Mexico City: Not Just Tacos and Tequila

To celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary, we visited Mexico City for an 11 day vacation (without kids!). We have visited the city several times before, so we didn’t plan on hitting the tourist trail too hard while in the city. 

On most days we spent a few hours sightseeing and many more hours relaxing, dining, and indulging in other forms of laziness. Some days were more successfully lazy than others, but overall we took it easy. 

While in the city, we visited the museums and colonial buildings in the historic center of town, toured a half dozen districts on the edge of town, and took a day trip to the pyramids at Teotihuacan.

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Caribbean Castaways: One Month in Freeport, Bahamas

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be shipwrecked on a deserted island?  Would you get bored? Would you starve? Die of dehydration?

Or would you thrive and prosper in your newfound isolation and make the most out of your (hopefully) temporary stay on the beach?

In a roundabout way, our one month trip to Freeport, Bahamas was inspired by this thought experiment. What would life be like in a relatively isolated section of a Caribbean island? Crystal clear water. White sand beaches. No people. No nearby restaurants or entertainment.

Are we crazy to voluntarily shipwreck ourselves in such a predicament?  I don’t think so. But we aren’t complete gluttons for punishment. We made sure to book a place with air conditioning and wifi (it is the 21st century after all).

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Amsterdam’s Cheese Museum and Bike Parking Garages

The final stop on our nine week, fourteen city summer vacation across Europe brought us to Amsterdam, Netherlands for a quick three day stay before flying back to North Carolina (and home!).

While in Amsterdam we explored canals and rivers, centuries old streets and buildings, and some more modern spaces like the iconic OBA Amsterdam Public Library.

Read on to find out how we wrapped up nine weeks in Europe!

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Koblenz, Germany, Eltz Castle, and the Mosel and Rhine Rivers

The thirteenth (and next to last) stop on our nine week, fourteen city summer vacation across Europe brought us to Koblenz, Germany.  The city of Koblenz sits at the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine River in the western part of Germany.

After spending most of the previous eight weeks of vacation in urban settings, we decided to give rural living a shot for a week.  We rented a spacious three bedroom apartment in a country house in the village of Mariaroth about 15 minutes from the center of Koblenz.

While staying near Koblenz, we visited the Eltz Castle, several villages in the Mosel and Rhine river valleys, and toured downtown Koblenz during what turned out to be a rather rainy week for us.  

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The Wall and The War: Exploring Berlin, Germany

As we near the end of the review of our nine week, fourteen city summer vacation across Europe, our twelfth stop brought us to Berlin, Germany for a week of history, culture, food, and friends.

Berlin was everything I expected and then some. Great summertime weather, nice people, minimal crowds, easy transit, good food, all with low prices (for a major European capital city).  I’d certainly rate Berlin a hidden gem on this basis.  My naive hypothesis is that Berlin is still a city in transition following World War II devastation and the post-war sundering of Berlin into East and West halves by the former USSR and the western Allies.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany reunited as one country shortly thereafter in 1990.  In today’s Berlin there are ample reminders of the turbulent past century in the form of museums, memorials, and preserved segments of the Berlin Wall. Though it’s hard to imagine anything bad actually happened when you’re sitting in a placid city park or strolling down the quiet riverfront.  Then you catch a glimpse of pockmarked walls and columns on old buildings and that makes you wonder if those were caused by bullets or an exploding shell that barely missed its mark.

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Czech it out: Exploring Prague in a Week

The eleventh stop on our nine week, fourteen city summer vacation across Europe brought us to Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic.

20 years ago Prague was an up and coming budget tourism destination full of culture and history where one could escape the higher prices of western Europe. Today, it still has the charm of the good old days but with slightly higher price tags compared to much of the rest of low-cost central and eastern Europe.

While in Prague, we visited the usual mix of castles, churches, and historic town squares.  I was surprised at how many tourists were jam-packed into the center of the historic center of town. Maybe it was due to our visit falling in the middle of the peak summer tourist season? Fortunately we found a quiet escape just a mile south of the historic Old Town section of Prague at the Vysehrad Fort.

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A Week in Munich, Germany plus Neuschwanstein and Dachau

Continuing on our family journey through Europe, we spent a week in Munich, Germany.  This was the tenth city of our nine week, fourteen city summer vacation across Europe.

Munich is the seat of government of the German state of Bavaria.  The streets are lined with buildings hundreds of years old and so full of history both recent and modern.  We spent several days exploring the downtown area of Munich, the Eisbach River and English Garden, the Residenz palace, and the Nymphenburg palace grounds.

Munich also served as a home base while we took two day trips outside Munich.  On the first trip we drove to Neuschwanstein Castle a couple of hours south of Munich.  The next day we visited the somber Dachau concentration camp on the northern outskirts of Munich where the Nazis killed tens of thousands of victims during World War II.

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Explore Austria: Salzburg, Hallstatt and the Dachstein Ice Cave

Stop number nine (of fourteen) on our nine week summer vacation across Europe found us in Salzburg, Austria. In addition to touring the old town of Salzburg, we also ventured out to the lakeside village of Hallstatt, Austria and toured the nearby Dachstein Ice Cave.

Salzburg’s historic center is the classic Europe you see on postcards. Expansive town squares, a castle high up on a hill, palaces, gardens, a river running through the middle of town, and statues and plaques proclaiming the birthplace of famous cultural icons (like Mozart) and scientists (like Doppler).  For those fans of 1960’s musicals, you’ll be happy to learn that The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg and the surrounding countryside.  

A relaxed hour and a half drive through the foothills of the Alps brought us to the village of Hallstatt. We continued driving a few minutes past Hallstatt where we visited the Dachstein Ice Cave (literally a cave filled with ice year round).  After the ice cave tour we returned to Hallstatt for a stroll through town where we saw the houses, businesses, and churches climbing the hillside as if they were trying to escape from the murky depths of Lake Hallstatt.

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The Hidden Gems of the Julian Alps and Soča Valley in Slovenia

The eighth stop on our nine week summer vacation across Europe found us in Northern Slovenia and the beautifully scenic areas of Lake Bled, Soča Valley, and the Julian Alps.  While visiting these sights we spent four nights in the tiny village of Podkoren in the far northwestern corner of Slovenia.

We stumbled upon Podkoren while searching for a centrally located apartment in the northern part of Slovenia that would serve as a home base for exploring the mountains, lakes, and valleys nearby. Podkoren was perfect for all of that. Wikipedia says Podkoren has 388 residents, but they must have done the census during the winter ski season and not when we were there during the sleepy summer off season.  We assumed Podkoren would be nothing more than a place to rest in between our daytime adventures across Northern Slovenia but to our surprise the village turned out to be worth exploring as a destination in itself.

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Exploring Caves and Castles in Ljubljana, Slovenia

The seventh stop on our nine week summer vacation across Europe brought us to Ljubljana, Slovenia.  If you’ve never heard of Ljubljana or Slovenia, then you are missing out on a hidden gem of Europe.  We randomly stumbled on this country while looking at pictures of Europe and decided it was a must-see destination. It did not disappoint.

While in Ljubljana, we explored the city for several days and visited the castle atop the central hill in town.  We took a few day trips to two caves and a castle.  In addition to the sightseeing, this was our first opportunity to take it easy since we had a full week in Ljubljana (after six previous stops on our trip with only two to five days stay in each city).  We embraced the slow travel lifestyle and spent a couple of days “doing nothing” and relaxing.

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