Cream Tea” with her dad at the West Street Vineyard. Cream Tea is actually Tea and scones with jam and whipped butter cream. YUM!

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The next day we had lunch in the small coastal town of Mersea. I insisted on Fish and Chips and it tasted just like almost any other fish and chips I’ve had. I think I’ve just about learned that fish and chips taste almost the same everyplace in the world…even along the English coast.

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We stopped to see Layer Marney, the beautiful church where Chris and Sharon were married and WOW it is amazing. Wish we could have been at their wedding! Their adorable and sweet daughter Elizabeth aka Bonkey steals the show every time :)

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Eating out is great when you don’t do it every day so we were grateful to have the the opportunity to cook. Chris and I drove down the butcher grabbed some fresh meat and veggies to grill. Sharon made an amazing Pavlova desert with fresh picked strawberries from the market and eggs from her sister’s chickens…talk about fresh! :)
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Chris and Sharon went away for a night and left us the house to ourselves. . . aaaah we took some time to relax at their house and cook another meal. A visit to the butcher to grab some marinated pork and we were in business. After figuring out how the old fashioned Aga stove worked we had a great dinner in their amazing Conservatory (sun room).

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Sometimes we splurge so we had to have some more good food at Bauman’s Braisserie a Michelin star rated restaurant in the adorable little Coggeshall town! The lamb in a mint sauce and spanish style Gambas all ajillo and pimientos de padron tapas were so so yummy! Next time we’ll spend more time chilling at the bar at the restaurant.

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Our car was due to return today so we decided to drop it off at a small town near the train station. Boy are we glad we rented a car…the train back cost almost as much as our car for the entire week! :( We stopped in the small romantic town of Dedham with it’s gorgeous church parish, and small river boats. It was too late for a row-boat so we decided to hike though the cow fields along the river. This turned out to be quite the adventure…battling cow patties, confusing directions, a not-to-scale map and even charging cows. It’s about 45 min to the small town of Flatford and another 45 or so back to the train station. What we thought would be a short walk in the country turned into a 2 hour/ 8 mile hike through the English countryside.

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We arrived back a little after dark and stopped to grab some dinner at an Indian restaurant. It was a long hike back up the hill to the house but we managed to make it without getting run over by a speeding car (no sidewalks on the dark windy road). By the way whoever said England has the best curry has never been to India or San Francisco! :)

After we had a few drinks we managed to talk Chris into driving us to the ferry in Harwich :) Thank you soooo much for all the hospitality and we look forward to a visit from them in California.

Posted by Tony.Ruby 07:55 Archived in England Comments (2)

England: Salisbury/Oxford: Am I Too Old to Apply to Oxford?

August 5, 2014

semi-overcast 65 °F

Salisbury is a beautiful small historic town with a huge central cathedral.

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We walked around town exploring and Ruby found some nachos (her favorite) and tried some local spirits in the market.
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On the road again we found our way to Oxford. WOW, what a beautiful place to go to school. I wonder what the tuition is?? This town is a photographer’s dream— a huge campus, with 36 colleges, several bridges and unique buildings.

Some faves were:

The Bridge of Sighs: See the underside of the bridge? It’s bright red, perhaps this was the inspiration for the trademark red soles of Christian Louboutoin shoes?
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The rowboats: This shot is from the bridge above.

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The Radcliffe Camera: It’s the Oxford library that was built in 1737 and it has a beautiful blue dome. For all you Harry Potter fans. . .pretty sure it wasn’t named after Daniel Radcliffe :)

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and this cool door too :)

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We found a cute tapas place for dinner— it was pretty authentic and fairly inexpensive (thank you college town prices!): 20 pounds for a bottle of wine and 4 large tapas!?! We left here content and headed for Essex County to visit our friends Sharon, Chris and Bonkey!!
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Posted by Tony.Ruby 06:02 Archived in England Comments (0)

England: Stonehenge: Breaking Rules Not Budgets!

August 3-4, 2014

sunny 65 °F

We flew into London and headed straight for. . .
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. . . the cheapest hotel in London--- 35 British pounds per night. . . at the Earl Court Gardens. After a night from hell trying to sleep at what we think was a crack house above a train station we started our drive south to Stonehenge. The roads are a little confusing and if you follow a sign to a castle (Windsor) it may turn into a two hour mission almost back to the Heathrow airport :)

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We finally arrived at the visitor center for Stonehenge. It isn’t exactly at Stonehenge. . . it’s actually a mile or two away. It’s a pretty pricey endeavor at 15 pounds per person or $25 US pp. So we decided that we would take in the view from the barbed wire fence enclosing the ruins which isn’t that much farther away than the viewing platform you pay to use. Check out our photos and you can be the judge if it’s close enough for you :)

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The visitor center is free and there's some pretty neat exhibits on the size/weight of the stones, the classic architecture from that time. . and of course you can actually touch one of the actual stones!
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I went back to my skateboarding trespassing days and jumped two fences and crossed a field to get a closer look. Got some good shots at dusk and then at sunset before a security guard spotted me! You can also get a great view on the drive by :) That night we stayed in Salisbury at the Red Lion Inn in Salisbury, just about 20-30 min from Stonhenge which is super nice and arguably the oldest purpose-built hotel in Europe!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 16:10 Archived in England Comments (0)

Iceland: Reykjavik: Last Day at the Blue Lagoon

August 3, 2014

all seasons in one day 60 °F

We have made the most of the 17 hours of daylight in this country and boy are we exhausted. We have burned the candle at ALL ends—not just both! Even though the Blue Lagoon is a classic tourist trap. . .today it sounded very appealing. . soaking our weary muscles for hours and applying mud masks to our faces in the thermal hot springs.

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We went, it was expensive $60+ per person not including any beverages. It was a germaphobe’s nightmare. . with the sulphur smell, and tons of people in the water. Did the hot water feel good? Yes. Would we do it again? No.

On our next trip to Iceland we would recommend hiking up an hour or two to a natural hot spring in the middle of the mountains. . . just ask a local to direct you to one! Next stop: London!

Posted by Tony.Ruby 14:16 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

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