Two Week European Trip

Two Week European Trip

We have only recently wanted to take on sharing our travel journeys with the world. We have always had a healthy wanderlust but haven’t really taken the steps to really live it and give into it. Our short two week trip to western Europe is probably a very mild type to many of the travel bloggers we have started following. But, as we figure, we have to start somewhere.

Hardcore we are not…yet. But to give you an idea of where we are coming from, here’s a little about us.

Jessica is a planner. She loves to have a timeline of transportation arrangements and even a list of things to do each day so that we get our “money’s worth”. She even looks at the metro maps and such before we get there so she knows how to buy a ticket, for how much, which line to take, and where to get off. But, her idea of a perfect vacation is an all-inclusive beach resort…probably because she doesn’t feel the need to make plans there.

Sean is more of a spontaneous sort. He has a lot of patience and doesn’t usually see a point in trying to hurry when there are no set plans. Wonder, explore, and drive around are ways he likes to enjoy trips. He would prefer to see the countryside, drive the roads, eat the local food, and learn about the history and art of the destination.

The most important thing that we both love is learning new cultures. As different as things can be, we find the differences in cultures fascinating. Western Europe is a great place for us to dip our toes into traveling on our own. The culture is different, but not too different from what we know. We can understand more of the Spanish, French, Italian languages better than others which is helpful.

For this trip, however, we are spending the most time in Denmark and The Netherlands. We’ll have day-trips in Belgium (part of Jessica’s comfort-zone is excited since she knows a little French!). In our short trip we will be in four countries since we’ll have a day-long layover in Iceland. This is the beginning of a long list of trips, we can’t wait to tell you all about it!

European Union in the USA

European Union in the USA
British Embassy's Garden

British Embassy’s Garden

We had the opportunity to visit some of the embassies of countries that are members of the European Union in Washington, D.C. on May 11, 2013. This event is called the EU Embassies Open House and is a free annual event from Cultural Tourism DC that is clearly very popular! You get a pamphlet (“passport”) with a map and places for the embassies to stamp your “passport”. Free shuttles are available and were tremendously helpful since the embassies are not all in one area. Just by me saying it’s a popular event doesn’t really give an accurate picture. Lines to get into to some of the embassies were hundreds of feet long. We didn’t get into some of the ones we planned on, but once inside every experience was different. We really had no idea what to expect from an open house of embassies.

We were able to visit the embassies of: The United Kingdom, Finland, Denmark, and Malta. Our first stop was Finland and it had amazing design elements in the building. You definitely knew you were in the right place. They had a system set up somewhat like an expo with tables lining the walls with samples of products and foods from Finland. It was incredibly interactive and a lot of fun! The samples ranged from lingonberry juice to cheese to facial products. When you leave you get bag full of great information about the country.

British EmbassyNext we headed to the United Kindgom! It was like a castle with a relatively large estate considering its placement in D.C. There were also expo-type booths here as well, but they were more publicizing their defense program. One really great element was the showcase of British motors. Beautiful cars were on display while you waited to get into the residence and gardens. The residence was grand and very reminiscent of European high society style. The rose garden would certainly be a very peaceful place to spend time (if not for the open house!). Actors were there in period dress which was a nice touch. Also showcased was British television. We’re big fans of Doctor Who and Downton Abbey along with other shows we occasionally get to watch. Probably about 30% of our television favorites are from the U.K.

Danish Embassy

Danish Embassy

We went to check out the Italian embassy but that was one of the longest lines around…and we heard that it always is a crazy wait. So, up the hill to Denmark we walked. This is a very tucked away embassy on a narrow road. They had food for sale, a bike test for kids, and also showcased their defense program. We were able to get inside the embassy area where there was more information on their use of water. The residence had timed tours and we were a little too late to get inside, but it looked lovely.

Finally, after getting some much needed lunch and sit-down time at The Burger Joint, we walked up to Malta. Situated inside a townhouse was a fully functioning embassy with security that has been in place since the 1960’s. This was one of the more interesting visits since we were able to sit down in the ambassor’s office and listen to the history of the county by the highest-ranking official in the embassy. If you haven’t looked into Malta, you really should. It’s a small country with a lot of history and great weather. We really enjoyed this event and are looking forward to next year.

Along with the EU Embassy Open House, there was an Around the World Embassy Open House the weekend before. We were not able to go due to work schedules, but maybe it will be possible next year!

Cupcake Tour of Alexandria, Virginia

Cupcake Tour of Alexandria, Virginia

alexandria cupcake tour

For our anniversary trip, we went to Alexandria, VA to spend time before going to National Harbor for the Cirque du Soleil  Totem show. What else would be on my list of things to do, than doing a cupcake tour?!  I’ve done Philly and Georgetown, so I figured I would keep the tradition going.

Sean was not going to be left out and he got one other cupcake for every chocolate cupcake I got. I will let you know his comments as well.

Occasionally Cake-We have had this cake before and I thought I remembered it being really good. This time I had chocolate with marshmallow buttercream…they did not have a chocolate on chocolate. The cake was okay but the marshmallow buttercream was lost on me. I think marshmallow should stay marshmallow and not be made into buttercream. There was too much frosting and too sweet for my sweet tooth.

Sean had a caramel mocha chocolate cupcake and he wasn’t impressed. He thought it tasted a little stale…maybe it was from the day before? We did get to these places at soon as they opened! Also, the frosting was too hard. Definitely disappointed since we had tried it before at a different location.

Lavender Moon Cupcakery-Yuminess! This was my favorite! They have a chocolately Triple Belgian Chocolate cupcake with chocolate cake, chocolate frosting dipped in ganache. It was so good, so rich, and not sweet. The ganache was not hard so it was easy to eat. The whole thing was just good!

Sean loved the Fig & Basil cupcake that we got from here! They have unique cupcakes too. I think this is at the top of his list!

Lavender Moon Cupcakery Tour

Lavender Moon Cupcakery

Alexandria Cupcake-Good chocolate cupcake with dark chocolate buttercream. This was a really good cupcake with really good frosting. The balance was great and this was also cocoa-y.

Sean went for a peanut better cupcake this time. He said it was good but doesn’t remember the details…the downfall of trying so many!

alexandria cupcake tour

Alexandria Cupcake

Cake Love-Fuzzy Wuzzy!  This is a chocolate cake covered in chocolate shavings. I tried to get this in the Fair Oaks mall a few weeks ago but they didn’t have it. I had read great things and was very disappointed. This shop was at National Harbor and the service wasn’t great and the cupcakes were stale. The frosting with chocolate shavings was great, but the cupcake was dry.

S’more was Sean’s pick this time! We’ve been thinking about s’mores a lot, but same as mine, it was stale and wasn’t great.

Cake Love Alexandria cupcake tour

Cake Love

I am really glad I tried all these places, and now I know that if I go back to Alexandria, I will go to Lavender Moon Cupcakery or Alexandria cupcake. I hope you will get to visit these places and make your own opinions! There is one place we didn’t get to in our short trip, Buzz Bakery. Please visit and let me know what you think!

Here’s a Google map of all the cupcake places in Alexandria (and National Harbor!). And if you are in the area for a while and visiting our nation’s capital, check out the Cupcake Tour of DC!

Why Travel? (Sean Edition)

Why Travel? (Sean Edition)

For me, travel is all about the experience of getting outside your comfort zone and into the rest of the world.

The sheer cultural diversity of a place like Europe alone is, frankly, amazing to me.  In the US, I can travel 3000 miles from Washington DC to San Francisco and stop off in 40 places along the way, and meet more or less the same types of people who are eating (mostly) the same things day-in-day-out, living the same American lifestyle, using (mostly) the same language, and shopping at the same chain stores.  In Europe, however, if I choose to take the Eurostar from London to Paris, I will find myself immersed in a new culture, in a new country with its own regional differences, a new language, and potentially a completely different way of life.

And then there’s the history.  The world outside the United States has so much history, everywhere.  There is so much of the past alive and commingled with the present.  There are cities, markets, buildings, locations, sculptures, paintings, and families that pre-date the world I live in every day by hundreds or even THOUSANDS of years.  Wrap your head around that for a second. Amazing.

The thing about travel is, it changes you fundamentally.  Almost as when taking some sort of psychedelic, you are suddenly able to view your traditional world from the outside, and able to view this world you are used to being on the outside of from the inside.  Perceptions and perspectives are flipped on their heads.  Things just seem different.  This is why, at the end of a trip, I always feel sort of like Frodo or Bilbo, not quite fitting into The Shire anymore when I return.  Home seems small, and the rest of the world seems so big.

If there’s one thing I truly believe, it’s that completely immersing yourself in an unfamiliar culture can lead to unprecedented personal growth. Senses are heightened.  You notice little things that you wouldn’t notice at home – smells, sights, sounds.  Emotions are in high-gear. Simple things like navigating public transport and ordering food in a language you barely speak invoke anxiety or even fear.  This makes you vulnerable to change.

I fully believe that a task you can complete with virtually no thought on a day-to-day basis can be transformed from mundane to magnificent if performed sufficiently outside your comfort zone. Experiences like this put you in a position where you must behave differently in order to even have your basic needs met.  I would venture to say that true and complete cultural immersion can be a great example of the Buddhist idea of “mindfulness,” wherein one becomes acutely aware of his surroundings, thus being able to fully appreciate them in the present. While I do not claim to be a Buddhist, or claim to be an expert on the subject, I do know this much: previous travel experience has alerted me to the fact that I crave this type of full cultural immersion. The craving is persistent, and it comes from a place deep inside me — and that is why I love to travel.

Why Travel? (Jess Edition)

Why Travel? (Jess Edition)

Solo trip to Paris

 

Where did I get the travel bug? I’m not completely sure, so let’s talk it through.

I love having a home and I loved my mountain I lived on when I was younger. I had no desire to leave that. My grandparents traveled a lot, but they were retired by that time. I went to the beach a lot as a child. Then, I turned 16 and things changed when I got my passport and took my first trip out of the country. This was a 2-week long river cruise with my grandparents from Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Netherlands

This trip changed my perspective. You know that there are other countries, cultures, and norms, but until you are immersed in them, you really have no idea. Seriously.

I did that for two weeks and then somehow I was lucky enough to go to Paris with my mom less than 6 months later! I was able to sort of use the little bit of french I knew. It was an adventure. My third trip to Europe was in 2005. I went to Munich, London and had a day in Austria with a class trip for about 2 weeks. I have also been to Cancun and Ocho Rios, but the places we went are made for Americans, so it wasn’t much of a cultural experience.

I think college and education shaped me into this more-adventurous version of myself, too. I was taught about many different religions and cultures, but also about history…modern and biblical. When everything comes together, and you add a husband that got the travel bug after the school trip, you really start to take yourself seriously and find a way to do it. I was okay with little trips around the state and surrounding states, but now it’s time to tackle more countries…in Europe!

 

Sunrise from the plane

 

Ultimately…

I want to learn more and see more. I want to experience different cultures. I wanted to live outside my little Shenandoah Valley box and explore the world. There is so much to see and do, and so many people to meet. I believe that travel can change you. I’m ready to have experiences and meet the people that will change my perspective and change my life. My horizons have been broadened before, so let’s keep going! I will be a Woman of the World.

Give yourself the opportunity to have your life changed.

Travel and Adventure Show in D.C. 2013

BizarreEveningwithAZ2013

Months ago I saw that the Travel and Adventure Show was coming to D.C. in March. Little did I know that I would really benefit from a short trip away for the weekend! We bought A Bizarre Evening with Andrew Zimmern tickets which included a 2-day pass to the show as well as a bizarre evening.

Rick Steves at Travel and Adventure Show 2013

Rick Steves at Travel and Adventure Show 2013

The Show has authors, travel experts, dancing stages, and many travel and destination booths. A convention center can be extremely overwhelming so we prioritized. We knew we wanted to see the Rick Steves and Andrew Zimmern presentations and randomly checked everything else out in between those two. Rick was so funny and had some very practical moves prior to his real presentation. He did a couple poses so you could get a good photo at the beginning and then actually listen to him speak. He LOVES Italy and so that is what he spoke about. You can see his passion for travel, passion for helping others travel, and passion for Italy. He’s a great speaker and it was awesome to see him in person.

Andrew Zimmern is a little different than he is on television. I think he had a hurried day, but he was very to the point and direct with everything he said, even answers to the audience’s questions. He makes it very clear that although his show is called “Bizarre Foods”, the foods aren’t bizarre to those who eat them. We actually got a sense that he didn’t like using that term. I was able to get up and ask a question which was “We know you for eating and liking bizarre foods, but what is your favorite food to come home to?” His answer was a chicken dish that his wife makes. Insert “Awwww” here.

Andrew Zimmern at Travel & Adventure Show in D.C. 2013 at Geoduck demostration

Andrew Zimmern at Travel & Adventure Show in D.C. 2013 at Geoduck demostration

The “Bizarre Evening with Andrew Zimmern” entailed him speaking of his travels while he was cooking ox hearts for us to try. Not only that, but other “strange” foods were waiting for us. It was an interesting evening to say the least. However, we did try jellyfish salad, blood sausage, and ox heart. Hated the jellyfish salad, but the rest was okay. Sean, of course, liked it all.

Can’t wait until next year! Now we know what to expect and hope you might consider going as well. If you are planning a trip, maybe a honeymoon, you should stop by and check out all the represented destinations!

Click here to go the the Travel and Adventure Show Website

Cupcake Tour of Washington DC – Georgetown

Cupcake Tour of Washington DC – Georgetown

Georgetown Cupcake Tour

We took at day-trip to Georgetown to get out of the area and do something a bit spontaneous. I was shocked that Sean wanted to go up there considering he’s in northern Virginia all the time now. ( I feel so sorry for him!) Anyway, of course he knows about my love of these small cakes and thought I would enjoy myself in Georgetown, where there are THREE cupcake shops pretty close together. I love this man!

We visited Baked and Wired, Georgetown Cupcake, and Spinkles. I always get the chocolate on chocolate cupcakes so I’m comparing apples to apples (so to speak!). And if you are in the area for a while, check out the Cupcake Tour of Alexandria, Virginia…it’s just over the bridge!

Baked and Wired

Chocolate Cupcake of Doom

This is a very tall cupcake that, I believe, is wrapped in parchment paper. It had a very rich and deep chocolate flavor but you can’t actually bite into it. It takes two bites to get from the top to the bottom of this cupcake. The frosting is a fudgy frosting but it’s still a little bit creamy, and that I appreciate! This place had the best cupcake names! Just had to throw that in there : )

Georgetown Cupcake

DC Cupcakes Tour

Georgetown Cupcakes are smaller than the other two, mainly because they are flat cupcakes. The price is a little lower for that too, so that’s nice I guess.

Chocolate2

(Bottom middle)

This cupcake is very rich. Good, but rich. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t a milk chocolate buttercream. It’s a whipped chocolate frosting; I’m guessing it’s between a ganache and a buttercream. But it was a little much and I wasn’t sure I could finish it. The cake was nice and moist and very tasty but denser than I was expecting.

I overheard someone else saying that they preferred the milk chocolate, but there’s no chocolate on chocolate milk chocolate cupcake. There is a milk chocolate buttercream on a vanilla cake.

Chocolate3

(Bottom right)

Much more balanced than the Chocolate2 cupcake. Just that little bit of ganache works very well. And who doesn’t love small sprinkles? I do. I would get this one over Chocolate2 any day. Second favorite of the just chocolate cupcakes.

Toasted Marshmallow Fudge *Specialty for January*

(Bottom left)

Amazing. Best cupcake overall. The marshmallow buttercream on top cut the richness of the chocolate cake and is just the perfect combination.

Sprinkles

Sprinkles DC Cupcake Tour

Milk Chocolate

Also sized in a regular cupcake cup, this cake had a dome and therefore did not have as much frosting. I just barely fits in your mouth…rather, MY mouth. I really enjoyed the milk chocolate cream cheese frosting. But the cake was slightly, very slightly, drier than the others. I think it’s my favorite of the four just chocolate cupcakes.

Cupcake Tour of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Cupcake Tour of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Cupcake Tour

While in Philly I had planned to taste-test the different chocolate truffle places. There is a chocolate tour of Philly and I thought it silly to pay someone to take me around when I am perfectly capable of doing it myself. Well,…that didn’t happen. I wasn’t in the mood for small chocolates. I wanted a cupcake. Then it snowballed into my own cupcake tour in Philadelphia. You see 6 wonderful looking chocolate cupcakes above and now I am going to rank them (they are not ranked in the photo) and recommend which you should not miss if you visit Philly. Also, I don’t have the actual descriptions so these are all based on my tastes.

Number 1

10 Arts! This was an unexpected chocolatey surprise. For the 5 bite lunch at 10 Arts you get a cupcake that Pastry Chef Monica Glass decides to prepare that day. Lets just say we are VERY glad we went that day! It is a chocolate cupcake with chai frosting. But the frosting was more like a flavored whipped cream. It had a wonderful flavor and texture. The cake was perfectly moist and just amazing. I really don’t know what else to say except the server almost forgot Sean’s and he wasn’t going to say anything, so I did. And I think he loves me even more now 🙂

Number 2

Philly Cupcake. This was a tasty and moist devils food cupcake with an awesome creamy frosting. So good! The chocolate butterfly doesn’t hurt my vote either 🙂 It was just a really good cupcake that I would definitely recommend and I almost bought another on Monday, but they are not open Mondays…probably for the best! Their shop is super small and only takes cash. The cupcakes are display in old china cabinets. You tell them what you would like and they will grab it for you. Definitely don’t try to open the cabinet yourself, they seemed pretty strict about that!

Number 3

Naked Chocolate Cafe. This was the first cupcake I had while there. It was delicious and I knew that it was a good start to our getaway! It was a regular type chocolate cake with your typical buttercream frosting and small chocolate balls. It all went together so well but I did save some chocolate balls to eat later! Go into Naked Chocolate Cafe and I dare you to try and make a choice!

Number 4

Brown Betty Desserts. This cupcake was really good, it was just really dense. It was so much to try and eat myself (and that’s saying something!). The frosting is a fudge type frosting, so it’s really heavy as well. I would recommend eating this with a partner and getting a big glass of milk…each. It’s still good, just pace yourself.

Number 5

I don’t want one cupcake to be the last one and neither of these was bad, they just weren’t the best.

Flying Monkey. It was a good cake, but I loved the frosting. (I should mention here that I don’t know if there is a difference in frosting or icing, so just go with it.) The frosting was creamy and tasty and I love the little chocolate shaving on top, I always eat those things separately!

Swiss Haus Bakery.I loved the frosting and the sprinkles. What a clever way to not get frosting everywhere! The cake was good, but I don’t know how true to the cake I can be…I ate it 2 days later. Bad! I know! It was slightly dry but still a good cake. However, this is a big one…they have a wonderful treat called a Devils Food Chocolate Mousse Slice Dipped in Ganache.

Where have you had the best cupcake, or even the best dessert, in the world?

If you are headed to Alexandria, Virginia or Washington D.C. check out the cupcake tour for those cities,too!