Highlights from Europe Trip 2013

We are testing the waters in video editing, so stick with us while we figure this all out!

But I think Sean did an amazing job with this video considering we were just filming random pieces of our trip. Oh, how it takes me back! I hope you enjoy this video, and please click through and give us a thumbs up on YouTube if you like it!

We are learning a lot on this blogging process and will have more posts up soon. But once we start traveling more and figuring out what to share, we will have more of a schedule. Thanks for sticking with us and check us out on our other platforms in the upper right-hand corner. We share some cool stuff on Twitter and Facebook, and I just love looking at the pictures on Flickr!

Meeting Samantha Brown at the Travel & Adventure Show

Meeting Samantha Brown at the Travel & Adventure Show

 

Ethiopian Dance

Ethiopian Dance

On February 22, 2014 We attended the Travel and Adventure Show in Washington D.C. as we had done last year. (You can read that post here). It was a lot of fun to talk to tourism offices for different countries, see some great animals, and watch the cultural dances. We learned that you can take a 10 day “layover” with Iceland Air in Iceland! That’s certainly handy to know.

Owl at the Travel & Adventure Show

Owl at the Travel & Adventure Show

There was a big difference between last year’s show and this year’s…we were able to see Andrew Zimmern speak and attend “A Bizarre Evening with Andrew Zimmern” and this year we were able to see Samantha Brown speak and meet her.

Both were great! AZ’s talk was very informative and I was able to ask him a question, and for his evening show we tried a few things that I never thought I would have tried (again, blog post here). Sam’s presentation was exactly what I was expecting. She is America’s travel sweetheart, no doubt about it. But she is so incredibly genuine and lovely to watch. I did get to ask her a question, “What do you do after your travels when you get home to center yourself?” Her answer was to do the everyday mundane things that we do, like go to the store, pick up mail, drop off dry cleaning. She mentioned that now that she has twins people tend to ask her how you travel stress-free with kids. Her answer? You don’t!

Samantha Brown on Stage

Samantha Brown on Stage

Her presentation was about having an authentic travel experience. There seems to be this thought that you are either a traveler or a tourist, but in reality, you should just travel what ever way works best for you. This can mean backpacking everywhere and staying in hostels, taking guided tours in large groups on buses, or anything in between. The point is to see and experience new cultures however you go about that.

Authentic is what people do when nobody is looking. So, go for a walk without a group, meet locals, talk to them. Find a moment that makes you feel like you are really experiencing the area you are in. She suggests a ritual, find a favorite coffee shop, grab breakfast at the same place, have people recognize you to feel part of the community. But when looking for authentic, look at the present. The past is very important, and the must-sees are must-sees for a reason, but to feel part of something, live in it because authentic will not be found where only the tourists go. Learn a couple phases in the language of the area you are in. Learn “please,” “Thank you,” and “hello”. She said that travel is a fresh start, and I couldn’t agree more!

Jess with Samantha Brown

Jess with Samantha Brown

After the presentation we got in line to meet Sam and get a photo. It was quite a line, but worth it! She remembered me from my question and mentioned that it was a good one! I know…she probably said that to everyone, but still, made me happy. I told her how big of a fan I am and I’ve been watching since the beginning and that I would love an autograph for my grandmother since she was a huge fan as well. She is so sweet and loved that I got that for my grandma. She took two pictures with me and while she did the autographs I also mentioned that Sean loved her in the Bourdain Christmas skit, she said it was so fun because she got to shoot Tony. At the end I asked if I could hug her, and I did. Seriously, she is just as smiley and friendly as you’d think, and it never looked fake.

Thank you Sam for taking the time to meet your fans! You are an inspiration to travel and learn about new cultures.

In A New York Minute

Justin and Jessica in Times Square

Justin and Jessica in Times Square

This was originally posted on our personal blog seanandjess.wordpress.com. 

A former professor who has the coolest contacts posted on our department’s alumni page that seatfiller.com was looking for people to fill seats for the NFL Honors Awards hosted by Fox Sports at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. I have never been to NYC but thought it would be a neat thing to do for my brother Justin for his birthday. After calling him to see if this is something he’d be interested in (he’s not really a spontaneous traveler, so I wasn’t sure), and he was totally in!

We applied and were accepted as seat fillers, so the next step was getting transportation and lodging. My friend from work now lives in the city and she usually travels by MegaBus back and forth, so I thought that was a great option since it’s rather cheap. So, Sean drove us up and dropped us off at the Metro and mom picked us both up when we returned. So easy! Once on the metro, just head to Union Station for your MegaBus. It was a 4.5-hour ride to NYC and they drop you off in rather an odd area it seems, but you are only a few blocks from Penn Station. Until I can get settled, I’m not into trying to navigate public transit, so we used Uber thanks to Sean’s encouragement and a Groupon that got me $25 in credit for only $5! Used it from the bus, then to the bus. Very easy. Loved that no cash or tip was exchanged! If you want to try Uber, sign up and use my invitation code (ptxsz). You’ll get $20 credit and so will I!

Lighted trees in NYC

We didn’t get to wonder around too much but we saw parts of 51st quite a bit. There was a cupcake place around the corner and a convenience store, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and a bagel place around the other corner. Our hotel was Pod 51 and was pretty unique. We each had a single room that was really small, but all the space you need. The one strange thing was there were hall bathrooms. There were 4 for our area  and there was a light above the inside of your door to let you know if the one you wanted was in use.  I thought it worked rather well. They do have larger rooms that have their own bathroom, but hotels in NYC are expensive, so why bother?

Super Bowl Trophy

We arrived Friday night and Saturday morning Justin and I headed out to see what we could see before lunch. We got to Times Square, took some photos, got a few souvenirs, saw the Vince Lombardi Trophy (Super Bowl Trophy…does anyone call it that?), then Justin and I separated for a bit. He got to go to Grand Central Terminal to get a few football player autographs and I went to lunch with my friend Sarah and her boyfriend Henry. It was awesome to catch up with her considering the new chapter in her life! Justin was excited to see a few football players over lunch, but little did he realize how close he would be to them that night.

We're dressed up!

After lunch we walked back to the hotel to chill for a bit, shower, and get ready for the awards show. We got to Radio City Music Hall around 2:20pm when the deadline was 2:30pm. The line was a block long! After waiting for about a half hour, we were taken inside, bags searched and sat down. The show didn’t start until 6pm, and people didn’t arrive until at least 5pm.

Sneaking a photo in the Radio City Music Hall

It was a pretty long wait with no cell phones allowed. Our section thought we just had to stay where we were, but the at the literal last minute our entire row was called down and I hopped over a former coach to get in my seat before the cameras turned on. Justin was placed a couple rows ahead of me surrounded by coaches and players he never thought he’d meet. Many people had to walk past him to get to and from the stage since he was on the end. Lucky. I was moved back to my original seat after the first commercial, the guests were just late. But then I was placed closer in a seat that nobody would be sitting in, and in between a bunch of Fox Sports execs who thought the idea of a “seat-filler” was cool and asked a lot of questions. After a few initial questions, they pretty much ignored me. That was just fine, especially considering I was about 40 feet away from Jennifer Garner, whom I think is AMAZING. So, that made me very happy. She seems pretty awesome from the way she interacted with everyone.

Beautiful Lights

After getting a little dinner, we went back to the hotel and watched part of the show. It was ultimately a pretty relaxing trip. A big thanks to Dr. Pierson for posting that to our Facebook page! And Justin, I’m glad you had a good time, got a new jacket, and met some awesome people. Happy 19th birthday!

Discovering Copenhagen

Discovering Copenhagen

06.Copenhagen.Panorama

So, what did we do in the great city of Copenhagen? In the 3ish days we were in town, we went on a canal cruise, a bus tour, saw the Botanical Gardens, ate at Tivoli Gardens, saw The Mermaid from afar, walked a LOT, and enjoyed taking it all in.

For our first real day in Copenhagen we slept in, but only because we had not slept during the previous 36 hours due to our awesome layover in Iceland! Once we checked-in into our AirBnB, we had a good chunk of our afternoon and evening left! What’s the first thing you should do when you are in a place with canals? Take a canal cruise! We found one and enjoyed a nice, smooth ride through Copenhagen. I just love the history lesson you get from these types of tour. We saw some amazing buildings and it was a great day to be on the water!

That kind of thing makes a girl and guy hungry, so we found a great little cafe. The staff saw us looking at the menu and came out to greet us. It was a very small place with only a few tables inside and a few outside. The staff was incredibly friendly and the food was excellent! This is where I (Jess) have to get out of my comfort zone. I (A) don’t like being the only people in a restaurant (but we were eating at a strange time) and I (B) didn’t know want kind of food/price to expect. Aside from the awkward situation of getting the check, it was a lovely experience. It was Cafe Optimisten, and luckly, they did have an English menu.

Once we were sufficiently full, we started walking to nowhere in particular. But we saw a lot! We saw: a bridge being built, lots of tourists acting touristy, young men jumping into a canal following a pick-up soccer game, kayaking, boats, jet skis, and sandcastles. A quick stop by the tourist office helped us semi-plan out the next day! By the time we left, we knew it would involve a bus tour, hot dogs, and Tivoli Gardens. And we did just that!

13.Copenhagen

Cooling off the the canals after a pickup soccer game

The 24 hour pass for the hop-on, hop-off bus tour was not worth the money, so we do not recommend it. But we did use it to get around a bit and it dropped us off near the shopping street. It’s a mini-Beverly Hills there! It was still kind of fun to window shop. With the help of Google Maps we found the organic hot dog stand, DØP, near the Round Tower (or, Rundetårn). Though it was obvious that many tourists go there, it was equally obvious that the locals love the place as well. It’s really a hot dog stand/trailer, not a built-in restaurant. This is important to know if you are like us and are blindly following walking directions from a phone.

After we got some energy from much-needed food and drink, we headed to the Botanical Gardens and then the Rosenborg Castle. It should be noted that entrance into the palace grounds are free, entrance into the castle costs about $15, and entrance into the Royal Treasury area is NOT included in the entrance fee, so if you want to see the Crown Jewels, you’ll need to spend a bit more. What is nice is there are small lockers to leave your things since you can’t take large bags into the palace. The room where you pay is rather small, so try to get in and out as quickly as you can. The grounds are beautiful in themselves, so if you want a little time to just wander around and enjoy the green manicured area, this is perfect (and FREE!).

Sean and Jessica at Tivoli Gardens

Sean and Jessica at Tivoli Gardens

Afternoon naps are incredibly helpful so your evenings aren’t miserable. It was great because our time in Tivoli Gardens was much more enjoyable after a short rest. We had a great time people-watching, meeting other Americans,eating the best pizza we’ve ever had at Mazzoli’s, and a very yummy dessert. Definitely worth a trip even if you don’t ride the rides. Though, we would recommend trying to catch some sort of show when you are there. This amusement park is right in the middle of Copenhagen. As an American, that is so hard to believe. Also, a fun little fact is that Disney got his idea for his parks from here and Michael Jackson tried to buy the place!

02.Copenhagen

Houseboat in Christianshavn, Copenhagen, Denmark

Our last day was spent in the Christiansburg (Christianshavn) part of Copenhagen. We dropped our luggage off at Copenhagen Central Station (Köbenhavn H) in lockers and caught the metro out to Christiansburg. The icon of that area is the Church of Our Savior which we climbed…all the way up, including the outside steps you see.

Church of Our Savior- view from top (left) & spire (right)

Church of Our Savior- view from top (left) & spire (right)

Afterwards we treated ourselves to some amazing ice cream and a great conversation about culture with the shop keeper.

That evening we waited for and hopped on our night train to Amsterdam! That was an interesting adventure you’ll hear about in the next post!05.Copenhagen

 

Arriving in Copenhagen

When I think of Copenhagen, I think of bikes. Lots of bikes.  Amsterdam seems to get attention as the most bike-friendly city, but in our experience, it was Copenhagen. Bikes are everywhere, but so are cars. The big difference between their bike system and ours in the U.S. is that they have lanes. I’m not talking about just making a line down the road where half of it is the curb. These are legit lanes about 5 feet wide and separate from where the cars are driving. They even have their own stop lights. What was really amazing was that people really followed traffic and pedestrian laws.

16.Copenhagen

The people are so nice and helpful.  On our first night, we hadn’t slept in over 24 hours and tried to figure out the train system. We still believe we picked the right ticket and the right train, but it didn’t stop at our stop for some reason. Even the local we spoke to didn’t know why. But this local saw I was getting upset (I was REALLY tired), so she looked some things up on her phone and told us to get off when she did and she would get us on the right train back to our destination. She also told us how their train system worked. If you by a regular ticket (not a commuter permanent pass) you don’t do anything with it unless a conductor asks for it. Much different from the D.C. metro! Anyway, this girl saved our day! We got to our one-night hotel, slept, ate, and left. It’s a lot easier to navigate after you sleep.

27.Copenhagen

Our AirBnB was great! Not too far out of the way and close enough to a metro stop and Central Station. But we’ll go into more detail about our AirBnB stays in another post. We mostly walked everywhere from our apartment and were able to buy some croissants, Nutella, and yogurt so we didn’t have to go out.  Of course, we had the option to use buses, metros, and regional trains, but we opted for the metro, a lot of walking, and a 24 hour tour bus pass that we would not recommend.

We HAD to take a canal cruise and we were so glad we did! We just happened to come across a tour boat that was going to leave soon. They didn’t have much signage, but seemed to be a little cheaper than others. The boat captains are amazing and you just can’t get these views any other way. These canal boats have been made very specifically to these canals. They can juuuust fit around turns and such.

03.Copenhagen

There is so much to see and do in Copenhagen! Pretty much everyone we ran into was very friendly and willing to help.  Pretty much everyone speaks English.  We will go into more detail of what we got into and how we chose a place to stay in other posts.

Thanks for reading and baring with us while we find our groove! Check out a lot more photos on our Flickr!

The Ultimate Natural Hot Tub

The Ultimate Natural Hot Tub

Iceland Landscape

We intentionally planned a long layover in Iceland to be able to go to The Blue Lagoon. We used Reykjavik Excursions for our trip from the Keflavík Airport to The Blue Lagoon.

This was so easy for a few reasons. The first is that it is a 20 minute bus ride to the lagoon. You may not get a tour, but you see a little more of Iceland than you do from the airport windows! Second, The Blue Lagoon has a baggage check as soon as you get off the bus and it even has bathrooms! If you have to take your BIG luggage with you, there are no worries. It’s just €3 per bag, super convenient, and had great attendants.

You HAVE to shower before you go into the lagoon. They require that you shower sans-swimsuit. It’s not the easiest situation, I’ll admit, but everyone seems to figure it out. There are open showers and ones with doors. You will see nakedness, so just be prepared. It’s not a huge deal in Europe as much as it is in the U.S. Once you are in the lagoon, everyone has their suits on!

The Blue Lagoon

The lagoon is HUGE! You can definitely find your own place even if it’s crowded. We went as soon as they opened and it was wonderful. If you need to test the water, there’s a small tempering pool indoors. It was chilly and windy when we went, so going out in a bikini (even with a towel) was super cold and I couldn’t wait to get in the water. It was warm and wonderful. There’s a waterfall, a cave, hot spots (really hot!), very shallow up to about 4ish feet deep. Want a drink? There’s a bar in the water. Just use your entrance bracelet to put it on your tab. Then get some silica mud to put on your face. It’s free and on the sides of the lagoon. The floor is volcanic sand, so it’s black, but the water is a beautiful blue.

Just float around for a while. Relax and rejuvenate. I was beyond exhausted from not sleeping on the plane, but this brought me out of the grumpy and grogginess. When you are ready, grab something to drink at the in-pool bar or the just-inside bar (where you don’t have to change into real clothes). Hungry? There’s a quick food stand with pre-made sandwiches, snacks, drinks. And there’s a real restaurant. These things are pricy, so just be aware of that. I was really unhappy with the salad I got at the quick food place but the restaurant wasn’t open yet.

Tour GuidesAfter lunch we got our tour by these two! Thoren (sp?) and Alexander. We had a great time because it ended up being a private tour. For all the fun science-y details, check out the wikipedia page. Just hanging out with these two was fun, but we definitely learned a lot! One thing we will tell you is that The Blue Lagoon was really an accident, but ended up being a great one. So, yes, it is mad-made. It is a natural spring, but the area was built and dug out. But you really won’t care once you are in that warm, blue, healing water!

This was the best layover idea ever! We would definitely go back if we had the opportunity. Do you have any questions about The Blue Lagoon? We’re happy to answer.

Travel Withdrawal

Church of Our Saviour, Copenhagen

View from the Church of Our Saviour, Copenhagen

I think this post may help explain why there haven’t been any posts about our amazing trip. We are having travel withdrawal. It’s not just that we miss our vacation, but to review it and try to work on how to piece it together logically on the blog is difficult. It almost feels that once we have our trip in text, it’s over and finalized and we have to move on to the next thing.

We do have lots of thoughts, observations, experiences, and photos to share in the upcoming weeks.

Some things to look forward to:

  • Flight and layover in Iceland (The Blue Lagoon) getting to Copenhagen
  • Our time in Copenhagen. Including transportation, walk-ability, and people
  • Train-travel to Amsterdam on a City Night Train (Including meeting new people and getting a midnight visit by police)
  • Amsterdam and our 5 days wandering around
  • Renting and driving from The Netherlands to Belgium
  • Our 2-day quick-trip in Belgium
  • Last few days and trip back
  • Our use of AirBnb and different travel websites
  • How we packed and what we’d change

While it felt nice to get back to the normal routine, we both miss that feeling of exploration, learning, and wonder. When we sit down to figure it all out, we’ll analyze it so it all makes sense. Part of the beauty of travel is that it doesn’t always make sense. I promise that we do have a little bit of a plan to get everything on here in bits and pieces…otherwise it would just be one big huge post!

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!