Brussels and Amsterdam by tour bus

Posing with a windmill

You can follow my AESU Tour to Europe from the start here.

Manneken-Pis statue

We stopped in Brussels, Belgium visiting the Grand Place Square. It is a medieval square which has the cute little Manneken-Pis statue, and this statue is tons of fun. They dress it up year round in different costumes and it is one of the focal points of the square. While dining in a restaurant I enjoyed an incredibly scrumptious Belgian waffle and a framboise beer. What a combination.. I suppose you have to seize the moment, even if your stomach might not agree.

We continued on to Holland and stayed at CLUB Holland which was a nice property that the company used on the outside of Amsterdam. Holland is a beautiful country. I was excited to visit here and this country did not disappoint me.

One afternoon was spent visiting the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. I was particularly found of the Van Gogh Museum being that he is my favorite post-impressionist painter, well actually he is my favorite painter, ever. I can only dream of visiting the Van Gogh Museum for a third time with Max one day.

Our evening was spent walking through the red light district and dancing in the discoteque.

During my time in Holland I watched wooden shoes being made and visited the city’s largest diamond cutting factory. I also went to a cheese factory and I think I can still smell that cheese! Being a cheese lover I can say I never need to see how it’s made again.

The breakfast room

Our wonderful breakfast room at CLUB Holland

Enjoying a Heineken

Relaxing outside of my room with a Heineken; life is good.

Making Shoes

Checking out how they make wooden shoes

Cheese Making

Inside the cheese factory watching people make cheese; what is that smell?!!

Sunset

Enjoying a beautiful Dutch sunset

(day 111)

Stranded in Paris and other adventures

La Tour Eiffel

You can follow my AESU Tour to Europe from the start here.

After a few days in London our tour bus continued on to Paris. Back in those days the Chunnel was not around so we took a tour bus down to Stonehenge and continued on to a hovercraft to France. Hours later we arrived to the outskirts of Paris.

I had studied French in high school and knew quite a bit about French artists. The city was incredible. I loved the gardens, the people, the musuems, the architecture, the language. I was hooked and from that moment I knew that I had to go back at a later date.

I eventually returned to Paris vacationing by myself and later living in the city for short periods between working in Switzerland and settling in England prior to heading back to the states. One of my favorite things about Paris was communicating with the locals. I believe I was the only one who spoke French in my small group so I would direct the taxi drivers, talk to the store owners, and whatever else we needed to do.

Our Hotel

This is where we stayed in Paris, it’s a chain similar to Holiday Inn in the U.S.

Bateaux Mouches Sign

The Bateaux Mouche is a great way to cruise along the Seine River

The Opera House

Some of the guys on our tour posing in front of the Opera House

I still remember our last night in Paris. I went out with my friends and somehow we did not get on the metro before it closed. We did not have enough money to take a taxi. We met some fellow Americans and our group spent the whole night hanging out with them until the wee hours of the morning. When the first metros started running in the morning we caught one and went back to the suburbs. We made it back just in time for our tour bus before it took off for Belgium.

(day 110)

London Calling, A Tour of Europe

LAX Airport

While I am away on new adventures with my family this week I thought I would relive my first journey overseas to Europe. At the time I was 21 years old and had only traveled to Canada and Mexico. This was my first super long plane ride and visit to countries with languages I had no understanding of.

We booked an international tour with AESU Tours. The trip was a graduation gift from college that my parents so generously funded. This trip sparked the journeyer in me like no other. Enjoy!

We started out in London. It was the perfect spot as we both speak the same language (even if the accent is hard to understand at times). I had to adjust to people driving on the wrong side of the street and the cold weather, but otherwise all was well. I loved that they all seem to be tea drinkers (I love a hot tea) and that there were pubs with cute names all over the place!

Here is some of what I saw and experienced.

Piccadilly Circus

A Double Decker Bus

Tower Bridge & Tower of London

Posing with a Bobby

An English Phone Booth

Hyde Park

I have returned to London a handful of times since my first trip, but that first trip was probably the best. These days when I make it to England I prefer to visit the English countryside over the busy capitol city of London.

(day 109)

Anticipating Vacation

My stuff

Last night I walked around for 2 ½ hours packing and it was exhausting. First it was laundry, and then it was packing up the bathroom; next was a short break for dinner with the kids. And lastly I had to finish packing my clothes. My feet were hurting and I had so much stuff together that I wondered how much of it I would use! I know you are supposed to pack light. I have always heard this, and have never abided by this rule. I am thinking back to a few moments in the past that my suitcase was overstuffed that make me laugh now.

(1) In college I went on a retreat in the mountains of Malibu for the weekend. I was the only one who packed a suitcase, and let me tell you it was full.

(2) When we went to Maui to get married my suitcase was over the weight maximum both ways. The nice people at the airlines waived the fee both times; probably thought it was nice that I was getting married and going on my honeymoon. And give me some slack, if you can’t have your bags overstuffed when you’re getting married then when can you??

(3) When I moved to Europe to become an ‘au pair’ I had so much stuff other than a overstuffed suitcase that my friend and I were overjoyed when a stranger offered to help us get on the RER (underground train)! He even helped us depart from the station to above ground. My suitcase felt the pain and one of the wheels broke. I dragged that thing down Boulevard Port Royal in Paris leaving a big black mark on the sidewalk.

So after saying all of this I will go back and remove some items, even two or three things help a little bit. Since we will travel by car instead of plane I have items everywhere waiting for a spot in the car. Looking around I can count four bags including suitcases, 3 pairs of hiking shoes, one car seat, and a pair of flip flops. I can’t travel anywhere without the flip flops; even in the winter weather of Northern California. I should return with less since I have lots of Easter goodies to drop off up north.

In concluision for today I wish you all a happy Easter a few days early!

My blog for the next week or so will be about a group tour I took of Europe when I graduated from college. I had a lot of fun putting it together and look forward to sharing the memories with you. Cheers!

(day 108)

Wordless Wednesday- A Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

I admit that I am not wordless today, but I am pretty close. I took this photo while visiting Joshua Tree National Park in the desert of Southern California. The trip was lead by two of the Sierra Club’s guides for our group. It was almost a spiritual experience… why? Because the joshua tree is a beautifully unique tree and I was in the park listening to U2’s “The Joshua Tree” music. There can’t be a better place to listen to this classic album while enjoying nature and the place that inspired them to create one of their best records.

(day 107)

La Vita Semplice (The Simple Life)

The park

I wrote this short piece after visiting Italy for the first time with Max. I don’t consider myself a writer, but had to put this together to remember the moment; I am glad that I did.
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Our trip to Italy was drawing to a close. I had visited a few times before, but this was my first time with my husband Max visiting his family and friends seeing where he is from. We had traveled from the West Coast to New York City for the weekend before continuing on to his hometown of Bologna, Italy which is located in the region of Emilia-Romagna . Bologna is known for its wonderful cuisine, universities, and churches.

During our trip to Max’s country we had spent a weekend in the suburbs of Firenze (Florence), located in the region of Toscana, visiting with his aunt and uncle before continuing on to the city (Firenze) staying with his cousin and his girlfriend. Firenze is a charming tourist city known as the home to Michelangelo’s famous statue, David, and the Ponte Vecchio, known for its jewelry stores that line the pedestrian bridge. Actually both of us love this city and we consider moving here some day.

The second week we traveled to Venezia, which is located in the region of Veneto. We were lucky on that day trip because we just missed another planned train strike! Italy is famous for having airline, train and bus strikes. Reaching the popular tourist attention of Piazza San Marco tears streamed down my cheeks. I am a very emotional person, and easily express my feelings. I was so overjoyed at having reached the square that is essential Venezia once again, this time with Max. While exploring the town I took many photos of the canals, gondolas and locals.

Now we were on our last full day in Bologna and were headed by bus to the park behind Max’s old house where he had spent a lot of his childhood playing. Arriving to the open green space we exchanged hellos and conversation with the owners of the gelato stand. I had met the family a few days before and enjoyed their genuineness, which was a breath of fresh air compared to the scene in Los Angeles.

After talking with them we took a walk by the stream, skipped rocks, and enjoyed the silence. Looking at the even larger public park across the river all I could see were hills. We held hands, took in the fresh air, and relaxed. Our walk lead us on a path that ended near a rusty old basketball hoop. Max told me that it had stood in that spot as long as he could remember and as a kid he had spent many days playing basketball in the very spot we now stood. I could easily imagine him here playing during his youth.

Taking a seat at a picnic table we ran into a friend who Max had not seen in five years. It amazed me that he could run into someone so many years later like this. Call it a small town? Call it coincidence… or as I began to see on our last day the beauty and charm of Italy, its simplicity. The country continues to develop, but its roots of valuing family and living life not just for riches are still there.

Soon we were joined by another friend of Max’s and moved to the picnic area. While I had a beer Max had an Orange Fanta as we sunbathed, smoked, and talked. I couldn’t speak Italian well, but I enjoyed adding to conversation when I could and became even more vocal when conversation was in English.

The day passed with other close friends arriving to say their goodbyes to us. Eventually we had a nice stroll on the grounds with one friend’s dog, and threw the ball around with another friend’s young child. It was so nice to be without all the modern conveniences that pollute our lives and to enjoy people in the outdoors where nature controls the world. I loved this day.

Eight hours later, which seemed like only one hour, we headed back to Bologna where his grandma, mom and sister live. Spending this day in Casalecchio di Reno reminded me of what life is about. We often get so caught up with our daily schedules of going out and bringing in the money to make our lives comfortable, versus taking time to enjoy family, friends, and to just relax. On this day I was once again reminded which path makes me and so many Italians the happiest, and I was happy to experience this day with my husband.

(day 106)

Joslyn Park (Santa Monica)

Joslyn Park

My busy weekend (weekends never seem to be a time to relax!) ended up with us playing at Joslyn Park in Santa Monica. We had just finished washing my car and being that the carwash was packed I drove about 4 minutes away to the park to first dry the car and then play! I had promised soccer time with Matteo all day so we were prepared with a soccer ball in the trunk. After soccer time we moved on to the playground. I had a good time enjoying the end of one of the nicest weather weekends we’ve had so far this year playing with my kids at the park.

Sometimes I am so busy that I don’t take time to just hang out at the park; I need to remind myself how much fun it is just to be outside in a park with my kids. Something so simple, yet so rewarding. I look forward to returning and picnicking next time. Here are a few photos from the visit.

Matteo mastered new equipment quickly!

Matteo mastered new equipment quickly

Soccer time was lots of fun!

Soccer time was lots of fun

Malina and Matteo play together so well; makes me proud

Malina and Matteo play together so well; makes me proud

View of the dog park, it is enormous

View of the dog park, it is enormous

Thought to self: Malina I'm glad you can take photos now

Thought to self: Malina I’m glad you can take photos now

(day 105)