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-   -   Travelgirl's Trip of a Lifetime (https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/travelgirls-trip-of-a-lifetime-623665/)

sundowner Aug 23rd, 2006 06:50 AM

I've only read a little of this so I need to bookmark it to read later. Looking forward to reading the rest!

crefloors Aug 23rd, 2006 07:12 AM

It doesn't matter what anyone else would do or not do. This is Travelgirl's trip and she is kind enough to share her adventures with us. It is what it is, and personally, I'm just enjoying it to the max.

tcreath Aug 23rd, 2006 08:04 AM

crefloors, if you are referring to my comment I certainly wasn't critizing her in the least. I think its fantastic that she's doing what she's doing, and I envy her and her family for being able to go on such an adventure. I was just merrily commenting on how I would do it because I simply wouldn't have the energy, but everyone travels differently and that's what makes this forum so great.

Tracy

travelgirl2 Aug 26th, 2006 01:21 PM

Hi guys! I am so happy to be back online again. I don't want to get ahead of my story, but we've just spent a week in Tuscany, with no internet. I miss my Fodor's friends!

I have to agree that our itinerary is kooky. We mostly wanted to be in Europe. But, we wanted a taste of something more exotic. Thus, Japan and China.

As for travelling for 11 weeks, it has been great. We don't really look at it like a vacation, where we have to see every site. Instead, it seems like it is our lifestyle. We don't commute to work and school everyday - we walk around to various sites and periodically spend the day travelling somewhere. We have the mindset that this is what we are doing. Not that we are seeing something and then heading back home. You will probably think it is even more strange that I would just love to do this for a year or more. I should have gone backpacking through Europe when I was younger and unencumbered.

Whenever possible, we are staying in apartments. Also, we tried to stay in each place for a week or so, when we could.

Japan and China were a bit of a blur, since we wanted to see as much as possible while we were there. Then, we slowed down with a week in Santorini (couple of days in Athens), a week in London, a week in Amsterdam and two weeks in Salamanca, 5 days in Stockholm, a week in Tuscany (couple of days in Rome).

If you think we are crazy, don't worry - many of our friends and family who know and love us think that we are crazy too!

Gia - I hope your morning sickness is improving. I had it bad for 4 months too. It is awful, but eventually it usually stops. Have a great time in Greece.

travelgirl2 Aug 26th, 2006 01:27 PM

As for why we are fitting everything in during one summer, it all just came together for us. DH could take off 4 weeks and then another 3 weeks, which is a very rare occurrence. I was at the end of a consulting project, so I could take the whole summer. Our kids are going into 8th and 6th grade, so we figure there might not be too many more years that they would be interested in spending so much time with us. Plus, in high school, they may have summer activities or jobs that they would not want to miss.

With kids and DH's job, the only possible times to travel are summer or a week at Easter. We can't go during Christmas week.

travelgirl2 Aug 26th, 2006 01:30 PM

Day 36 – Flight to Amsterdam

Today we are flying to Amsterdam on Easyjet. The flight is fine, but I don’t care at all for their boarding procedure. Seats are not assigned in advance. Everyone clusters around the gate. We have arrived early to the airport, so we have boarding passes which allow us to board with Group 1. First, there is pre-boarding. People with babies and small children are allowed to pass through the gate first. They are immediately followed by boarding Group 1. The people in Group 1 practically push those slow families with children out of the way so they can be first on the plane. We, too, are in a hurry because we want to get three seats together. Eventually, everyone gets on and there don’t seem to be any problems with seating that I can see. But, the herding mentality was not too pleasant.

Upon arrival at Amsterdam, we easily find the train to Amsterdam’s Central Station. Public transportation from the airport into the city is very efficient here. At the Central Station, we go to the taxi stand. The driver of the first taxi tells us it will be 15 euros. I think that this is too much, since the lady who rented us the apartment had told us it was about a ten minute walk from the station. But, we are tired and loaded down with luggage, so we get in the taxi. A couple of minutes later, we arrive at our Herengracht canal apartment. By then, I know that 15 euros was an exorbitant amount. The lady who meets us at the apartment confirms this and goes to talk to the taxi driver. He says it is because of the traffic. He says to me, “you know there was a lot of traffic, wasn’t there?” I just numbly look at him, for we both know there was no traffic at all. I ask him for his taxi number and he points to a sign where a number has been crossed out and another number written in. I take down this number and also his license plate. I am planning to report him and he knows it, but he thinks that I won’t bother to follow through.

Later, I learn from several people that the taxi problem is common in Amsterdam. They apparently de-regulated the taxi industry a while ago, loosening the licensing process and enabling more people to drive taxis. This caused lots of problems, so they are now in the process of dealing with the consequences of deregulation, while trying to tighten the regulations again. There is a form to file complaints with the taxi company, but I can only find it in Dutch. There is a phone number to call to file your complaint with some agency. I plan to try to find the form in English or else call the phone number.

Regarding our apartment, I have rented it from www.piedaterreproperties.com. Kathryn shows us around the apartment. She also lets us use the washing machine in the basement. I am grateful for that, because the washer in the London apartment never was fixed. So, we have at least a week’s worth of dirty laundry.

The apartment is facing the canal. It is two large rooms, with a small kitchen and bathroom in between. The two rooms have huge 16th century windows overlooking the canal. The windows are propped open a little bit, but not too much air is circulating. Also, the way the rooms are situated doesn’t allow for any cross-ventilation. We do have a couple of fans going. Amsterdam is well into a heat wave, so the apartment is hot. I hope it will cool off at night.

We go out to dinner at a place a couple of blocks away. It starts with a “B”. I can’t remember the name, which is too bad, because this is turns out to be our best meal in Amsterdam. As we walk along the canal, it seems that everyone has come outside because of the heat. Families have moved tables and chairs out onto their small stoops and are enjoying their dinners outside. People without stoops have set up tables and chairs at the edge of the canal. People on barges lining the canal are also eating outside on their decks. A couple of ladies have even set up a picnic blanket on the landing platform for boats along the side of the canal. The whole thing is rather charming.

DS2 hasn’t been feeling well all day. By the evening, we realize that he is running a fever. Back at the apartment, he is feeling hot and miserable. The hot weather isn’t helping. It does help that we have free wireless internet and TV in English at the apartment, so it gives him something to occupy himself with for a while. We love watching old episodes of ‘Murder, She Wrote’.

During the night, we all toss and turn. We are so hot and sweaty. My bed is on wheels, so I feel like I am rolling all over the place during the night. The air is stifling.

Day 37 – Amsterdam

In the morning, we are all tired from our lack of sleep the previous night. DS2 is still feeling feverish. He looks kind of listless. I feel sorry for him, since I am hot and miserable, and I’m not even sick.

I am thinking that maybe we could find a hotel which is air conditioned. It seems like an extravagance. But, we have just come from a very hot week in London and now it seems like the forecast is for a very hot week in Amsterdam as well.

I call around to various hotels to investigate our options. I call DH back in the US and he says if we are going to stay for a week, we might as well enjoy it. Finally, after much struggling with myself, I decide we should move to a hotel. I choose a hotel, but when I call back to book a room, I find out that there are no non-smoking rooms available. So, I keep looking. They recommend a few other hotels to try. I call the Amsterdam Sofitel. They offer us a junior suite for half the usual price. Once I confirm that it is air conditioned and non-smoking, I take it. I still feel more than a little guilty, but I know we cannot stand another sweltering week.

We take one suitcase and walk 10 minutes over to the SOFITEL HOTEL. Check-in is very quick. They upgrade us to the nicest suite available. It is on the top floor, nestled under the eaves. There is a king-sized bed, large seating area with sofa bed, table and chairs for 4 people, small mini-bar, two TV’s, room for a roll-away cot, and two bathrooms, including one with a very nice shower. Best of all, it is very cool. Much cooler than I’d expected – more like an American hotel room than a European room.

We spend the rest of the day relaxing in the coolness of the hotel room. DS2 still has a fever, so he feels better being here. He is able to nap and watch TV. I figure, what the heck, and pay 22 euros for one day of internet connectivity at the hotel. Gotta keep up with Fodors, after all.

I’ve booked this room for a couple of nights, but after one night of cool sleep in luxurious surroundings, I know that we will stay here for the rest of the week. We proceed to spend the week going back and forth between the apartment and the hotel room. At the apartment, we hang out while doing laundry, use the free wifi and cook dinner. At the hotel, we hang out during the hottest part of the day and also sleep at night.

The area of our apartment is much nicer, on the canal. The hotel is on the edge of Dam Square. When we go out of the hotel, people are sitting outside of cafes and smoking cannabis. I don’t have any concerns about safety, but the area verges on seedy and the constant smell is very annoying.

Day 38 – Amsterdam

I can’t believe that our trip is about half over. The time has just flown by.

Today DS2 is feeling better and we want to go on a tour with Mike’s Bikes. By the time we get started though, it is getting late and we are running out of time. We have too many things to do first. So we decide to take a walk over to the Anne Frank Museum instead. First, we find a grocery store which sells tram tickets. If you pay for the tram individually, it costs 1.60 euros for a ride. If you buy a strip of 15 tickets, it costs 6.70 euros and most rides are 2 tickets, so you can get 7 rides for 6.70 euros (less for kids).

Now, we head over to the apartment, which is only 3 blocks away, to start some laundry. We sit and have a leisurely lunch at a canal-side café. Club sandwiches and chicken skewers. It is sunny and hot, so we are glad to find a table in the shade. The waitress asks us to pay when we order. She puts our order into a little hand-held computer and a few minutes later someone else comes out with our drinks. A very efficient system.

We go back to the apartment and hang up the laundry to dry and start another load. We walk a few blocks to the Anne Frank Museum. It is brutally hot and there is a long line of people outside. Based on what we’ve heard, it will probably be 30 minutes in line. We sit on a park bench and have an ice cream and debate what to do. We decide to take the tram over to the Van Gogh Museum. It closes in a little over an hour, so we’ll have to hurry. The tram is very easy to use. You have the conductor in the back stamp your strip to show you are using 2 tickets. The ride is good for an hour, including transfers. We take the tram one stop and then transfer to another tram for the rest of the ride.

We arrive at the VAN GOGH MUSEUM and I am surprised to see a short line. It is one hour before closing, so I didn’t expect any lines at all. Ten minutes later, we are in the museum. It is a small museum, with a limited number of paintings. While I’ve seen several Van Gogh paintings before, notably Starry Night and The Bedroom (in NY), I didn’t know any of the Van Gogh’s history and the various stylistic phases he passed through.

I mention to the kids that this is the first art museum we’ve been to on the trip. They had been worried that I’d be dragging them through every art museum in Europe! And we are here a total of 50 minutes. They still have to roll their eyes and ask to go to any museum but an art museum tomorrow.

We take the tram back towards the apartment. We order a pizza for take-away (they don’t call it take-out here) and sit on some chairs by the canal to wait for it. It is quiet and peaceful on the canal. I can see why so many people congregate near the canals. While waiting, we talk with an American lady who is headed for a safari in Tanzania. Now, that would be interesting.

Back at the apartment, I hang up the second load of laundry and start a third. The combined washer/dryer is very tiny, so we are just washing a little bit of clothes at a time. It is also very slow, so we hang the clothes, instead of waiting for them to dry in the machine. We enjoy our pizza and watch ‘Murder She Wrote’ and ‘Law and Order’ in English. Then, we decide to try the Anne Frank House again. It is 8:00 pm. This time, there is no line and we go right in.

The ANNE FRANK HOUSE is sobering. We walk through the actual rooms where the family, and several other people, hid for 25 months. This was a hidden apartment, above Otto Frank’s jam-making business. It is hot today with the windows open, so we can only imagine how it was to hide, silently, in the dark, day after day.

There are lots of photos and short films to illustrate the reality of the times. Although we know the inevitability of their fate (only the Otto Frank, the father, survived), we are mesmerized by the hope and beauty of young Anne’s words. The letters written by Otto, as he is told that each member of his family has died, touch me deeply. The accounts of his co-workers, who worked selflessly to support the family while in hiding, are inspirational. This place is extremely moving. Looking at the house, on the edge of a quiet, peaceful canal, it is hard to imagine the atrocities that happened in this city. As we leave the house, I buy a book of Anne’s diary. DS2 says some kids in his class have read it and I hope mine will be inspired to read it too.


tower Aug 26th, 2006 01:51 PM

TG2...you're back...we've all been anxiously waiting word.

So if Amserdam starts with Day 36, it's half way through the eleven weeks...where to next? I know you mentioned that Tuscany will be visited...according to my rusty memory you've already done London, China, Japan...with Tuscany, Netherlands yet to come...where else can we expect to hear from as you go into the second half of the Amazing Journey? Happy to hear that the little guy got through his fever and illness.

Stay cool!

Stu T.

travelgirl2 Aug 26th, 2006 02:33 PM

Hi Stu!

Our itinerary is approximately (I may be off by a night or two, this is from memory):

London - 1 night in transit
Japan - 8 nights
China - 8 nights
London - 1 night in transit
Santorini/Athens - 10 nights
London - 6 nights
Amsterdam - 6 nights
Madrid/Salamanca - 14 nights
Stockholm - 5 nights
Tuscany/Rome - 10 nights
Prague - 3 nights
London - 1 night in transit

Hagan Aug 26th, 2006 02:45 PM

Hooray! My weekend entertainment has returned. Please keep it coming!

tower Aug 26th, 2006 03:05 PM

TG2

Thanks for the itin...happy travels...

Stu T.

LoveItaly Aug 26th, 2006 03:19 PM

Welcome back travelgirl, I am another fan of your trip report!! I am glad you son recovered, being ill while away from home is not fun, especially with very hot weather.

Although I have been blessed that we had a two month vacation with my daughter I so wish we could have done more long trips, even longer than two months.

Thank you again for taking the time and spending the money to take us along on your journey. Best regards.

SandyBrit Aug 26th, 2006 05:56 PM

travelgirl2 - Once again I wanted to say thank you for taking the time to post your experiences. It is lovely to read the good and the bad.

The very hot weather you experienced in London and Amsterdam can upset the best of plans. I am so glad you were able to to get some relief with an air conditioned hotel.

Looking forward to reading about the remainder of your incredible trip and how you all adjust once you return home.

Sandy

travelgirl2 Aug 27th, 2006 12:54 PM

Day 39 – Amsterdam

We have found that it works best for us to get started later in the day and then stay up later at night. Bedtime seems to be at about midnight each night.

Today, we have brunch in the room and then take a tram to the Tropenmuseum. Yesterday, I thought that the tram was very easy to use. Today, we run into the first person in Amsterdam who does not speak English very well. I hand the conductor our strips and he marks all the trips one of the strips. He doesn’t notice that one of the strips is a child’s strip. When he realizes what we are saying, he puts a correction sticker on them. Then, he marks two trips on the child’s strip. But, only DS2 at age 11 is considered a child, not DS1. I can’t explain it any more, so we just sit down. On the way home from the museum, for some reason the conductor marks an extra trip. Oh well, whatever. The kids want me to go get another correction sticker, but it’s not worth the trouble to me. No one ever checks the strips, but if they do and you don’t have yours stamped, there is a hefty fine.

I love the TROPENMUSEUM. This is the TROPICAL MUSEUM. It is an anthropological museum, dedicated to exposing people to different cultures. It was great! The most interesting part for me was the exhibit on Dutch colonialism in the East Indies, specifically New Guinea (now part of Indonesia). It felt like we were in the middle of an Indiana Jones movie, or in the movie ‘Out of Africa’. The exhibits are set up in an extremely interesting way, too. There are lots of place to sit and watch brief movies. I found one showing colonial settlers’ daily activities to be very interesting. It was an old black and white with no sound.

There was a temporary exhibit on the rituals of the Hindu religion. There was a yurt from Kazakistan, where the boys’ cousins were adopted from. There was a beautiful display of African musical instruments. Throughout, there were lots of buttons to push, which made it interesting for kids. Altogether, this is a first-class museum and possibly the most interesting I’ve ever been in (well, I did love the British Library too). We spent over 2 hours there and could have easily spent another 2 hours, except that they were closing.

After the museum, we stop at DELORES for dinner. It is a snack stand, made from a converted police station. The building is cute. We all have cheeseburgers and fries. The burgers are very rare and the meat does not taste at all like the meat in the US. But, once we accept that, we find them to be very good. The fries are delicious.

Then, we go to the large grocery store. The prices here are much more reasonable than in the small stores near Dam Square.

We go out for a quick walk later at night. It seems like the smell of marijuana is everywhere. There are coffeeshops which sell marijuana. But, many people sitting outside at cafes are also smoking. It seems that this is tolerated too. Although I love our room at the hotel, I am not crazy about being so close to the Dam Square area, where so many of these coffeeshops are located. The location of the apartment on Herengracht canal is much nicer. It is too bad that it is still so hot. We visit the apartment regularly and spend a lot of time there in the evenings, but none of us want to sleep there.

Back at the hotel, the kids watch ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and we all get to bed after 2 am.

LCBoniti Aug 27th, 2006 01:23 PM

" . . . the meat does not taste at all like the meat in the US. But, once we accept that, we find them to be very good."

To me, this is the key to successful travel and one which you obviously know and put into practice: You are not in the US and things will not (and should not) be/taste the same (thank heavens!)

It's good to hear from you again!
Linda

alijay Aug 27th, 2006 02:05 PM

Hi again travelgirl. So nice to have you back 'online' - you were sorely missed by lots of people!

While you were out of contact, I felt as though I'd mislaid a good book I was reading! :)

LoveItaly Aug 27th, 2006 02:42 PM

Hello travelgirl, I wouldn't be surprised if the hamburgers were from grassfed cattle versus grainfed cattle. It does make a difference in the taste.

Personally I love the grassfed cattle but it is so hard to get it in the US. Anyway, just a thought.

P.S. If anyone can obtain grassfed beef it is so much healthier for one compared to the grainfed beef per many medical studies.

travelgirl2 Aug 28th, 2006 01:12 PM

Day 40 – Amsterdam

Our adventure for today is a four hour bike tour of Amsterdam. We are going on this tour with MIKE’S BIKES. Pip, from England, is the tour guide.

We ride through a few of the city’s squares, as Pip gives us some historical background on Amsterdam. Then, we head out of the city, to a farm where they make cheese and wooden clogs. A lady tells us about the cheese-making process and gives us some samples. We buy a small wheel of garlic cheese. A man shows us the clog-making workshop and shows us how to make a clog. Then, we ride off and visit a windmill (from the outside). There are only a few of them left in Amsterdam. A family of four lives in this windmill. We ride back into the city and stop at the Hilton hotel where John Lennon and Yoko Ono had their peace sit-in. You can still see writing on the windows of their room. Finally, we stopped at a café for a beer. The kids are very amused to sit at a café with a large group of people drinking beer (the kids were drinking Coca Cola).

We all enjoyed the bike tour. We rode at a fairly leisurely pace. It was a long ride and my legs were very sore the next day, though. I’m not sure if I’d recommend it for children, because they talk a lot about the cannabis coffeeshops and a little bit about the prostitution industry. Pip was considerate to ask me if it was okay to talk with the kids present, but I couldn’t really say not to, since I felt that the adults on the tour wanted to hear about everything. In Amsterdam, marijuana smoking is just a fact of life. As we rode through the park, I could even smell it there.

Before and after the tour, I talked with the kids about the varying approaches countries have to drugs. In the US, especially in drug education in the schools, there is a zero tolerance approach. In Amsterdam, they allow ‘soft’ drugs like marijuana, while focusing their anti-drug efforts on the ‘harder’ drugs. We were told that the result is that they have been very effective in their preventive efforts and they have a very low incidence of addiction to hard drugs. It is good to talk about with the kids, but it is confusing for me and confusing for them.

In any case, the bike tour was a lot of fun. Bicycling is a popular mode of transportation in Amsterdam. Everywhere you go, you see tons and tons of rickety, old bikes parked along the streets. Apparently, everyone rides an old clunker, in order to minimize the risk of theft. Mike’s Bikes, however, were fairly new and up-to-date.

Day 41 – Amsterdam

Today we went over to the apartment to finish up the laundry. We were back and forth to the apartment all day.

We also stopped by the BARGE MUSEUM. It is a tiny museum which is actually on a barge. We didn’t expect too much museum-wise, but we wanted to get a look inside a barge. It was interesting how the living quarters were arranged. There was a small slideshow too. We were left with the impression that living on a barge is definitely a lifestyle. We also purchased ice cream at a nearby shop and sat on a bench atop the barge to relax a while.

For dinner, we picked up NOODLES TO GO. It was very cheap and not too bad. You pick from the various meats, vegetables and noodles and they put it into a Chinese-style takeout container. You eat it with a pair of chopsticks. The kids liked it.

Then, one more time, it was time to pack. We are going to Madrid tomorrow.

Gia Aug 28th, 2006 06:19 PM

Travelgirl
I'm so happy you're back! This report has been such a great experience. I've been checking every other day just for this post, and then I head back to bed - green as ever. (Thanks for the encouragement by the way.)

DH and I were in Amsterdam last year for a few days and really enjoyed it. We stayed just one block away from the Anne Frank House on Prinsengracht and loved the neighborhood. I found the city to be quite charming, and wasn't put off by the coffeeshops so much - but then again, we were not traveling with kids. The Mike's Bikes tour sounds great, will have to put that on my list of things to do for next time. We leave on Friday for Athens/Santorini/Florence and I'm not sure how much access we will have to the internet but will check in on this report any chance I get. Continued success with the rest of your trip! Best, Gia

marigross Aug 29th, 2006 03:17 AM

TG2, I am really looking forward to your trip report from Spain!

fun4all4 Aug 29th, 2006 05:07 AM

I am continuing to enjoy this report! What an amazing experience for all of you. Thank you for your generosity and effort in sharing your trip as you go. :-)


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