The final destination on The 2016 European Museum Tour was actually the first place in Europe we arrived. London, England. My favourite city. After living in London years ago, I always jump at any opportunity to go back and visit. I love the feel, the history, and the architecture of the city. It just always makes me feel happy and comfortable to be there. On any day of the week you can find something to see or do. I swear no matter how long you are there, you can always find something new.
Here are the Museums we visited in London during The 2016 European Museum Tour.
Tower of London
This is the only museum with an admission fee from our London portion of the 2016 European Museum Tour. The Tower of London (website) is not only a walled castle/palace where the royalty previously lived and ruled from, but it was also a prison. At the same time. The history remains today in the buildings still standing, the ruins left behind, the stories being told, and even in the walls.
The Tower of London offers visitors a partial guided tour filled with stories of intrigue, death, greed, justice, pain, and even love. While they are responsible for looking after the crown jewels, and any prisoners (not held there anymore) the Yeomen Warders or Beefeaters as they are sometimes called, are also providing the tour. They are former military who look after the Tower and the ravens, but also tell a really good story. The Tower of London offers tours with ASL as well as descriptive tours of the Jewel House and the White Tower for visually impaired and blind visitors.
There are even actors dressed in period clothing, putting on shows throughout the grounds of the castle and talking to visitors. Nothing like interactive history for the entire family.
Several collections are housed inside the Tower of London and are included in the cost of your admission. The Armoury, the Royal Jewels, the White Tower (where the two Princes were believed to have been buried), the Royal Mint, and even the historical armour worn by kings which are displayed in Line of Kings.
If like me you love history and architecture, you’ll love walking through buildings that actually show you inside the walls. You can see how builders in that time period structured the walls and the buildings.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Like I said earlier, no matter how long you are in London there will always be something new. I lived there for three years and I have been back to visit several times but during the 2016 European Museum Tour, it was my very first trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum (website).
Calling itself the world’s leading museum of art and design I can confirm that I saw items in this museum that I have never seen in a museum before. And I loved it. With items on display spanning over 5,000 years and showing creativity in almost every medium, the Victoria and Albert Museum was a delight.
Needing to replenish with food and drink? The Victoria and Albert museum has three period rooms you can try out. Which apparently, are the world’s oldest museum restaurants, having been designed in the 1860’s. Interactive museum display, I love it! There is the ornately decorated Gamble Room, the Poynter Room(originally called the Grill Room), and The Morris Room.
There was the collection of wrought iron items. The staircase and balconies from a historical building in France. A façade of a building from the UK. There was just so much to see that you normally don’t get a chance to see in most museums. I really enjoyed the visit and will probably go again.
While admission for the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum is free, some exhibitions and events have a separate charge.
National Art Gallery
Love art? Want to see paintings created by some of the most famous names in the history of art? Want to see art created by people hundreds of years ago? Oh, and do you want to see all that for free? Then the National Art Gallery (website) is the joy you have been looking for.
I squealed like a man who saw a spider in front of him, as he walked around a corner and someone jumped out at him. I could not contain my excitement. I’ll explain…..
Leonardo da Vinci is my favourite painter. I love so many different painters but he is my favourite. Plus, the man was a crazy genius. Anyway, during the Paris portion of the 2016 European Museum Tour we saw his ‘Virgin of the Rocks’ painting at the Louvre, which is one of my favourite. Then as I was walking around the National Art Gallery in London, I saw it again. So, of course I Googled. He painted two of them and I have now seen both. This is something that hadn’t even made it onto my bucket list yet and I was already crossing it off. It was so exhilarating and amazing that I don’t feel these words describe the experience enough.
Needless to say, The National Art Gallery of London is a great way to spend some of your touristy time and embrace all the excitement and joy of witnessing the works of some amazingly talented painters. Plus, it is open every day. It’s also located in Trafalgar Square so you can cross that off your ‘to see’ list too. And after, you can either head up to Piccadilly Circus & Leicester Square or down the Royal Mile to Buckingham Palace.
Another museum that offers free admission, the British Museum (website) is a bit of a prickly subject for me. Because of an article I read years ago, I don’t appreciate the ‘how’ a lot of the artifacts were apparently acquired in foreign countries. For years I wouldn’t even visit this museum, until one day I finally walked in. I generally stick to items from the UK though, which means there is still so much to see because of the country’s lengthy history.
This visit, I found the old previous British Library room. It was magnificent. The room itself was wonderful and that alone made me want to just sit in the middle of it, on the floor. I didn’t though. The room is now called the Enlightenment Room though seeing as the British Library is now housed in its own building.
One of the hardest parts of the 2016 European Museum Tour was that I did it while I was injured and limited in movements and stamina. It made it hard to see everything I wanted as well as walk around the different venues. I had to stop and rest a lot. My cousin found these great folding stools you could use at the British Museum though. They were lightweight so it wasn’t hard to carry them around, plus you could use them to sort of help you walk. Then when you wanted to, or needed to, you unfolded it and rested. Every museum should offer these!
Squeeeeee!!! You might be wondering why a library would bring about that kind of a reaction. If you are, you have no idea what the British Library (website) contains. Imagine a 9-story building with over 150 million items. Not just exhibits or every publication ever produced in the UK and Ireland (EVERY ITEM) either. But there are also maps, sound recordings, drawings, the world’s earliest dated print book (the Diamond Sutra), the Magna Carta and even a napkin containing handwritten song lyrics by one of the Beatles. The variety of the objects housed at the museum is unbelievable and I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else. They have Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook, Chinese oracle bones that are over 3,000 years old, and even a recording of Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia trial speech.
We only went into one room the day we were there and I could have spent even more time in that room. The only other thing we visited was a punk rock exhibit. This is definitely a museum for me to visit more than once. Not only that but the library is open every day where you can take a tour, check out the exhibits, shop, eat, or even reserve and sit in one of the many reading rooms.
The British Library was an easy visit for the 2016 European Museum Tour because it is located right by the King’s Cross St. Pancras, Euston and Euston Square train and underground stations. Pssst, they also have free Wi-Fi.
Each of the museums have so much to see and do as well as wonderful facilities for visitors.
Please note when I say these museums are open every day, the hours are different for the days of the week and they are not open on all holidays. I’ve included the links to each website for you to double check though.
London is a massive city with so much to offer, it is impossible to list everything. But what I can do is list a few of the places where I have spent time shopping and eating in London. I can also try to share a bit of information on what is available and what you can look forward to. The options for shopping and eating in London range from incredibly cheap to incredibly expensive. You can also find something from every corner of the world. It really is amazing.
Eating in London
You can choose to eat at a pub that is several hundred years old, or an expensive hotel restaurant that is also several hundred years old. How about eating food from a country you have never visited, or maybe just stick to eating something more within your comfort zone. Try the London invention of afternoon tea for the first time, or enjoy a kabob at the end of a night of drinking just like the locals. Maybe you would prefer to just shop for groceries at Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s. Like these Urban Fruit (website) treats that are healthy, chewy, and basically candy-like. They are 100% fruit with no added sugar or sulphites, just baked fruit. I ate them every day and brought a huge amount home with me. To say I loved them is a bit of an understatement so I highly recommend them.
Some of the Urban Fruit treats I brought home from London.
Shopping in London
If you are a reader, one option is visiting Hatchards on Piccadilly; London’s oldest bookstore at over 200 years old. Next door to it is Fortnum & Mason which for over 300 years has been supplying people with wonderful food and even picnic supplies. How about walking along Regent Street between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street. Or walk down Oxford Street. You can spend a day shopping in amazing but also historical shops like Hamleys toy store, as well as Liberty, Debenhams, and Selfridges department stores. And just on the other side of Hyde Park is Harrods.
Those shops are only a few of the big, famous names you might recognize. You could also mix shopping and eating in London with history at the same time and visit one of the many markets. There really are an endless supply of options. With such an overwhelming selection for shopping and eating in London, I’ll share my choices from my last visit.
Shopping and Eating in London Markets
The markets in London range from enclosed shops to covered, tented stalls to just tables. They offer everything from food to clothes, to flowers, to antiques, to even what some might consider junk. There are so many markets for you to choose from to do some shopping and eating in London. Markets have been surviving as a shopping option in England for more than a thousand years so it’s not really a surprise they offer so many different ones to visit.
Some of the more famous ones are Covent Garden, Portobello Road, and Camden Lock, but there are so many more. I’ve been to several but my most recent trip to London had me visiting Borough Market for the first time.
Located across the street from the London Bridge Underground station, Borough Market (website) is an amazing food market that celebrated their 1000-year anniversary a few years ago. Nobody knows exactly when it was first established but the 1014 date has been used because of a story talking about the great market town of Southwark. Which is where Borough Market is located and now part of London. The website calls the market Britain’s renowned food market and from personal experience I can say, this market is like a foodie’s dream. There were food vendors of all types. Produce, spices, cheese, breads, meats, condiments, and almost anything else you can think of. I even bought an amazing vegetarian pate. Oh, and don’t forget the wine and other alcohols.
The busy market is an amazing sight even if you aren’t a foodie. There were vendors selling delicious street foods, some selling candies from other countries, and even shops where you could taste wines before purchasing. It’s a bit of a different place where you can do some shopping and eating in London but you also get to meet the farmers growing the produce, the fisherman who caught the fish, or the person who created one of the many different artisan products because they are the people working many of the stalls. It really is an experience.
There are also several restaurants in Borough Market for you to enjoy but we went to the chocolate one.
Rabot 1745 in Borough Market
Located in Borough Market, Rabot 1745 (website) tantalizes patrons with food, drinks, desserts, and treats to take home, all using cocoa. It was a wonderful, delicious find. It was also the very first time I had a frozen, blended chocolate drink, and now I love them. Rabot 1745 is a chocolate lover’s restaurant where customers are served chocolate products from different locations around the world. Chocolate really does taste different from each country and this restaurant lets you try a lot of it.
Not everything on the menu contains cacao but a lot of it does. Like I said, I really enjoyed my frozen, blended drink but I also enjoyed the chocolate bars I brought home with me. Both the market and the Rabot 1745 restaurant were packed busy. Again, a location where I can do some shopping and eating in London, at the same time.
Rabot 1745 Iced Chocolate drink
Cath Kidston Shop
Cath Kidston (website) carries clothes, handbags, travel bags, wallets, items for the home, kitchen, children, and even babies. They have a huge selection of stuff in their flagship store on Piccadilly. That location is also open for like 10 hours almost every day too so it makes it easy to shop. The styles tend to be floral, animals, and characters. That kind of thing. Which works for me because I seem to have some sort of unconscious obsession where every time I travel to a foreign country, I buy myself something floral.
While Cath Kidston has many locations, none of them are located in North America. Actually, in any of the Americas. I didn’t even know about the brand until this trip. I saw a really cute handbag being carried by someone on the tube and noticed the name. So, it meant I had to go shopping.
I have one complaint with Cath Kidston and part of it is probably related to my country of residence. After using a handbag I bought only a few times over a several days, a piece on one of the handles started to fall apart. I was back in Vancouver by then but I still contacted them regarding a return because I had bought the bag less than a week before and had only used it like two or three times. It grew into an ordeal. Apparently, it costs more than they were expecting to ship something from Canada to the UK. Emails went back and forth and it took quite a while but finally, everything moved forward and they replaced my handbag.
I was happy they were willing to help me with the defective product but I wish it would have been quicker and less of an ordeal. The second bag took months of use before the same problem happened again. It wasn’t anything major enough to complain about a second time though (it was a rubber filler in the seam of the handle) so I’ve been living with it.
I was happy with the product, the selection, and my experience so I will shop there again.
Afternoon Tea at the British Museum
Afternoon Tea in the British Museum
Our first day in London was July 1, 2016. Canada Day. So, we decided being in London for Canada Day was the perfect time to enjoy our very first afternoon tea. And what better place than the British Museum. I’m so happy we did this. While having afternoon tea would have been delicious and a great experience at any of the famous, historical locations normally associated with it, for two museum lovers like us, this was an awesome memory. Also, the afternoon tea at the British Museum was the most affordable option of all the ones we looked into that day.
If shovelling your face with mini sandwiches, scones, desserts, and tea is not your thing, (I’m not saying you’re crazy, but really?) they also serve other foods. The Great Court Restaurant (website) is located under the beautiful glass roof of the Great Court, at the top of the spiral staircase. It has an open kitchen so you can watch the chefs, and it even has a bar. It’s quite a bright location under that glass roof even if it is a bit loud being in the semi-open court. But just eating my first afternoon tea in a large, stunning museum made me happy. Bonus, now I am also slightly addicted to afternoon tea and even found a delicious vegetarian one in Victoria, BC.
Crumbs & Doilies Cupcake Shop
My cousin Megan watched a TV program here in Canada on the Food Network YouTube channel from Crumbs & Doilies Cupcakes (website) in Soho, London. So of course, we had to go to the shop for cupcakes. Located on one of London’s many cobbled walkways, it is between Beak Street & Kingly Court just off Carnaby Street in Soho. They were a bit difficult to find for anyone not knowing the area because it really is a walkway between streets and the GPS on our phones had issues. But it wasn’t the only shop there and it is a cool location. I’m glad we made the effort to find it instead of giving up.
Crumbs & Doillies had quite a selection of regular size and mini cupcakes, as well as cakes. What they have in stock changes daily also so you will always be surprised. I had just started eating sugar again and it was my birthday the next day so I kept it simple and bought an assortment of five different mini cupcakes. Of course there was a caramel option for me cause it is my favourite, but the rainbow one with glittery sparkles looked the most fun, unicorn-like, & pretty. All were a sweet, delicious treat though.
Where else other than the UK are you going to find a Chocolate Guinness flavoured cupcake or a Lavender Caramel one? How about trying a Malteser, Cinnamon Toast, or Buttered Popcorn flavour? You could always go with some more common ones though if you prefer. Like Salted Caramel, Vanilla, Chocolate, or Red Velvet.
You can order from them online to get your specific choice or you can take a chance and be surprised with what they have for sale in their shop when you walk-in. Not only does Soho offer quite the assortment of shopping and eating in London options but it is also located between Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street and Leister Square. So it is a wonderful location to visit so many other places.
Jamie’s Italian Restaurant
I’m not sure what I was expecting from this restaurant by Jamie Oliver. I had never eaten at a restaurant owned by a famous chef before, or even someone I watched on TV, so I might have set the bar pretty high. Which could explain why I wasn’t overly impressed. Don’t get me wrong, the restaurant was very nice and the food was good, but it just didn’t jump out at me as anything better than other restaurants I’ve eaten at.
We visited the Jamie’s Italian (website) London Bridge location which is in the Hilton London Tower Bridge hotel. It allows the restaurant to have longer opening hours which means they also serve breakfast. We were there for dinner though and one place the restaurant excelled at was the vegetarian options. I really appreciated the large selection on the menu. Some of the choices even had protein which is not always an option with vegetarian meals in most restaurants.
There are locations in Piccadilly and Covent Garden too.
These are a few of the places I visited for shopping and eating in London on my last visit but this is an enormous city with what feels like endless options. I didn’t even discuss the pubs. Some are new and centered around the tourists while others have been at their location for hundreds of years. London has so many things to see and do but even if you only have a few days you will be able to experience so many things.
Have you also recently been to London? Do you have a few suggestions on where to go for shopping and eating?
London as a town, city, and major port was established by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago but settlements have been there for something like 6,000 years. To say London has experienced everything probably isn’t even an exaggeration. It survived the plague, tyranny, many wars, and it has survived a lot of growing pains. It is a city full of history, knowledge, and experience. Not only is it easy getting around London but it is a city with convenient options.
Getting To and From London
Getting to London is actually quite easy. Most airlines offer deals if you watch for them. Last time I flew with WestJet but I have also flown with Airtransat, Air Canada, and Lufthansa to name a few. London is one of the major hubs for travel in Europe so no matter where you are flying in from, it’s very accessible with flights all day to any of the five major airports. London Heathrow is the largest. It’s so massive, it’s actually one of the busiest in the world. I prefer Gatwick myself though. It’s the second largest in the UK so it is large but just not as humungous and chaotic as Heathrow. Skyscanner (affiliate link) can help you find the best price.
Getting To and From the International Airports
London is a really large city that is really old, so therefore has heaps of experience and knowledge. They’ve been doing public transportation longer than some countries have actually been countries. While this means all airports are easily accessible, it also means there can be delays and problems. All something I know from personal experience. It once took me like three hours to get from south London to Stanstead Airport because of a train breakdown and construction. Thankfully I had given myself a lot of extra time. Getting to and from each airport is quite easy though. I know there are buses, car rentals, and taxis but the following information is for the train. My favourite choice based on cost, speed, and efficiency.
Gatwick (website) is south of London and the best-connected airport with trains, making it very easy to access from all over England. The train station is conveniently located in the airport and the Gatwick Express runs a 30 min service to London Victoria station with trains leaving every 15 min. Thameslink has trains that go to other London stations but the trip does take a bit longer because there are other stops. You could also catch a Southern train to London Victoria but again, it will take just a bit longer because it has other stops. Your Oyster card (described below) can be used on all trains to and from London and Gatwick airport.
Heathrow (website) has trains and the Tube option. Also because Heathrow has several terminals you have to watch which stop you need to get off at.
Heathrow Express is the fast, non-stop, train journey taking you to Paddington station in London from Terminals 2 & 3 as well as Terminal 5. For Terminal 4 you will need to catch the free transfer train at Terminal 2 & 3. There are 4 transfer trains per hour and the ride is approx. 6 min. Heathrow Express departs every 15 min. Your Oyster card (described below) can’t be used on the Heathrow Express.
There is also the TfL Rail which has several stops between Heathrow and Paddington station so it takes longer. At Heathrow it stops at Terminals 2 & 3, and Terminal 4. For Terminal 5, you will have to get off at Terminal 2 & 3 to jump on the free terminal transfer train. There are 4 transfer trains per hour and the ride is approx. 6 min. The TfL Rail departs every 30 min. You can use the Oyster card with this train service.
The Tube (underground subway system) has three stops at Heathrow heading to and from London on the Piccadilly line. Terminal 2 & 3, Terminal 4, and Terminal 5. The Terminal 2 & 3 stop is between both terminals but there is an underground pedestrian walkway. You just need to know it will add time and walking distance. The Tube runs approx every 10 min. and it is the cheapest way to London from Heathrow, but it does take a bit longer depending on which station you are travelling to and from. You can use the Oyster card with the Tube to and from Heathrow.
Luton (website) is north of London and easily accessible by train. It’s actually the same line as Gatwick but in the opposite direction. It’s a little less convenient because the station is not right at the airport but there is a shuttle bus (approx. 10 min journey with trains every 10 min) to catch so it is still easy. If you choose Luton Airport as your station when you are purchasing a ticket to the airport, the shuttle bus is free. If you purchase a ticket to Luton Parkway, you will have to pay for the shuttle bus service (cash only). The train goes all the way south to Brighton so there are a few London stations it could stop at including St. Pancras International station. You can’t use the Oyster card (described below) for your ticket between Luton Airport and London (ex. St. Pancras International).
Catching the Stansted Express between Stansted (website) and London is very easy, the station is located at the airport. Mon, Fri, & Sat the express train to the airport also starts leaving London Liverpool Street station at like approx. 3:40 am. Trains depart the station every 15 minutes and the trip to the airport takes about 45-50 min. You can’t use the Oyster card (described below) with the Standsted Express.
Getting Around London Once You Are There
In my opinion, as far as major cities go, getting around London is one of the easiest. You don’t even have to rent a car, the public transportation system is awesome. It covers most of the city, is affordable, and it is easy to navigate. A lot of tube stations have help desks if you are a bit confused. There are also giant maps on the wall to help you, as well as small paper maps for you to grab and carry with you. Or print yourself a map before you leave home (Transport for London Tube Map website).
Public Transport Tickets
You can buy single trip tickets each time, purchase a one-day Travelcard, or buy the Oyster pay-as-you-go card. It depends on how long you will be in London, where you plan on travelling to, and what form of transport you will be using, but the Oyster card is simple, convenient, and the cheapest option. It can be used on the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail, Emirates Air Line, River Bus services, and most National Rail around London.
You pay a deposit for the Oyster card, then load it up with money to be used for your travels around the city. You will receive the deposit back if you return the card and you will also be refunded if your balance is £10 or less. With the card, the cost you pay for a 24-hour period from 4:30am to 4:29am on all travel, is capped. The cap value depends on the mode of transport but it makes things more affordable and you don’t have to know in advance what zones you will be visiting. Here is the website for information on tapping in and out (paying) because it is different depending on your transportation choice and you do not want to be fined or pay extra for your trip.
I picked up my Oyster card like seven years ago and I’ve kept it to use each time I go back. You can even buy a visitor Oyster card (website) online before you leave home and have it sent to you. Makes arriving and getting around London using the public transportation a bit easier with one less thing to worry about.
Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour
One of the first things I did when I moved to London, and what I usually recommend people do when they visit, is take the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour. It not only points out the sights and gives you a commentary on things you would probably miss or not learn if on your own, but it also provides transportation to each of these tourist sites for a time period of your choice, starting at 24 hours. It’s a great way to get your bearings and help in getting around London. You can use this affiliate link to purchase The London Pass which not only gives you a FREE 1-day Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour ticket but also FREE entry to over 80 attractions, museums, and tours. Plus, fast track entry at some of them. It could save you money and stress if works with you plans.
Also, a lot of touristy sights are located rather close together, within walking distance actually. It’s kind of hard to tell on a map but Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden are all within a short walk of each other. It makes getting around London even easier. Plus, there are so many places to eat, drink, and shop along the way.
Staying in An Airbnb
We stayed in Airbnb’s for the 2016 European Museum Tour and London was the best one out of them all. It was a newer, small studio but it used the space very well. There was a living room, kitchen, bathroom and a bedroom alcove. The only reason this was probably classified as a studio is for the lack of a door on the bedroom. It also had a washer and dryer so we could continue our trip without stinking. We lucked out finding a great place with a great host, we never had any problems contacting him. There was even wine waiting for us when we arrived!
Paris is Paris. By that I mean you don’t go to Paris to only stick yourself in museums. There are so many things to see and do in this amazing city. Sure there are the standard tourist sights, but there are also a few slightly different things that can still be touristy. Or maybe even offer a different take on something you know from elsewhere. We found things to do in Paris that aren’t museums while on The 2016 European Museum Tour.
***this is a long read***
Getting Around the Paris Area
We travelled around Paris and the surrounding area using the Metro trains. Google Maps on our phones was great for directions. We also each had the paper hand-held map or mini map, of the Metro train system. I don’t pretend to understand a lot of French, but these maps allowed us to travel all over, on our own, without any major problems. It won’t help with accidentally getting off at the wrong station or catching the wrong train, but it will help you navigate this very large system.
Chateau De Versailles
While there are things to do in Paris that aren’t museums, there are some things that are magnificent but technically still considered a museum. The Palace of Versailles is a former royal chateau in Versailles. It is also a UNESCO site, and one of the most opulent places I have ever seen. Versailles was once a small village but now as one of the suburbs of Paris, it is easily reached with the Metro. I have been to the Palace several times and it is a sight that really shouldn’t be missed. The way the royalty lived in the 18th century is the reason there was a rebellion and both the ruling and the class systems were forever changed in France.
Expanded and altered over time to what you can witness today, Versailles started out as a royal hunting lodge. It is outstanding and I have yet to see another palace like it. Ceilings gilded with gold and painted by some exquisitely talented artists are so high, you feel they reach the sky. Pretty much what isn’t in gold throughout the palace, is in marble. There are intricate light fixtures and chandeliers with crystal that bounce light in every direction with the help of so many mirrors and windows.
The gardens and fountains are also exquisite. Perfectly laid out hedges and trees show paths to water fountains, statues, a canal, lake, park, private areas and individual groves containing beautiful patterns of trees with more fountains and water features. The palace and the grounds are enormous.
So large you can rent golf carts up near the palace and bicycles further down in the gardens. Within the gardens, you will also find the Grand & Petit Trianons. These are smaller and more private locations that some of the different royals lived in. And they are both beautiful.
You can plan your trip in advance based on opening days and times as well as if you want to see the fountains running or the musical fountains show. You can also purchase your tickets in advance on-line to save yourself a second line-up. This is another one of those jam-packed tourist sights so expect to stand in line before entering and to share the experience with a lot of people.
Seeing all the Disney Parks is on my bucket list. I’ve been to Disneyland in California several times as well as Disney World in Florida so I really wanted to do Disneyland in Paris. Plus it is another of the things to do in Paris that aren’t museums.
Once again, we easily accessed it with the metro train but it was a bit of a distance. The Disneyland Paris layout is similar to the original California park. There are the different sections with main street leading you from the entrance to Cinderella’s castle. Disney World in Florida is Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
In Paris you will find the main Disneyland Park but also The Walt Disney Studios Park and the Disney Village. The area is quite a Disney tourist destination though with several different Disney hotels to choose from. The Disneyland Hotel is even located right at the entrance of the park.
Some of the rides are pretty much the same as in California but some are different. The Indiana Jones ride in California is a large car that moves indoors with some fast sections and a drop or two. In Paris, it is a rollercoaster. According to my cousin Megan, it was freaky and finished quickly.
My Favourite Experience in Disneyland Paris
There was one aspect of Disneyland Paris that made it better than all the other parks. While there were line-ups for rides and attractions, there wasn’t the insane amount of people I expected from my experiences in the USA. It had a much calmer feel to it. I wasn’t even hit by an aggressive parent with a stroller once. Let alone repeatedly.
Thankfully we did research before we left and bought our tickets in advance on-line. We bought the ‘Special Mini Tickets’ which were only available on-line. They were for use during the week only during certain summer months, but the prices were great. I think they were less than $50 (CND) each for two parks.
la cuisine Paris
My cousin Megan wasn’t sure if she really wanted to see certain sights or if it was just because they were the touristy things to do. So, we chose to do something that was kinda touristy but more of an experience rather than a ‘lining up with heaps of other tourists to see a sight’ thing.
We took a croissant making class with la cuisine Paris. Megan and I both bake so it was perfect, and we loved it. Even though we normally have different styles. She’s very specific and likes to follow the instructions exactly. I like to change things and wing it to create something slightly different. The class was set up so that you could learn without any previous experience though.
Making the Complicated, Simple
The 3-hour class was taught in English by a chef, and consisted of other tourists. A husband and wife with their teenage son, a mother and her teenage daughter and a single woman. I loved that we were given an instruction sheet to take home with us. It showed us how to create the different shapes for croissants, le pain au chocolats, and le pain au raisins. Everything you need was supplied in the class. Including after you make the dough, being given a different one to use for the final product. Making croissants can take more than 6 hours so using the other dough, allows for the shorter class time. We were even taught how to make the crème patissiere (pastry cream) for the le pain au raisins.
After everything is baked, you can enjoy your masterpieces warm out of the oven and even have enough left for breakfast the next morning. We each made two of each of the items. The cost was $99 EURO each but it was such a wonderfully fun experience and I am so happy we decided to do it.
Some of the best things to do in Paris that aren’t museums, are the basics. Walking around neighbourhoods. Eating and drinking wine at local eateries. Buying freshly baked croissants for breakfast at the local bakery. And of course, seeing the very touristy sights and monuments.
The Eiffel Tower is amazing and I love it. We didn’t get a chance to go up it this time but I can tell you from experience, the view is stunning. It is a wonderful spot to see the entire city of Paris and get a feel of the enormity of it.
Opened to the public in 1889, the Eiffel Tower has three levels accessible to the public. Things have changed over the years. The lifts (elevators) and the staircases have all been replaced and there have been different uses for the tower itself. There have been a variety of restaurants, a theatre, a small apartment, laboratories, and different communication uses. A new apartment was even built in 2016 for competition winners during the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament.
You can access each level of the tower by both staircase and elevator. The first two levels each contain a restaurant, and the top level observation deck is 276 metres from the ground. Offering you that stunning view. Although the view from each level is also amazing and worth the visit.
You can buy your tickets in advance on-line for the Eiffel Tower, saving you one of a possible two lines. Every time I have been there, there are crowds and lines of people.
The Champs-Elysees is one of the widest streets I have seen, that wasn’t full of cars. There are cars of course but when you see a road that wide you expect it to either be stuffed or a highway of fast moving vehicles. Even the sidewalks are wide and that’s not including the area taken up by the trees lining them.
With its long history dating back to the mid-1600’s, this avenue has seen a lot of changes over the years. The avenue started out as a garden and wide promenade for one of Louis XIV’s palaces. Today though, while you can still see a park at one end, the Arc de Triomphe is at the other end and there is a whole lot of commercial buildings between them. Most of its commercial history has been for luxury brands but now, you can even shop at some brand name stores along the avenue. There were also luxury cars to rent, restaurants, theatres, and cafes to name a few things.
Arc de Triomphe in Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is a massive, military monument at one end of the Champs-Elysees. Erected to honour the people who fought and died for France during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, this monument stands 50 metres high and 45 metres wide with a depth of 22 metres. It is enormous.
I’m not a big military history person but I loved seeing this monument for its sheer size. Cars, people and even tour buses look miniature next to it. I wasn’t expecting to be as impressed as I was, standing there watching the vehicles drive around the base of it.
Food and sugary delicacies are very enjoyable things to do in Paris that aren’t museums. Located at 75, avenue des Champs-Elysees, Luduree Paris is a sugar lover’s delight. A tea room with an entire shop for macarons and chocolates. Mmmmmm. They had common flavours like vanilla, caramel, lemon, and chocolate but there were also different ones like rose, pistachio, liquorice, and Marie-Antoinette tea.
Originally Laduree started out as a bakery in 1862, at 16 rue Royale. The area grew into an elegant district with French luxury items being offered. In 1871, a fire created the opportunity to reopen the bakery as a pastry shop and it soon became a tea room where woman could gather. Something not easy to do outside of the home during that time period.
Laduree not only has the above two Paris locations, they also have several international locations to choose from. Since discovering macarons at the Champs-Elysees location, I have satisfied my new-found love of them at both the Vancouver and the Sydney location.
If you are interested in or starting to plan a trip, there are several travel related products and websites listed on the Yup…..We Like These page, to help you out. Some of the affiliate link descriptions also contain a coupon code for you to use.
Europe is one giant tourist dream with so much to see and do everywhere you go. One of the best aspects of Europe is the history. There is so much of it, and while countries and cities continually modernize, they value their history and reuse it. Paris is no exemption. Palaces, hotels, train stations, all once bustling with activity and opulence, now house some amazing museums. Still bustling with activity and opulence but in a different way, and to a different class of people. The buildings themselves now become part of the draw. With over 100 museums, there is something to see for everyone. Paris is where the 2016 European Museum Tour continued.
Travelling Around Europe
Travelling through Europe is super easy, and can be very affordable.
The first stop with my cousin Megan on the 2016 European Museum Tour was Amsterdam. We then took the train from Amsterdam to Paris. We booked our tickets online with GoEuro (affiliate link) a few months before we left, for around $40 Euro each. The day we were leaving Amsterdam though, I confused the departure time up and we missed our train by like 1 minute. So, we had to buy new tickets to Paris. The price on that day, at the station, was approx. $200 Euro each. That is a HUGE price difference. Plus, most of the trains were already booked so we had to take the slower one. Prices are constantly changing on GoEuro so if you see a good price you might want to make a quick decision. We looked at prices one evening and they were different the next morning; one trip increased and one decreased.
You can also get cheap flights with companies like Ryanair (some seriously cheap flights!). You do have to pay for everything with Ryanair though, including baggage. There are of course buses, car rentals and tours if you prefer one of those options.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Louvre. And it really is as amazing as you might think.
The Louvre is housed in a former grand palace that was once a royal residence. Oh yah, and it has Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. It is stunning in its architecture dating hundreds of years, and its grandioseness. You can spend your entire day walking around a royal palace checking out the architecture. There are also historically decorated and furnished rooms, as well as all forms of art and artifacts on display, including even fashion. Something for everyone.
I especially enjoyed all the statues and busts. I’m not sure if I have ever seen so many in one location before. Among them were religious ones, Greek mythology, and a range of people from the past.
I’ve been to the Louvre twice and I still haven’t seen everything there is to see. Years ago, my brother wanted to go to Paris to see it. Someone told him you needed days to visit so he changed his plans. Don’t be like my brother. Yes there is heaps to see, and yes it would take you days to see everything, but don’t pass up the chance to spend some time there. It is worth a visit for even a few hours.
A Bonus Luxury Rest Stop
If, like me, you have a bathroom thing, there is an amazing, paid, public bathroom just outside the Louvre in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall. Point WC is part of 2theloo. They are clean, private, toilet facilities with a store. It is rather luxurious and not too expensive, depending on what you choose to pay for. Why not go in comfort and privacy, as well as enjoy a wash and dry.
You can even buy coloured toilet paper and other products to take home with you. Including black toilet paper which does give a sense of mystery, in many ways. Can you imagine using this?
There are several locations of 2theloo in Paris and the world so you don’t have to worry about always heading back to the Louvre when you have to go. The facilities are cleaned after each person and each ‘room’ is designed to be spacious, private, and soundproof. I paid for the Japanese SPA. In the room I had a toilet, sink, mirror and plenty of space. The toilet even offered a wash and dry. It was so much better than normal public washrooms. And such a great experience. If you have a washroom thing.
I am fortunate to have visited Paris two or three times previously, but I had never been to the Musee d’Orsay before. I liked this museum though. Not only is it a wonderful showcase of various forms of art but the entire building is stunning. It is a historical piece of architectural art. The museum is housed in an old train station and hotel that opened in 1900 in an aristocratic neighbourhood. The train station closed in 1939 though and then the hotel in 1973. The building was deemed historical and was repurposed, opening its doors as the museum in 1986.
The large, main hall of the museum is still recognizable as the original area that once contained the train tracks with platforms. At one end there is also a large, windowed wall that contains a massive clock.
There were paintings of course, including several from Vincent van Gogh.
This one was a ‘must see’ for my cousin Megan. She loved it. I on the other hand, found it creepy as f@%k. Which is probably why she liked it. It is an underground maze of tunnels and caverns in former quarries, where the walls are lined with the bones of long ago departed people. Yah, not just like a 100 people either, think more like the bones of over SIX MILLION people. That is a crazy amount of dead people bones.
Cemeteries aren’t always what we think they are. When you have one that has been used for hundreds of years, in a city that grows to the size of Paris, it consists of large mass graves that hold thousands of people each, near the centre of a city. It soon becomes over-populated. Because of overuse, there were bodies constantly in different stages of decomposition and sanitation became a big problem in the area.
What To Do With The Bodies
Apparently, in the 1700’s, the Paris cemeteries were overflowing to such an extent, they needed to relocate. The bodies were exhumed and the bones were moved during the night to the catacombs. Back in the day, people were a lot less wasteful so any bodies that hadn’t completely decomposed, the mass of fat was collected and used for candles and…….soap. I guess soap, and the lack of, are two reasons France has excelled in creating amazing perfumes and other scented products.
Opened to the public on and off since around 1815, even if you find all this creepy, you can’t help but be impressed by the organization and tightly laid out formation and patterns of the assortment of bones. I found the tunnels and caverns themselves to be quite interesting and there is such a large amount of them, people have been known to go missing. There is a route for visitors though so just don’t go wandering off.
[bctt tweet=”Even if you find it creepy, you can’t help but be impressed by the organization at the Paris Catacombs” username=”dapsile” nofollow”yes”]
You have to be quite mobile to venture down. There are 130 stairs to go down and 83 to come back up, with about 1.5 km of walking for the tour. Also, the walkway is uneven and can be slippery because of dripping water. I did manage to rest on a few random empty chairs for security that I found, but otherwise there is nothing. There is lighting but because of its location, it is also rather dark. But in the summer, also cool.
Only a certain amount of people are allowed in at once, and it is quite busy, so expect to stand in line for quite a while before entry. We went on a Sunday around 6:30–7 pm in June, and waited about 30-45 minutes. We also purchased our tickets online in advance which saved time, and another line-up, at the venue.
Not only did Megan thankfully share some of her pictures (above) of the Musee d’Orsay with me, because I was so sick that day and didn’t care about taking them, but she also took these pictures in the Paris Catacombs when I was too creeped out to take any.
Getting Around Paris
There are many ways to travel around Paris. You could rent a car, hire a taxi, take a Hop-On Hop-Off tour of the city, rent a bike, use the public transportation system, and walk. I’ve always found with most European cities, walking and public transportation are the two easiest and cheapest ways to get around and see the sites.
I’ve also taken Hop-On Hop-Off tours because the cost includes a bus ride, with commentary, to a lot or all of the popular tourist sights. Bike rentals are located in several areas, which allow you an easier option to walking if you want to stay above ground and experience the ‘feel’ of the city.
Public transportation is very affordable but you have to keep in mind that once you enter most stations, you still have to walk to the platform. Some walks are longer than others so if you think taking the underground won’t include walking, it does.
Most of the city streets are cobblestones and the public transportation can be quite crowded so if you have luggage, taxis might be a preferred option for you. My more rugged Eagle Creek carry-on survived like a super-star though on both the cobblestones and the underground.
Gargoyles on the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
A Few Extras
Something to remember, most museum security won’t allow day packs, backpacks, or baggage in the museum. Smaller sized bags can be put into a locker if they are offered, but not all museums have these available.
Tickets for most museums can be purchased in advance, online. It ends up saving you time and standing in two line-ups. One to buy a ticket and one to enter the museum.
Even if you are not big on planning every detail of your trip, I highly recommend making a ‘Must See’ list and checking out the websites of each for opening times, etc before you leave. Most places will close at least one day during the week. Their opening hours also generally change depending on the day. This could have an impact on what you decide to do each day.
Also, just to warn you, security really doesn’t like when you lean over ledges to look down below. Actually, I seem to get in trouble for doing this in different countries so it’s probably a good idea not to do this anywhere. Security tends to get angry easily. I’m sort of impressed they feel little old me could be a threat. Then I think of foreign countries, foreign languages, foreign laws, foreign jails, misunderstandings, and I get a bit worried.
Languages in Paris
The previous times I was in Paris, I found it difficult to talk to people. I’m not great with languages but I remember some of my basic Canadian elementary school French. Canada is also a bilingual country so most labels on products we purchase are also in French. Unfortunatly that wasn’t enough to get by with and the citizens were not wanting to help out and speak English. You could tell they understood but they wanted you to speak their language, in their country. Fair enough.
When we visited in 2016 though, English was spoken by heaps of people everywhere. I’m guessing it is because being part of the EU means you now have people from so many countries living and working all over. English is a common language for most people. We still greeted everyone with bonjour and never forgot to say merci, because we were in France, but we would always ask if they spoke English. Having English speaking people in Paris made travelling around, shopping, eating, etc so much easier for us.
If you are interested in or starting to plan a trip, there are several travel related products and websites listed on the Yup…..We Like These page, to help you out. Some of the affiliate link descriptions also contain a coupon code for you to use.
One day at work I opened my emails, and there was a beaming one (maybe it was just beaming in my memory). It was from WestJet, offering a new route to London, England. There was also an amazing introductory sale price that worked out to be about $700.00 return after everything was calculated, for the first few months of these new flights. Within minutes I was on their site booking a flight. I had also texted my cousin Megan to join me as a birthday celebration. In her words, she made the fastest, biggest decision of her life and she felt sick. It was great; I needed to get away and she had never been to Europe. We visited Amsterdam, Paris & London. What I didn’t expect, but thoroughly loved, was that because we are both museum lovers, this two week vacation turned into what I happily refer to as, ‘The 2016 European Museum Tour’.
*This is a really long post with heaps of information*
WestJet to London
WestJet was their normal, wonderful, customer service orientated selves so there is not much to share on that regard but there were a few other things. Food is not included in this flight. You have to either buy your meals and snacks from the airline or bring your own food on the flight. At the time I flew, there was a vegetarian meal option that was full of cheese but there was no vegan option.
The other item of note is there are no personal TV’s on these airplanes. You have to download the WestJet app in advance to either your laptop, tablet or smart phone if you want to watch the in-flight entertainment. Of course, since November 2016, you can also download TV shows and movies from your Netflix account directly onto your tablet or smartphone to watch later while you are offline and in Airplane Mode.
London to Other European Locations
Once we knew we were on our way to London we had to decide where we wanted to go in those two weeks. Did we want to stay in the UK or did we want to head over to Europe also? Transportation can be quite cheap once you are in the UK and Europe. There are trains (we used GoEuro (affiliate link) to book our train trips), buses and airplanes. You even have the option of seriously discounted flights from companies like Ryanair and EasyJet. We did the research and decided for our purposes, a flight out of the same airport we landed into in London was the best, most convenient, choice for us this time.
We chose to rent studio apartments through Airbnb for each of our locations in Europe (see my previous article on Airbnb). Our studio apartment in Amsterdam was relatively new with a very comfortable double bed, small couch, TV, video games, small kitchen, quite a large bathroom, and a small balcony. Other than a shower curtain, the shower in the bathroom wasn’t really separated so the entire floor flooded. One day the water even ended up running out under the bathroom door into the hallway. I have experienced this shower/bathroom situation in the Netherlands previously so I don’t think this was an isolated incident. Other than some construction, we were also in a great location. There was a view of the water and we were only a few minutes walking distance from the bus stops, the grocery store, as well as other shops and restaurants.
An added bonus for us in Amsterdam, our Airbnb host picked us up at the airport and drove us to the apartment, for a small fee. It was convenient and very much appreciated after a full day of travel. We didn’t have to get ourselves and our luggage to a strange location. I had never used Airbnb before this trip but we had such a great experience in all the cities, I ended up using them in Australia and New Zealand also.
Getting Around Amsterdam
Not only is Amsterdam a great walkable city but the transportation is very convenient and easy to use. Everyday we caught the bus to the Centraal Train Station from our Airbnb rental. The Centraal Train Station is a transportation hub so from there you can catch trams, the underground train or a bus. Thankfully our Airbnb host provided us with a reusable transit card which was another appreciated benefit.
Amsterdam the City
Besides the amazing history in Amsterdam, there is the architecture, canals, tulips, cheese, food, beer, the people, their culture, and of course, the more open laws regarding drugs and sex. I have been to Amsterdam a hand full of times and each time I visited I did different things, depending on who I was with.
I remember the first time I went; the big draw for us was seeing what the coffee shops with their marijuana and the Red-Light District were all about. We also visited the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and ate some pannekoekens (Dutch pancakes). Another time I was on a European tour that stopped in Amsterdam for a day or two. On that trip we visited a marijuana museum and saw a sex show. Then there was the time with the parents when we had an approx. four-hour layover on our way to Scotland. We put our things in a locker at the airport and took the train into the city to walk around for an hour or two. I also ate a pannekoeken. When I think about it, really, the only thing I have consistently done in Amsterdam each time I am there, is eat pannekoekens.
[bctt tweet=”I feel like no matter how many museums I have been to in Amsterdam there are still so many more to see.” username=”dapsile” nofollow”yes”]
Amsterdam has many, varied types of museums. There are the traditional ones for relics, art, history, and historical artifacts. But there are also museums for things like cheese, diamonds, fashion, tulips, sex and of course marijuana.
I mentioned in the past I had been to the Anne Frank House. While we didn’t have a chance to visit this trip, it is one of the places I recommend because I found it to be quite a bit different in real life than I had envisioned while reading the book. Of course it is incredibly busy. Years ago when I was there, we had to stand outside in a que that went down the street. When we did enter, it was in a constant stream of people. We weren’t really able to stop and look around too much but there also wasn’t a lot to see. I mean it wasn’t a luxury accommodation, these were people literally hiding for their lives. According to their website, now they sell tickets in advance as well as at the door.
We spent our first day this trip doing a bit of exploring as well as visiting a few sights. We also went back in the evening to just explore this beautiful city and see it’s stunning transformation at night. No trip is complete either until you witness for yourself what the Red-Light District is about. We were visiting around June 24th and it was wonderful because it didn’t get dark till around 11 pm and the sun was rising at around 4 am.
My cousin had just finished her schooling to be a history teacher so the Begijnhof was her number one choice of places to visit. The Begijnhof is one of the oldest inner courts in the city of Amsterdam and it also has the oldest wooden house. Originally it was a Beguinage, which is a kind of non-nunnery nunnery, and it possibly dates back to the 14th century. Although that oldest wooden house, only dates as far back as the 16th century. Only, the 16th century. I love Europe.
I live in an apartment which means based on the noises and shaking walls, I know when my neighbour’s relationships aren’t going well and when they are going very well. So I am always impressed and surprised by these historical buildings I visit in other countries and the serene, calm, quiet experiences I have while in them. I remember being in one place in Fez, Morocco where I could have happily meditated while I was inside, and there wasn’t even a roof.
This was my first visit to an inner court in the Netherlands. Even though it was right in the middle of the city, it was calm, peaceful and so quiet. It was also easy to forget people lived in these houses. Of course, that was until you walked past a ground floor window and saw someone in their home doing their everyday activities. Then you just felt a wee bit like a peeping tom. There is only a small portion of this inner court open to the public though so you won’t feel tempted to look into a lot of homes.
The Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt
The flower market – Bloemenmarkt – kind of explains itself. Although it is the only floating flower market in the world and it dates to the mid 1800’s, so I guess it doesn’t explain itself too well. And it is quite large. The market contains more flowers and flower bulbs than most of us will ever see anywhere else in our life. You can even buy them as a souvenir. There are other things to buy and different types of souvenirs, so it is not just flowers. But the Netherlands are known for their flowers so they are wonderful to see.
When we were out exploring, we came across a few different adverts (one is below) for a Banksy exhibit at the Moco Museum. I was super excited about checking it out. While I would prefer to see a Banksy painting in its natural habitat, that might never happen and I really wanted to see his work in person. My cousin on the other hand was excited to see there was also an Andy Warhol exhibit showing. I had never seen any of Andy Warhol’s work in person. The talent of both artists, as well as their use of various mediums, was very impressive. I loved the way these exhibits were displayed and laid out in the museum also. The Moco Museum is located in a historical house in the Museumplein with other museums including the Rijksmuseum. The area is easy to reach with its own tram stop.
Also located in the Museumplein, the Rijkmuseum has such an amazing assortment of Dutch artists and historical artifacts. I mean very few museums contain entire sections on locks and keys. Or how about the section with early versions of picture slides. Not to mention the furniture pieces, the clothing – including Yves Saint Laurent, doll houses, fashion, a period room, delftware, porcelain figurines, jewellery, weaponry, model ships and more. Plus the paintings. There are paintings from Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh; just to name three. It was a wonderful surprise to walk into the museum and the first thing we saw, in the first room we entered, was a Van Gogh self-portrait. It was life imitating art with the sea of selfie sticks.
Museum Het Rembrandthuis
This museum is, well, Rembrandt’s house and workshop. It is sparsely furnished but that could have been what it was like during that time. Or, there weren’t many original pieces left to put in. I don’t know, but I did find it quite interesting to see and walk around this house. Probably the best part of the museum though, is all the detail given to the art aspect. In the workshop, you are shown different techniques, how colours were created, as well as different mediums.
While this museum was interesting to see being a history lover, it was even more interesting as an art lover.
Shopping in Amsterdam
There is so, so, so much shopping to be done in Amsterdam. There is something for every kind of tourist. I mean, if there is a museum for it, just think of the shopping opportunities available. Not only does the city offer niche shopping options but there are both Dutch and international brands. Of all price ranges.
A few years ago I was in the Amsterdam airport for a few hours, which by the way is a great airport for a layover, and I bought myself an Oilily handbag. It is one of my absolute favourite handbags. This means it has been used a lot and needed to be replaced. Unfortunately I didn’t find a new one in the shops that appealed to me enough to replace it. I did find a pair of shoes instead though.
My cousin was wearing a pair of Palladium boots on our trip and until then, I had never heard of the company. I really liked her boots though so when we saw a shop, we were both quite happy to check it out. I was kind of eyeing a few different pairs but I wasn’t really feeling like I needed to have any of them. Until my eye caught this flowered pair of shoes. It’s weird. I rarely buy flower patterns or have flowers in my home but as soon as I go travelling I buy flower patterned items. Anyway other than the flowers, the thing I love the most about my Palladium shoes is the comfort. Normally shoes like Converse or Keds, have a less rounded toe which doesn’t fit me well and is uncomfortable. My Palladium shoes though, have a more rounded toe and are comfortable for me to wear.
Eating in Amsterdam
Staying in an apartment with Airbnb meant we had the use of a kitchen with a stove and a refrigerator. We didn’t have to eat every meal in a restaurant. However, we did eat at a cute little restaurant one morning for breakfast, for pannekoekens. I always eat the sweet ones. Even though I can’t remember the place we ate at to share with you, I haven’t eaten a bad pannekoeken in all my visits to the country.
We did eat lunch while we were out and on our first day we ate at La Place. This restaurant is set-up almost like a giant buffet style place but a lot nicer and classier. There were different sections that each offered a large variety of options. There was the salad section, the warm food section, etc. You can choose your own combination and whatever portion size you want. All the food is 100% natural, locally sources and home-made. It was all good but I especially enjoyed my smoothie. Although this restaurant wasn’t in the mall, it was in the shopping area. It had a more casual, feel to it.
On our second, and last day, we ate at Café Karpershoek. The oldest pub in Amsterdam. I had this amazing vegetarian open faced sandwich and my cousin, tried the croquettes. My Mom’s husband is Dutch and he really wanted her to try them while she was in the country. She loved them. This pub is in a great location, and it has wonderful food. Even though it has so much history to show, the atmosphere wasn’t overly touristy. There were heaps of locals.
It was a quick two days in Amsterdam but we saw a lot and enjoyed ourselves.
For such a small country, the Netherlands has so much to see. While we only went to Amsterdam this trip, I did visited Utrecht many years ago and really liked it.
If you are interested in or starting to plan a trip, there are several travel related products and websites listed on the Yup…..We Like These page, to help you out. Some of the affiliate link descriptions also contain a coupon code for you to use.
Accommodation is probably the largest expense when you travel. Hotels are the more expensive option and hostels or camping are obviously the cheaper options. Smack in the middle of those choices now though is Airbnb (website). Not only is Airbnb cost efficient but you choose the location, the accommodation type, the extras you have access to, the cleanliness, etc. Airbnb also gives you the opportunity to experience how people live in that country. You see what their homes are like. If you choose to cook you get to go grocery shopping and see the different foods. If you have television you can see what that is like. Depending on the rental and the hosts, you might get the opportunity to have a conversation with them.
Insider Knowledge and Perks
Obviously each rental and host is different but you can generally count on receiving insider knowledge for everything from transportation (some provide you with a reusable travel card for their city that you add money to), things to see and do, great local places to eat, maps, city guides, etc.
Some hosts even provide little additional perks. In London we were given wine. In Cairns I was given local fruit and Tim Tams (this unfortunately started my little addiction to these dastardly, delicious, treats), as well as a pickup from the airport and a ride into the city the next day. At one of the places in Sydney, I was given a ride to the airport. Almost every location I stayed at in Australia and New Zealand I was also given breakfast. In both Amsterdam (read that article here) and Brisbane, the hosts offered a pickup from the airport to the rental, for a fee. The fee was less than a taxi and these drivers knew exactly where they were going.
There are also the bonuses that come with staying with someone. In Brisbane my host invited me to dinner out with her and her friends. In Christchurch I went to a festival one evening with my host.
All of these perks and insider knowledge, are things you just won’t find from other types of accommodation.
Airbnb Accommodation Type and Features
Through Airbnb I have rented an apartment, a studio apartment, an eco retreat cabin (read that article), and a room in people’s homes. Each place was different and choosing them took some research but this makes sure you get the specific features you are looking for. How long your trip is, how many people are traveling with you, how long you will be at the specific Airbnb rental, what season it is, and the location, are all factors that help in your decisions. For me, I generally look for heat or air conditioning depending, use of a kitchen, wifi, and use of a washing machine. If you have a lot of choices to choose from, you can then judge the bonuses and perks. Does it include breakfast? How large is the apartment or individual room? Does it have an ensuite? Is the room part of the house or is it separate? Is the bathroom shared or is it private? How much is the cleaning fee? Is the wifi fast? Will I have access to a pool? Is there a tv? What is the bed type?
The room I rented in Cairns was a private suite at the back of the garage, completely separate from the main house. I had my own entrance, ensuite, air conditioner, fridge, microwave, tea kettle, tv, as well as supplies, a little sitting area and the above-mentioned fruit and Tim Tams. I also had use of their washing machine as well as their outdoor pool. As an additional bonus, I was staying between Christmas and New Years so the hostess even had a mini Christmas tree and some decorations put up. It was so thoughtful and I really appreciated it after spending Christmas by myself without any of that. Not only was this an amazing rental but the family was thoughtful, helpful, checked up on me and generally went out of their way to make sure I had a wonderful stay.
Location of the Rental
One thing you might want to pay close attention to is the location of the rental. If you will be driving, is there convenient, free parking close by? Maybe, first come first serve street parking, isn’t what you want to leave to chance. If you aren’t driving, is there close, easy access to public transportation? Perhaps walking 2 km to the closest stop isn’t something you are capable of. If you are in a town or city without public transportation, is the rental located within walking distance to places you want to visit? Are there taxi cabs available? When I was in Alice Springs I chose to rent an entire apartment instead of a room because of the location for my 6 am tour pickup. There were other factors of course but that 6 am pickup location, in a city with no public transportation, was a big factor.
Location can also play a big role in your decision between a hotel and an Airbnb rental. One of my stays in Sydney was a room in an apartment. The apartment was in Bronte Beach, approx 100-ish metres from the beach, and it had an amazingly, beautiful view of the beach and ocean, just a little obstructed, from every window. I could not have afforded a stay like that in a hotel.
As a solo female traveler in Australia and New Zealand I was obviously concerned about safety when I was renting; whether it was an entire apartment or a room in someone’s home. So, when I read the reviews, I looked to see if other solo female travellers had stayed there and what they had to say about the experience. Hearing about someone else’s experience in the same situation as you, can give you good information to base your decision on. One of my rentals in Sydney was a room from a male host with two long-term male guests in the home. I was the only female in this apartment but I felt completely safe and respected during my stay there. I also ended up getting along amazingly with the host. If I hadn’t seen that other solo female travellers had stayed there, I wouldn’t have given it a chance and I would have missed out on a great place.
Cleanliness is quite important to me. I was interested in a great sounding rental once where the pictures showed a nice home. As I was reading the reviews though, it became obvious cleanliness was not an important issue for the owner. Every single review mentioned the dirtiness of this place.
Try to read all, or most, of the reviews for the Airbnb rental, not just the most recent.
Sometimes reviews can be confusing though. I rented a room in a family’s home. The reviews were good and it’s cleanliness had been mentioned a few times. So you can imagine my shock when I arrived and the extent of clutter inside this home was beyond anything I had every seen. My first thought was hoarders. Yes, the room and the bathroom were clean, but the home was FULL of stuff, unmentioned pets and people. It was overwhelming. The family was so considerate and thoughtful of each other, and me, though. I had an internal debate going on in my head the whole stay. It wasn’t a bad Airbnb rental but it also wasn’t the best.
Another place I rented had reviews from people who didn’t like the place or their stay. I was struggling to find a rental for that one night and decided the reviews weren’t bad enough to deter me, so I booked it. It turns out the place was more old, than anything. The hosts were friendly and helpful but the house could definitely have done with a bathroom renovation. The bed linen was mismatched and older but they were still in good shape. That’s as bad as it was. That rental felt more like staying with a bunch of your friends when you are in your twenties. The place was pretty clean but it was an old home and the linens were the ones given by your Mom when she cleaned out her cupboard. Completely acceptable place to stay for a night.
Everybody’s idea of clean is different. I found most of the Airbnb rentals I have stayed at though, were cleaner than hotels I have stayed at. Including the big named, expensive ones.
Review All Of The Information Given
Reviews and descriptions are important parts of your research before booking your rental with Airbnb but don’t forget the pictures. You’re reading this thinking, “Obviously!”. But even though my cousin and I looked at the pictures of a rental in Paris, we both almost missed an important fact. There was no separate washroom. The studio apartment was a very, very small room. The toilet, and I think the shower, were both out in the open, in the room. It’s good to remember that what is ‘normal’ for you in your home or country, is not always ‘normal’ everywhere else. Thankfully, we caught it.
For me, Airbnb has been a great accommodation option. I have heard some of the Airbnb horror stories that have made the news but thankfully, I have not had those experiences. I have had one or two personality differences when I rented a room in someone’s home. When you are sharing someone’s home though, those are expected, understandable and something you can deal with. Overall I have stayed in some great locations, in some great homes and have met some wonderful people. One of my hosts even made movies. He had just finished his second film and was going to be looking for film festivals to enter it into. He told me how his first movie had just finished a run on Netflix and then he gave me a DVD copy of it. Of course I asked him to sign it.
When I flew to Europe last year I noticed my black compression socks were stretched and no longer in their original shape. They didn’t have all of the elasticity left in them. I knew I needed to get myself a new pair for flying to Australia and New Zealand. Obviously I needed a pair in their original shape, I was going to be flying two long-haul flights. Deep vein thrombosis is something I very much want to avoid.
I did some internet research to find a really good compression sock and of course I checked out the different patterns offered. In my search I found the compression socks chosen most often, with the best patterns, were in the USA. Canada has compression socks with patterns, but nothing that is different.
Ooooohhhh I totally loved the patterns VIM & VIGR offered for their compression socks.
The first thing that drew me to VIM & VIGR was the fact that they offer their compression socks in cotton and wool, on top of the normal nylon you always see. Then there was the pattern selection. They didn’t just have the stripes, polka dots and argyle patterns I had seen from other companies. The pair I really loved, I had not seen anywhere else. Of course I had to buy them. They are a blue and charcoal, cotton sock with the most awesome stick figure type rose pattern. Women’s Queen’s Floral is also a pretty awesome sock name. Although if a floral pattern is not your thing, they do have a cotton sock with a camouflage pattern. Plus, they have different seasonal collections.
When I first visited the web-site there was an option to sign-up for their emails. By doing that, I received a $5.00 off coupon code. I loved and appreciated this option, especially because I was trying something new. I ordered my socks on Sunday night and because of the $25.00 shipping charge to Canada, I decided to ship to a USA address for $4.99 instead. While I am happy I had that option available to me, I hope the high shipping cost to Canada is something VIM & VIGR can work on, it would be great if these socks were more readily available here.
My VIM & VIGR Order
My order shipped out on Monday and even though I chose the 7-10 day shipping option, by Thursday, the socks arrived at the address. That very fast delivery time totally impressed me. The fifth thing I noticed about the VIM & VIGR compression socks, after the fabric, the unique pattern, the coupon code and the unexpected fast delivery time (which obviously won’t always happen), was that these socks are just as beautiful in real life as they are on the web-site. The photos were wonderfully accurate.
If ordering directly from the USA isn’t an option for you though, the VIM & VIGR website also lists three international companies, one in Canada and two in Asia. The company in Canada is 26.10 Design & Distribution Inc. (website here). They are based in Quebec and shipping is a fixed fee of $15.00 CAD to Canada. Unfortunatly they only have the regular polka dots, stripes and argyle choices everyone else has. They do however offer all three fabric choices, cotton, wool and nylon. Bliss & Bless (website here) is the company in Hong Kong and the company in Japan, Koshiya Medicalcare (website here), didn’t end up having any of the VIM & VIGR products on their site, that I could find.
When I purchase shoes, I wear a woman’s 9-10 and my calf’s are larger, like about 17”. So, I ordered the Large size based on the sizing chart. The awesome thing is though, VIM & VIGR has socks with a Wide Calf option. Great for people who don’t fit into the other sizes but still want or need a compression sock for flying or exercising.
There were two downsides to this sock that I noticed. The first one I experienced was because I am short and the socks are quite long. This means the socks come right up to the knee joint (or higher). When I had long travel days, I found they would cut into my leg. After two long-haul flights, a short layover, car travel times, etc, the socks were cutting into my leg pretty good. My first experience wearing these socks was actually a little painful. This might be because they are cotton and don’t have as much flexibility as nylon. I would also like to try a wide-calf option though, maybe that had something to do with it.
The second downside, these socks took quite a bit of effort to put on. Again, probably because they are cotton and don’t have the flexibility nylon based compression socks have. You get instructions from VIM & VIGR on how to properly put the socks on, which is very helpful and appreciated, but they definitely take a lot more effort than I am used to applying when putting on compression socks.
These compression socks are quite thick and tight, which is probably because of the cotton. I thought I could really feel them do their work. As soon as I put them on, my legs started to tingle. I wore these for my flights and I felt they did a great job. Although, because I am not a medical professional, other than lacking any obvious signs of deep vein thrombosis, I’m not sure how to tell. I have worn other compression socks before though and while I have felt my legs tingle, the other socks have never fit as snug, not like these VIM & VIGR cotton compression socks. Compression socks alone won’t prevent deep vein thrombosis, but they do help. I also try to get up and walk around regularly on flights.
I loved wearing my VIM & VIGR compression socks with this great, modern pattern, I didn’t have to feel as though I was wearing my Grandfather’s medical socks. That right there is enough to make me purchase these again. Plus, even though I have not worn these socks for anything other than flying yet, they are so stylish I am willing to try them for exercise, sitting, and standing.
I loved my VIM & VIGR cotton compression socks so much I decided to become an affiliate marketer with them. If you are interested, you can click above on the purple VIM & VIGR, or you can click on the description on the Recommendations page. It will not cost you any additional costs to make a purchase with this link but we will receive a commission for referring you.
I hope you will enjoy your socks as much as I enjoy mine.
I was at the car dealership the other day with my S’well Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle (website) when the receptionist told me she’s been seeing everyone at school with one. I interpreted that to mean, I had to tell her how wonderful it was. And it is wonderful.
I bought the S’well stainless-steel insulated water bottle solely for one reason. It was a stainless-steel water bottle with a lid that I could put fizzy water (affiliate link) in. Those are not easy to find. The insulated part was an added bonus. The cost of it almost had me changing my mind but I decided to give it a chance. I really wanted an alternative to plastic bottles.
I do not regret my purchase. My S’well bottle has been used for hot & cold beverages and it has even saved me time in the mornings now that I can get my cold, fizzy water with lemon juice, ready the evening before. There is also the largest selection of colours and patterns I have ever seen for a stainless-steel bottle and it is available in several different sizes. I chose the 750ml size in Iris, a lovely purple.
When I am out and about for hours I end up taking several plastic water bottles filled with fizzy water and lemon juice with me to last and keep me hydrated. This means to keep the water cool I also have to carry a small flexible cooler and ice pack with me. It’s not a big problem but I was happy to find an easier alternative. The only downside is that you must hand wash the S’well water bottle, it can not go in the dishwasher.
When I used the bottle for Hot Chocolate:
I made myself a hot chocolate at home but it was too hot to drink right away and I was in a rush to get to an appointment, so I decided to put it in the S’well bottle to drink later. Six to seven hours later when I came home from my guided meditation class, I was really looking forward to that hot chocolate. I poured it into a mug and it was still as steaming hot as when I put it into the bottle hours before. It was very impressive.
The true test, the reason I bought the bottle. When I used the bottle for Cold, Fizzy Water:
I poured my lemon juice and fizzy water into the S’well stainless steel water bottle before I went to bed. The next day, about 12 hours after I had filled the bottle, after my physiotherapy appointment, I drank the water. It was still both fizzy and as cold as it was when I took it out of the fridge the night before. I was so happy and excited. I had finally found the alternative to plastic water bottles and my fizzy water (affiliate link).
So far I only have the one bottle but I do plan on buying more. Honestly the only downside(s) I have found with the S’well stainless-steel insulated water bottle is the fact that it can not go in the dishwasher and the size. The 750ml size is larger than you would expect, which I’m assuming is because the insulated part adds to it. I would also like either the 500ml or even the new cute little 260ml size. Something that would be convenient and easy to carry in my purse but still give me my water supply.
The S’well stainless steel insulated water bottle is sold in stores and online in Canada. You can also buy it directly from their website and ship it to Canada. I bought mine from Chapters.
UPDATE: I bought the 500ml bottle and took it with me travelling. In my mind, this is the best thing I could have done. In Australia sparkling water is easy to find but the country has some really hot temperatures and I didn’t want to spend $3.50 – $4.50 for a small bottle of water many times throughout the day so I bought 1.5 litre bottles at the supermarket for $0.70. While I was able to put them in the refrigerator wherever I was staying, it meant that I needed to sort myself out for the day, so my S’well water bottle was filled and I had something cold and fizzy to drink later in the day that didn’t cost me $4.50. I also found that depending on how hot the outside water bottle temperature was, the water would still be quite cool and fizzy, if not cold, in the water bottle several hours longer than the listed 24 hours.
In New Zealand sparkling water is less common so buying from the grocery store is, most of the time, the only option. Except when I was staying or visiting with friends because they all had a SodaStream. You can read how I feel about the SodaStream here.
Also, it comes in handy for flights. I am able to purchase a bottle of cold, sparkling water after security and pour it into my water bottle. I then have a large amount of cold, fizzy water whenever I need or choose to drink it.
All in all, my extra 500ml S’well water bottle was a very smart purchase for my travels and I am very happy I picked one up before I left Canada.
Ahhhhh, the warm, sweet fragrance of Bourbon Vanilla. It is a subtle scent that makes you feel cozy and comfortable, but also that you are loved and safe. A clean scent that wraps you in a big hug. Coconut Verbena on the other hand reminds you of the hot sun on your face and warm sand under your feet as you walk into the crisp, blue, ocean water. It is fresh scent that immediately takes you back to summer fun or your favourite winter beach vacation. These were the two distinct scents that greeted me when I opened my shipment from Spongelle so I was very excited.
When I received the Spongelle Body Wash Infused Buffer in my FabFitFun Fall 2016 Subscription Box I was surprised at how much I loved it. I am a person who is always running late so anything that can shorten my morning routine is something I’m going to want to check out. The Spongelle buffer not only made things simpler and therefore quicker it also allows you to buff your skin, something we should all be doing regularly to get rid of the dead stuff.
The Bulgarian Rose buffer was shaped like a flower and had pedals that ripped off, but the body wash infused buffers I just ordered from Spongelle are round in shape so there is nothing to lose. I did like the pedal shape for grip though, I find the round ones are much easier to drop and therefore get wet again during use. For me, the Bulgarian Rose scent was way too overwhelming but the Bourbon Vanilla and Coconut Verbena are much milder and in my mind, way more pleasing. Also when I used the Bulgarian Rose buffer I found my skin got dry and was ever so slightly irritated. I have been using the Bourbon Vanilla for 10 days now though and my skin isn’t getting dry or irritated at all so I’m starting to believe it might have just been a reaction to the fragrance that was drying out my skin.
Every body wash infused buffer that Spongelle sells has a recommended amount of washes it will provide, but personally, I think how long the buffer lasts depends on how much water you add every time you use it. I wet it once and don’t have to do it again during the rest of my shower but when I drop it and it gets wet again, it seems to go through the body wash faster.
The entire process with Spongelle was simple and easy. Their web-site was a little confusing to sort out and find what I wanted but after that it was easy to order the product I chose and pay. Once I placed and paid for the order I received a confirmation email and five days later I received another email informing me my order had shipped. It then took 11 days to arrive at my home, which is average when receiving shipments from the USA.
As a person who usually uses shower gel and shower gloves, these body wash infused buffers are a wonderful alternative that smell glorious and shave valuable time off my shower. They definitely have a new fan in me.