Local Colors Festival Roanoke, Virginia

Local Colors Festival

 

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Normally, most of my spring is filled with traveling to the girlie’s soccer games.  We found ourselves with an empty weekend and I wanted to head to downtown Roanoke. I love strolling around downtown, perusing the shops, often stopping in the Taubman Museum and heading to the rooftop of Center in the Square. And of course finding something yummy to eat.

I checked to see if there were any events happening over the weekend and found out that the Festival of Local Colors would be taking place.  I was excited to be in town for a festival. They add such vibrancy to a day downtown.

The Local Colors Festival is an annual event that celebrates Roanoke’s diversity and promotes multicultural understanding. This year was its 27th annual festival.

They also offer educational and services throughout the year. To learn more about them you can find their website here and their Facebook page here.

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We went out to lunch with one of our sons and his girlfriend and then took in all the sights and sounds and smells of the festival.

The booths listed on the map represented a wide range of heritages which included: American Indian, Belize, Bolivia, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Norway (Finland and Sweden were represented here as well), Philippines, Romania, Russ, Scotland, Sierra Leone, Somalia-Bantu, South Korea, Southeast Asia, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine, and Venezuela.

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Some booths offered information. Some booths sold foods associated with the respective culture. And others sold wares from their homeland.

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The information booth sold raffle tickets, t-shirts, tote bags, water bottles and more. They also had maps available with the times and locations of booths and performances.

There were performances held on the stage at Elmwood Park’s amphitheater and also educational programs at the library, which is adjacent to the amphitheater.

We wandered into the amphitheater to enjoy a few of the performances. The Capoeira performance was finishing up as we found a seat.

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We then watched the 15-50 dance group. They are a group of Blacksburg Chinese women ages 15-50. I believe all of the members are students, Virginia Tech employees, or spouses of employees. It was such graceful dance set to beautiful music.

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As we sat and watched the dance, a group slowly formed in front of us that I suspect was going to take the stage in the future or had possibly already been up there.

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The next performance was Tricolor y Siete Estrellas who were representing Venezuela. During the stage set up of the microphones, the sister in the front described her instrument. It is called a cuatro and has four strings.  While it looks similar to a ukulele, it is not the same and it is played differently as well. It is used in the traditional Venezuelan Joropo.

But while waiting for the other band members to finish setting up, what she said about diversity is what struck me the most. I don’t have a direct quote, but it was about how “we all complement each other.” All races, all people, all colors…we complement each other.

And I thought that was such a beautiful truth.

I marveled at all the different cultures just right here in Roanoke.

I marveled at how the United States is filled with many cultures. Many that I know so little about.

I contemplated the sights that I came upon during my recent overseas trip. All that I had seen during my first time leaving the U.S. soil. The serenity of the canals in Amsterdam. The awe of seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

I thought about my upcoming trip to Scotland. About how although I identify strongly with my Scottish heritage, that is because that was the piece I have always known. My maternal grandfather was born in Nova Scotia, Canada to a father from Plains, Scotland and a mother from Wigan, England. Both having emigrated to Canada as children. His mother died when he was young and his Scottish grandmother came to live with them so the Scottish side was talked of often.

My mother used to ask my grandmother (her mother) if she knew her ethnicity. She would always laugh and say she was a mutt. Despite the negative connotations associated with the term “mutt”, she didn’t feel it was a negative thing, just a humorous way of stating that she had no clue as her family had been in the foothills of Kentucky and Tennessee for many years.

Amy Lyon Smith with her grandma and mother

I think a lot of multi-generational Americans would find this to be the case with their history. When I took the DNA test with Ancestry.com, which I shared about here, I had no clue what might turn up. Turns out that I was more British than the British (my results were 79% Great Britain and the typical native is 60%). As I began to trace my maternal grandmother’s line, it would turn out to have a strong German lineage. While her maiden name of Van Hoose has been traced back to the man who brought it to America, Jan Frans Van Husum, it is not know if he was Dutch, Danish, Frisian, or German. Her mother was the union of a Yount (Jundt) and a Redwine (Reitweil). Quite a few names on my maternal great-grandmother’s side appear to be Palatinate German.

Most of my father’s line originates from different parts of England, but I have some family lines on all except my maternal grandfather tracing back to the 1600’s in America. At that point, I am at 9th great-grandparents, which means there are over 4,000 direct ancestors and sifting through the ones that I’ve been able to trace to the point they left their homeland for America is a slow process.

I am just one person. One person filled with a history of differing backgrounds. My DNA may show that I am predominately a certain ethnicity, but my genealogical records will show pioneers coming from different areas of England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Denmark and all the little towns amongst them that I’ve yet to discover. It shows them coming into Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Pennsylvania to name a few. It shows them settling in the frontiers of Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Carolinas. And eventually, you make your way to me…born and raised in Collier County, Florida.

I am just one piece of the diversity of Roanoke, Virginia.

Roanoke, Virginia is a microcosm of the diversity of the United States.

The United States is a microcosm of the diversity of the World.

And we all complement each other.

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Let your light shine!

Amy

 

What a trip to Oude Kerk in Amsterdam taught me about Experientialism

What A Trip To Oude Kerk In Amsterdam Taught Me About Experientialism

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First things first.

What in the heck do I mean by experientialism?

This is not a lesson on apologetics or whatever else may come to mind when hearing this word.

This is about experience vs. materialism. Experientialism is the term used in the book that I am currently reading : Stuffocation by James Wallman. You can check out his website here. You’ll see a recurring theme in most of my recent reads… nonfiction books advocating minimalism, simplicity, experientialism, hygge, etc. Whatever you want to call it (I prefer simplicity as it doesn’t make me feel like I’m trying to fit into somebody’s prescribed box of must do and be a certain way), one of the overarching premises is that material possessions do not bring long term happiness and in fact, can often bring the opposite.

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So what does a trip to Oude Kerk have to do with experientialism?

Well according to a group of psychologists and sited in the book, experiences are more prone to “positive reinterpretation”. Unlike a material good that can just turn out to be a bad choice, an experience “gone wrong” tends to be reinterpreted in a positive way. As stated by Wallman, that’s why we sometimes say “we’ll look back and laugh about this one day.” And one day, we do.

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When we visited Amsterdam in April, one day I wanted to see Oude Kerk (“old church”). I love old architecture and churches tend to be quite magnificent. Oude Kerk is Amsterdam’s oldest building and oldest parish church. It was founded ca. 1213 and consecrated in 1306. It stands in De Wallen. And if you aren’t familiar with where this is in Amsterdam.

It’s the Red Light District.

I had read that it was tame during the day and that there wouldn’t be much to see so I decided we should venture there because I had to see this church. I assumed that perhaps we would would skirt the edges of the Red Light District.

I would be wrong.

That’s fair warning for where this post is going.

We decided not to take the first turn that the GPS suggested as the shops names were somewhat questionable.

I should back up in case you are new to my blog. This trip included myself, my husband, and our 13,15, and 17 year old children. While I am not naive about what my 15 (almost 16) and 17 year old sons know about, I like to pretend that my 13 old daughter is blissfully unaware of adult things. We decided to take the bridge a little closer to Centraal Station ( I took the title photo from there with the Kerk’s clocktower in the back.)

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We sandwiched the girlie in between us as we walked toward the church in case the shops had adult accoutrements in the windows. Yes, we did pass the shop named Condomerie and they were not the only shop with similar items. We also were not the only people walking with children.

 

I understand that not all cultures have the same feelings about sex. I had a friend who was born and raised in Poland. She found it interesting that quite a few Americans have no problem with their children watching levels of violence that they will probably never see in real life, but cringe at them watching sex scenes which are real life. And I admit that I’m in that camp. I squirm a little if I’m watching a romantic scene in a movie and my kids are watching it too (even PG-13 has steamy scenes now).

But nevertheless, here we were, skirting the edges of the Red Light District. We rounded the last corner to the right and I was looking at the church. We made it!

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But apparently, if I had looked to my left I would have seen the scantily clad woman with her red curtains drawn back and standing at her window. My husband informed me of my missed vision. I asked him if the kids had seen. The boys had. And now I felt like a bad mother.

I had a hard time really taking any photos by then. I just wanted to leave. The light and lens angle weren’t in my favor and I had just brought my kids past a prostitutes window. There were people all around near the church and in my desire to not seem like I’m taking photos of people on the street, I ended up not taking the photos from the base as I would have preferred.

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My son however doesn’t have that same feeling of discomfort and rather enjoys street photography, as evidenced by his photo above.

But we were still stuck with a dilemma. How to exit? We stood near the canal assessing our situation. Back from whence we came and pass one window. Or left or right along the canal. I could see numerous windows along in one direction. I could see sign names, but wasn’t sure if there were windows in the other direction. I could hear women banging on their windows to get the attention of any passerby. We were standing near a green piece of metal, that encircled inward, presumably for men to urinate behind. At least that was what the smell in the air indicated. I was mortified that there was no preferable choice for leaving. My children were less mortified and wanted me to make a decision.  In the end, I opted back from whence we came. I figured the boys would have no interest in ogling her since their description had indicated that.

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We left and went to Centraal Station where we boarded the hop-on hop-off 24 hr canal ride that we had purchased. My kids like to process experiences by talking about them. I let them know my preference for discussion of it in private, way too concerned about what others might think about what type of parent I was taking my teenagers past prostitute windows. And the sad part as I read what I have written is that I let fear of judgement rule the situation.

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Experiences, like photographs, sear in impressions. Experiences, good or bad, create stories to tell.

I have found that when things go wrong in an experience, it burns the memory in a little deeper. Like how on our first overseas vacation we witnessed a police chase in Amsterdam, somebody almost missed getting on the metro in Paris, and we were within a 1/2 mile of the Paris terrorist attack on the police officer. But those are all stories for another day.

Do I wish we hadn’t walked past those things? Absolutely!

Can I go back and change it? Nope!

Was it memorable? You betcha!

Years from now when we talk about the first time we went to Amsterdam, my kids will say “Yeah mom, remember when you wanted to see that church in the Red Light District and in the process you took us past a prostitute. And then you stood there like a deer trapped in headlights trying to figure out how to get out of there.”

We will look at this moment of experientialism through positive reinterpretation.

And we will laugh.

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Let your light shine!

Amy

 

 

Inside the Palace of Versailles

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Versailles.

As promised, today I’m sharing some of the photos of the interior of the Palace of Versailles.  If you missed my last post where I shared exterior photos and some helpful hints about touring it, you can check that out here.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know that I bought my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D3200, in 2014. I had inherited some money after my grandmother passed away. She was a woman of very simple means and bright beacon in this world, so this money was extremely meaningful to me. I am lucky enough to live where I don’t have to wonder how I’m going to survive financially so it was important to me that I spend this money in a way that would bring trigger happy memories of her.

Half of the money purchased this camera. My kids were going to be playing soccer and football and I wanted a camera that could capture the action. That was how I used the camera… until…

The winter of 2015. I knew that I needed to find a way to survive what, for me, is a depressing season. I needed to actively seek beauty in the everyday. I started taking photos of nature. I started this blog. I took my Instagram public.

Why do I share all of this? Because, I came home a little disappointed in my photography skills when I reviewed my photos of the interior of Versailles and Notre Dame.

But as I worked on editing them, I realized that my skills have progressed. And while I still am using that same camera with its kit lenses (I actually almost never use the 55-200mm zoom lens, preferring the 18-55mm for almost all my shots), I can see where moments where I wish I had a wider angle lens. Or a moment where a macro lens would be wonderful. When I edit, I see how I really would like to add more than the Snapseeed App to my options, and have been checking out Lightroom. After the bulk of my DSLR, I am looking at the mirrorless options that so many photographers that I admire have switched to using.

And mostly, I realized that I really do love photography.

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. -Dorothea Lange.

Once again, I have more photos than I can share in one post. Today, I have chosen my two favorite places in the Palace… the Royal Chapel and the Hall of Mirrors.

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The Hall of Mirrors is considered the most famous room in the Palace.  One reason being that it is the location of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, ending World War I. Work was started on the Hall of Mirrors in 1678 and completed in 1684. You can find out more about its history here, at the Palace of Versailles website.

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The room is quite stunning, filled with light from all of the windows and reflections from the mirrors.

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I see photos that run the entire length of the Hall of Mirrors without a single person included or just the one person as their focal point. If you are trying to achieve that, then I suggest you follow some of the time frames offered in my prior post. I’m sure you can gauge the size of the crowd by those waiting to get inside.

Had we not been exhausted by all of the walking that we had done that day, I may have tried to go back at the end of our day to capture a less crowded hall.

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Of course, I could not show you Versailles on a Thursday without including at least one of the magnificent doors! This is one the doors to the Royal Chapel.

If you love doors, head on over to Norm 2.0’s blog where door lovers come together each Thursday to share doors from around the world.

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The Royal Chapel was the fifth and final chapel built in the Palace since the reign of Louis XIII.

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One of things that I found interesting about the Royal Chapel was that the design was presented by the Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1699. He would not survive to see its completion, dying in 1708. His brother-in-law completed the works which were finished in 1710.

It reminded me of a story I once read about motherhood, which could be applied parenting in general. It was about how as mothers we are building a masterpiece, like the cathedrals of old, and will not likely survive to see its completion. About how we would never live there, but if we built it right, God would.

It also brought to mind, that we remember those names who lived in this Palace. But there were countless people whose hard work brought about the possibility of them living there. The people standing in the sun creating walls, people chiseling the finest of details, people cooking, people scrubbing floors.

We should remember those people who spent their lifetime behind the scenes making their bit of difference in the world.

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Let your light shine!

Amy

 

 

Palace of Versailles – Part I

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Versailles.

I still have a lot to share about the Amsterdam portion of our trip to Europe, but for today I’m jumping over to Paris. My daughter has been learning about World War I and was asked to bring in photos from her visit to Versailles, which means that I am editing those photos first. 🙂

While we were in Paris, we did opt to take a day trip out to the Palace of Versailles. I have so many photos from this part of the trip that I will be presenting them in a multi-part story. We decided the night before that the next day would work best for our schedule.  It’s best to order tickets online.  If you are good at planning ahead, you would probably do this prior to heading to Paris.  We wanted to watch the weather before making our decision.  The concierge of our hotel was very helpful in ordering up our tickets and giving us the printout of the ticket. The cost to visit the Palace and the Estate of Trianon is 20€. The gardens are free unless there is a musical fountain or garden show. If you are under 18 (or under 26 if you reside in the EU), then there is free admission. When traveling with 3 teens this is a welcome surprise (just be sure to have i.d. for any child that might look questionable as to whether they are under 18. Such as my 6’6″ teenager. Only the Louvre questioned him in two entry points, one of which asked for i.d.).

I mentioned in my last Friday Faves that we stayed at the Hotel Opera Richepanse, located at 14 rue du Chevalier de St. Georges.  This is located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. The metro line 8 was easily walkable from the hotel. Both to the Madeline and the Concorde stop.

Based on Google maps, it is perhaps slightly closer to the Madeline stop, but the Concorde stop is beside Place de la Concorde and Jardins de Tuileries and I enjoyed seeing those spots every day. Speaking of Google maps… the app was VERY helpful in navigating the city.

Versailles is considered Zone 4, so it is not the standard Paris metro ticket for riding around the city. I’m sure it was better to purchase a round trip ticket, but we purchased them one way on either end. The cost was 3,55€ per person (at the time of our trip, April 2017). The metro was a little overwhelming with this day trip being our first use of it. Since then I have found this information sheet  which I think is very helpful to familiarize yourself with prior to traveling on the Paris subway.

We took the 8 line to Invalides, where we caught the RER C to the Gare de Versailles Chateau/ Rive Gauche stop.  It was about a 30 minute train ride from where we got on at the Invalides stop. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the train station.  There are signs everywhere, but there are also crowds all heading that way as well.

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Versailles is definitely a sight to behold.

Originally the site of a hunting lodge for the future Louis XIII, rebuilding of the residence from 1631-1634 laid the basis for the palace as it is today. Louis XIV was the one who would love the place and build it into the masterpiece that it would become. More work was done under the reign of Louis XV.

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Louis XVI would spend a lot of his time in Versailles until the court would leave for Paris in 1789, where Louis XVI and Marie-Antionette would be executed along with over 1200 others at Place de la Concorde during the Reign of Terror.

It was hard to imagine that such horrific events took place at this spot while standing with my girlie and  watching the sun set.

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Back to Versailles.

Here is where I tell you to learn from my mistake.  

I had read if you don’t get there early (i.e. -you are traveling with teens), visit the gardens first and then come back to tour the palace. If you look at the first photo of the palace, you will see a white tent. This is where they do a cursory look into your bag. Then you get in line to see the palace. All of those people in the photo above are in line. There are four or five rows, stretching from near the white tent to near the palace gate. We are in the final row before you are in line along the gate and walking through the entrance. Once inside, they will scan your ticket and then you put your bags through a scanner and walking through the metal detector.  You are then free to explore the palace.

That line to get inside was 1 1/2 hours! I thought it was a requirement to get through security. THIS IS ONLY FOR THE PALACE. There is an entrance with signage to the left of the pillared part of the building for the gardens. We arrived to this crowd around 10:45 a.m., when we left the estate at 4:30, there was not a line! The palace did not close until 6:30. Had I understood that the line was palace security only, we would have done the gardens and Trianons. The Queen’s hamlet was ultimately the destination that I most wanted to see.

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Don’t get me wrong.  The palace was definitely stunning.

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Its architecture was magnificent.

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The history palpable.

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We stood inside the Royal Gate, which was originally torn down in the French Revolution and was re-created with gold leaf and unveiled in 2008.

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Standing inside those gates, it was hard to believe that during a moment in history, this was where the Royal Court stood.

It would be inside these walls that the Treaty of Versailles would be signed on June 28, 1919, officially ending World War I.

My words and photos can’t do justice to the amount of history held between these walls. In a tying together of visits to two wonderful cities, Versailles felt like a good conclusion from a history component to the fact that we visited the Anne Frank museum while in Amsterdam.

I hope that you’ll check back for more from my trip to Versailles… the interior, the gardens, the hamlet and more.

Plus I have plenty more to share from the wanderlust created by Paris and Amsterdam.

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Let your light shine!

Amy

 

 

 

 

Friday Faves – Sweet Memories

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It’s Friday!! It’s Friday!!

I’ve had a week of playing catch up so it’s flown by.  I hope that you all have had an amazing week as well.

Some of my favorites this week are from reflections on our trip to Europe.

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One of our dinner stops in Amsterdam was the Hard Rock Cafe. I know some people might think this was cheating since it is American food, but I have a love for the Hard Rock Cafe.

When we lived in Florida, we had annual passes to Universal Studios and would always eat at the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando. We even stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel once for my 25th birthday. Wow! Was it that long ago!

My daughter has a little bear with angel wings that was a limited edition souvenir for Valentine’s Day in 2003.  I was sure I was pregnant even though it was too early to tell and bought that as a gift for her.

So I couldn’t pass up the chance to go to the Hard Rock in Amsterdam. The hubby and I opted to order the Double Dutch burger (sourced locally from Dutch Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle and finished with homemade onion jam, traditional smoked Dutch sausage and ‘Henri Willig’ mature Gouden Cheese) and the Guiness and Jameson burger and split them.  They were both amazing, but the the Guiness and Jameson burger may have been the best burger I’ve ever had…. and that’s saying a lot.

We opted for Heineken… because… we were in Amsterdam! We couldn’t pass up the chance to have Heineken on tap. And we got to bring home some glasses to add to my collection.

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In Paris, we did quite a bit of sightseeing. My daughter wanted to pick up a little gift for her friends.  We decided that the best place to purchase our mass produced items was at a Bouquiniste stall along the Seine. That way there would be a great memory associated with it.

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The Bouquinistes are booksellers of used and antiquarian books. They have four boxes assigned to them, only one of which is allowed to contain souvenir items. Their trade along the Seine goes back the 16th century. If I hadn’t been traveling with three teens, whose interest wanes after so long of perusing titles, I could have spent an afternoon just sifting through the treasures.

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The gentleman whose stall we chose to purchase from had the best deal on trinkets.  I think this was because he was located in the middle and easy to pass.  I decided to purchase a set of coasters as well even though I’m not a fan of mass produced merchandise. He was out there trying to earn a living and selling lower than the other stalls to achieve that, so I wanted to make a slightly higher purchase.

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One of my favorites makes me smile each time I think of it.  My husband and I have an “our cafe” in Paris. We stumbled upon it our first night in Paris.

Le Relais Madeleine. 9, Rue Chevalier Saint-George.

We had checked into our room and decided to stroll down the Jardin de Tuileries.  The girlie wasn’t feeling wonderful and so we decided to grab a meal and settle in for the evening. We found this restaurant near our hotel.  The menu was in French with English below so we were hoping to run into luck and have them speak English.  They did! We had a wonderful meal and sent the kids over to the hotel while we sat outside, had a drink and watched the city life go by.

In case you haven’t been reading my blog long, my kids are 13,15, and 17 so we didn’t just send minis to the hotel. And if you look at the photo, we are on a one lane street and our hotel is the one with the black flag hanging down. The Hotel Opera Richepanse, which was a wonderful hotel that I will talk about in a future post.

We ended up back at the cafe for drinks two more of our four nights there, officially making it “our” cafe.

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I had read that no trip to Paris would be complete without a trip to Laduree, a French bakery and sweets maker created in 1862, for some macarons.  Our final night in Paris, the hubby and I strolled along the Champs Elysses and got some macarons for all of us to taste.

I’m enjoying reliving some of the fun times as I put together my photos.  Keep checking back as I continue to share more of my newfound wanderlust on my first European vacation.

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I hope that you all have a lovely weekend filled with lots of happiness.

Lastly, I leave you with a song that I am loving this week.

I’m not gonna lie.  It’s mostly because I love Chris Martin’s voice.  Way back when, my ringtone used to be “Yellow”. I’m not sure I’ve heard a song that he sings that I don’t love.  Pair him with The Chainsmokers and how could you not love this song:

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Let your light shine!

Amy

 

 

 

Amsterdam Bike Town

Amsterdam – Bike Town

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Amsterdam.

I’ve returned from my first journey overseas. While technically my first stop was Frankfurt, Germany for my layover and also my first passport stamp, Amsterdam was the first city in which I got a view of more than than just a runway.

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The weather in the spring can be fickle, and it proved so on our journey. Amsterdam was a little more wet and cold than we had originally thought that it might be. It worked out well for my photo of the I amsterdam sign. I don’t know anyone in this photo, but it was the only occasion on my 2 1/2 days there that the sign wasn’t swarmed with tons of people. That is the Rijksmuseum in the background.

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In case you missed it, we did not take only carry-ons. However, that decision was made 45 minutes before we got in the car to drive to D.C. and included dashing to the store to buy two medium suitcases and rapidly moving our clothing from two of the carry-ons…which meant I did not actually get to take more clothes, only that my camera traveled in its padded case. Priorities… 😉

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The view of the Earth from the sky was beautiful. We watched the sun set and rise again, over the ocean. After we landed at the airport and collected our luggage, we decided to take the train and then tram toward our hotel. Amsterdam has a good public transport system. We purchased a 3 day travel ticket.  This was good for trains, trams, ferries, metros, and buses operated by GVB. I will note that this is 3 physical days, not 72 hours. We were there for 2 1/2 days and did try to see if it was valid to take the tram to the train station our final day, at less than 72 hours. It was not.

IMG_0743.jpgWe stayed at the Hotel City Garden, which is located on P.C. Hoofstraat. Finding accommodations for a family of five is never easy. Add to that fact that we were traveling during prime tulip and spring bloom season, wanted a hotel that made the city walkable, and did not want to stumble into the red light district (which we did anyway…but that is a future post) and this hotel worked well for us.

We had the room listed as Souterrain family 5 person.  It has 5 single beds, although 2 are pushed together, so if it’s a friend group going, you should make sure you don’t mind feeling like you’re in a king bed together. Our room was located in the basement, with a window opening into an enclosed garden. Since it didn’t appear that there was air conditioning, the window came in handy.

Right at the end of these buildings is an entrance to Vondelpark, which is a beautiful 120 acre park that we spent a lot of time strolling through.

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I will tell you that this was the location where we most encountered the scent of marijuana, so if you are hoping to avoid that smell, this probably wouldn’t be a lovely stroll for you.

But then again, Amsterdam may not be for you if you think you will avoid the smell. We smelled it here… we smelled it near the I amsterdam sign…. we smelled it down at the fun fair in Dam Square… and probably tons of other places.

Personally, I think it smells better than cigarette smoke, the scent of which seems to be more prevalent in Europe than it does in the parts of the U.S. that I frequent.

And yes, Amsterdam is known for it’s legality of pot and prostitution. But I went there for its tulips, its architecture, its canals, and its friendly reputation.

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On the train from Schipol Airport to Zuid station, we were trying to make sure that we were going to get off at the right stop and this lovely girl informed us that this was the correct stop.  When we got off the train, we were looking at the map that came with our ticket. The girl had walked toward her destination, and she turned around and came back to us and told us how to get to the tram station. It was a welcome experience upon my first interaction with a foreign country. We made it to the tram and were trying to figure out how far until the stop listed on the directions to our hotel. A gentleman offered to look it up on his google maps (and yes, I had this app downloaded, but was so overwhelmed that I hadn’t thought to use it yet. It would prove to be a lifesaver throughout Paris and extremely helpful in Amsterdam).

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Another thing that Amsterdam is well known for is…

Its bikes.

And there were bikes everywhere.  They have their own lane and lights.

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I took the photo above while on the canal cruise.  It had just stopped raining so there were still raindrops on the windows.  That’s an entire parking garage of bikes!

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The kids really wanted to rent bikes and go for a ride, but the weather was mostly drizzly and our time there brief.

What I found most surprising was how many children just rode behind a parent on the little metal piece over the back fender. I don’t tend to take pictures of strangers unless they happen to be in my shot so I don’t have any examples of how it appeared. One child was toddler age and the mother rode along with her arm behind as a back rest holding the child in place.

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Quite often there are baskets attached so they can carry the groceries or other purchases.

I have read that bikers get irritated if you are in their way. I don’t know if this is sometimes true, but there were accidental moments of stepping onto the bike path because it seems like a sidewalk. They would ring their bell as they approached and you would realize your mistake and move. Never once did I see anyone angry about anything.

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While most bikes are purely functional, there were quite a few that put time into making their mode of transportation unique.

I did not even capture a fraction of the amazing bikes or multitude of bikes around the city.

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Another sight that seemed so romantic were the girls who were probably in their early 20’s riding sidesaddle behind what I assume was their significant other.  They were just sitting on the metal plates over the back fender. I wondered how in the world they could stay up there, but given the fact that they had probably been on a bike since infancy, it was probably deeply ingrained into their being.

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Amsterdam definitely stole a piece of my heart.

I’m only just beginning to process through my pictures and have so many more to share.

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I hope that you’ll check back as I share more about my excursions in Amsterdam and then over to Paris!

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr "A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions"

Let your light shine!

Amy

 

 

 

 

 

Upcoming Travels...Amsterdam...Paris...Scotland

Travel Tuesday…advice and opinions

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In less than three weeks, I will be boarding a plane for my very first overseas trip!

Most of you who have been following a while already know about my trip, but some of my new readers might have missed it.

Over spring break, the hubby and I and our three teenagers are flying to Amsterdam and will have about 2 1/2 days there.  Then we are taking the train to Paris and will have about 3 1/2 days there.

I’m not gonna lie, while I’m extremely excited, I’m also very nervous.  I like my little comfort zone.  I drive the same square around town… gym…grocery store…. middle school….high school…home. But this was the year to continue to press outside of my comfort zone.  And what better way than to fly across the world! 🙂

We’ve done quite a bit of traveling around the East Coast of the United States, but always wanted to take the kids to Europe before the oldest left for college.  He’s now 17 and a junior in high school so we figured it was time. The kids have not been on a plane since they ranged from ages 2-6. I have never been outside of the continental U.S. and figured it was about time for me to travel too!

I have saved and read through many “must sees” and itineraries on my Pinterest account, but I wanted to get my reader’s opinions on what you all think should be on my list.

Keukenhof Gardens has been a regular recommendation. I definitely want to see fields of tulip blooms since we will be there in April.

For those that have visited the gardens, do you think this would hold the interest of 13,15, and 17 year-olds? Any opinions on Zaanse Schanse?

I understand that our time is limited and I don’t want to try to pack to much in.  We will be staying near Vondelpark and I know that the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum are nearby. I really wanted to take the kids to the Anne Franke house, but when I checked for tickets 3 weeks ahead, they are sold out.  Given our short time there, if the line has a multiple hour wait, this won’t be an option.

Of course Paris is also filled with more than we can fit into our time as well.  We are considering a day trip out of town to see some more of the country.  We considered the Chateaux’s of the Loire Valley, but once I realized that was were Fontevraud Abbey was located (I am intrigued by Eleanor of Aquitaine), I’m thinking that needs to be its own trip.  One of the children has asked if we are visiting the Palace of Versailles since they have learned about that in history class.

If you have visited the Palace, do you think this makes a nice day trip out of Paris?

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I am also working on my Scotland trip with my mother.  We are considering moving it up to the end of May.  It just works better for me if my kids are still in school.  The tentative plan is to fly into Edinburgh and then we have 6 1/2 days before flying out.

The dilemma is that we want to see it all….and cannot.

We want to make our way to the Isle of Skye, which is a huge time allocation.  We also will not be driving a car.  I’m not prepared this early into my international traveling to drive on the opposite side of the road on skinny, winding roads.

Besides our time in Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye (probably staying nearby as I think all the hotels there are already booked), I think we really would like to add in Stirling and Glen Coe and whatever else we can squeeze in (Doune Castle… I’m a Game of Thrones fan).  If I had all the time in the world, I would want to see Old Castle Lachlan since we know that we have McLachlan ancestors.  And of course, all the other beautiful castles.  We will be traveling to Airdrie, hoping to get a glimpse of some of the areas that our family lived.  We think we are pretty confident of the church where Agnes McLachlan and James Scott (my great-great grandparents) were married. We will also checking out the surrounding area of Glasgow where other family lived. A few of the other surnames that we are working on are: Scott, Baird, Munn, and Johnston.  Of course most of those surnames have areas that they originate from as well.  In all likelihood, we will need to plan more than 1 visit. 🙂

Until we have a general plan around our itinerary, we can’t book the hotel rooms.  So I am seeking your input.

What would be on your absolutely “must see and do” list if you were in Scotland? And relying on public transport and taxis!

Thank you all so much ahead of time for any comments you have to offer!

Any tips on travel, avoiding jet lag, packing, and amazing places to eat (we are foodies)… add those too!

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Let your light shine!

Amy