Trip Itinerary

Welcome to the AK in the UK blog. We’ll be chronicling our jaunt across the three countries on the main Great Britain island: England, Wales and Scotland.

Curious where we’ll be? Well, then. Peruse at your leisure our planned itinerary:

  • Aug 31 – Fly Out
  • Sep 01 – Land in London. Train to Bristol to acclimate. Sleep in Bristol.
  • Sep 02 – Train to Bath and bus to Stonehenge. Sleep in Bristol.
  • Sep 03 – Train to Cardiff, Wales. Sleep in Bristol.
  • Sep 04 – Train to Moreton-in-Marsh. Sleep in M-i-M.
  • Sep 05 – Explore more Cotswolds. Sleep in M-i-M.
  • Sep 06 – Train to Liverpool. Sleep in Liverpool.
  • Sep 07 – Liverpool. Sleep in Liverpool.
  • Sep 08 – Pick up car in AM. Drive through the Lake District. Stay in Keswick.
  • Sep 09 – FLY BY THE SEAT OF OUR PANTS! Drive to Oban.
  • Sep 10 – Drive to Loch Ness, Inverness, Dingwall. Sleep in Drynachan.
  • Sep 11 – Highlands. Isle of Skye. Sleep in Drynachan.
  • Sep 12 – Drive to Edinburgh. Sleep in Eburgh.
  • Sep 13 – Edinburgh. Sleep in Edinburgh.
  • Sep 14 – Edinburgh. Sleep in Edinburgh.
  • Sep 15 – Drive to Durham. Hadrian’s Wall. Sleep in Durham.
  • Sep 16 – Drive to York. Drop car. Sleep in York.
  • Sep 17 – York. Sleep in York.
  • Sep 18 – Train to London. Sleep in London.
  • Sep 19 – London. Sleep in London.
  • Sep 20 – London. Sleep in London.
  • Sep 21 – Fly home. 🙁

Updates could happen. We like to change stuff up!

Security a Breeze

The trip has started off with the easiest check-in and security pass ever.

We didn’t have the weight of our bags scrutinized and, once at TSA, we didn’t get a pat-down nor did we have to go through the X-ray machine. Score!

London, buckle up. Here we come!



Day 1 – Bristol – Finally!

After (wow I have no idea how many) hours of travel, we have arrived in Bristol.

Our flight from Toronto to London was delayed a bit due to new landing gear tires needing to be put on the plane. Favorable winds however still got us to London at close to our expected landing time. Airport traffic meant we did a few circles but finally touched down at 10:30 local time.

We chose to take a coach to Bristol (departing at 12:15) in lieu of the train, which saved us quite a few pounds. A two hour ride through mostly English country side and we made it to our first town.

The GPS gave us some issues but we finally got it to sync and trekked about 20 blocks or so through an enormous shopping district to find our hotel. We checked in around 14:45 local time.

So, all said, since that’d be 06:45 back home, total travel time from Seattle to Bristol was right at 19 hours.

Yeah, so where’s the pub?

Day 3 – Putzing About Bristol

Today originally was going to consist of training to Cardiff in South Wales. Instead, we opted instead to explore the city we’ve been home-basing in: Bristol.

I suppose we may never know of it was the right choice, but it certainly wasn’t a poor one.

Bristol has quite a history to it. There is one section of the medieval wall still standing — on Nelson Street — in an area if town caked in artful graffiti.


We took the hop-on hop-off tour bus once through to get a sense of the town before hoofing the pavement to see some sights up-close.


The Clifton suspension bridge, with its 50 pence toll, was beautiful both from afar and up close. Whether staring down on it in the Avon Gorge from The Downs, or strolling across it via sidewalk, this was a terrific stop.


At first, we figured this town was a bit too modern, missing any old English charm, what with our route to the hotel from the bus station consisting of a massive mall with all the usual shops we’d be used to back home.

It took a little looking and suggestions from a local pub owner, but the charm is there under the shiny new metropolitan layer.

We’re about to go poke about a bit more, perhaps even Geocache. Cheerio!


Day 5 – Chipping Campden, Stow and Hiking

Quick note: Full English breakfasts are quite filling. Wow.

Anyhow, I may have said it in an earlier post, but reiteration here is valid: The English countryside is stunning.

I’m not sure if the busses here have extremely tight schedules to fit or if our driver had brakeaphobia. In either case, it was a swift ride into Chipping Campden (silent p for those keeping score at home) this morning.

We originally planned to hike into Broad Campden but the lady at the TI talked us into hiking up a hill instead. Of course, we did neither. The town was do nice we just poked around it a bit and took photos.

( The above photo was taken in Chipping Campden of an old church and cemetary. )

We took the bus back to Moreton-in-Marsh so we could hop on another coach that took us to Stow-on-the-Wold.

Once in Stow, we peeked around that village before hitting the trail that would ultimately spill us out at Bourton-on-the-Water.

This required passing through several fields. Some maintained, some filled with cows and some with very little evidence of a pathway ever existing.

( The above photo was taken on our hike through the Cotswolds as we exited Chipping Campden. )

( Alex “Felixing” in a field of cows. )

( After this photo was taken we realized we had no idea where the trail marker was. After 20-30 minutes of bonding with these cows we found our way out of this field. – bye smelly cows, nice knowing you! )

We passed through a couple small inhabited areas, likely even too small to be called villages. One house we went by literally had a stream running under it. It was hard to see the front but you could hear the small waterfall going. It was gorgeous.

We passed through a small town called Lower Slaughter. Like the others, it had an old church built with wool money many moons ago. It also had a pretty well groomed cricket club. No game was in process unfortunately.

Finally, we headed down a bit further and reached Bourton. This town is called the “Venice of the Cotswolds,” though this is a bit far fetched. Down the main drag, called High Street, as with all the towns here, runs a river that has been encased with man-made banks. Arching over the river in about five spots are cute little bridges.

After a small bite, a pint and sharing of stories with locals in a nice pub, we’re back in Moreton with our tired feet and eyes.
( Last stop in Bourton-on-the-Water was at a local pub. )

Now a little Geocaching before turning in!

Day 6 – Liverpool

The small village life was nice — and now is missed — but it had to come to an end as we headed north to the city the Fab Four put on the map.

Actually, I gather a map maker put Liverpool on the map, but The Beatles helped our eyes shift up the coast to find it.

We got in around 1410. After dropping our bags and doing a quick batch o laundry in the sink, we merely had to cross the street from our hotel to find the Albert Dock area.

We wandered around a bit checking out the old brick buildings and large sail boats docked in. On the south end of the dock, we booked our tickets for the Magical Mystery Tour for tomorrow at the TI.

Now it was time to poke about The Beatles Story, a walk-through audio guide lead tour through the famous band’s 10 years of being on top of the music world.

The artifacts, audio and ambiance were great. A replica alley way, Cavern Club and even a walk through a yellow submarine were nice touches.

There were several artifacts, from suits to instruments and more. Rooms filled with photos, letters or large displays replicating album covers.

We left the Beatles Story and had a bite and some cold beers. We finished up the day with some photos of old buildings and the water front as the sun started making its way down toward the horizon.
I was lead to believe that Liverpool was something different than this. In fact, it’s quite beautiful and after a couple more Beatles attractions tomorrow, we plan to stumble about the city to see a few more things that look interesting and picturesque.



Day 7 – Beatles Sights and Keeping a Promise

Another day is in the books. Why do people start blog posts with cliches? That’s incredibly boring and far too easy.

Reset button.

Today’s agenda during our stay in Liverpool was devoted to the town’s Beatles sights.

We kicked off and ended our day by wandering through the Cavern Quarter. Specifically, Mathew Street, where the Fab Four played nearly 300 gigs in a at the world famous Cavern Club.

Read more about our time there in Kari’s post.

We also took the two hour Magical Mystery Tour bus ride through the city and suburbs where the band grew up, met and became superstars.

We saw Penny Lane, Strawberry Field and the childhood homes of all the boys.

The driver was really comical and informative. Turns out he even played a role in that NBC movie about the band from a while back. Sometimes on tours like this, you feel like a bunch of boring filler is tossed in. Our guide, however, had a nonstop flow of really interesting tidbits and commentary.

It was a fun time. We’ve got to get up and drive on the left for the first time tomorrow.

Color me nervous.

But, before I go, a promise fulfilled for my good friend and fellow Beatlemaniac Gabby:



Day 10 – Driving on the Left

Holy schmoly.

There aren’t many better ways I can describe driving on the left for the first time. Perhaps “nerve-racking” or “scared” offer ample descriptions as well.

We picked up the hoopty in Glasgow.

There were roundabouts everywhere in the city. Entering them wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated. Instead, the difficult part was figuring out the proper exit to take.

After a couple misses, turn-arounds and try-agains, we got to the country side.

Again, my calculations for difficulties proved incorrect. I figured the city would be the tougher task than the country. Rather, it was the narrow roads in the highlands (they call these highways?) that at times scared the poop out of me.

Literally, every time a big truck passed by, I flinched and held my breath. They’d often be over the center line (some stretches of road didn’t even have a center line) forcing me further to the shoulder.

A couple wheel scrapes and curb hops are all I endured. It was odd. At times scary. But, this is the joy of travel: experiencing differences.

Next time, we go to a country that drives on the right side of the road!

Day 11 – Isle of Skye

The dramatic and picturesque Isle of Skye was our destination for the day.

I’d be remiss not to mention that, while the gorgeous scenery and fun of vacation consumed the bulk of the day, the anniversary of the September 11th attacks were still on our minds. No castles, sheep or photo opps can block that from our minds.

That said, we did what Americans do best. We pressed on and lived our lives, enjoying the freedoms and amazing financial blessings we enjoy every day.

On the way out to the island, we passed Eilean Donan. An extremely small island that holds a gorgeous castle.


This castle dates back centuries, having been defended against clans, Vikings and the English. It eventually was sacked and partially destroyed. Renovation was done in the early 1900s to return it to its beautiful state.

On to Skye. The weather was insane. As we drove around for hours, we had rain, sun breaks, rain, sun breaks and so on. This literally went on all day. The folks at our B&B gave us this head up, so of we found an area we wanted to photograph and it was raining — we’d pull over and wait.

You’ve heard the phrase in Seattle: If you don’t like the weather — wait 10 minutes. This phrase was clearly stolen from Scotland.

See below for lots of pics!

And then the rainbows. So, so many rainbows. The weather was almost a impressive as the high peaks, grassy slopes and whistling rocks near Kilt Rock.

Woolley-Bully let us get right up in his grill for photos. These guys were all over.




Day 15 – Hadrian’s Wall and Durham

After three nights in the hustle and bustle of Scotland’s capital, it was time to head south back toward and into England.

The morning drive included a nice stop in the borders for a fun photo opp.

Now back in England, we headed toward Hadrian’s Wall. Did you know it’s American English to say toward and UK English to say towards? I already knew that before this trip, by the way. Gabby probably taught me that.

The way’s length was quite amazing as you’d see long stretches of it as you drive between sights.

We stopped at Housestead’s Fort, which has the best preserved fort remnants. Still, it’s all foundation and rubble. Your imagination and help from recreation artists are required just as they are for most of the Roman Forum.

It’s amazing to think about the extended reach of the Roman Empire at its peak.

After poking about the wall for a couple hours, it was off to Durham. Here, there was of course a well known cathedral. It was stunning inside with it’s high bell tower, arched ceiling and stained glass depictions of biblical events.

The town itself was neat but overflowing with drunkards on a Saturday evening. I’d advise hitting this place during the week.

That’s it for now. Two nights in York upcoming then we’re off to finish the trip with three nights in London.


Day 17 – More York

We’re just about to the finish line, which turns out to be an aptly used cliche seeing as how my feet feel as if I’ve been running a marathon.

Shoes were put to pavement once more this morning as we we made our way from our B&B, through the ancient walls and back into the certified most haunted city on earth.

We started by meandering through the Yorkshire Museum. This place had all sorts of information and artifacts spanning the city’s history under the rule of Romans, Vikings and evil Kings.

Built among the ruined St. Mary’s Abbey — with some foundation and pillars still incorporated within — it’s phenomenal to ponder the change this relatively small city bore witness to.

After poking around the museum for a couple hours, we had a midday beer at The Golden Fleece, one of the oldest and, supposedly, most haunted joints in town.

Then it was time for the free walking tour hosted by the city volunteers group. Our guide, George, was an older chap that knew the city quite well. Having been born and raised within the walls, he had an undeniable passion and love for York.
We learned about different inhabitants, rulers and invaders. We were given bits of info on everything from Guy Fawkes to the Harrowing of the North. We even learned about how certain terms originated in York.

Such as “a hole in the wall,” which derived from a minister using a secret passage out of the Minster into an adjoining pub back when businesses surrounded the cathedral.

Can you spot where the door was? It was filled in when Charles II came to town and ordered all non-church related structures be removed from the holy grounds.

After three hours of walking the city, it was time for dinner!

Kari had green thai chicken curry — or something like that — while I had a chicken and mushroom pie with mash and veggies.

Okay. It’s time to relax. London tomorrow!

Day 18 – London (AC)

Travel days are quite crazy. Not just the hustle and bustle of going from a place that you’ve just finally mastered to a new, unknown animal. At the end of the day, the place you left seems like a dream you just remember bits and pieces of.

We hopped on the train in York at 10:25 – which was a bit later than we’d like, but that express train to London was literally half price (£50 vs £100 each).

Once in London, there was a sense of “making it.” We purchased our London Passes (multi-attraction discount card) and Oyster Cards (tube/bus pre-loaded fares), then hopped on the Tube for a 15 minute ride to our hotel in the Westminster area.

20120918-212139.jpgAfter checking in, we shot out and like little ball beatings got sucked in by the magnets that are historical and iconic sights.

Westminster Abbey.

I wasn’t supposed to take these and even feel a little guilty.


We toured the Churchill War Rooms and Churchill Museum. Both are amazing exhibits. The history of WWII just never gets less staggering. This was just one piece of that time in history.

The museum was phenomenal. So many pieces of information, artifacts and interactive displays on the man’s life.

20120918-214410.jpgSeeing Big Ben was similar to The David or the Statue of Liberty. These are places you learn about from a young age. When you see them up close, they consume you. It’s hard to stop taking photos. You just stare at the detail, soaking in the fact that you’re actually seeing it.


On the other side of the south bank, we poked around the London Eye. We bumped into an arcade that was part of our London Pass. £3 in free tokens each was enough for us to play a giant PacMan game and some air (hockey) soccer.

I won three games in a row. I played the fourth left-handed. After taking a 4-2 lead, Kari tied it up 4-4. Then I went up 6-4. She again tied it up. The machine’s air turned off and we had to play the final point without air. Lame. Left-handed and without air, I finally lost. May as well have used my foot!

And one more pic of Big Ben!



Day 20 – Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s

Well, this is it.

The 20th and final day of our whirl wind tour around the main British isle. We’ve seen so much and traveled so many miles. Our feet hurt but our minds have been massaged with beautiful country side, history and culture.

Today we set out to see the last of the major London attractions. We started with a stroll to Trafalgar Square for a little photography and people watching.

We then walked through Admiralty Arch and marched down The Mall to Buckingham Palace. The thing that stuck out to me was how the gates are the most luxurious thing surrounding an otherwise vanilla building.

It’s the history that matters, though. We got in position for the changing of the guard. There were so many people nudging and pushing and positioning themselves to squeeze into any opening to the front.

The ceremony itself was quite long and drawn out. As the incoming guards passed by, I got some nice unobstructed video. Once inside the gates, though, the sea of people and the gates themselves blocked the view mostly.

It was still neat to watch. Those black furry hats have got to be heavy and hot!

After the guard change, we strolled through Hyde Park. Included was a stop at the Diana, Princess of Wales memorial fountain.

A tube ride later and we had lunch in the Notting Hill area. It’s a cute little part of town. A little quieter with more shops and restaurants than historic sights.

Our final stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral. The outside of this place looks really plain. Actually, it looks more like a government building than a cathedral.

Inside, though? Magnificent.

20120920-214012.jpgPictures aren’t allowed so that’s all I’ve got. The rest was magnificent, though. It rivals the inside of many others I’ve been into, and I thought it was nicer (inside only) that Westminster.

We’re ready to come home I think. Three weeks of walking takes a toll. Three weeks of washing clothes in sinks gets tired. Three weeks of sleeping in a foreign bed gets uncomfortable.

But this is what I label as a first world problem. I expect no pity and feel blessed to have been able to experience this.

We’re on our way back, America.



Day 3 – Cashel, Blarney, Kinsale

Our most busy, and fun-packed day thus far, we got up early for our final breakfast in Kilkenny. We bid the medieval town ado, and headed to Cashel, home of the huge — both in size and history — Rock of Cashel.


The views from the yard down to the valley were splendid. One of the sights visible from this centuries old site of Kings and religion was Hore Abbey. We drove down to get a closer look.


We hit the road again after this, setting our waypoint for Blarney. We had a quick detour though as we saw a sign for Cahir Castle. This was a quaint little place that we just snapped a few photos of before getting back on our original course.

Blarney seems as though it’d be a cheesy spot. And yes, kissing the stone does seem a bit gimmicky. However, the castle itself is wonderful and climbing through the small, dank and narrow staircases to reach the top opened our imaginations to the folks who once actually called this home!


We finally reached Kinsale, our home base for the next two nights. After checking into the B&B and getting off our feet for a few minutes, we headed out to check out the harbor. We then enjoyed some traditional Irish music over dinner and a pint!


– Alex

Day 7 – Killarney National Park

Today was a bit of a slow paced one, not rushing off from one attraction to the next, as we stayed relatively close to our home base in Kenmare.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t see some great things, however. We sprung into the Killarney National park. This was Ireland’s first recognized park. It’s not very big, but there some neat things to see.

After winding about for a ways up the mountain, we came to a sweeping view of the valley below. This is called Lady’s View. There’s a rock perfect for sitting and staring down into this gorgeous panorama.

[Lady’s View Pic to come later]

Down the way a bit further was the Torc Waterfall. A short jaunt up the path leads to this small, yet beautiful fall.


From there, we checked out Muckross House, a Victorian era estate that shows the vast delta between wealthy and poor during Ireland’s past.

The grounds were lovely, with jaunting carts flowing by every few moments showing visitors the area. We opted not to take one of these as the drivers were aggressive in their offering, and the horses showed signs of not being taken care of as good as they deserve.


Our final stop in the park was Ross castle. We then had a little lunch in the town of Killarney — a household name in America as a launching pad into the surrounding sights, but really nothing more than shops and restaurants.

We returned to Kenmare to do some laundry and take a little snooze. Around 8pm, we went back into town for a pint and some music. This was perhaps the best “trad session” we’ve seen this far. This trio was fun and everything that makes you think Ireland.



Day 10 – Cliffs of Moher, The Burren and Galway

The longest driving day thus far ahead of us, we fueled up at breakfast before hitting the road. This first chunk of the day wasn’t going to contain much in the way of scenery as we left the Dingle Peninsula and headed inland.

At about the two and a half hours mark, we hopped off the motorway for a stretch, and snapped a quick photo at Bunratty Castle.


It took about another hour after that before we finally reached what will surely be one of the highlights of the trip — The Cliffs of Moher.


As we walked the cliffs, the view became more and more breathtaking around each bend. Over 600 feet in height in some sections, and no railing to prevent a gust of wind from feeding you to the rock and water below, the experience was amazing with a touch of caution at each step.

We spent close to three hours poking about the cliffs, taking lots of pictures and video. We even got to see a harpist play a bit along the way. It was time to move along, though, and we headed out and toward the Burren.


This place seems like a wasteland of nothing but rocks and weeds, which I suppose it is, but it has quite the history. Formed by glacial movement in the last ice age, the limestone slabs are scattered all about. There are glacial, Mediterranean and alpine forms of plant life all next to each other in one of the most unique ecosystems on earth.

We visited the Poulnabrone Dolman (pictured above), a five thousand year old portal tomb.

We finished off our drive by heading into Galway, a hustle-and-bustle college town. We didn’t find much to see here, but it’s purpose was a place to sleep before continuing our journey tomorrow. Kari got duped into ordering a Budweiser when it was advertised as merely a lager. Haha!

– Alex

Day 12 – Derry/Londonderry

Today, we drove to a town divided by religious and political differences. So much so, that it has two names. Ask a Catholic, or Republican, and it’s Derry. Speak to a Protestant, someone waving the Union Jack, you’ll be told it’s Londonderry.

It was a long drive from Westport, but after about three hours we crossed from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland — a nation of the United Kingdom. From Euros to Sterling, kilometers to miles, the differences are stark enough that you feel like you’ve traveled further than just a few miles.


We got into town just in time to hop into a walking tour of the town, which mostly consisted of walking the city walls — built between 1613-1619 — which are still completely intact, making it the only such city in Ireland.

Views included the above, peering over a Protestant neighborhood. Notice the Union colors are painted on the curbs, and the “No Surrender” moniker. While the tensions of The Troubles and Bloody Sunday have simmered, there is still a bit of an uncomfortable feeling seeing the fences, walls and opposing colors depending on which direction you look.


After the tour, we visited St. Columb’s Cathedral. Built in 1633, stained glass depicted scenes in great detail. The volunteer inside was an older lady, and extremely passionate about this place and some of the artifacts that they had in their small museum. Included were the original locks and keys to the town’s gates.

She even went on a little rant about Meg Ryan after we told her we were from Seattle. Apparently Meg Ryan was on some talk show here and showed disinterest in being there. One thing you learn about the Irish — speak to them, and you best be prepared to listen to them talk for a while.


We strolled around town a bit more, including crossing the Peace Bridge, a pedestrian bridge on the River Foyle. The weather has remained wonderful (yep, I got sunburned in Ireland, of course).

This town has so much history. It’s unfortunate much of that is recent history which contains bloodshed and tension. However, things have made a positive turn. The fact that we are even here is proof that the city is open for business and no longer dangerous.


Day 14 – Portrush and Dunluce Castle

We headed further north today, landing in the resort town of Portrush. Our B&B is right on the coast, with our room overlooking the water. It’s beautiful here, but then we’ve said that about ever place we’ve been to. The weather behaving has helped!

We got here a bit early, so we headed out to check out Dunluce Castle. This was the centerpiece of a small village in the 17th century, and what remains is still a decently in-tact structure. In the walls, you’ll find several hexagonal stones — cut from the nearby Giant’s Causeway.


I even got a photo with a nice gentleman dressed as a Knight. Being King Felix Day back home and all, I explained the pose to home and he was a great sport. He even wanted me to tag him on Facebook, haha.


After a little lunch at the Wee Cottage cafe (seriously amazing tuna sandwich!), we decided to seek out the Dark Hedges, a row of interesting trees in this area recently made famous by the television series Game of Thrones.


We returned to Portrush to do a little laundry and then head out for dinner. We ate at a little place that overlooked the water. While we were told there was a 45 minute wait, we actually found a cool lounge upstairs that served apps. We had a nice wood fired flatbread and nachos, washed down with Guinness and Stella.

So, so much beer on this trip!

BONUS: Here’s Ireland fitting inside Washington state.


– Alex

Day 18 – Dublin Tour, Trinity College

We spent a good portion of today hoofing about town. In fact, we spent three whole hours on a “free” walking tour of the city. However, it was so r good that we tipped the guide €10.

We learned a ton. From thousands of years of Irish history, to how the county got independence, to even where U2 got their start. Our guide was wonderful. He mixed in facts, humor and group participation to really make the time fly while having fun.


After this tour, we went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, a centuries old book that has actually been physically split into four pieces for rotational display purposes. The Long Hall a story up above is a working library with over 200,000 books of varying topics. The vast majority of hthe being in Latin. In fact, English is only the fifth most common language of these books.


After this, we decided to get a better feel for the town as a whole, so we jumped on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. This is about an hour tour if you were to stay on, but there are 22 stops at various popular sites. We got some great video from the roof of this double decker that will go into our little movie.

We got off at the Guinness Storehouse, but being close to closing time we opted to wait for tomorrow to tour this vast land of wonderful beer brewing.


We got back on to finish the loop and then headed into Temple Bar for a bite and a pint. We did that at Buskers, a neat place with a fun setting. A couple pints and dinner later, we were off for the mile walk back to the hotel.

One more day…


2017 Trip Itinerary

Here is our rough itinerary! Of course, an important thing about travel is that you can’t (shouldn’t?) over plan. Have a soft schedule, note the things you really want to see and have some contingency ideas. But, ultimately, you need to just let the experience happen and enjoy what you discover!


Day Itinerary Notes
4 SEA -> PAR
5 Paris 4p Walking Tour / Eiffel Tower
6 Paris Rick’s Day 2 (Arc, Champs, d’Orsay) Catacombes?
7 Paris Rick’s Day 1 Notre (Dame/Louvre)
8 Paris Versailles
9 Brusells 4p Walking Tour
10 Ghent (DT drm BRS) 1p Walking Tour
11 Bruges 8p Walking Tour
12 Bruges Pay at hotel: €178.48
13 Antwerp Travelocity
14 Delft Pay at hotel: €172.00
15 Leiden/Hague (DT frm Delft) DT to Leiden/Hague/Gouda/Utrecht
16 Amsterdam 2p Walking Tour / Red Light District
17 Amsterdam 9:45a Anne Frank / 2p Rijks / 4p Van Gogh
18 Amsterdam Zaanse Schans?
19 AMS -> SEA

Bon Voyage!

We were awakened to a text from the airline that our flight has been delayed two hours. While certainly things could be worse, I naturally am fretting far too much over the loss of two hours in The City of Light!

A silver lining, I suppose, was an extra two hours to ensure everything was in order. Hurray for positive thinking!

TSA was smooth sailing for the most part, which I always look at as a good omen for things to come. Also, we saw Jamie Moyer at the airport bar where we had lunch. Vacation is off to a good start.

Speaking of airport bars: Here's our cheesy — yet obligatory — pre-flight simultaneous beer photos!

We should be in the air shortly. Catch you in a couple weeks, America!

Day 1 – Paris

Bonjour from the City of Light!

After a 10 hour flight, we were physically exhausted. Yet, we were energized. The adrenaline and excitement of being in a new place to explore and experience always provides a nice kick to keep you going. A half hour, 55€ taxi ride later, we arrived at our hotel. It's a charming little place on the corner of Avenue de La Motte Picquette and Rue Cler. The window — complete with iron balcony flowers living happily — feels very Paris!

After getting unpacked and freshened up, we took the short jaunt over to the Army Museum. Here, we picked up our Paris Museum Passes. We then toured the grounds. This place has a lovely courtyard and of course tons of info in the history of France's military.

On the other side of the complex sits the stunning Dome church which houses Napoleons tomb.

We then made the trip next door to the Rodin Museum, dedicated to French sculptor Auguste Rodin. While there were some interesting pieces in the fairly small exhibit inside, for me the far more interesting but was the grounds and sculptures outside. Well maintained bushes, grass, walkways and a pond at the far end set the tone for a lovely property. Laced between everything are various pieces of Rodin's work. Perhaps the most known of them is The Thinker.

At this point we were pretty beat, having essentially not slept — save for a quick snooze here and here on the plane — for going on 24 hours. So we took a one and a half hour power nap back at the hotel, to build up the energy to head back out and take in the Eiffel Tower up close.

It's grandeur lived up to the hype. The long stretch of grass called the Champs de Mars that lies at the feet of he Tower provides a great place for a picnic as you stare up at this beautiful symbol of Paris.

Finally, we strolled Rue Cler and admired its many shops and restaurants. We had dinner and a much deserved beer at Le Tribeca. Sitting at one of these small, outward facing tables facing the road was high on my list of Parisian experiences. Kari had a burger and I had the beautiful lemon chicken dish below.

I'm literally fighting off sleep as I write this, so we will say bonne nuit for now! Time for a full night's rest so we can tackle even more Paris tomorrow!

Distance Walked: 6.93 Miles

Day 3 – Paris

Any imagination of taking it easy after yesterday's marathon turned out to be false as we had another long one today.

We took the train out toward the Louvre to save a few steps. For breakfast, we kept it "light" by having a pastry from Angelina's — a recommendation from our hotel. This was apparently one of Coco Chanel's favorite spots. Oh, and we couldn't help but grab some macarons, too!

We headed into the Louvre. Where do you even start? We all know about the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and some other major pieces here. And they were awesome to see up close! But there were so many other great paintings, statues and artifacts from all over the world. Be it Rome, Egypt, Greece or Asia, this place has it all.

The crowds were crazy, but especially so at the Mona Lisa. We're talking elbow-throwing, jostling-for-position crazy. But, hey! We got to see one of the most famous pieces or art on the planet.

After a couple of hours wandering about here, we made our way over to see Saint-Chapelle. This cathedral has over 1,100 individually stained glass windows, each depicting a different bible scene.

Next was Note Dame. So beautiful up close. The detail on the exterior — gargoyles and all — was stunning. Then, inside, we got to gander at one of the absolute finest Gothic cathedrals you'll want to see. Just imagine actually designing, and constructing something like this. It took nearly 200 years to complete!

We made our way up to the Pantheon next. Another beautifully constructed building. This one was intended to be a church, but revolution changed that. It's now a state mausoleum, containing the remains of important Parisians.

After a little break back at the hotel, we went and found a Geocache! Then went and ate dinner on Champs-Élysée before climbing to the top of the Arc De Triomphe for sunset and the Eiffel Tower light show!

We are absolutely bushed! But, Versailles tomorrow!

Distance Walked: 13.32 miles

Day 4 – Versailles

*Palace by Alex

Our fourth and final day in Paris was spent outside of the city at the Palace of Versailles. To say that this place is massive would be among the biggest understatements uttered during my days. Not just the palace, or Chateau as they call it, but the grounds as well which stretch literally for miles and contain some of the most lavish things you’d ever see at one man’s “residence.”

We spent SEVEN hours here!

For sure, Louis XIV wanted to make sure everyone knew just how rich and powerful he was. From gold plated everything, to statues, to enormous paintings and ceiling frescos, this palace shows the story of a boy who grew up destined to be perhaps the most powerful King in the world.

Palace gates

His reign lasted 72 years, 100 days. A European record (compare to Elizabeth II at 65 years, 179 days as of this writing). Perhaps such a long time on the throne gives a person enough time to convince themselves of how important they are and the ability to build a vast home!

Palace courtyard

We waited in an extremely long line for nearly an hour to enter. Once inside, it felt a little like we were sardines being shoe-horned into a tube, filing through security before finally squiring out into the courtyard.

Despite all that, it was pretty amazing once inside and moving through the palace. From the King’s bedroom, which faced East for the rising sun — he was the sun king after all — to the throne room, and the hall of mirrors, each room presented a new way to help imagine one living with such incredible wealth and power.

The influence of Louis XIV even reached America! You’ll notice in the photo above the many different wigs in various portraits. Yep. Just like George Washington and our founding fathers. Paris has been a fashion center of the world for some time, no?

Palace chapel

Louis needed to project being the Sun King, so after waking up to the rising sun, he’d swing open some doors into the Versailles Chapel where he’d pray to the other Sun God. Or was it to himself?

Shoot. The guy even grew orange trees in a green house under the palace that he’d wheel out to the gardens so he could project to visitors his ability to grow Citrix’s fruits in chilly France. Hey, speaking of gardens…

*Gardens by Kari

There are miles of trails through the gardens of Versailles. The flower beds are perfectly sculpted into beautiful designs. 

We walked around for several hours and did not get to see everything. Unfortunately today the rain found us and we had to duck for cover a few times. 

There are many magnificent water fountains spread throughout the grounds. The fountains were made to turn on as King Louis XIV road past them. He would often give his guest personal tours to show off what he had created. 

He even had a grand canal built as he was inspired by the original in Venice. Venetians came over from Italy to live and work on the grounds and give gondola rides as the King wished.

About a half miles walk from the palace is where Marie Antionette spent her time. A quieter area of the grounds where ducks and fish would splash around in the man made ponds. A gorgeous site to see. 

Versailles is a wonderful place to visit. You can rent bikes, golf carts and boats to travel around but I wouldn’t recommend visiting when it’s raining. We got very wet today but we made the best of it as it was our last full day in France.

Paris was exhausting, our feet are sore and backs are aching. I can’t imagine doing a trip like this after we retire from working. This kind of traveling is meant for the younger kids. 

Distance walked 10.76 miles

Day 6 – Ghent and Brussels

Rain was forecasted for later in the day today, so the plan was to day trip to Ghent. This way, we could explore that town and then come back to Brussels for a rainy evening activity we're well-versed in back home: Drinking!

We busted down to the train station, and hopped aboard the first one heading west. Once in Ghent, we decided to walk to the city center. We typically do this rather than take a taxi or metro as a way to see a town, so we can stop for photos and to catch the vibe. Much of it was bland, but in the latter half we did get to see some cute canals. One thing we noticed: There are far more people riding bikes than walking in this town!

Once in the historical center, there was quite a bit to see. As with other little European towns, there are churches built with local trade money of yesteryear.

St. Michael's — or Sint-Michielskerk in Dutch — is no exception. Typically, the biggest trade in a town would build the biggest church, partly as a way to thump their chest. But unlike other big European cathedrals in small towns, this one wasn't the product of wool or crops. Nope. What industrial built this beauty? Beer! How Belgian.

St. Michael's bridge and church

We had breakfast outside, overlooking the church, old town center and canal. It's hard to get much more European than this. Sure, the breakfast was only so-so. But traveling, for me, is about temporarily immersing yourself as a local and feeling like you're part of where you are. Listen to the conversation of the locals, and soak in the sights they maybe take for granted.

Breakfast on the canal

We be-bopped about the town center for a bit before deciding this would be a great day for a canal ride. Not raining but also not sweat-inducing heat. For only 7€ each, this seemed like a solid deal.

It was a pretty nice ride! With only a short time in this town, we could have done a walking tour but it would have been later in the day. We felt like we got the same city history we'd have got doing that, but saved some steps on our tired feet and, well, who doesn't like a boat ride?!

(Video to come later, sorry bad cell service!)
Boat tour

On the boat tour, the guide spoke of the 12 original streets in the city — now appearing as narrow pathways tucked between everyone else. This is right up our, yeah, alley. I highly recommend weaving through the backstreets of a small, old town to see its charm and for a chance to see how the locals actually live.

Ghent back streets

Our time in Ghent ended here. So we took the tram back to the train station and zipped back to Brussels. We had enough time for a power nap and to freshen up.

We did a Beer Tasting experience, which was awesome! Our guide Maggie — a local — was extremely passionate, both about her country and her beer. She cracked the whip on people for chatting during her talks, which I loved! She explained not only the proper way to pour your Belgian beers, but also how to drink and taste them.

Maggie spitting fire

We had four beers between two bars. We started at Scott's Bar, then moved down the street to Delirium, the Guinness World Record holder for most beers at over 3,000!

We finished the night with waffles at Maison Dandoy, one of the top rated waffle spots in Belgium! Photo at the top of this post. It was delicious!

Anywho! With four beers down and 2,996 to go I better get off the blog and back to sip–hiccup–ping.


Distance Walked Today: 11.18 miles

Day 8 – Bruges

They call this place the Venice of the North. While, yeah, there are a bunch of canals and little bridges that go over them, I don’t think this town should have that nickname.

First, there aren’t nearly as many canals or bridges. Second, there’s auto traffic here — there isn’t in Venice. Third, I think Bruges is actually a much better place. Yeah, there. I said it.

There are some some spots that really remind me of Venice, like the photo above. But there are also a ton more areas in the town with really great back alleys and secret passages to poke around through.

Today was expected to be quite packed as the Bruges summer festival was kicking off. But the crowd didn’t show up until around 11, so our wise early start paid off as we got to wander around, take photos and just soak this place in.

We followed the route drawn on a map by our B&B owner, who has lived here his whole life. This meant seeing some spots we saw yesterday when we wandered freely, but we got to see another side of the town we hadn’t yet.

We did a little shopping, photo taking and exploring before grabbing a lunch beer around 11. The presentation you get with some of theses Belgian beers….

Next, we toured a local brewery. It was pretty cool to learn about both their current and historical methods of making beer.

One of the neater things about this place is that as they grew, they wanted to stay in their historic building while also being able to produce more beer than their space would allow. How to fix that? Build a 3km pipeline to the other side of town to send your beer to for aging of course!

After the tour, we walked to the other side of town to check out another brewery. This one, we skipped the tour and just had beer. I think we might have a problem!

A tasty problem anyhow. Here’s the flight we ordered:

We grabbed some lunch at a pizza place in the Grote Markt. Then headed back to the room for a quick break.

We headed back out for some more exploring, eventually having a little bite and then going to the town center where Bruges’ summer festival was kicking off with all sorts of different areas to dance, sir around a fire and play games.

This medieval town was getting pretty wild tonight! Never thought I’d see an outdoor disco in front of a several hundred year old church, but hey!

Another great day in the books. I think we will carry fond memories of Bruges. What a town!

Distance Walked: 10.73 miles

Let’s talk about Belgian beer

If you've been following the blog posts for this trip, you have probably noticed a trend: Talk and photos of beer. As we ride out of Belgium and into The Netherlands, now may be a good time to have this conversation.

You're free to assume we are just lushes, but the reality is that there is a unique beer culture in this part of the world that we had to experience. It's not about catching a buzz, it's a deep rooted history that leads to things we may find off back in the states.

First among those, the legal drinking age is 14. Fourteen! The second thing that may seem odd to us is that there's a lack of an open container law. Mix those two together and, yep, we've seen young teenagers drinking in the streets right on front of armed law enforcement. Quite shocking!

My first Belgian beer was had in the streets

Many years ago, the water in this country was actually not drinkable. So to solve this, everyone — from toddlers to grandpas — drank beer. The fermenting process kills bacteria, you see. Also, we're not talking about 10% IPAs here. 1% alcohol is plenty to get the job done.

From there, a culture is born. You of course want to try different methods and use different ingredients. Hundreds of years and technical advancements later, you've got a pretty wild beer scene.

My favorite!

Everything matters to these folks: The pour, the glass and how you drink it. For example, during our first day in Brussels it was suggested to me by our walking tour guide to get a Westmalle Trappist. This was during a quick break on the tour.

Knowing we had to get moving in a few minutes and that I could drink in the streets, I asked for it in a to go cup (lol). The bartender gave me a look, and said: "No. You must have this beer in its proper glass."

Kwak comes in a wild glass, with stand

From there, the pour has to be right. In America, we try to pour our beer with as little head as possible because of the appearance of not having a full beer. Here, it's more of a requirement to have a LOT of head for certain beers.

To make things more interesting, you're actually given the bottle and have to perfect the pour yourself. Unlike, say, Ireland, where bartenders are trained to get that great Guinness pour.

In the previous photo, my pour actually was a bit off. The head should have gone to just below the word Westmalle — roughly two inches. You'll see people press their index and middle fingers against the glass to measure. For the Kwak, I nailed it!

We had a couple nice flights

It may be hard to tell in some of these photos, but their beers are typically coming in smaller bottles and glasses than we have back home. Again — the idea isn't to get smashed, but to enjoy good beer. Yeah, three small 11% beers will still have you stumbling, so don't have three!

"Culture" may sound like a slick way to mask alcoholism, but it's really evident here. From Trappist monks who make beer for the sole purpose to give all proceeds to charity, to being named to UNESCO's cultural heritage list, this beer thing ain't no joke here.


Day 11 – Leiden and Delft Night Photography

Today, we day tripped to Leiden. It's not that far away, but because the Delft train station is undergoing works right now, we had to first bus to The Hague. Then we hopped on a train for the one stop north to Leiden.

The rain was a bit brutal at times today. While it was on-again, off-again, it's hard to read a guidebook while walking about a town and also holding an umbrella. But this didn't stop us. We followed Rick Steves' Leiden walk, which took us to windmills, churches, fortified hills and a university.

Perhaps the town's most famous son is Rembrandt. The little square above is where he grew up. Now stands a full size replica of him as a young boy, looking at one of his many self portraits.

We were able to poke into the campus of Leiden University, where many well known historical figures either learned or taught at. Albert Einstein was a professor for a period here, while US President John Quincy Adams was a student.

This church holds some US historical significance, as pilgrims fleeing England for America stopped here in Holland before being able to make the journey across the Atlantic. They would attend their church service here and lived in the square around it.

Like other towns we've seen along our journey, there were many small alleyways stocked with charm. It's almost like heading back through a time warp. Especially due to the weather, the tourists and locals alike weren't out in abundance.

I love the canals in these Dutch cities, full of geese, ducks and other birds I don't even know the names of! Watching them plunge their long necks into the algae carpeted water, popping out with a little fish to gobble down is quite enjoyable.

Our last stop before headed back to the train station was to climb up through an old windmill. We went up six flights of narrow, creeky stairs. At each level you could admire the tools that made these things work.

Along the way, there were information boards and even a video on one level to help give an understanding of how the various mills were used to make bread, saw wood or reclaim land from the sea.

Wow, okay then, Leiden! We're out!

Distance Walked: 9.8 Miles


Bonus: We went out for some night photography this evening. Here are a few snaps!

Day 12 – Amsterdam

We made it to Amsterdam. This city was the main reason for coming to Europe this time. It’s been on my bucket list for years. 

I’ve never seen a place like Amsterdam before. There is so much craziness here. The bikes the motor scooters, the cars & pedestrians. Wow!!! You have to be so careful where you walk or you will get nailed. 

We went on a walking tour of the city today. Learned a few things and had some beer. The Red Light district is an interesting place. The girls stand in windows barely dressed. It’s odd because back home we have bikini barista coffee stands which the city wants to fine women $5,000 if they show too much skin and in Amsterdam prostitution is legal and regulated. 

We were told about a bar with 200 beers named Gollem so of course we went in and checked it out. 

We met a couple guys who lived in Holland but it was their first time there too. We probably spent three hours talking with them. Their names were Dennis and Kris. We were surprised that they had “normal” names. They work in real estate and we talked about house sizes and showed pictures of our homes. Most houses here are attached on both sides to the neighbors. They  were surprised at how big our house was. Not many people here have garages and most ride bikes anyways. 

Alex noticed this bar had one of his favorites from back home called Lagunitas and he bought the guys a round. They seemed to like it or else they were just being polite. Then after that beer Dennis and Kris bought us a round… 4 beeers later we were toasted. Luckily we had three days to recover and we needed it. 

After sleeping off the delicious brew we went back out to photograph the IAMSTERDAM sign. I had a feeling there would be less people there at night and was right. We saw the sign during the day with hundreds climbing all over it. 

Distance walked 9.96 miles

Day 14 – Zaanse Schans, Zaandijk and Amsterdam

Welp. Here we are. The final day of this particular journey. We woke up with no agenda and would see what adventure we'd find.

After breakfast we headed toward the heart of the city. After considering some day trips, we decided on hopping a train out to Zaanse Schans, which is a working windmill village just northwest of Amsterdam.

This isn't just a tourist trap. Sure, they charge to go into some of the small museums and windmills. But these mills are actually still working. Not just spinning, but working. One cuts logs into lumber. Another is making batter.

We were able to wander through the village, snapping photos and taking video. Watching cows and sheep graze, ducks hopefully waddle toward someone with bread.

Continuing the no agenda theme, toward the end of the row of windmills we spotted a "ferry," which really was just a boat offering €1 rides across the water to the town of Zaandijk. So aboard we hopped and scooter across the channel.

The boat drivers were two old men, complete thick accents and pipes hanging from their lips. They were nice though, asking us where we were from and giving us a little info sheet they made about the town we were cruising to. Oldest building, where the original town hall is, places to eat. Things like this.

We happened upon a small brewery, so naturally we had to check it out. We haven't had enough local beer on this trip, you see.

After sipping these fine brews and gobbling down a couple sandwiches — by the way, the bread we've had here has been amazing! — we headed out and to the train station. Back to Amsterdam we go!

We wandered through the Red Light District and the heart of town once more and back to the hotel. A quick break at the room before heading out to do the Heineken Experience.

While this wasn't quite as cool as the Guinness Storehouse tour in Dublin, this was still pretty fun. You zig zag your way through historical bits, listen to some talks about the brewing process and take part in some fun virtual reality stops.

I was hesitant about this place, but am glad we did it. And not just because you end up with three beers along the way. It was genuinely a fun attraction.

After the rooftop panoramic views, bicycling VR video and strategically placed gift shop, we headed out for dinner.

One thing we've definitely noticed here: The Dutch eat just like us. A wide array of foods, from burger joints to pizza parlors. Mexican food to Chinese. I really don't know that I once saw a place that was traditionally Dutch. Some places had Dutch snacks or dishes, but these seem to take a backseat.

Tonight, I had ribs and Kari had pizza. What a way to wrap up Amsterdam, eh?

My feet are tired. I'm ready for my own bed and a meal that isn't heavy and expensive. Ah, that end of vacation feeling. In a couple of days I'll be mad at myself for thinking these thoughts and will start planning the next adventure!

Distance Walked: 12.31 miles

Headed for the sun!

I was fortunate enough to earn a sales incentive trip, so Kar-Dog and I will be spending six nights and five days in Cancun! Here’s a blurb from the site about where we’ll be staying:

AAA Four Diamond, Hyatt Ziva Cancun all-inclusive resort. The only resort in Cancun surrounded on three sides by white sand beaches and the sparkling Caribbean Sea, this oasis near the city features luxurious accommodations with stunning views. Indulge your senses at the resorts eight international restaurants, as well as seven bars and lounges. Splash in the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean, take a dip in one of the resorts three amazing pools, partake in playful resort activities or rejuvenate at the oceanfront spa. From relaxation to adventure, the Hyatt Ziva has you covered.

Hyatt Ziva is on the tip of the peninsula

While our speed is typically not one that includes laying on the beach, I think we’ll be able to find a way to enjoy this! Luckily, we don’t have to just lay on the beach while sipping on fruity cocktails. Yes, that will happen a fair amount. But we’ll also have the opportunity to venture off the resort a bit.

As part of the trip, we were able to choose between a host of off-site activities. Naturally, we chose the furthest and most culturally-important one. Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities and there are some wonderful sites still standing, such as El Castillo. This temple/pyramid should be pretty great to see up close along with exploring the surrounding area.

Perhaps we will swim with dolphins, happen upon some sea turtles or just drink more margaritas. Either way, it should be a fun experience in a part of the world we haven’t yet been to!