London calling…

For a little bit longer.

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The Battle of Britain War Memorial. Capel-le-Ferne, Engalnd. June 2015.

So here comes the end of the June 2015 Travel Saga with the last few stops on our strange whirlwind World War II tour: London.

While we did the regular stops when passing through London—the theatre and strolling through the city—we had three final stops which we couldn’t pass up: The Battle of Britain War Memorial, Duxford with a stop in Cambridge and a day in Bletchley Park.

Each of these trips were scheduled as day trips and in panning your days, I would recommend taking the whole day to explore each of the sites as well as the surrounding areas—they each really have enough to do that and you’ll want the whole time!

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Our day out was exploring the Battle of Britain War Museum

If you are out this way and a fan of history, it is a stop you can’t miss. Besides the great views—you can see the Cliffs of Dover from the outcropping as well as visit them if you have the time—and WWII vehicles you can look at around the grounds, the new Interactive Wing, and Scramble Experience really makes the visit.

The cliffs from Memorial. Capel-le-Ferne, Engalnd. June 2015.
The cliffs from Memorial. Capel-le-Ferne, Engalnd. June 2015.

There are interactive games, activities, and read along screens around the room which makes this a great learning stop for all ages and plays a great show covering the battle. It’s recommended you watch this twice to get everything and they happen regularly enough that it’s not off putting. I’d recommend hanging out at the main table to get a great a real view of each side.

There’s also an area in the back where you can try on bomber jackets and officer coats—sneak in a few pictures—though this is really meant for children so sizes are pretty limited.

With everything you can watch/read/do within this building, it’s easy to lose track of time which is another reason I really recommend keeping the rest of your day free – you don’t want to miss out.

The one thing that made this stop difficult was getting here.

The train was simple enough, but we had a truly difficult time figuring out which bus—and which bus stop—would take us to the memorial. When you do get on the bus—and it’s a bit of a ride, so grab seats if you can!—the easiest thing is to talk to the driver. Ours was very nice and called back to us when we got to our stop so we couldn’t miss it.

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Day two had us out near Cambridge to explore the huge area which houses the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.

Duxford airfield is absolutely huge and there were no audioguides when we visited. Things can get a little confusing if you go out of order and it’s not hard to get lost, so pay attention to where you are.

For us, this was a lot of review so if you want the overview of the war, I’d make this my first stop and then hit the Battle of Britain War Museum for something deeper.

Tilting Down the Cam. Cambridge, England. June 2015.
Punting Down the Cam. Cambridge, England. June 2015.

Still, there were interesting parts such as wandering an active air field and looking at retire planes of all types and sizes.

One thing to mention is watch the eating times. Some of the cafes only serve hot foods at specific times and they do keep to that schedule; therefore, if you plan to eat, plan it out!

One of my favorite parts of this day trip was wandering through Cambridge after we left the airfield. If this is your plan—once again—I really recommend talking to the bus driver. Ours gave us an impromptu tour and told us which stop to get off at as well as which direction we’d want to head to get to campus.

We seemed to be there around graduation, so a lot of areas were closed for that, but we did go punting down the Cam which was absolutely beautiful. This whole area made me wish I’d looked a little longer before picking a grad school but, alas, this is one stop I’ll be hitting again before I wrap up my stay in December!

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Our last excursion had us cracking codes at Bletchley Park.

If you’ve seen The Imitation Game you will already know some of the history of the place and how important the work done here was. For me, it was fascinating learning about the amount of women working here as well as the way in which information moved—some buildings used chutes and brooms to pass work between them!

Wandering Bletchley. Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, England. June 2015.
Wandering Bletchley. Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, England. June 2015.

This is another great venue with interactive aspects—mostly in the main building—which teache you some of the coding and, before you leave, you should definitely stop in and see the explanation and demonstration with the Bombe—the code breaking machine shown in the film.

While they do have great audio guides, don’t fully depend on them or you will miss out on some gems. Throughout the green areas, hidden speakers play scenes which you might have witnessed when this was an active war site, from the sounds of children playing to a couple’s first date, which shows how alive this area was—it wasn’t all work!

Also, there is a walking tour which I recommend. The guides all seem great and we were lucky enough to find that ours was a writer on one of the period television shows my mom watches, so you are never sure what or who you will discover.

While we spent a good deal of the day here, we did not have enough time to see the whole thing, however, luckily the ticket allows you to visit for an entire year so that will be in the cards, along with another site nearby with other cryptography items.

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If you are looking to visit WWII themed historic stops while you are in London, there are so many places I haven’t mentioned, but you can find out more by looking through The Imperial War Museum website as well as doing any other basic search you would undertake in your travel prep.

And that was our WWII tours conclusion and the end of my mom and sister’s visit which of course means the hardest part of travel—getting back to reality.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

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London calling…

In the Bruges

So much to do, and so little time!

View from the top. Belfry, Burges, Belgium. June 2015.
View from the top. Belfry, Bruges, Belgium. June 2015.

Our last stop before heading back to my final destination—back to my London home—was a one day stay in the (once again—another theme?) absolutely stunning and easily walkable Bruges, Belgium.

While the Netherlands had given us funny cheeses and smelled of chocolate, it was in this wonderful city that we really explored our foodie inclinations. However, if you plan to follow in this model, a word of advice: plan ahead! But more of that to come.

Before anything else—and planning to eat our way through the city—we opted to head to the Belfry – the city’s large and historic bell tower where you can climb all 366 steps to the top and get an amazing panoramic view of the city.

This is a big stop for travelers—including school and tour groups—and they only allow a specific number of people up at a time, which you’ll be grateful for. Unfortunately, this also means the wait can take a while before you even mention the climb. Groups going in and out can cause you problems in terms of bunching in the stairways – single stairs for people going up and down— but we’ll cover another issue with this in a moment.

While we had done a lot of climbing throughout the trip, this tower felt like a whole new mission. Something we hadn’t known going in is that this tower leans. And when I say leans, I mean leans.

Belfry, Burges, Belgium. June 2015.
Belfry, Bruges, Belgium. June 2015.

The further you go up, the more you will notice that one side of the stairs within the spiral slowly but surely shrinks while the other broadens—because the stairs run pretty much straight in a leaning tower. In case you have someone like my sister with you: this is apparently terrifying for those afraid of heights, especially with people trying to pass, so be wary. On the way up, however, there are two rooms which you can stop in whether to read all the information, take a break, or simply get your bearings, so if one of your party can’t make it to the top, these are great spaces for them to hang out in, at least until traffic slows down.

The second of these rooms houses the chimes which are played like a gigantic windup music box so getting to that level to see its construction is pretty amazing.

But moving on to the rest of our day and, therefore, food.

There are a few things you really can’t miss if you visit Belgium and grabbing a waffle and some chocolate were definitely on our list. Therefore, if you can walk and eat, or at least find a quick seat along the street, popping by one of the many Belgian waffle shops is quite the treat—light and easy after our climb, but what we really loved was the utensil we were given. While sporks are commonplace, this was a tiny fork whose third tine doubled a knife. We never really settled on what to call this, but we are open to suggestions!

Then we were off to the French Fry museum—officially called the Friet Museum—where you learn more about potato history, travel, types, and even lore—seriously—than you ever knew was possible. And in true Gallagher fashion, we read it all. But while the potato choice is important, it is the way in which they are cooked that really make the fry, and, of course, you are taken through this process step by step.

There are a lot of spaces for kids—or playful adults—to run around and interact with here, so it’s a great stop for families and never got crowded. And of course, once you finish your tour, you can head down to the fry shop and discover exactly how a properly prepared fry is supposed to taste—the curry ketchup was surprisingly great! Also, if you take the tour, you get a 15 percent discount on all food orders per person which you can combine, so this is a nice place to stop and grab lunch if you are ready by then.

ALL THE FOOD! Burges, Belgium. June 2015.
ALL THE FOOD! Bruges, Belgium. June 2015.

After sampling the starchy wares, we went on to the local chocolate museum. Once again, we were taken through the history of chocolate and its manufacturing. While we did get free samples—which were delicious—if you’ve done other chocolate tours like the one I mentioned in Switzerland—I’d pass on this stop.

While the walk through was fine, the building smelt like a sewer, the information on chocolate is the same that you will learn pretty much anywhere else, and the part of the museum which should be exciting—watching a demonstration by one of the master chefs—there are signs throughout which explicitly state the you may not talk to the chef. So while seeing the chocolate sculptures which filled the latter part of the tour were cool—overall we were unimpressed.

If you are willing to shell out the big bucks, however, you and your group can do a private demonstration which, watching the group through a window—seemed fun and highly interactive, but I reiterate, it will cost you.

These next two stops are where the planning comes in.

We were meant to hit the Diamond Museum and another local brewery tour, however, due to a timing error on one hand and a ticket situation on the other, neither of them worked out.

From the canal to wandering the city. Burges, Belgium. June 2015.
From the canal to wandering the city. Bruges, Belgium. June 2015.

So my advice? I’d have skipped the chocolate museum; buy yourself a treat at a local shop instead and hit the diamond museum—though no free samples, sorry! And for the brewery, go first thing in the morning and buy your tickets. There are a limited number of tours throughout the day as well as spaces on those tours so, they can sell out early. This is a locally run brewery which seemed—unlike others—to really take you through the brewing process by a person who knows what they are talking about (a plus), and sampling is part of the tour, so go in early and get those tickets

But, since these fell through, we opted to be ferried along the canal by one of the many companies docked along the bank. If these tours interest you—and I do recommend it even just to see the city—you can pretty much find one by locating a bridge. While seeing the city was great, there were also a few fun facts for anyone interested in history and/or architecture from roof construction and pricing to the effect that window taxes had on those buildings you are passing. Our tour guide was very sweet, and if you can manage it, he recommended sitting in the center aisle for the best views, so keep that in mind.

While everything we did here in Bruges, was amazing—seriously great food—what we enjoyed most, for no other reason than surprise, was wandering the streets in the morning—though it plays all day—and having some 90s music pumped out into the streets. This wasn’t loud stores, but literally speakers lined up and down the streets blasting out The Backstreet Boys among others. But hey, it’s the little things.

So until next time,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

In the Bruges

Cheese, Wooden Shoes, and Windmills…

…do you know where we are?

Welcome to Zansee Schans. Zansee Schans, Holland. June 2015.
Welcome to Zansee Schans. Zansee Schans, Holland. June 2015.

On another quick stop (read: 2 nights and a day) we looked to have…

My mother had seen a ticket online that would allow you to visit a few different locations only a bus ride outside of the city – perfect since one area was big on windmills and the other two closer stops had clogs and cheese making demonstrations. However, what it seemed my mother did not look up before hand was how/where these tickets could be purchased.

In other words, if you find this kind of deal and don’t mind the time on the bus between locations, go for it; if not I recommend:

Zaanse Schans.

This little town at the end of the bus route has everything: a cheese house, a clog store, windmills you can tour and explore, and a cute little town across the river only a short but lovely boat ride away.

A nice stop along the path. Zaanse Schans, Holland. June 2015.
A nice stop along the path. Zaanse Schans, Holland. June 2015.

First things first, you can go straight to the windmills and co. if you head left through the parking lot, or you can go check out the visitor center and pick up a map and get your basic information by keeping right. One is really no better than the other but this location really does benefit someone willing to walk and wander (another point in the favor of just choosing this stop for the day).

Due to the length of the bus ride (and a bit of normal end of trip slow mornings), we got to Zaanse Schans a little later than our usual ‘right when everything opens’ entrance. And, in a relatively normal Gallagher turn, we bought a cone of soft serve ice cream and decided to watch the sheep pen next to the kiosk while we figured out what we wanted to do.

Usually, this isn’t something I’d mention, however, there is a warning. The tourist here were not cool—we were literally body shoved and nudged away from the fence where we were petting one of the lambs because another tourist couple wanted a picture with it. I know this isn’t everyone who visits, but Zaanse Schans is hugely popular, so bad tourists do seem to abound.

Anyway, our goal for this trip was—again—cheese, windmills, and clogs, and Zaanse Schans did not disappoint.

As you enter, you’ll see a small, picturesque mill which you can get a great picture of from the small bridge in front of it. Once you get your pictures and cross, you’ll see a shop—go in and welcome to the Cheese section. The front room shows you how cheese is made via a video and display room that walks you through each step of the process and the tools used to make the cheese. And then you enter the shop.

If you like cheese, you should really enjoy this room (but your wallet may suffer for it!). around much of the room are sampling areas with cheeses ranging for your basic smoked variety to herb and garlic to the more exotic flavored cheese such as lavender cheese, various wine flavored cheeses, and –our gift to dad—asparagus cheese. From smooth to dense, light to strong, goat to cow, there is a cheese for everyone and, as you make your way around the room, you can try them all.

We stopped here twice during our visit, the second time to actually buy—no use carrying around your cheese all day!—but both times we sampled them all, our top contenders a few more times just to help us decide.

While I obviously loved the cheese store, I really loved all Zaanse Schans had to offer and just taking a wander really is the best way about it.

Pigment mill gears. Saanze Schans, Holland. June 2015.
Pigment mill gears. Saanze Schans, Holland. June 2015.

The main draw of coming here is obviously the windmills. While historically, this region was once littered with them, there are three main mills still standing and working, each in charge of a different task and you can usually go in and explore each for a small fee.

We chose the pigment mill which is key in making pastels and the like. Inside, they have samples, explanations of the process and the history of the mill which was fascinating. After exploring the ground floor, you can head up the— very steep —stairs and walk around most of the outer perimeter. This gives you a great view of the area and the other mills.

Right before the last mill, there is a dock where you can catch a small ferry to the town across the river. It’s a cheap, quick ride that gives you a beautiful view of the mills you wouldn’t otherwise see. You are also given a sheet which directs you on a tour of the town’s historic locations.

Do you smell chocolate? Saanze Schans, Holland. June 2015.
Do you smell chocolate? Saanze Schans, Holland. June 2015.

But stranger—yet amazing—still is the smell of the town itself—pure chocolate.

You know in cartoons when a character smells something fantastic and is carried away by the smell? That was us, following the scent of chocolate—however, we never managed to find the source.

When you cross back over to the mill side, you should explore the town and little shops—be careful, some of these are absolutely traps!

Right before you leave – as in crossing bridges again and turning right before you actually get to the parking lot – you’ll find the shop where the clogs are made and purchase a pair of your own, from the most whimsically painted to the most beautifully engraved.

Cinderella! Saanze Schans, Holland. June 2015.
Cinderella! Saanze Schans, Holland. June 2015.

Don’t skip the entry way. You can watch a video on the shoes history, as well as see all the variations through time, culture, and purpose that a lay person may not attribute to clogs. Also, you’d be remissed to skip the Swarovski crystal clog—or, while not glass, in my Disney-addled brain, The Cinderella Clog.

While the shoes were far out of my souvenir price range, this is not the shop to skip. If you time it right, the demonstration is worth sticking around for.

Some travelers will stick around for a few hours and then move on, but if you have the time, I recommend staying the whole day. The views and sights do not disappoint.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Cheese, Wooden Shoes, and Windmills…

2 Days in Amsterdam….

Is anyone else worried that the buildings are leaning?

Canals, canals, canals! Amsterdam,  Netherlands. June 2015.
Canals, canals, canals! Amsterdam, Netherlands. June 2015.

That was one of the first thing we noticed when walking through this stop on our whirlwind tour.

Yes, even the building in this ‘live and let live’ city feel so laid back that, as you wander, you’ll begin to notice buildings that seem to be holding up their neighbors while others have begun to tilt forward or backwards, some to quite an interesting degree. Yet none felt too close to falling over quiet yet, so we just laughed and kept walking on our way.

Still, something fun to keep an eye open for!

But back on track.

After a long morning of travel, we arrived in Amsterdam around mid-afternoon and settled in.

Depending on where you stay here and the surrounding areas, now is the time to warn you: due to the local architecture, the staircases in most of the buildings are narrow and extremely steep.

If you plan on coming with large bags, this will be a truly tying experience. If you have a fear of heights, these stairs may also cause you some serious anxiety—double this if you are going to have to lug luggage up them.

Canal shot down the street from Hotel Adolesce. Amsterdam,  Netherlands. June 2015.
Canal shot down the street from Hotel Adolesce. Amsterdam, Netherlands. June 2015.

We stayed at Hotel Adolesce which was lovely—minus the stairs (again slightly terrifying)—and I really recommend it. The building sits along one of the canals which are beautiful and inside there are balcony/porch areas where you can sit in the evenings and enjoy the late setting sun, great wifi connection, and a tea and snack area full of cookies and simple sandwich fixings in the lobby which are available 24 hours a day.

Little did we know when we booked, however, was the first site we would see across the canal from our accommodation:

This is Schaduwkade, sometimes translated/ called Shadow Kade, Shadow Quay, or Shadow Walk. This is a unassuming WWII memorial that commemorates the events of—and the lives lost during and due to—May 26, 1943. This street (along with others) was raided by the Nazis and all the Jewish residence taken to various camps. Standing at these memorial plaques, you are able to look out across the canal and see each of the residence buildings—like our hotel—and learn the names, ages, and destinations of these victims which brings a truly unshakable human face to these events.

What was amazing about this site, erected in 2013, is that you could be completely oblivious to it. The street is one of many little canal streets with beautiful views worth strolling down. But once you notice the small plaques, read them, and understand what events you are witnessing all these years later, you can’t escape the fact that you are staying in the shadow of this history—right in the middle of the real world, a world where anyone could – and do –  live.

It was truly mind altering, because finding this kind of insight wasn’t something we expected at all.

The next morning, we set out—as most travelers stopping in Amsterdam do—to the Anne Frank House, and if this is your plan, there are a few things to know:

We arrived at around 8 to 8:15 and stood in the 3 hour or so line (which we were fine with), and depending on your plans, this may not work out for everyone. Therefore, if you want to make the most of your time, I’ll lay out some of the advice we learned as the day dragged on:

If you get to this location between 7:30 to 7:45, the wait is generally an hour and a half to an hour-forty-five—although I’m not quite sure if that’s after the doors open or not.

One girl we met recommended coming after 3 pm for about the same wait, but a local vendor swore that if you come at 6pm, you’ll wait about 30 minutes because that’s when people are out doing other activities, such as coming home from work, getting ready for their evening out, eating dinner, ect. If you do go around 6, you’ll still have plenty of time to look around the house and exhibit since they stay open until 9pm regularly—10 during certain points in the summer.

Leaning Buildings we saw during our wait. Amsterdam,  Netherlands. June 2015.
Leaning Buildings we saw during our wait. Amsterdam, Netherlands. June 2015.

While this is definitely a sight for tourists, I still really recommend spending some time here. Despite the wait, the crowds of (sometimes) really obnoxious tourists, and (again) steep and somewhat challenging stairs, walking through these spaces and listening to the testimonies of people who knew those who lived within the attic, once again humanizes an event which for most of us is a story we either learned in school or through long lost family members who were effected by similar events.

After going through the house, you are led to a room full of excerpts from the diary and more information on Anne. Going through this room more than anything else made me realize how funny, sharp, and clever this girl was—how real. It was also where you can really see her dedication to writing.

One of the reasons for this is you never hear all of the story. I’d never heard that over the radio—which the residence did listen to—there was a call for people to write diaries for publication pertaining to the events of the day—and Anne wanted to do just that; she wanted to be published.

At the end of the tour, there is a room where you can hear more testimonials from visitors, actors, politicians—basically people from all walks of life—talking about Anne, her fellow residence, and the events of the occupation and World War II generally, which I do recommend sitting through.

One quote that really stuck with me was that we have to remember that, while Anne and her story happened, she was not a singular case. We cannot forget all the others who died voiceless; whose stories we don’t know.

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Next we wandered over to the Van Gogh Museum and whether you are a fan of art museums or this artist or not, this is a museum that I absolutely loved.

Each level of the building builds on the life of Van Gogh, covering his process, his connections to other artists—including the self-portraits he and his friends sent back and forth in an almost snapchat manner!— an in depth look at his relationship with his brother and brother’s family, and artists inspired by him. I was even able to find new favorites from his work which I had never seen before.

But as someone with a love of language, it was the spattered quotes taken from the artist’s personal letters that really drew me in—I mean, my goodness, this man could write!

My favorite (and new life philosophy)?

“For one must spoil as many canvases as one succeeds with when one mounts the breach each morning…” –Van Gogh, Letter 823 from 26 November 1889

I won’t lie, Doctor Who’s representation already made me have some serious feels for this artist, but reading his words, seeing his life work and all the ripples that have happened because of it: this is easily my favorite art museum—and I’ve been to many.

I did not use an audio tour, but I will definitely be back, and all reports have said that the guide is well worth it.

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Heineken Experience.  Amsterdam,  Netherlands. June 2015.
Heineken Experience. Amsterdam, Netherlands. June 2015.

We ended the day taking a tour of the Heineken Factory—we were lucky to get into the last grouping—which includes a small glass to taste test during the tour and two free drinks in the bar after the tour. If you like these kind of events, look them up because they do shut down earlier than you may expect!

The tour was pretty standard for a beer factory and everyone working there has a great sense of humor so they make it enjoyable as well. overall, I was most impressed with how much I learned! Like why the foam is so important and how to actually taste beer—CLUE: full drink, no wine sips at the foam!—and the best way to help make the foam and flavor last (I still am not a fan, but I love learning!).

We spent a little while in the bar with our free drinks and talking to other friendly tourists and playing with many of the interactive games and screens—seriously this place is a little like an arcade as you head from the main tour to the bar.

So only slightly bubbly from the drinks—some more than others—we ended out final day in Amsterdam wandering, and only a little lost, around the city and its various canals. The city is lovely, so well worth the wander.

So yes, more like a day and a half, but I think two days would have been perfect (at least!) for a city like this with a whole lot of diverse experiences to be had!

But alas, this was a whirlwind adventure! So next time we’ll be all cheese and windmills—any guesses where?

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

2 Days in Amsterdam….