Destination #1 – Amsterdam, Holland, Netherlands
Yes, Amsterdam is the major city in the province of Holland in the country of the Netherlands. That fact was quickly learned when we arrived from Beijing. Immediately, we were in awe of Amsterdam’s canals, delicious international cuisine, picturesque buildings, and numerous coffeeshops.
We had a couple of days in Amsterdam before one of Alison’s best friends, Laura (aka Laker) arrived. We were able to get a grasp of the city layout and could identify the direction of Centraal train station, the Flower market, Vondelpark, and the Red Light District. We stayed in the trendy Generator Hostel next to Ooster Park for those couple of days.
When Laker arrived, we all moved into an Airbnb apartment located directed on a canal in the famous Jordan district. This became home base from which we did sightseeing in Amsterdam, and took day-trips to neat surrounding places.
In Amsterdam we were also grateful to connect with friends from CISQD. Sam made the trip over from the UK to visit his daughter who attends university in Leiden. Dermot came over with a couple friends from Ireland. One highlight of our time at the Airbnb was hosting a “family dinner” with everyone – amazing spaghetti and meatballs made by Grant.
Other highlights from our time in Amsterdam include a river cruise along the canals, eating bitterballen (deep-fried gravy balls), walking in Vondelpark, the Airbnb Windmill tour experience, all the varieties of scrumptious international food, and biking around the city.
Overall, we enjoyed the deameanor and openness of the Dutch people. In the middle of a street while scanning Google maps on our phone, one woman asked if she could help us with directions. She was one of several people who offered us assistance. Dutch people are very chilled-out, have an openness towards others, and are pleasant to converse with. On many occasions, there would be a group of friends at a restaurant chatting over wine when we arrived, and would still be seated chatting away after we left. It was clear that Dutch people enjoy life and have a healthy work-life balance (many places were closed on Sundays and Mondays; including notable museums and stores). Another attribute of Amsterdam that we appreciated was that bikes are #1. We appreciated how bikes always had the right-of-way (more so than even walkers and runners). It was interesting to be in such a large city with so few cars as well; nearly everyone bikes. The infrastructure in the city is set up FOR bikes – including clearly delineated bike lanes, pro-bike policies, and a variety of storage facilities and bike racks outside each facility.
Laker and Alison took two day-trips to The Hague/Leiden and Edam/Volendam/Marken. Memories from Elmira College days were reminisced while eating stroopwafels and mini Dutch pancakes. We were so grateful Lake made the trip over to spend some much-needed vaca with her fellow Americans.
Destination #2 – Berlin, Germany
While on our Thailand liveaboard this past Chinese New Year, we met a wonderful German couple, Inga and Thomas. On the cruise, we mentioned that we would be traveling around Europe for the summer, and they offered to have us visit Berlin and stay with them. Little did they know that we would ACTUALLY take them up on the offer 🙂
We stayed at Inga and Thomas’ lovely Berlin flat. While they worked during the day, we bopped around the city seeing this and that. Highlights from our daily wanderings include the Spy Museum, Museum Island, biking in an old airport-field-converted-park, and Sansoucci Palace. Notable Berlin cusine we enjoyed included chicken doner from Mustafa’s and burgers from Burgermeister.
Some evenings, the four of us would go eat at a *locals only* place. Believe us, we ate all the shnitzel we could.
One evening while making an Instagram post, Grant found that one of our old U-32 colleagues, Amy K., was also in Berlin. We reached out to her to see if she was around and wanted to catch up. We met her for lunch and had a great time reminiscing about days past and hearing about future plans and upcoming events. So nice to see you again, Amy!
On the weekend, we went to the Berlin pride festival and parade. Before the parade began, we climbed the Victory Tower to get a 360-degree view of the city. It was the perfect day for the large gathering. We ate another Berlin classic, currywurst, at the parade, and had our first flavored beer, Berliner Kindl. At the end of the parade was a makeshift fair of foods and drinks for sale, airbrush tattoos, and even bungee jumping. After the parade, we took the metro to where Inga and Thomas used to live – another area of Berlin. We ate at their favorite pizza place next door (it did not disappoint) and walked up to a park close by.
We were very grateful for the hospitality and excellent recommendations from our diving friends – we will see them again soon 🙂
Destination #3 – Barcelona, Spain
In Barcelona, we rented an Airbnb close to Park Guell. Our friend from Vermont, and one of Alison’s former students from U-32, Brooke, made the trip across the pond to meet us there. While reminiscing about past times and hearing updates from the “802”, we made new memories around Barcelona. Similar to the other two cities we traveled to, we were again amazed by the work-life balance of the Catalonia people. By the people sitting and relaxing around cafes all over the city, it was clear that friends, enjoying time, and relaxing are of dear importance.
Prior to arriving in Barcelona, we had planned the large items that we knew we needed tickets for – Park Guell, Picasso Museum, and the Sagrada Familia. Thank goodness we had booked these in advance – Barcelona tourism in the summer is no joke.
Alison had already traveled to Barcelona in December 2012 on her way home from Peace Corps in Cameroon. However, it felt like a new place with the bright colors and warm weather of summer. She was impressed by the steady and unfaltering development of the Sagrada Familia. The cathedral/work of art is expected to be completed in 2026 for the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. The cathedral was the largest component of Gaudi’s life work, and he was alive to see only a section of its completion.
We also spent a couple of days at the beach enjoying the hot weather and waves. One warm afternoon, we went to the Barcelona Aquarium. We were impressed by the biodiversity represented in the various tanks; this aquarium is known as the best representation of Mediterranean sea life. However, as would be expected from open water divers in an aquarium, we were concerned about the small size of the tanks in relation to the number of organisms housed inside.
Other highlights from the Barcelona trip included the night-time fountain lights show, the Gothic quarter of the city with its tiny old streets and numerous cafes and stores to peruse, the parks sprawled out over the city streets, and, of course, las tapas.
Again, our gratitude to Brooke for making the trip out cannot be stated enough. So great to catch up with her – and make many new memories 🙂
Destination #4 – Qingdao & Beijing, China
We were pleased to invite Grant’s sister, Elise, into our home in Qingdao. Elise made the epic journey from Burlington-to-Detroit-to-Beijing-to cancelled flight-to Beijing hotel-to Qingdao the following morning. You would think that was enough, right? Not for that Vermonster. When she arrived in Qingdao, a typhoon came through the city. We were like, “Elise what the heck?” As Vermonsters do, we braved the typhoon weather of pelting rain and galing winds and went down to show Elise May 4th square. It was closed off due to ….. the typhoon. We went to eat close by, at one of our favorite spots, but…….. you guessed it, the government mandated all stores to close at 3pm due to the storm. We bought some snacks (along with a million other Chinese people preparing for the typhoon) and headed home. We watched the storm approach on a website a colleague sent us. Meanwhile, we were notified that our train tickets the following morning to Beijing were cancelled due to the typhoon. We waited with anticipation as it approached nearer and nearer….. The next moment, we reloaded the page and saw that ….. the storm had passed us. A little bit of rain never scared us anyway.
The next day (perfect sunshine and warm weather by the way), we brought Elise to all the famous Qingdao sights.
We rescheduled air and train transport, and headed to Beijing the next day. This was Alison’s third time in the lovely capital city, and Grant’s second time. We are seasoned pros. We saw some of the famous landmarks that we know and love (Tianamen Square, Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Great Wall, Great Leap Brewing, Panjiyuan antique market) and checked out a new spot for all of us – the Lama Temple. We highly recommend the Lama Temple and were in awe by its beauty and grandiose decorations. Since Alison took notes in her journal on her previous tours throughout Beijing, she was able to act as *tour guide* in the Temple of Heaven; that was one of Elise’s highlights. When Elise asked a question that the tour guide didn’t know, Alison obviously just made it up. It was great fun!
With a heavy heart, we put Elise back on a plane in Qingdao. On her journey back, she went Qingdao-to-Shanghai-to pick up checked bag-to recheck bag-to Atlanta-to pick up checked bag-to recheck bag-to Burlington. We are confident in saying that Elise is now a well-seasoned world traveler due to all the connections, flight cancellation, typhoon, rescheduling of travels, and baggage shenanigans she put up with along the way.
Destination #5 – Back-to-School
We complete this blog post with the heaviest of pre-school “Sunday Blues”. We are grateful for all our amazing summer travels and so appreciative of the loved ones who were part of our summer wanderings. Here’s to a great second year of school. We are excited to continue building our relationships with colleagues and students from last year as well as grow new relationships with new colleagues and students. CHEERS to the end of our summer 🙂