Swiss….cheese? Chocolate?

Thursday, August 15

I had to get up at a reasonable time today to pack up and head to the train station – because I am going to Buchs, Switzerland! I was texting with my friend Heidi and she mentioned her dad loved Liechtenstein – so I thought well I should go there! I couldn’t get a train into the country but considering it’s only about 7 miles wide that makes sense, so I went to the town that boarders Liechtenstein and has buses that go between the two cities and countries.

I found an Airbnb that looks promising, I got my train tickets and realized I am going to the German-speaking portion of Switzerland – so wish me luck – German is not an easy language!

I checked my train ticket one last time on my walk to the subway and I am glad I did because I would have ended up at the wrong station! I have no officially used all three train stations in Paris. Because of this change, I opted instead for an Uber because I did not feel like transferring trains. My uber came quick and I was on my way.

I got to the station about an hour and a half before departure. Unlike planes, there are no security checks and if someone ever does something violent to change that, the industry could or sure take a hit.

Anyway, I decided to wait at the tables until my train was assigned a platform then headed to get a croissant (when in Paris and all) and headed to the train.

This train is headed to Zurich and somehow it is not that busy in my car. I am not sure why trains assign you seats right next to someone when a whole lot of other seats are open, but they do. Luckily, all the seats have a little screen above them to tell you when other ticket holders take them – so after about 30 minutes and two stops I moved to the open four seater with a table.

It was a very uneventful ride to Zurich. Once there I had to switch trains to get to Buchs. A quick four-minute transfer and I was on my way. This train was much busier and I had two Americans across from me and an English woman next to me. The American man worked for Amazon and they had lived in Luxembourg but honestly they were both snotty and not that bright. For living around the world for the last 5 years, you would think they would be a lot more street smart in Europe, but it sure does not seem like it.

They got off about halfway to Buchs and some new people came on – new people with a toddler! Therefore, I realized no one was sitting across from us anymore and I moved over to let the little family have all the space. (And to escape a sticky handed child on a train)

I made it to Buchs around 4pm and headed to the ticket counter to make sure I could buy my ticket form Vienna to Prague (as I was unable to do this portion before). For some reason there was no way to buy a seat reservation on the train I wanted so I asked for the next day, but then realized I’d have to pay for it since my pass was going to run out – so back to the original day, but just taking a longer transfer in Vienna, all of 30 minutes longer.

With my ticket in hand, I was ready to find my Airbnb. The host, Markus, had said it was an easy 10-minute walk and was not kidding – 2 turns and a walk down the main street. He had left the key in the post box – it is funny because only outgoing mail is locked, not incoming!!

I let myself in and the space was updated and modern – perfect space to sleep for a few nights. I was getting ready to head out and walk around when Markus came home. He told me to head over to this old little village about 10 minute walk from the flat and I would see a pond and old houses. It was a great little walk – even though it was raining (again, rain jacket to the rescue!) I wandered around, walked up to the old castle and when I got there the rain stopped and a big rainbow appeared over the valley.

I hung out on the hill top for a bit then decided I was hung so I found a Thai place down the street. I have decided to listen to podcasts when I am walking – but often find myself not paying attention – so I am not exactly sure what is going on in them – and during the rain, I paid even less attention. That walk from the castle to the restaurant, not a clue what the podcast was about.

Regardless I made the quick walk to Thai and was the only one there, but the best part about Thai food is it is the same in every country, including Thailand! I ordered my food and started reading my book (it is very long, very, very long) and all of a sudden people started filing in. Clearly, I picked a good spot – I just got there a bit early. While I was there, the rain came down in buckets – it was crazy! I am glad I was inside for sure.

After I paid and the rain let up, I decided to walk back to the flat. On the way, back I passed a gelato shop – so of course, I had to stop – but it was the most expensive gelato ever – thanks to the Swiss. Everything is about 30-40% more expensive in Switzerland (I learned they do not have free trade) Regardless, it was good gelato and a great way to end the day. Tomorrow I am going to Liechtenstein and I cannot wait!

Tonight Markus came to get me to check out the fireworks happening in Liechtenstein, but the cloud cover made it look like bombs!

Luxembourg….er; France

Monday, August 12

I arrived in Luxembourg after a nice relaxing train ride. This is one I had to buy because they didnt have any more Eurail spots. I got off the train and found the left luggage place – $5 a piece – but better than lugging around my backpack and duffel all day.

I didnt have a list of things to see so when I was done at the station I opened Google Maps and clicked the “attractions” button. It is very handy when you are lazy – just pops up and tells you the things to do near where you are at.

The first thing to pop up was the Notre Dame Cathedral (no not the one in Paris). It looked to be a pretty central location to start so I walked the 10 minutes over there. The church location had a lot of history – dating back to 800AD. It had some pretty stained glass so I hung out in the cathedral for a bit and took it in. My step dad is Catholic and every time I enter a church I take a moment for him, taking in the peace of the place.

They also had a crypt so I went to check it out – just another chapel really, with a very modern looking crypt for someone who I did not know.

It was raining pretty hard after my visit so I put on my handy rain coat and headed to find food. I opted for some “fast food” Chinese. It didnt have much flavor leading me to believe it didnt actually have a lot of salt.

The rain stopped while I was eating, but stayed pretty cloudy. I got out the handy Google maps app again and found they have a really old bridge with a rand new pedestrian walkway underneath – I decided to head there.

The Adolphe Bridge is over 100 years old. It rises 140′ above the ravine and is about 500 feet long. Recently, in the last 5 years, they have added a pedestrian bridge underneath it. It was semi disappointing to see they had cut in and removed some original structure so they could put this bridge in, but its safer for all involved being below the traffic. From the bridge you could see the beautiful ravine below and the garden area near the church.

While I was on the bridge I noticed there was a carnival type ride that takes you up in a compartment and slowly turns around the city providing an aerial 360 view. I decided to walk over and check it out.

It started to rain again just as we got in the ride but was just sprinkling. The views were really neat, on a clear day you can see really far away into the country side. There is a huge ravine that runs through the city and you could see the gardens and houses below. It provided a different view of the area than the bridge did. It was about a four minute even then we slowly went back down.

I wanted to explore more of the city but I just wasnt enjoying myself and when I would walk from place to place I saw how dirty and grimmy the city really is. Luxembourg is supposed to be like the wealthiest country in Europe (they did have really nice cars) but they had trash in the streets and lots of loitering groups – mainly men – but some women. There were also lots of people begging – especially near the train station. So, instaed of exploring more I took my own internal advise and headed back to the train station over an hour early to do some work in the safety of the station.

In all my travels I think this may be the first time an uneasy feeling has washed over me. So, Im glad I followed my gut.

I did a bit of work and then it was time to head to my platform to catch the train to Paris. It was an almost empty car – except for the family with two very loud kids – SO LOUD!! I was seated next to someone – but realized after the second (and last) stop that the whoel four person seating in front of me was open so I grabbed my stuff and moved up. It was about a three hour train ride to Paris; a beautiful ride out of Luxembourg into the French countryside.

I got to Paris at around 915pm and needed to make my way to my hotel for the next few nights. I hopped on the metro line – after I was finally able to communicate (what little French I can remember and my mom did the trick!) and got a metro pass to my stop. The machine would not give me a ticket to my stop – for some dumb reason! I was able to find the hotel no problem!

I had picked this place because it looked close to metro lines and the river – and it has a washer and dryer!! Ill need to do laundry while I am in Paris. I took the worlds smallest triangle shaped lift to the 5th floor where my room was located (Rm 69).

The description said it was nothing fancy, but it was exactly what I needed. A small room with a fridge, fan and large window to open. They also have super fast internet which is great for having to set some work done.

It was past 10 when I got to my room but I was so amped to be in Paris I struggled to sleep. I just wanted to go explore the city – but forced myself to stay in and relax. I decided to book a walking tour for the morning, it ended up meeting just a few blocks from the hotel.

Den Haag…another day with no joke

Sunday August 11 – Den Haag

I slept in again today – my back was hunting again – but I had looked yesterday and almost everything was closed until noon today, so there was no reason to rush out of the house. I love taking walking tours and recommend them to anyone traveling. Usually it gives you an opportunity to explore the city center – including many places you may not have checked out on your own while giving you historical and cultural information. Many of them end with a trip to a pub or a coffee (depending upon the time of day).

I got ready and walked over to the meeting point – Im sure I would make most others nervous or anxious with the lack of planning I do – but it said it was going to meet in this square and the email didn’t necessarily tell you where.  I had a feeling it was near this cartoon statue – so I checked the website and I was right. There were 14 people on the tour, great size group – we had Russians, Texans, Germans, and some Asians – all different points of views on the world. Makes for great conversation when you find out how everyone learns a different history about many parts of history.

Our guide was Denny – he normally does architectural tours but he was filling in for his friend while she was on holiday with her family. He had a lot of insight on the architecture of the buildings so we got to see a lot of little details most people don’t notice – or if they do itll take years (according to Denny). He took us through parks, gardens and we walked all over the city center. For me the highlights were realizing how old the city and the fact that they are still ruled by a king! They vote here for the people who keep the government in check, not the actual government since the king appoints them. They also have like 25+ parties – so they are forced to work together and it is hard to bribe them since the group changes so frequently.

We also learned about the canals throughout Holland – basically they are all locks and dams meant to assist with water problems (rising and lowering due to weather) most of Holland is below sea level. They aren’t afraid of rising sea level because they are prepared for it – they worry about the world, but not themselves.

At the end of free tours they say “now is judgement time.” This is when you get to place value on the tour, since many people who come on these are backpackers or who don’t want large expensive tours, often times $10-15/person is a reasonable rate. I usually give $10 – if they do really good $15 – those are the ones who can answer all my crazy questions. After the tour I walked over to the city volunteers (they have these people with maps and candy to help tourists) and got a map because I want to take the tram to the beach, but first – LUNCH!

I ended up finding another pizza place but opted for pasta and soup this time. I really want some fries!! I haven’t found a stand open when I am actually hungry for them though.  I sat and wrote up to this point in the blog, read some of my book and enjoyed the food for a while. After lunch I walked around for a bit, then went to figure out the tram system so I could check out the beach. Luckily you can buy tickets with a card on the trams themselves – the signage and information at the stops is actually very good here. I rode line #1 from the city center to the beach area. It was about a 25 minute ride. The tram went down tree lined streets – everything so lush and green – make the outskirts of the city seem farther away than it really was.

I got to the beach stop, opened Google maps and headed towards the water. On the way over I ran into a bunch of kids teaching each other parkour. It was a pretty cool site to see – looked like a legitimate club – they had shirts and leaders and stuff. Getting to the beach from the tram line was a quick 10 minute walk. It smelled like fish the closer I got to the water – but the beach views were gorgeous. It was (and usually is) very window, so there were many windsurfers out on the water. I didn’t see many people camped out on the beach – but it was pretty cool  out (all of 64*).

After I checked out the beach I went back to the tram, I really wanted to get some digestives (ya know fiber full crackers, with chocolate!) and chocolate for my adventures tomorrow – luckily there was a shop just at the tram stop. I gathered my snacks and got on the tram back to the city center. I stopped at the Peach Palace as my guide recommended it. However, you can you cant actually go in and they only have a small visitor center to check out. I took some pictures and headed back to the tram. The Peace Palace is an international group of people appointed by each country that handles international arbitration. In order to participate each side must agree to the final settlement.

Once back at the city center I decided it was time to head back to my Airbnb and relax for a bit before the concert and also change, it was already cooling off and it was only 5pm. I got back to my room and no one else was home (woohoo) but I just went to my room to watch some Friends and take a nap before my super wild night ahead. I full expected to be out late (and I was!)

The concert started at 7pm – but tickets said P!NK had two openers – so I didn’t leave the house until after 7pm since the park was only about a 15 minute walk. People were filing in from the trams, buses and trains – all so orderly and excited. I followed the wave of people into the park. There was a bike parking lot at the venue (and many people didn’t even lock their bikes up) and a locker facility in case you wanted to leave stuff outside of the park.

I decided I had come all this way I should buy a shirt with the concert dates and places on it, so I waited in the long line and got a shirt. After that I headed to ticket check in. I paid for the closest area (the Golden Circle) which meant my line to get in was super short. They scanned your ticket, put on a wristband and made you throw away your ticket. You then have your bags looked at, but no metal detector or pat down. Europe (ok maybe just this area) has concert venues figured out. No cash at the food or beverage lines. You instead buy tokens – plastic round coin like pieces that can be split in half to pay for food or beverages. The minimum you could buy was 5 tokens – for $15. So I went with the 5 tokens because they had FRIES!! The friends were 1.5 tokens and the drinks (non-alcoholic) were 1 token a piece. I got fries, fanta and a water. They even had water refill stations around the site – its super nice!!

Aloha Maui!!

My cousin is getting married in Maui and that afforded me the perfect opportunity to head to the islands for the first time. With all the traveling I do I have acquired quite a bit of airline and hotel points and finally decided to use them. I first splurged on AA.com buying myself first class tickets to and from the islands for 40,000 points each way. Next up, the hotel. Since Hilton is my brand of choice, I choose the Waldorf Astoria – Grand Wailea.

Wednesday was my travel day, I set out to San Jose airport around 630am. Even though I booked using American points my flight was an AlaskaAir flight. I checked in, checked my bag and headed to the gate for an on-time departure.

First class was pretty amazing, we got a menu for our breakfast options and a great flight attendant serving us. I went with the omelet with cheese, onions and tomatoes. It did not disappoint. Sadly I fell asleep before the snack basket came around. You have to fill out a form declaring any produce or animal products – clearing trying to keep down the contamination. I’m actually shocked they D idnt spray/treat the plane like they did when I landed in New Zealand.

Upon landing I headed to baggage claim to meet up with my other cousins: Amy, Mike and their kids Phoebe and Juniper. We all collected our bags then headed out with the rest of the crowds to the rental car shuttles. I learned a few things about Maui airport that day, mainly that you can walk to the rental cars. If you have multiple people in your party send the driver to get the car and come back to get the rest of the group.

I got my rental car for a steal, $126 for 5 days. That can often be the single day price. The rental car process took about an hour and a half. But after I got my car, I hit the road for the 30 minute drive to my hotel. Upon arrival I got a lei and greeted very warmly by the staff. Since I arrived around 2 my room wasn’t quite ready, so I checked my bags with the bellman and headed to Mike and Amy’s hotel – Wailea Beach Resort – a quick 10 minute walk along the ocean. We got the, settled and immediately my room was ready, so back I came to get checked in. I was upgraded to am ocean view room, and I can hear the waves crashing from my balcony.

Amy I went to Costco and Target after we all unpacked to get some food for our stay. It was perfect – we were able to split lots of stuff and get snacks for during the day. We are probably the least efficient shoppers, but in the end we got what we needed. We all ended up crashing early, since the time change is 3 hours and we were all up very early.

The land of fire and ice

Woooowwwweeee!! First I should say that it is not in fact a 14 hour travel day to get to Iceland from SFO. It was about 11. First flight was Alaska Airlines SFO to SEA. I had what was supposed to be about a 15 minute layover in Seattle, but it turned out to be more like 45 minutes. Thankfully I had time to get some grub before my flight. 

I got Ramen….I would not recommend Ramen for a plane ride, when it comes in a biodegradable bowl. I didn’t want to rush eating the ramen so I was waiting until I got on the flight – what that meant was the heat and spiciness of the ramen was starting to break down the bowl, so by the time I got on the plane, it was leaking!! I had an emergency exit row so I had plenty of room to make a mess – the ramen splashed on my sweatshirt – so now I smell like spicy ramen. 

Once I had finished my ramen boarding was also complete – and guess what NO ONE IN THE MIDDLE SEAT!! Woohooo!! The guy on the aisle and I chatted a bit about how he had broken up with the girl that was supposed to be coming on the trip MONTHS ago and when he called to see if he could get any money back (he couldn’t) he decided not to cancel until the morning of the flight so the middle seat would be open – and bless his hipster heart for doing just that!! 

Our flight was a bit delayed, but who the heck cares, cuz no one was in the middle seat, I had my stomach full, a big ole pillow to rest my head on, and a quick 7.5 hour flight to ICELAND!!

Upon arriving in Iceland I expected the usual customs forms and check – but NO!! I just walked up to the passport agent and she asked how long I was in the EU for (apparently Iceland is part of the EU) and stamped my passport and I was on my way!! I met Lauren in the luggage reclaim area – she had been there about 2 hours. She, of course had made friends with a woman who was also waiting for someone on my same flight. Once my bag arrived we were on our way through customs – which again was nothing, there wasnt even a space for someone to pretend to be customs. Iceland is apparently very free.

Lauren grabbed a coffee while I read up on where to pick up our rental car and we headed out to find our shuttle to take us off site. Lauren was concerned about the weather and driving conditions and wanted to check into a 4×4 vehicle option. When we asked about it, the guy basically made us think we were crazy for wanting one and said it would be more than double the price to get one…..so off we went with our little Hyundai i20 (small little baby car). First stop BLUE LAGOON.

Lets just say that the Blue Lagoon is a total tourist trap – but WORTH IT!! We had reservations at 8am to beat the crowds and we did!! Lauren (the little researcher she is) got us the package that came with a robe and flips, free drink and an extra face mask. Once we were all checked in it was off to change into our suits. Before going into the lagoon you have to shower – naked – and then put your suit back on over a wet body. RUDE. That is so hard to do!! At least everyone was struggling the same. We decided to take our phones with us to snap some pictures. (it didnt last long).

The water was so warm and soothing. (didnt taste great, though Im sure they warn you about that too) We strolled in (the entrance is inside) and down the ramp and then finally through the door where the wind hit us something fierce. It was COLD!! But the water remained warm, so we dropped into the water and scooted out into the open lagoon for some pictures.

After about 10 minutes we were over holding our phones above the silica heavy water. So, the phones went back into the locker. We came back to the lagoon and headed over the face mask bar. We got Silica masks and you are supposed to leave that on for 10-15 minutes, but it is COLD!! Cold because of the wind blowing off over the ridge hits the mask and freezes your face. I could only handle it for like 2 minutes before I started taking it off. Lauren was a champ and made it the full 10 minutes. During that time I got more mask and put it on again. Made it a bit longer this time. We waded the water for a long while. We got some “pure Icelandic water” they had a little spigot of fresh water under one of the bridges. (Also ice old). We tried the steam room, it was pretty cold; and then off to the waterfall. The waterfall was like a massage for your shoulders, the weight of the water pelting your muscles was great. Lauren didnt care for it as much as I did. 

We got another mask, this time algae. Its supposed to make our skin look like Cindy Crawford’s. Im not sure it worked, but it felt nice!! After the mask we headed to our lunch reservation.

Originally we had just decided to go get the sparkling wine that was complementary with our ticket, but then we heard it was pretty good, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

While the lunch was roughly $60 it was a good experience and the food was worth it!! After lunch it was back into the lagoon for some last minute pictures (we needed to try out portrait mode) and then head on our way.

After Blue Lagoon we headed to COSTCO!! Mainly just to see what they had there and it was basically a regular Costco. They had some different candy and such, but mainly the usual. After Costco we hit a supermarket (Bonus!) and stocked up on some snacks for our ROAD TRIP!!

We checked into our hotel and then ventured off to the downtown area of Reykjavik. It was a cold 20 minute walk each way, but the town was cute and felt very European. 

We ate at a bar that was Big Lebowski themed bar (turns out I have no idea what that is). We got veggie burgers and then headed back to the hotel. 

On our way we stopped at another grocery store to see if there was any bath towels there (we are going to go to another thermal bath and they charge you like $5 to rent a towel – and if we keep that up we might as well buy our own!). There were no towels there, but Im pretty sure I found a package of Whale, which made me sad. 

Back in the hotel now and trying to warm up after the cold walk back. Planning tomorrow and looking forward to our continuing adventure!