New England Trip Part 2: Maine

Leah and I planned a vacation in New England that coincided with a wedding we were invited to in western Massachusetts. These posts cover the different parts of the trip.


Day 5: Entering Maine

In Portland we met up with Rachel and Hayley. They were going to the same wedding as us in western Massachusetts later in the week and we made plans to spend time in Maine—specifically in Acadia National Park—with them. The 5 of us and all of our luggage stuffed the car pretty tight, but the Kia Soul held its own.

We drove to downtown Portland to get lunch. We walked to a seafood place (Portland Lobster Co) so people could get their fix of lobster rolls. Market price put them at about $17 a pop. Here’s Leah (a vegetarian but sometimes pescatarian while on vacation) enjoying her first taste of lobster with some local beer. They really embrace the lobster mentality out in Maine. See if you can spot all of the lobsters in the photos.

After lunch we walked around a little. It was my second time in Portland but I was in a different part of the city my first time there. I think Portland has a really cool vibe and architecture—lots of cute stores and brick buildings. We stopped for potato donuts (tastes like donuts, but a little potato-y) and returned to the car. Bob was headed back to Northampton so we dropped him off at the Amtrak station and said goodbye. There was a little more room in the car after his departure.

We headed north out of Portland along the coastal route following U.S. Highway 1. It took a little bit longer but promised to provide more views and passed through some quaint coastal Maine towns. A giant lobster suddenly appeared out of nowhere and it was requested that I stop so we could take photos. Maine really embraces the lobster hype. Here’s Hayley, Rachel, and Leah doing their best lobster impression.

IMG_8274

We also stopped in Rockland to check out the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. The lighthouse was accessible by a long walk (just short of a mile) out on a breakwater. We overheard someone mention high tide just as we started the walk along the breakwater. Might be an issue? Here we are starting the journey.

20190708_161610

It wasn’t until the end of the walk that we started to see sections that were flooded with the waves crashing over. My feet only got a little bit wet. Here’s the front of the lighthouse.

20190708_163218

And here’s Rachel and Leah looking back towards the mainland across the long stretch of damp granite stones.

20190708_163632

Hayley took a very professionally focused photo of Leah and me so I have to show you how great we look. Right out of a Columbia Sportswear catalog.

IMG_8303

Next we headed to our Airbnb in Bar Harbor, the biggest city near Acadia National Park. A good chunk of the national park is actually within Bar Harbor city limits. Our Airbnb was the second level of a cute little house just blocks from the main drag in downtown Bar Harbor.

20190710_090220

After settling in, we headed out on a walk to find dinner. We ended up getting pizza after looking at a few menus. Pizza is always a good choice in my book. After dinner we continued down Main Street. The park in the city center was dimly lit by lamp posts and the local community band was playing under a gazebo. Leah and Rachel both agreed that it gave off a real Stars Hallow vibe. Of course I had to check out the trombones.

IMG_9004

We finished our walk through town and headed back to the Airbnb. We made a plan to check out the main section of Acadia National Park the next day, trying to time our wake and departure with the opening of the visitor center.


Day 6 – Acadia National Park

We got ready and headed out to the visitor center to get a better idea of what we should/could do in Acadia National Park. The ranger pointed out all of the main attractions along the park road loop. I also purchased a sticker for my national park passport book. On a side note, when we got home I realized that I bought the wrong passport sticker because of course there are different versions. I was more than a little bummed out. At least it still fit in my passport book, but I feel like it doesn’t really count.

We started our day in the park by driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain. At 1,530 feet it’s the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard. The views from the top were quite spectacular.

20190709_094835

They say that if you watch the sunrise from atop Cadillac Mountain that you’ll be one of the first people in the United States to see the sun in the morning. Apparently a lot of photographer types get up super early in order to capture this moment. We did not.

IMG_5296

The views from Cadillac Mountain were beautiful. There were rolling hills of Mount Desert Island (the name of the island on which we were standing—though my guidebook said locals pronounce it like “dessert”) and the many glacially formed bays and inlets that cut through the land like fingers.

20190709_094840

Here’s a photo of me and Rachel where we strategically stood so that we were the same height.

IMG_5293

We also wanted to find the USGS survey marker for the summit. It was difficult to locate but oddly enough it was marked in Hayley’s Pokémon Go app.

IMG_9013

The parking lot at the top of the mountain can apparently get full during tourist season. We were advised to stop at Cadillac Mountain first in order to avoid the traffic. Luckily for us we never had any issues with crowds in the park. Here’s one more shot of me, Leah, and Rachel hiking near the summit.

IMG_8323

Next we drove down the mountain and along the park road. We stopped at a trailhead that was closed due to peregrine falcon nesting. Two rangers were stationed there with binoculars and they answered questions while we tried to spot the birds flying along the mountainside. We learned that it’s easy to spot a peregrine falcon nest because the acid in their poop kills the lichens that grow on the exposed granite. So all you have to do is look for the only white patch on the side of the mountain.

We also learned that peregrine falcons mostly eat other birds. And they kill them by flying really fast and colliding with the spine of their prey. And then they just let the victim fall to the ground. Kind of gruesome.

Luckily for us we had a few sightings of the falcons. They sat still long enough for the rangers to set up their binoculars so that we could get a better look. They were really cool looking birds.

Our next stop was Sand Beach. At this point, Hayley was not feeling well so Rachel took her back to the Airbnb while Leah and I relaxed on the beach. We suspected the potato donuts from yesterday might have upset Hayley’s digestive system. Anyways, here’s a photo of Sand Beach at one of the ends where there weren’t as many people.

20190709_121105

Sand Beach was an odd site for a national park. It was strange, first of all, to have a sand beach form in waters this cold. It had something to do with an island just offshore—called “Old Soaker”—that regulated the currents and sediment. The beach was also packed with people that looked like they were going out for… well, a day at the beach. That’s something I don’t normally associate with national parks. The rocks and cliffs were beautiful, though, and I can see why it’s so popular.

20190709_121055

Leah and I sat in the sand, eating lunch, and people watching. There was a quintessential young east coast couple with their faded Boston Red Sox and Dartmouth hats and their adorable kids running around. I wonder if we looked Midwestern (though Leah, being from the west coast, might take offense to that). You can be the judge for me.

IMG_5298

Next we met back up with Rachel and headed to our next stop, Thunder Hole. It was basically a sea cave that made noises as the tide rolled in and out. We were warned by the park ranger that unless you were there during high tide (we were not) it was not that spectacular. We waited around for a few gurgles and then left. Here’s Rachel and Leah posing for a photo while patiently waiting for a loud sound.

20190709_132704

We next stopped at a mountain trailhead to get another hike in and a view from the top. Some man along the way commented on my “lobster legs”. He was referring to the sunburn I had gotten in the white mountains. Must be a Maine thing. Here’s a photo looking back at Sand Beach—note the sandy spot in the far left of the photo and Old Soaker in the far right.

20190709_140917

Our next stop was Jordan Pond, the location of a restaurant and lodge in the park and a great place to relax. It is also one of the main access points to the carriage roads in the park. The carriage roads (45 miles in total) were built by John D Rockefeller Jr. as a place to ride horses without cars interfering. We hiked a little loop on a carriage road. It was very peaceful but buggy. Here’s me and Leah on one of the carriage road bridges.

IMG_9037

Here’s a photo from the edge of Jordan Pond. The lumpy mountains in the background are called the “bubbles” even though they may be more accurately described as “boobs”.

20190709_161923

We returned to the Jordan Pond lodge to order their famous popovers with jam. I didn’t know they were famous for their popovers, but Leah had been to Acadia NP before and told us all about them. After a convoluted seating process, we ordered popovers. Leah got hers with iced tea (the classic option) while I got mine with blueberry soda.

IMG_9044

Next we headed back to the Airbnb. Leah, Rachel, and I got Thai takeout (Hayley was still not feeling well) and then settled in for an episode of The Bachelorette. We bought tickets for a boat cruise in the morning and headed to bed.

Here’s a cute feature of the Airbnb; this duck presents you with your toilet paper.

IMG_8337


Day 7 – Acadia National Park

Thankfully Hayley was feeling better in the morning. A boat ride is not fun when you’re nauseous. We drove to the western side of Mount Desert Island where we were getting on our boat, the “Sea Princess”.

20190710_095208

The tour was led by a park ranger and did a loop out past some islands that make up other parts of Acadia National Park as well as private land. One of the first sights was Bear Island Lighthouse.

20190710_101020

We passed many massive private houses along the waterfront in places where the land had not been sold to the national park. There were some wildlife sightings including seals, osprey, and a great blue heron.

20190710_121726

The boat stopped for a break at Little Cranberry Island. The island itself wasn’t very big. There was a sheet with information about things to see on the island and the ranger made it known that we should not miss a visit with postmaster Joy. Of course our first destination had to be the post office.

As promised, Joy was a real hoot. I tried some of her gingerbread and she showed us her massive selection of stamps. She had binder after binder full of specialty stamps.

20190710_110826

We even got to see Joy’s cat named Zipcode that she said was 27 years old.

20190710_110627

As the real stamp enthusiasts that we (mostly Leah) are, we had to buy some stamp sheets. I think we ended up with 5 and Rachel and Hayley with 3. Joy even showed us stamps that were commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing (but she couldn’t legally sell those for another week). Here’s all of us in front of the post office with our brand new fancy stamps.

IMG_8348

We stopped briefly at the boat making building and the Islesford Historical Museum (where the same ranger we talked to at the visitor center yesterday was working). We learned that the local public school rotates location every other year between Little Cranberry Island and Great Cranberry Island (for fairness I guess).

We boarded the boat again and headed back towards Mount Desert Island. We all agreed that we could have spent more time on the island, especially hanging out with Joy and Zipcode.

The last stop on the boat cruise was a trip up Somes Sound, a fjard that nearly splits Mount Desert Island in two. I don’t exactly understand the details, but there’s technically a difference between fjards and fjords (other than the spelling, which makes it a little confusing). You can google the difference if you want.

Some of the houses along that stretch were particularly spectacular. Leah and I wished we had a family or friend connection with old East Coast money that owned one of those properties.

Once back on dry land, we headed out to a nearby hike recommended by our ranger friend at Ship Harbor. It was a pleasant loop trail that ended on a rocky section of the shoreline that was filled with tide pools.

20190710_140754

We spent a lot of time scouring the tide pools for signs of life.

IMG_5310

The hike was very pleasant and had interesting scenery. I’d definitely recommend it.

20190710_144035

Our next stop was the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. It is currently being operated by the Coast Guard and the inside is private property, so no tour. But we did take some photos.

IMG_9066

There was also a trail that led to an iconic viewpoint of the lighthouse; the focus of many postcards and magnets.

20190710_152045

After leaving the lighthouse we decided we needed a treat so we stopped in Southwest Harbor at what appeared to be the only ice cream place. Thankfully, the ice cream was really good. You could tell it was good because Leah finished hers without even asking me to help her eat any of it.

On the way back to Bar Harbor we stopped for one more hike. It was a little mountain summit that a different ranger recommended. From the top we had views down into Somes Sound.

20190710_163932

Rachel wanted to show off her peak bagging skills—284 feet.

IMG_8424

We got back to the Airbnb and relaxed a little bit before dinner. There was a desire among many of us to get lobster rolls on our last night in Maine. We did some brisk shopping on Main Street while on our way to a restaurant in the harbor that we figured would have decent views of the sunset. I got a lobster roll and it was delicious.

IMG_9077

I also felt the need to get a whoopie pie while we were in Maine since I kept seeing them advertised. Luckily for me this restaurant had a whoopie pie sundae on the menu. I was criticized by the group for placing my dessert order at the same time that we were placing our dinner orders. I thought I was just being efficient. The whoopie pie sundae was okay.

20190710_195451

The restaurant didn’t really have a good view of the sunset so after dinner we walked to a parking lot on the bay to get a better look before heading back to the Airbnb.

IMG_8486

In the morning we were driving to Montague, a city in western Massachusetts where our friends Jamie and Rohan were getting married. We also planned a few fun stops along the way.


Day 8 – Leaving Maine

We got an early start in the morning so that we could tackle a few important stops. First, we stopped at The Jackson Laboratory. Hayley had seen the building earlier while driving past and wanted to stop for a photo. Hayley is a scientist who has worked in labs, so she was familiar with The Jackson Laboratory. Why, you might ask? Well because they are one of the largest suppliers of mice in the scientific community. Kind of weird, right?

Apparently their main office is in Bar Harbor, Maine and hundreds of people work there in a massive building complex. And we just happened to be there. I should clarify that Hayley did not know that The Jackson Laboratory was in Bar Harbor. It was just a strange coincidence. Once she saw the sign for the building, it triggered memories she had of packaged mice arriving with a Bar Harbor, Maine return address.

IMG_8496

Our next stop was a rushed one as we quickly jumped out of the car on the side of the road while we took photos with the Acadia National Park sign.

IMG_8504

Then it was back on the road as we headed to Augusta, Maine so I could cross off another state capital. It was on the way back to western Massachusetts so I didn’t feel too bad making everyone detour there.

Maine’s capitol was very pretty. Like Concord it had a flag room, though not nearly as impressive. Our tour guide talked about some residual resentment towards Massachusetts dating back to when Maine wasn’t its own state but a territory of Massachusetts. She also stressed how sacred the chairs in the Senate were, to the point that we weren’t supposed to even look at them or something. Of course she was kidding, but was she?

After the tour I got my obligatory photo in front of the capitol building.

IMG_8516

We headed to Hallowell for lunch on the recommendation of our tour guide. It seemed like Augusta was hit hard by the recession and the downtown wasn’t very lively. Our tour guide also warned us that there was a haunted antique store in Hallowell.

We arrived in Hallowell (about 2 miles south of Augusta), ate lunch, and then headed to the haunted antique store. It appeared to be closed, deserted, and full of junk; just the perfect recipe for some haunting.

IMG_8519

The building was legitimately creepy and I could see why people thought it was haunted. Our tour guide told us a story about how she was in the store and saw a man. Then she turned away. And when she turned back around the man was now a cat. What other explanation could there be for such sorcery?

While standing outside, a man walked by and told us that it was haunted. Story checks out. He also mentioned something about Tonka trucks in the back so we walked around to the back of the building and found some creepy yard art.

IMG_8528

It’s difficult to see from the photo, but there was in fact an arbor made out of Tonka trucks.

IMG_8527

Hayley did some research and it turns out the antique store is haunted. Just kidding. It’s owned by some recluse who is at odds with the city on account of his poorly maintained property right in the heart of downtown.

Our next stop was at the L.L.Bean store in Freeport, Maine. It is their flagship store.

20190711_142911

We wandered through the store and then checked out the outlet. In my opinion, the items at the outlet were not discounted quite enough. I did not buy anything. The town kind of felt like a tourist trap. But there was a comically large backpack!

IMG_8538

And with that, we hit the road again and left the great state of Maine on our way back to western Massachusetts.

New England Trip Part 1: Northampton and New Hampshire

Leah and I planned a vacation in New England that coincided with a wedding we were invited to in western Massachusetts. These posts cover the different parts of the trip.


Day 1: Traveling to western Mass.

Our fight from Minneapolis to Boston left at 6:50 a.m. on the 4th of July. Leah requested that I schedule an Uber since the early morning might be a hard time to find a driver. I scheduled the ride for 4:45 a.m. and minutes after the driver was assigned to us, he canceled the ride. It was a great way to start the trip. I was searching Lyft and Uber for available drivers and having trouble finding one. Lyft started raising their price and a ride to the airport was running at $60 (the Uber that I scheduled was only going to cost $25). I finally found an Uber driver who was available. He was 16 minutes away but at least we were getting a ride and wouldn’t be late.

We were flying on an airline whose name sounds like fun crunchy and the line for checked bags was long. Thankfully we got there when we did because the line was only getting worse. We were checking bags because we were flying out with our backpacking gear so that we could camp in the White Mountain National Forest in northern New Hampshire.

The security line was short but when we got to the front the TSA agent told us that our boarding passes were not valid because they cut off the barcode. I had asked Leah to print the tickets at work and apparently that was how the web page formatted them. We stepped to the side while Leah found the flight reservation online and then took screenshots of the barcodes so that we could pass through security. This was not just isolated to Leah’s printing. While we were waiting, two other people were turned away because the barcode was cut off on their printed boarding pass as well.

We landed in Boston and got our rental car. We were given a Kia Soul at “no additional charge” so you know it’s gonna be a good trip.

We headed out towards western Massachusetts, this time making sure that “avoid tolls” was not set on my GPS. We stopped at at one of the toll-side plazas for lunch. Leah remembered them as having fancy names. That fancy name she was thinking of was “plaza”.

We rendezvoused with Bob and some of his friends in Sunderland to start a float trip down the Connecticut river. Leah noted how wide the river was and how slowly the water was moving. There’s some foreshadowing there.

We all started the float in good spirits. About two hours in the morale started to decline. A few people bailed, scaling the riverbank in search of a road so they could get back to their cars. Another few hours passed and it started to get dark. We were still an undetermined distance from our end point and decided to make a desperate exit along an irrigation pipe that was pumping water from the river.

We finally got back to car, tired and pruney, grabbed dinner at a grocery store, and returned to Bob and Gabriella’s apartment. We took showers, drank a bunch of water, and went to bed. It was hot and we were beat from the long day of travel and floating.

Day 2: Concord and the White Mountains

Bob, Leah, and I woke up early to get a head start on the upcoming drive. We made our way to Concord, New Hampshire to take a tour of the capitol building. The Concord capitol was pretty cool. The entryway was full of cases of flags flown during battles of many different wars, with most coming from the Civil War. We learned that the New Hampshire House of Representatives has 400 members (that are paid $100 per year), making it the largest in the USA—and likely the lowest paid.

New Hampshire has the first primary in the US presidential election and apparently there’s an old desk that every candidate uses to sign their application to be on the ballot. Here’s Bob and I officially announcing our 2020 campaign.

Next we headed to an outdoor store to stock up on any last minute camping supplies. Bob bought a compass and rope. Leah bought a new hiking skort. I bought fuel for the camp stove. We then stocked up on groceries and grabbed lunch in town at a sandwich shop Bob recommended. The New Hampshire motto is “Live Free or Die” and we were really appreciating all of the freedom.

We then continued north towards the White Mountain National Forest. We drove past some spectacular views as we looped around the north end of the largest mountain range. We arrived at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to ask about trail and weather conditions and to see if some campsites were available.

Based on the information that we gathered (and on the large amount of pre-trip research that I did) we made a plan to hike a couple miles up Mount Washington to the Hermit Lake shelter and spend the night there. It was already late in the afternoon and we didn’t think we’d be able to make a long hike before sunset.

The route was uphill but not crazy steep. We passed some waterfalls along the way. Most of the hikers we encountered were going down. There were some hikers carrying skis while hiking up. We wondered where they were going and if there was much snow. It was July 5th after all. Here’s Bob and Leah in front of a waterfall.

The Hermit Lake shelter was very well developed with flush toilets and a caretaker’s cabin. The views from the cabin were great. Here’s Bob posing with some trail mix on the deck.

There were multiple shelters to choose from at the site (5 three-sided shelters, 3 four-sided shelters, and 3 tent platforms for a total accommodation of 86 people). Here’s us on the loop around the sleeping areas, with the lake on the left side of the photo.

We picked a shelter and set up our tents. We ate dinner, loaded our food into the bear box, and settled in for the night. There was rain in the forecast for tomorrow but I was hoping for some good luck and clear skies. Here’s what our shelter for the night looked like.

Day 3: The White Mountains continued

We tried to get an early start to beat the bad weather on the summit. We made breakfast, packed up the gear, and headed out. It had rained over night so we were glad to be under the shelter and not have to deal with a wet tent. Here’s us about to set out, the clouds looming ominously.

The visibility was decent at the start of our climb. The terrain was steep and wet, but the views were still beautiful.

We got to a certain ridge line and immediately found ourselves socked in with fog. The visibility was around 20 feet and every once in a while the sun would try to poke out and we’d see the mountainside illuminated. One of the main trails to the summit of Mount Washington was closed due to avalanche danger. I guess we know where the skiers were headed? Here’s that thick fog layer. I was leading and in charge of finding the next cairn—not an easy task.

The last part of the trail was above the tree line and basically a boulder scramble. As we neared the top I could hear car engines. There is a road to the top of Mount Washington that kind of defeats your spirits as a hiker when you think you should be arriving at a remote summit and there are hundreds of people who drove.

Once we arrived at the summit we checked out the points of interest and the lack of views. Here’s us at the summit. Notice my fogged glasses.

We perused the (multiple) gift shops and had lunch. Leah considered buying a postcard at the post office but didn’t like the selection. There is a meteorology team stationed at the summit and we chatted with two of them that were set up at a booth in the back corner. They talked about the fancy weather modeling they do and told us that we missed the first thunderstorm, but that a bigger one would be passing over from 2 to 5 PM.

I had the idea to wait out the storm in the visitor center and then continue hiking to our next campsite. There was a sheltered campsite about 4 miles away that I wanted to make it to. I was outvoted as that plan seemed risky, relying on the hope that the storm gave out in time for us to hike to the next campsite before sunset.

Instead, we took the shuttle back down the road to the visitor center where our car was parked. Many other hikers were doing the same thing. Mount Washington always gets publicized as having some of the worst weather on earth and people were not going to mess with the mountain. We regrouped at the visitor center and made a new plan for the rest of the trip. In hindsight, taking the shuttle down was the right call and if we had followed my plan it would have made for a pretty rough night.

We grabbed a beer and ice cream (not at the same place) in Gorham while we waited out the thunderstorm. There were a lot of people in town to pay their respects to the memorial site where 7 motorcyclists were killed in a highway accident. I had remembered hearing about the story but hadn’t realized that we were driving through the exact spot of the accident which had occurred just 2 weeks prior.

Next we left town and parked our car at a different trail head. Our new plan was to hike up about 3 miles to a shelter called the Log Cabin that is on the northern slopes of the presidential range. The trail was very pretty but also basically empty. The thunderstorm definitely chased people off the mountains.

We arrived at the shelter about an hour before sunset with time to check out the site, use the composting toilet, make dinner, and tie the rope for our food bag. Here’s what the shelter looked like.

The Log Cabin is a cute little shelter operated by the Randolph Mountain Club. They oversee 4 sites on the northern slopes of the presidential range. There is a permanent caretaker that stays at one of the more developed sites. At $15 suggested donation they definitely provide some comforts without breaking the bank. Here’s the inside of the Log Cabin.

We slept on the top level of the bunk-style platforms with just sleeping pads and bags. We hoped that the bugs wouldn’t be bad overnight (and they weren’t). It was kind of cool to have the whole shelter to ourselves. It looked like it might be able to sleep about 20 people total. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would stay at another RMC shelter in the future.

Day 4: The White Mountains some more

We woke up in the morning and checked the food bag. It was still hanging in the tree. Bob’s rope held! We made breakfast, filtered some water in the nearby steam, and packed up. The gear that we had laid out to dry seemed to be even wetter than before.

Our plan for the day was to hike a few of the “presidents”—most notably Adams and Madison (the mountain range is named for some US presidents, but also for some people who weren’t president but had a presidential connection). In a perfect world we would have hiked Jefferson as well, but that would have added about 3 miles to the trip and we didn’t think that was going to be doable. Our pace in the White Mountains was pretty slow. The steep sections were rough and pretty technical and in those areas we averaged 1 mile about every 90 minutes. Here’s a shot of a typical trail above the tree line.

We stopped at the Gray Knob cabin (another RMC site) for a bathroom and sunscreen break. It was a nicer facility with a common space on the main floor and mattress pads in the lofted sleeping area. The caretaker wasn’t on site. Maybe they were on a hike?

The hike up to Mount Adams was very pleasant. After the fog and rain of the day before it was a relief to have perfectly blue skies and amazing views. We passed the summit of Abigail Adams (the first lady got her own peak, though lower in elevation than John’s). Here’s Bob and Leah looking towards Mount Adams from the summit of Abigail Adams.

At the top of Mount Adams we hunkered down and ate lunch. The wind was whipping pretty hard so we wedged ourselves between big rocks for some protection. While eating lunch, we saw a duo race to the summit and one of them stopped his watch. “Two hours and forty six minutes”, he said. Pretty good time. These guys were serious. Here’s Bob on the summit of Adams with Madison in the background.

We hiked down Adams towards Madison. The route remained well above the tree line. It was very exposed and covered in boulders and rocks. Looking back at one of the ridges you could see Crag Camp cabin (another site operated by the RMC). It was beautifully perched, just poking out of the tree line. I bet the sunrise is amazing from there. Try to find the little dot in the photo below.

We rounded a ridge and came upon the Madison Spring Hut which is operated by the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club). It’s a large building that really sticks out from its surroundings. Here’s Bob checking out the hut from a distance.

We stopped at the hut as it was on the trail towards the Madison summit. There was a large mess hall and a full kitchen with multiple on-site staff. I used the opportunity to go to the restroom. The other half of the building was room after room of bunk beds. The hut sleeps about 52 guests. Here’s the eating/meeting space. *After looking at this photo, Leah noted to me that the person in the purple jacket ended up being one of the people that we gave a ride to later in the day. Leah thought that was cool. I thought it was more coincidental.*

After leaving the hut we finished the trail to the summit of Madison. More great views and another snack opportunity. Here’s the view from Madison looking east down the ridge.

It was getting later in the day than we were planning so we started heading down to finish our loop back to the car. The trail started off pretty rough and was taking a long time. We finally made it to the tree line and everyone was feeling a little sore and ready to be done.

The rest of the trail was much easier, flatter, and faster. We stopped at a stream to filter water and plan the rest of the route down. Here’s the waterfall that fed the delicious mountain spring water we were drinking.

We made much better time in the lower section and made it back to the car by about 7 PM. Bob saw two people in the parking lot looking for a hitch (one of which happened to be in the photo I took inside the Madison Spring Hut). Turns out they were going into Gorham which is where we were planning to get dinner. We gave them a ride to town and heard about their travels. They were part of a group that was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in the flip-flop route (meaning starting in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and hiking the north section, then starting again in Harpers Ferry and hiking the south section).

We dropped them off at their hostel and headed to dinner at Mr. Pizza. We got nachos, beer (Leah got wine), and pizza—a great meal after a ton of hiking. Then we headed to Moose Brook State Park to car camp our final night in New Hampshire. We picked an open site right across from the bathroom and went straight to bed.

Day 5: Leaving New Hampshire

In the morning we made breakfast and split up the rest of the food. Bob and Leah wanted to take showers but they were coin operated and cost 3 quarters. Collectively we had 2 quarters and no way to make change. Fine by me, I wasn’t really in the mood for a shower. We loaded up the car and headed to the next stop on our vacation—Portland, Maine.

Europe Day 5 – Amsterdam

We woke up and got ready, eating a quick breakfast. Tom dropped us off at the train station in Leiden and we rode into Amsterdam, getting off at Amsterdam Centraal station.

My first navigating in Amsterdam took us on an unintentional lap around the train station. There were so many bikes parked nearby. The Netherlands really earns its reputation for being the world’s biking hotspot. Look past the unflattering waste removal truck and observe the hundreds of bikes packed together like sardines.20180921_083147

Amsterdam is a very quaint looking city. The maze of canals and the rows of 3 to 5 story brick buildings really give the city a certain charm. Here’s Leah’s photo from next to the canal.img_4723

We headed to our first destination of the day, the Van Gogh Museum. We had purchased timed tickets and were trying to arrive roughly at our assigned time. Our tickets were for 9:00 a.m. with a 30 minute grace period. We arrived at 9:20. Another close call due to our insistence on walking everywhere and the 15 minutes we spent walking around the train station trying to orient ourselves (which was my fault). Here’s a photo of the museum along the Museumplein (Museum Square).20180921_112050

The Van Gogh Museum wasn’t very crowded when we arrived, another advantage of doing tourist activities first thing in the morning. It was a really cool museum chronicling the history and styles of Vincent Van Gogh. The main exhibit was definitely worth a visit. It was one of the cooler museums we saw on the trip. We also ventured into Van Gogh Dreams, a special exhibit at the museum. It was weird, trippy, and not at all what we were expecting. It also contained no art made by Van Gogh. Here’s Leah’s photo of me in the dream exhibit.img_4719

We left the museum and started walking towards lunch. Our guide book recommended an avocado themed restaurant. How could we (millennials) refuse? Along the walk we found this tiny car thing. People were driving them in the bike lanes and bike paths. Very European. Here is Leah for scale.20180921_112613

We arrived at the restaurant and had to wait a little bit for a table. It turns out the place was popular, or at least popular with tourists. We both ordered water and it soon became clear that it wasn’t free (€5.50 for a bottle that we shared). You know it’s trendy when they charge you for water. In the background there was a lot of American music playing (Frank Ocean, 50 Cent, The Game, Aaliyah). I ordered the wagyu burger with avocado “buns”.20180921_114817

Next we walked to the Heineken building. They no longer brew in the original building and now just run a tour called the Heineken Experience. There was a line but we decided to do it. The full package came with a tour of the building, free samples, a canal tour, and some other lookout thing that we couldn’t really figure out.

The tour started with a disclaimer that it would be entirely in English. I wonder what crowd they cater towards. It was also evident how widely spoken English was in the Netherlands and especially in Amsterdam. It seemed like every Dutch person we encountered spoke fluent English and those who were younger had little to no discernible accent.

The beginning of the tour included some history about Heineken. Pretty basic brewery tour stuff. We also got to walk through an old brew room. Here’s Leah next to a copper kettle.20180921_132009

They also had a horse stable. I don’t exactly remember why. Maybe they used to deliver beer by horse?20180921_132326

The next stop was to sample Heineken. We learned the proper technique to drink a Heineken (basically you, uh, drink it). Leah couldn’t finish her beer so obviously I had to finish it for her.

The tour up until this point was pretty normal stuff. Then it started to get weird. We were treated to an incredibly bizarre combination of flashing lights and noises as we enjoyed the true Heineken Experience. What that meant was that we became Heineken. We were brewed, bottled, and packaged. What that really meant was that we moved through multiple rooms with different layouts and sizes as the walls burst with colored lights and weird sounds played in the background. Leah thought that, given we were in Amsterdam, it was geared towards people on drugs. I unfortunately don’t have any photos of this part as I was too busy trying to snap the ordeal.

The tour finished off with an area full of mini-games, foosball, karaoke, a photo booth, and tie-ins to their European football and rugby sponsorship. Here’s Leah’s photo of me as a rugby player.img_4720

The last room was modeled like a European dance club and was where we received our final two beers. I was under the impression that Heineken made more than one kind of beer and thought that on this tour they would surely let us sample the other varieties. Leah thought that was wishful thinking. And she was right. Our only option was Heineken. I mean heck, there are like five different kinds of Bud! I was disappointed. Plus we realized that neither of us actually liked Heineken (curious why we were on the tour in the first place). So we pulled out the trail mix and choked down our final two beers, with me doing most of the heavy lifting.

Our next stop was the canal boat tour operated by Heineken. We took a pleasant spin through the city while learning some facts about Amsterdam and the canals. It was so pleasant (and after a few beers on the tour) that I took a little siesta during part of the ride. Leah was awake and took this photo.img_4722

Some facts that I was awake for include there are 1.5 bikes for every person in Amsterdam. And 8000 bikes fall into the canal every year. Also, the houses are slanted in towards the street so that hoists can be better utilized to move things in and out of the upper floors. The houses in Amsterdam were built so narrow because the city would tax on the width of the building. Here’s a photo of one such house, all cute and quaint and brick and narrow.20180921_173831

The canal boat tour ends at A’DAM Lookout. It was a weird tourist trap kind of thing (presumably sponsored or owned by Heineken). We took the tourist green-screen photos and I was emailed the digital copies for free, so here they are. If you can’t tell, one was a “funny” photo. Leah didn’t want these shared.0539b4e3-5ed9-490e-9c43-d46f36fa0959887b8f88-4865-4fe3-8df5-af27e4af82b6

Next to the lookout was the Amsterdam Eye. Officially known as the EYE Film Institute Netherlands, it is an archive and museum in Amsterdam that preserves and presents both Dutch and foreign films screened in the Netherlands. Here’s a photo of the building.20180921_152053

The A’DAM Lookout provided good views of the city, though there wasn’t much skyline to see in the historic part of town. Here’s a photo looking back at Amsterdam.20180921_153928

It was very windy, cold, and drizzling on the top deck. Here’s a photo of Leah where she wanted you to know that I asked her to “look miserable” while posing for the shot.20180921_153650

We each got a photo on top of the… famous horse?

20180921_153725img_4725

There was also a giant swing on top of the building that we both refused to get on. Once we left the lookout we headed to a free ferry that took us back across the river to the main part of the city. Again, more crazy bike parking. This time a parking garage dedicated to bikes.20180921_155902

Next we walked to Begijnhof, one of the oldest hofjes in Amsterdam. In simple terms, a hofje is a small courtyard with houses around it. This one was hidden away inside of a city block with very cute buildings. Here’s a photo from the main courtyard.20180921_161838

Here’s Leah’s photo of me outside a church located inside the hofje.img_4729

Here’s a photo from inside that church.20180921_162051

The Begijnhof is the only inner court in Amsterdam which was founded during the Middle Ages, and therefore lies within the Singel (the innermost canal of Amsterdam’s circular canal system). The Begijnhof is at medieval street level, which means a meter below the rest of the old city center. It is currently inhabited by 105 women. Imagine living inside of a major city’s tourist attraction.

Here’s another photo from inside the courtyard. This reminds me of quintessential Amsterdam.20180921_162243

Next we walked to the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. Unfortunately, they were not operating tours while we were there. Something about not letting the public in while the royal family is living there. Here’s the outside of the building.20180921_163006

We stopped at a cheese shop with free samples but no toothpicks. I just went ahead and put my fingers right in there, probably picking up a few diseases along the way. Sometimes you just need a little snack to keep you going during a long day.

It was getting later in the day and we didn’t have any specific plans so we started walking again towards new parts of the city. Along the way we stopped at a frites shop and got some flavored frites. Here’s one of my favorite photos of the entire trip, with Leah looking cute as a button.20180921_172114

Find someone who looks at you the way Leah looks at fried carbs.

We stopped at the Van Loon Museum. We knew that we were too late to go on the final tour of the day but we just wanted to see the building. We agreed to go on the tour the next time we’re in Amsterdam. Here’s a photo I took of us on a bridge.20180921_174441

Next we headed to (more accurately through) the red light district. Neither of us really cared for the types of activities that go on there but we both wanted to check it out. The streets in the red light district were crowded, definitely a tourist spot. Here’s the one photo I took.20180921_175714

We walked past a university and poked our heads into a book sale. Nothing that we needed. I took a few more photos on our walk back to the train station. Notice how the windows and doors go right to the canal water level.20180921_180036

I loved the colors on this building.

20180921_180051

Here’s a cute side-street. You may notice the flag with “XXX” on it. These flags were all over Amsterdam. You may think that the flag has some dirty meaning, but we learned that was a common misconception. It is actually the flag of Amsterdam and the X’s are three Saint Andrew’s Crosses. Popular legend say that the three crosses were meant to ward off fire, flood, and the black plague.20180921_180234

We started moving more quickly towards the train station as a storm appeared to be growing. We made it to the block that the station was on just as it began to pour. Only a little bit wet, we hopped on the next train to Leiden. Tom picked us up at the train station in Leiden due to the bad weather. It was coming down hard and the wind was blowing like crazy.

Once back at Heidi and Tom’s house we had some drinks while Tom cooked us all a delicious stir fry. After dinner we sampled a special hot pepper vodka that they had. It had a pretty strong kick and did a number on your sinuses. It was a little too spicy for my taste.

We watched some TV while sampling candy and sipping on various forms of alcohol. Then we went to bed with the plan for the next day to explore the city of Leiden.

Europe Day 4 – Paris to Leiden, NL

We woke up at 7 a.m. so that we would have time to visit another site before boarding our train for the Netherlands. As is required while in Paris, we stopped at another patisserie for breakfast.

Our destination was Sacré-Cœur, a Roman Catholic church and the second most visited monument in Paris. The basilica sits atop a hill at the highest point in the city of Paris. When we arrived at the bottom of the hill we saw this eerie carousel. Maybe fun for the kids?

20180920_084158

Here’s Leah’s photo of the church while looking up the hill.IMG_4713

The top of the hill also provided great views of the city of Paris.20180920_085704

The city was baked in beautiful morning sunlight and when we arrived there weren’t many people around. There was one man who was doing his early morning workout routine in front of the church. He was dressed in tights and jumping rope and doing push-ups while suspended from a metal fence and balanced against the light pole. The mysterious man also had a cafeteria style tray with snack food and a glass carafe of water that he was pouring into a glass to drink out of. He was quite entertaining to watch. Sorry, no photos of the exercising man. Here’s a selfie of us in front of Sacré-Cœur.

We took a walk around the block. Here’s a photo of the church from the side.

20180920_093137

As we circled back around to the front of the church, we headed towards the entrance to the dome. I had read in a guide book that the dome on top of the church was open for tours (starting at 9 a.m.) so we had planned to climb to the top. This is where the ticket saga started. First we tried to buy tickets at a ticket machine. It was having some issues and we couldn’t figure out how to make it work. We next noticed that there was a ticket booth next to the entrance. There was nobody working the booth so we walked back to the front of the church and tried to communicate to a gentleman working there that there was nobody at the booth.

At this point a small crowd (okay like 3 other people) was forming around the entrance to the dome. The man we found walked us back to the dome entrance and he went in the staff entrance. He came out and told us, “10 minutes”. So we waited. We waited with our small crowd of church dome enthusiasts as a woman showed up and did what can best be described as paperwork for the next 15-ish minutes.

In the meantime, people came and went. They tried the ticket machine to no avail. Eventually, a brave group of tourists tried to ask the woman working at the ticket booth when they would be able to buy tickets (again another instance where the language barrier became noticeable on our trip). It became clear that the ticket booth (that was staffed and appeared as though it would be very easy to sell us tickets) would not be open for roughly another hour.

We were a little short on time as we had to catch a train to the Netherlands. We decided it was best to leave and continue on with our day. Oh well, maybe next time. We walked back to our Airbnb and grabbed some snacks at a grocery store for the train ride.

Once at the Airbnb, we packed up and said our final goodbyes to the tiny apartment that had been our first home in Europe. On our walk to the train station we stopped at a cafe to get one last baguette sandwich before we left Paris. Boy were those cheese baguette sandwiches good…

We found our platform at the train station and waited to board. While on the train, we both took naps, I caught up on my journaling, and Leah read the guide books about Amsterdam. Here’s a candid shot of Leah enjoying some “classic paprika” Pringles.

We were originally riding on a bullet train, Leah’s first experience on one. She was quite impressed with the speed of the train. The train had to stop at one point because, “someone tried to open the outer door”. Um, yeah, seems fine? We stopped in Rotterdam and transferred to a city train to take us the rest of the way to Leiden. In true Dutch fashion, we saw so many bikes at the Rotterdam station including folding ones that were being brought onto trains.

We arrived at the Leiden station and Leah’s aunt Heidi was waiting for us. She drove us back to their house while talking about how many cyclists there were and how many rights they had in the Netherlands. Sounds nice.

We got back to the house where Heidi and her husband Tom live. It’s a cute three-story brick house on a very quiet and pleasant street (photo coming later). We were greeted by two barking dogs, Lina Lou and Mr. Jones. We all drank some beer (not including the dogs) and chatted. Tom arrived home from work and we all caught up over drinks and appetizers. I had never met Heidi before but I had spent some time with Tom. A couple years ago we spent a week together with a group of 8 that hiked rim-to-river-to-rim on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Tom cooked us a delicious dinner and afterwards we went for a walk with the dogs. We stopped to get ice cream. Here’s a shot of the group with the ice cream front and center.

20180920_201606

After the walk we watched a little TV before bed. We were staying on the third floor. It was a great guest space except that it took the toilet literally 15 minutes to flush. We headed to bed with plans to go to Amsterdam in the morning. Goede Nacht.

Europe Day 3 – Versailles and Paris

We woke up around 7 a.m. to catch the train to Versailles. We had purchased timed tickets for when the main palace opened at 9 a.m. and were unsure of what would happen if we missed our assigned time. On our way to the train station we bought some snacks for day.

We stopped at a patisserie and got a couple pastries. The total cost was under 5 euros. When I went to pay I had to interact with a change machine. I attempted to slide my €5 bill into the machine but it didn’t feel right. It was like I was sliding the bill into a slot in the machine that was slightly above the money slot and it didn’t suck my bill in like I would expect a change machine to do. It appeared to me that the machine had not taken my bill correctly.

I tried to communicate this to the woman working there and she called her manager (there were definitely issues with the language barrier). The cashier and manager spoke for a little bit, then the manager came out to look at the machine. Another important part to this story is that there was a pile of coins sitting in the change return dish at the bottom of the machine. Someone else had clearly left change there and not taken it. The manager took the pile of coins from the change return dish and handed them to the cashier. Then the cashier gave us €5 in change for our purchase.

I was confused. I tried to explain that we had tried to pay 5 and that this wasn’t the correct change. She insisted that it was correct. At this point there was a line forming behind us so we decided it best to just leave. We ended up with a free breakfast. Afterwards I questioned whether she was just paying us to leave.

We finally arrived at the train station and boarded the train for Versailles. After riding for a little bit, we started to hear multiple announcements over the speakers. They were all in French so we were pretty much clueless. I could hear two women in front of us speaking in English and they were talking about how this train wasn’t stopping in Versailles. “That’s not good,” I thought.

Slowly people started exiting the train while we were waiting at a particular train station. The announcement kept playing, over and over again. I convinced Leah that we needed to get off the train. The majority of the people on it had bailed. I asked an employee at the train station what was happening and she said that the station we were trying to go to was closed due to an “incident” and told us to get on another train bound for a different train station in Versailles.

I also overheard some other tourists who were trying to get to Versailles talking to a local and they seemed confident. We ended up following a few of them from the new train station in Versailles but eventually passed them on the walk to the palace. I had downloaded the offline maps. I knew were I was going. We passed city hall on the way.20180919_091039

Here’s Leah’s photo of the lead-up to the palace.IMG_4683

Due to the train snafu we arrived at the palace at 9:20 am. Luckily for us the tickets had a 30 minute grace period so we were able to enter without issues. Below is Leah’s photo of the main entrance in the front of the Palace of Versailles.IMG_4684

Here’s Leah’s photo of me taking a call from my agent.IMG_4685

Just kidding, we got the free audio guide. It ended up being a very pleasant way to experience the palace and grounds. Here’s Leah in front of the palace on this beautiful, sunny morning (clearly not listening to the audio guide introduction like I was).20180919_092906

Next we entered the palace and started the tour. The palace was the principal royal residence of France from 1682 under Louis XIV until the start of the French Revolution in 1789 under Louis XVI. There were many opulently decorated rooms. The ones in this section were recreations of the rooms for the King’s daughters.

 

The palace was stripped of all its furnishings after the French Revolution, but many pieces had been returned and many of the palace rooms had been restored. Here’s Leah’s photo of a library. Lots of old books in there.IMG_4689

There was even a chapel inside of the palace.20180919_095329

I snapped a little sneak peak shot of the palace gardens from one of the windows.20180919_100824

Here are more fancy rooms along the tour.

 

Here’s Leah about to enter the famed Hall of Mirrors.20180919_103354

We took photos of each other In the Hall of Mirrors

 

Including an old school mirror selfie.20180919_104020

Then there were some more rooms along the tour. Just lots of rooms, really.

 

And a large art gallery that we briskly walked through. We had seen our fair share of Renaissance and religious art on this trip.20180919_110218.jpg

Leah caught me on an important call again.IMG_4702

Next we headed out the back of the palace and onto the grounds. Here’s the palace from behind with one of the many fountains that dot the landscape.20180919_112029

And this is Leah’s panoramic shot of one section of the gardens.IMG_4705

Here’s a shot looking back at the palace.20180919_113527

And here’s the same location looking out at the gardens. Let’s play Where’s Leah!20180919_113558

One of the main features of the gardens was the immaculate trimming and pruning that went into maintaining the lines and shapes of the trees and bushes.

 

Here are a couple of the beautiful fountains with their elaborate statues and designs. On certain days at the Palace of Versailles they turn on the fountains and shoot water around. Unfortunately, this was not one of those days (note, those days also cost extra $$).20180919_113727

I wondered what the horses would look like with water spitting out of their snouts.20180919_114647

There were some interesting tree-lined paths which also involved some careful trimming.

 

We walked towards the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon which are smaller structures built within the grounds. They mostly served the purpose of a retreat from royal life.

There was also a massive canal structure running through the grounds. We even saw someone show up with a rowing boat and take off down the canal.20180919_120409

The next stop on our grounds tour was the Grand Trianon. Upon his accession to the throne in 1774, the 20-year-old Louis XVI gave the building and its surrounding park to his 19-year-old Queen Marie Antoinette for her exclusive use and enjoyment. Again with the lavish and colorful rooms.

 

I also found that I was very interested in the marble fireplaces. Maybe I’ll have to install one in my house?

 

Here’s the walkway connecting the sections of the building. The pink color in the marble was really incredible.20180919_122029

The back looked out onto luscious gardens.20180919_122023

Here are Leah’s photos of the gardens.

 

And here are photos of the beautiful hedge-work and Leah standing in front of the chateau.

 

There were so many weird pathways. The grounds were essentially a huge maze and the map was only moderately helpful. You might walk down a path like below…20180919_123512

… and end up at some bizarre fountain that wasn’t even on the map.20180919_125359

Next we walked to the Petit Trianon which, if you know your French, is just a smaller version of the Grand Trianon. Well, not exactly. Here are some cute buildings along the way.

 

Again with these perfectly trimmed trees lining the courtyard to the Petit Trianon.

 

We walked through the Petit Trianon and then took a bathroom and snack break. It was oddly difficult to find a working bathroom. We also noticed that there were a lot of wasps, especially near food consumption areas. It made for a slightly uncomfortable snacking experience.

We headed back out to the grounds and did some more exploring. This was the grotto. I tried to explain to Leah that the word grotto will forever make me think of the Playboy mansion. She didn’t get the reference.20180919_140320

We also saw a big beautiful tree and a vine that had wrapped and broken a fence.

 

Though it was closed to the public, you could get a photo of the inside of the Royal Opera of Versailles. Also known as the Queen’s Theater, the building was inaugurated in 1780 and is the only building to have survived fully intact and unchanged since the eighteenth century. Of course you have an opera house built on your property. It’s not like this sort of decadence contributed to a country-wide revolution or anything.20180919_141859

Next we visited the Queen’s Hamlet, a rustic retreat in the park of the Chateau de Versailles built for Marie Antoinette in 1783 near the Petit Trianon. Some of the buildings had been reconstructed and it didn’t seem like the public was allowed into any of them.

There was also a farm and petting zoo on this section of the property. We were not interested, though we did find this little guy just off the path.20180919_142735

There were many people biking around the property, many of which were bike rentals. This seemed like a decent way to get around given the massive size of the grounds. There were also golf carts. We walked the property which worked just fine for us given that we were only visiting the main attractions and had allotted all day for wandering and enjoyment.

Our next stop was back to the main drag of the gardens for a snack. We bought a couple sandwiches and Heineken tall boys and plopped down next to the canal. The weather was amazing, and aside from the wasps that were attacking our food and beer, we had a pleasant time.20180919_153131

We also saw a bunch of people who rented rowboats on the canal that were facing the wrong way on the seat or moving their arms in the wrong direction. To be honest, if you’ve never used a rowboat before it’s not immediately obvious how to do it. Or maybe they were all just tourists.

Next we started to head back to the palace by way of some more fountains. There were many signs on the property that warned you not to come in contact with the water in the fountains. No afternoon swim for me.

Here is a shot of the back of the palace with some of the gardens.20180919_172026

On our way out we snapped a selfie in front of the main gate. Tandem Ride in Versailles!20180919_173120

We left the palace grounds and headed back to the train station, this time to the one that we were supposed to arrive at in the morning. Along the way we passed some tourist shops and purchased some postcards.

The train ride home took extra time due to stoppages. I wasn’t mad. I was so beat from walking all day and being in the sun that I started to fall asleep on the train while falling forward. Leah was afraid I was going to land in the lap of the lady sitting across from me. Luckily, I never did.

We arrived back at the train station in Paris and took some golden hour photos in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral.

In the second shot you’ll notice a bicycle tour group wearing safety vests. The tour guide said he was going to take them to the “best ice cream in Paris”, which was just a couple minutes away. Leah wouldn’t let me run after them.

I took this shot of the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background. A picturesque Paris night, quite literally.20180919_195416

We turned our attention to dinner and crepes. We found a restaurant that seemed tourist friendly and had crepes. We ordered a crepe, a sweet potato dish (one of the few vegetarian items on the menu), and wine. They were out of the sweet potato dish. The waiter was also rude (one of the few instances where we interacted with someone who could be considered the stereotypical “rude Parisian”). After a long saga of him not bringing us the bill after we asked for it, we walked into the restaurant to pay and leave. Also, the crepe was just mediocre.

Next we got second dinner at a pizza place. We ordered a vegetarian pizza and French fries. The restaurant was playing rap and hip/hop music videos on all of the TVs. Weird combo, but good food.

We headed home full and satisfied; our last night in Paris.

Europe Day 2 – Exploring Paris

We got up early, but not quite as early as we had planned. Still enough time to beat those casual tourists, though. The patisserie across the street from our Airbnb was closed. That seemed odd to me. You’d think a patisserie would be open by 7 am. In general the city was a little sleepy; maybe recovering from everyone being out past bedtime last night?

We started our walking for the day looking for pastries and stumbled upon another patisserie (which was open). We found that you usually didn’t have to look too far to find another corner cafe or patisserie while in Paris.

This ended up being the best croissant aux amandes (almond croissant for the uncultured), and probably pastry in general, that I had on the entire trip.

20180918_080516

As we walked towards the Île de la Cité, we came across a beautiful building (that I identified as city hall) that was being staged for the Ryder Cup.

20180918_083331

** We later found out that the 2018 Ryder Cup was played in a suburb of Paris; only the second time ever that the tournament was held in continental Europe. The dates coincided with our last weekend in Europe. We flew out of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on the Monday after the tournament and saw a lot of people at the airport, including on our flight to North Carolina, wearing Ryder Cup gear. I even overheard some very Scottish sounding men talk about how they saw Tiger Woods at the airport. And I’m pretty sure I heard one of them call Tiger a “bellend”.**

We crossed the bridge over the Seine river and took some shots. It was a stunning view on a beautiful morning. Leah snapped the below photo of me, rocking my best tourist look.

IMG_4639

Our first destination for the day was the Notre-Dame Cathedral. We arrived at about 8:30 a.m. and the doors opened at 8. The early arrival was partly due to guide book suggestions to visit Notre-Dame first when it isn’t as busy. This strategy worked for us as we were able to walk straight in without any line.

20180918_084055

Leah took this photo of the area above the opening to the front doors. Incredibly detailed work covered the entirety of the structure.

IMG_4641

The inside was equally stunning.

20180918_085901

Leah contemplated taking one of the candles without paying the suggested donation, claiming that her years of Catholic school tuition accounted for more than enough payment given to the Catholic Church. In the end she didn’t take one, but later on regretted that decision because we never saw another candle that she liked.

We took a stroll around the outside of the church which included seeing a fully decked out military patrol and the view from the side which includes the iconic spire.

20180918_091259

We learned that Notre-Dame started construction in 1160 and it took centuries of building and modification to get it to the state it’s in now. It is also the most visited monument in Paris with an estimated 12 million people visiting each year.

Our next stop was the Sainte-Chapelle. You can see its spire poking out in the upper left next to this cool looking building which turned out to be the city courthouse.

20180918_092138

The Sainte-Chapelle was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of religious relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns. The story was that it cost King Louis IX more gold to buy the crown of thorns than it did to build its planned resting place, the Sainte-Chapelle. The crown of thorns is now kept at Notre-Dame where the relic can only be seen on the first Friday of every month, when it is brought out for a special veneration mass, as well as each Friday during Lent. The fun things you learn!

20180918_100224

Recommended by Rick Steves as a beautiful church, the Sainte-Chapelle did not disappoint. Here’s Leah’s photo of the gift shop when you enter (you don’t realize it’s the gift shop at first because the colors are so striking and distracting).

IMG_4644

Here are a few more photos of the chapel itself. The stained glass is the real star of the show.

20180918_093634

The morning light shining through the colored glass was pretty spectacular.

20180918_094523

Each large vertical pane (15 in total) of stained glass told the biblical story from the Old Testament to the rediscovery of Christ’s relics, the miracles they performed, and their relocation to Paris in the hands of King Louis himself.

20180918_093802

We then circled back on the island towards Notre-Dame with the intent of getting tickets to climb to the top of the tower and observation deck. The tower tours didn’t start until 10 a.m. but by the time we arrived they were giving out tickets for the 12:30 p.m. tour (it was currently 10 a.m.). That didn’t jive super well with our schedule. We still printed out the placeholder tickets so that if we wanted to we could come back at 12:30 for the tour. Also the line to get into the cathedral was now over a hundred people long and stretched out into the courtyard. Glad we came early.

Keeping our busy day moving, we made our way to the next destination, the Panthéon.

20180918_103336

The Panthéon was originally built as a church but now functions as a secular mausoleum. Here are the beautiful carvings above the main entrance.

20180918_104730

Here’s a photo of the magnificent main hall which has an interesting story to tell (and I’m gonna tell it because we learned a lot of really cool historical facts on this trip and that’s a big part of experiencing cultures and I think you might enjoy it, too).

20180918_105019

There’s a roped off section in the above photo that was the location of a famous experiment. In 1851, physicist Léon Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the earth by constructing a 220 foot Foucault pendulum beneath the central dome (pictured below).

20180918_110035

Basically, as the earth spun, the pendulum would slowly move out of its original axis, demonstrating that the earth rotated on an axis. Cool, right!

We also visited the crypt located underneath the Panthéon. Leah wanted to hold my hand but I refused out of respect for the dead (which seemed reasonable to me). Some famous French people were buried there including Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis Braille (of the Braille writing system), Marie Curie, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo (as pictured below in Leah’s photo).

IMG_4656

Here’s the view from the Panthéon with the Eiffel Tower in the background and Leah in the foreground.

20180918_115149

We decided to not return to the tower tour at Notre-Dame and instead grabbed some food and headed to the Jardin du Luxembourg to have a picnic. We joined the others on the grass. Leah claimed that the wine we had tasted worse because we drank it out of the bottle. I guess we didn’t let it “breathe”.

20180918_125420

Here Leah’s photo of the Luxembourg Palace which now holds the Senate. It was a picturesque, sunny day.

IMG_4657

After eating we took a lap around the park as it started to sprinkle. On our way to our next destination, the Musée d’Orsay, we stopped at a couple more churches that we stumbled upon. First the Saint-Sulpice.

20180918_134518

And then the Saint-Germain-des-Prés where Leah insisted I get a photo with the giant clam shell being used as a holy water basin.

IMG_4658

Once we arrived at the Musée d’Orsay we encountered a medium sized line. We decided to jump in line because we were both excited about the museum and wanted to get in a solid tour before it closed for the day. The Musée d’Orsay was built inside of an old train station, which makes sense when you look at the layout and design. Here’s Leah’s top-down photo.

IMG_4665

Here’s a shot looking the other way at the entrance and the large clock on the wall.

The museum had an impressive collection of works including van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles.

IMG_4663

…and Starry Night Over the Rhône.

20180918_164505

There was an impressionist wing with an incredible collection of Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Pissarro, Sisley, and Renoir (among others). So much of their work was on display that you’d think there wasn’t any left for other museums. Another main component of the wing was Degas’ The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer.

20180918_171436

There also happened to be a special Picasso exhibit that started the exact same day that we were there. There were over 200 items in the collection (almost all by Picasso) and it was a pleasant surprise that definitely added to our experience.

As it got nearer to closing time, the museum staff started blocking off sections and forcing people out. We attempted to use the bathroom at the back of the museum. It was already closed. We attempted to use the main bathroom by the entrance. They were shutting a metal gate to block off access. Closing all of the bathrooms seemed like an interesting way to make sure people did not linger.

We left the museum and sat down on some steps outside to eat snacks. There was a small crowd of people sitting near us. It turned out to be the viewing seats for street performers (one playing the clarinet and the other awkwardly interacting with random innocent people passing by). We got weirded out by the performance and left to go sit by the river instead. From our new seats we watched people board a dinner cruise on the Seine river. All of the boats on the river were long and skinny to accommodate the narrow bridges on the river.

I kept getting the feeling that I had seen some of these streets along the Seine during a car chase or something in one of the Jason Bourne movies or maybe in Taken. Here’s a photo of the river as we walked away from the Musée d’Orsay.

20180918_185218

We started walking towards the Hôtel national des Invalides. The building contains museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. Most notably, it is the resting place of Napoléon Bonaparte. Here’s Leah’s photo of me along the mall leading up to the building.

IMG_4668

We briefly walked around and took in the architecture. Here’s Leah inside the inner courtyard. If you look closely at the right side of the photo you can see where they put up a fake screen to cover a section that they were renovating.

20180918_190553

Our next destination was the Eiffel Tower. We walked along the mall leading up to the tower and took some very cheesy photos. First Leah’s photo of me poking the tower.

IMG_4673

And then Leah doing the same.

20180918_193542

There were a lot of people selling wine, champagne, and beer on the grassy mall. There must be a lot of tourists that think, “how great would it be to drink wine right now.” Overall just a beautiful night and some great photo opportunities just before sunset.

20180918_193018

Here’s a classic selfie.

20180918_193222

And a closer up shot.

20180918_193911

And another one (I’m sorry for all of the Eiffel Tower photos but I just like them).

20180918_194118

A vertigo inducing shot.

20180918_201548

We waited in a short line to ride the lift to the second level. We got up at just about sunset. Here’s the mall we had just walked along.

20180918_202040

The views were beautiful and the lighting was just right. Here’s the view to the northwest towards the more modern section of Paris.

20180918_201511

And then the view back over the area we had just spent the day walking around.

20180918_201657

One more shot from underneath the tower for good measure.

20180918_210800

We left the Eiffel Tower in search of dinner. No street souvenirs were purchased, though the light-up tower for 5 Euros was sure something. The idea of pizza for dinner appealed to us so we focused on accomplishing that goal. We stopped at an Italian pizza place about halfway home and got an okay caprese appetizer and a pretty good mushroom calzone (not to mention a half liter of wine to share).

After dinner we headed home. It was late and we were tired. But the people of Paris were out in force at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night. These people sure know how to stay out late. Until tomorrow.

Europe Day 1 – USA to Paris, France

My attempt to blog a two week trip to Europe starts with Day 1.

Leah and I left a sultry Minneapolis on a Sunday afternoon in early September. Leah fretted over her packing list. I recommended she lighten the load which resulted in one black turtleneck being left behind (this will come up again later…).

Once at the airport, we checked our bags. We went with the backpacking look but brought packable duffel bags for checking our more expensive packs during flight. We boarded the flight, operated by Air France, and were greeted by a French flight crew. I could also hear a decent amount of French being spoken around me. “Great,” I thought. “I’m really putting those 6 years of Spanish to use”.

Our in flight meal was fine. Leah was excited about getting a full meal on an international flight (with a vegetarian option). She also seemed to think that the food was especially good, possibly because this was our first French meal?

20180916_202946

I watched Solo: A Star Wars Story and had a disappointing amount of alcohol service. I took a half-dose of a sleep aid so that Leah didn’t have to take the full dose. I’ve always got her back. We were commanded to lower the window shades and I proceeded to have a terrible time sleeping for the remainder of the flight. They woke us just before landing to feed us breakfast. Shortly after, we landed in Paris. The flight was only about 7.5 hours and it honestly flew by.

Well, we weren’t technically in Paris yet. We landed at the airport. Customs was a breeze. No declarations form, no questions about what we were doing there, not even one word spoken by the customs agent.

We took the train from the airport to Paris. The train station that we stopped at (Gare du Nord) was very sketchy. Lots of loitering and vagrant types. There were about 20 different men selling cigarettes. We quickly got out of there and started navigating to our Airbnb. I’ll admit that I didn’t lead us on the most direct route, but we did stop at a cute Parisian corner café for our first real meal; a delicious baguette sandwich.

20180917_124437

A gentleman next to us said some words in French, and then asked if we spoke French (in French- “parlez-vous français?”). We said no and then he asked, in English, if we would mind if he smoked. So very Parisian, I thought. We allowed him to smoke and shortly after finished our sandwiches and left.

We arrived at our Airbnb. It was in a decent neighborhood, but the building and entry were a little sketchy. The code we received from Tony (the host) worked and we got into the apartment. We had the whole place to ourselves. All 200 square feet of it…

20180920_110742

They do say that Paris is one of the most expensive cities to live in. We took a quick breather, dropped our big bags, and head out towards the Louvre. It was around 2 pm and we wanted to make sure we got some good sightseeing in and didn’t miss the day due to jet lag. Plus, it was our only opportunity to see the Louvre on this trip.

We had no issues with lines, a perk of going during a shoulder season. Though it was humid with temperatures in the 80s.

lou

We made it to all of the big hitters; the Mona Lisa (crowd of photo takers included), the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and countless other masterpieces.

20180917_150146

The Louvre was a total maze. We got lost multiple times and multiple sections were closed, confusing the matter even more. We spent a decent chunk of time trying to get to the open section on the 2nd floor. We asked multiple employees but were never able to figure out how to get there. Part of the instructions got lost in translation, part I think they were just leading us on. Oh well.

We also had to stop for a quick shot of espresso and a sugar snack to keep us energized and moving. I was starting to feel very sleepy.

llll

About 30 minutes before closing they started to usher us out of sections of the museum. We slowly filtered out into the hot Parisian sun and grabbed a snack. We then started on a walk down the Champs-Élysées. It was a beautiful walk with fountains and statues.

Me squinting into the sun.

20180917_190058

And Leah looking larger than life.

dfgdg

We eventually made our way to the more flashy section with all of the shops. It was a little more touristy and not as quaint. At the end was the Arc de Triomphe.

arc

The Arc de Triomphe was beautiful and we had some great golden hour photo opportunities. We opted not to climb it (for an admission fee) and just took photos from below.

rrrrr

A classic selfie. Aren’t we cute? (some free international publicity for Tandem Ride Photography on this trip).

ghgh

Leah took some great photos, too. These posts will contain mostly my photos (as I ended up being the most consistent photog during the trip), but I’ll give credit for any that aren’t mine. Like Leah’s photo below.

We then started walking home, looking for a nice place to grab dinner while avoiding the super touristy area. We settled on a spot that seemed nice (and had vegetarian options). The server immediately gave us an English menu. I guess we didn’t blend in with the locals.

I got the happy hour beer and Leah got red wine. I know France isn’t known for their beer but I just wanted a nice, refreshing beer. The drinks were measured in cL. It took us longer than it should have to realize that cL stood for centiliters. We had delicious avocado and cheese apps and some okay penne pasta.

20180917_204049

There appeared to only be one server working and she was very busy. We paid with credit card and there was no line for tip and we didn’t have euros yet, so no tip was given. Tipping is very different in Europe and we struggled with it the entire trip.

We continued our walk home and I was very impressed by the amount of Parisians that were out and about at 10 p.m. on a Monday night. The European spirit is alive and well in France. The city was definitely alive at night.

When we finally made it home we crashed from jet lag and walking in the sun. We also had an early morning planned the next day. No resting just yet on this vacation.

Bonne Nuit.

A weekend in southeast Minnesota (Winona)

Leah and I find weekend trips to be a great way to get out and explore areas around where we live. Plus they allow for fairly easy spur-of-the-moment planning. So on a chilly weekend in early April, we road-tripped to Winona, Minnesota.

Saturday

We started the drive Saturday morning by way of highway 61 along the Mississippi river. Our first stop was at Watkins in Winona.

The museum and store were only open briefly on Saturday so we made sure to stop there first. We perused the old memorabilia in the museum. Leah was upset that they didn’t have a public restroom. We also learned that the movie Door to Door, which took place in Portland, Oregon, was about a Watkins salesperson. We bought some lotion and soap and made our way to Subway for lunch.

Our next stop was Whitewater State Park.

It was a little cold outside, but the recent snow had packed and melted on the trails and the hiking conditions weren’t too bad.

Some of the bridges were interesting contraptions.

There were some nice views with the only downside being the road running right through the park.

We hiked up to chimney rock.

It was windy at the top and this was our best photo.

A few more shots from the hike.

And one of Leah posing.

We then attempted a creek hike, but were given a cryptic sign thanking Mr and Mrs beaver for their work. We came to find that a beaver dam had flooded the entire trail.

Time to turn back.

We found the hiking club password and I vowed to start tracking them at each park. I have forgotten what it was at Whitewater…

Whitewater was a beautiful park that we decided we should visit again in a different season.

Next we headed to nearby Carley State Park. A much smaller park, we hiked almost every mile of the entire six offered.

I think the hiking club password was bluebells.

We stopped at the Elba fire tower on our way back into town. I had seen it on the way in and was determined to climb it.

Photos looking each direction from the top of the tower.

Leah was hesitant to climb the structure itself for fear of it shaking and swaying in the stiff breeze. Throwing caution to the wind (literally), I climbed on. Eventually she followed. It wasn’t too wobbly.

Next we headed back to the hotel, a Super 8. Our first room smelled like cigarettes even though it was a non-smoking hotel so we moved to a different room that smelled much better. We cleaned up and headed out for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.

While at the restaurant I received a phone call from a friend that he and his wife were expecting in October. Great news, Z and R!

Leah and I each ordered a margarita. I got the size up which ended up being a mistake. Way too much sugar. We ate more chips and salsa and food than we should have and crashed back at the hotel. No exciting night out for us.

Sunday

The next morning we got up and ate the free breakfast at the hotel. It was food. We overheard a conversation about how one man was a professor from the University of Minnesota-Morris and was there with his students performing in a statistics competition.

Leah and I headed into downtown Winona and took a walking tour of sites. The Winona National Bank.

The Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka.

A random little food stand.

Merchants Bank.

We were mostly killing time until the Minnesota Marine Art Museum opened.

The museum had an impressive collection of works from Monet to van Gogh to Gauguin with the catch that each was somehow water themed (get it? “marine art museum”).

There was an exhibit of an artist whose work we recognized from one of the local arts buildings in northeast Minneapolis. Plus there was an unveiling of new work happening that night. We felt so cultured. The museum is definitely worth a trip if you’re ever in Winona.

Next we headed to a local sandwich place and then to Island City Brewing for some beers. Fun fact, Winona is the Island City. It almost makes sense if you look at a map.

Next we headed north on our way home and stopped at John A. Latsch State Park, which is basically a glorified wayside with a hike to a bluff. I attempted a panoramic shot.

20180408_141335

Us at the top, overlooking the mighty Miss.

Our next stop was LARK Toys in Kellogg which bills itself as the largest independent toy store in America (at least that’s what I remember, I did not check sources).

The store was quite impressive with large collections of toys and candy and trinkets.

There were some interesting items as well.

“Coconut Long Boys”.

And an indoor carousel.

Next we stopped at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

We basically walked into a feeding demonstration featuring a bald eagle named Angel.

This was Angel tearing into a rat.

The eagles that were kept on site all had some injury that would doom them in the wild from being hit by a car to lead poisoning. Leah did not trust the golden eagle named Donald.

Our last stop on the way back was Reads Landing Brewing Company. It was located in a cool old building.

We ate dinner there and got a few beers. Leah went to work on postcard writing. We also left with a pint glass because Leah appreciated the catchy slogan “Microbrews in a Microtown”.

We drove the rest of the way home with snow falling. Sometimes it snows in April.

-Brian

A return to writing

With a little bit of newfound inspiration to chronicle my travels, as well as an upcoming trip overseas that I would like to have a personal account of, I’m dusting off the pages of Adventure Brian. I hope my loyal readers haven’t gotten too anxious waiting for my forthcoming post. It’s been almost three years in the making, and a lot of missed trips along the way. Here’s to sharing those memories again and hoping that those who find these words enjoyable to read keep coming back for more.


For those that have been out of the loop in recent years, I’ve gained a travel companion and partner in exploration. Meet Leah-

She’s a fun-seeking, up-for-whatever, let’s-get-out-and-do-things kind of gal. You will see her pop up in a lot of posts. We’ve been all around the country in the last couple years and made some great memories, including showing her the beautiful tropical paradise that Minnesotans call “Florida”.

Just know, she tolerates my particular style of control-obsessed trip planning and rarely complains. Also, she hates this photo-

Enjoy!

-Brian

Epilogue

I just want to start off by thanking everyone who has followed along on this journey and everyone who has helped in any way. I know I have a few faithful subscribers who have been patiently waiting for this final post.

I’ll start with some stats. I did a rough count of the states we stayed in and our accommodations.

Nights spent in each state/country/district:

  • California – 21
  • Washington – 21
  • Idaho – 9
  • New York – 8
  • Wisconsin – 8
  • Oregon – 7
  • Virginia – 7
  • Ohio – 4
  • North Carolina – 4
  • Canada – 3
  • Indiana – 3
  • Maryland – 2
  • Washington, D.C. – 2
  • Massachusetts – 2
  • Minnesota – 2
  • Connecticut – 1
  • New Jersey – 1
  • Delaware – 1
  • Illinois – 1
  • Pennsylvania – 1
  • South Dakota – 1
  • Arkansas – 1
  • New Mexico – 1
  • We drove through but did not spend any nights in: Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming

Our accommodations were:

  • Camping – 51
  • Friends/Family/Acquaintances – 30
  • Warm Showers – 22
  • Hotels/Motels/AirBnB/Hostel – 9

The mileage numbers are taken from Dave’s bike computer.

Grand total: 6264 miles in 491 hr 51 min to average 12.7 mph

It’s hard to pick a single favorite part of this trip. The most memorable moments for me were usually sunsets from beach campgrounds and never-ending views from mountain tops. I have fond memories of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Cascades, and Oregon coast. The other amazing part of the trip was the people I traveled with and met. I spent time with two close friends and my dad. I met crazy hippies and friends of relatives of friends of… and so on, to the point where I often wondered how I got to where I was and if this could truly be my real life. I have a distinct memory of watching the sunset from a cliff vista on the coast of Oregon (after a day filled with a broken spoke, finally leaving California, Thai food, beer, and devouring 3 pints of ice cream right before the sunset) and thinking, “is this my real life?”.

I have to mention how incredibly lucky we were. Save for a brief cold here or there and muscle soreness, we experienced no injuries. We had some mechanical issues, but nothing that cut the trip short or minimized our fun potential.

I was thinking about lessons learned from this trip. I made a list of mostly bike touring tips/reminders.

  1. If you are going on a long bike tour, buy a touring bike and get a really good rack. It seemed like many of our problems, and the problems of other cyclists, were due to faulty bike racks and equipment not suited for long distance touring.
  2. Cooking supplies are overrated. We didn’t bring any and I’m glad. They are extra weight and there are so many things you can eat that don’t require them (at least if you’re not a picky eater). Also, it feels really good to spoil yourself with cheeseburgers, beer, ice cream, and candy bars after a long day of riding.
  3. Traveling alone might be cool for a little bit, but long tours are more enjoyable when shared with others. This is just my personal opinion. Shared suffering is one of the strongest ways that people can form bonds. It also leads to an excess of stupid inside jokes. Watch this… I’m Bud Light.
  4. Talk to people. Meeting strangers is really fun. Bike touring is also a great ice breaker. It makes you seem more vulnerable and approachable, which is great if you need help.
  5. Planning is overrated and often impossible. Just that. Plan some specific destinations and give yourself ample time to reach them. It’s the journey that really makes the trip.

This trip had some negatives, like highlighting white privilege. I think I saw one bike tourist of color during the entire trip. It’s a world and culture dominated by white people (mostly white men). I also wonder what my experience would have been like if I were a minority. Would people be as friendly to me?

Another big takeaway for me was that I came to the realization that I’m a Midwesterner. I traveled across this country (and parts of Canada) and felt the most comfortable in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Part of that is obviously being from the Midwest. It’s all I know. That’s not to say that I don’t want to live anywhere else or that the Midwest is the best. It’s just that I’m Minnesota nice to the core, and nothing will change that. Not even ridiculously cold and long winters.

This trip provided little insight into what I want to do with the rest of my life. I see myself doing bike tours in the future, though maybe not long ones that require me to quit my job every time. What’s next in the working world is still a mystery. I suppose a 112 day bike trip is good interview material, so maybe in the end it helps me in my job search. Either way, I’m glad I did it and I’m forever grateful to have the memories and experiences of this trip for the rest of my life.

Brian