Travel the World | By Katherine and Romeo Belarmino
I'm Katherine, and my husband Romeo and I are part-time travelers. We work full-time but use our vacation time to travel the world. We experience all we can on our travels, including culture, adventure, food, and a little golf (for Rome). Travel the World is our place to share our travel adventures and help others plan their world travels.
The Netherlands’ second largest city, Rotterdam, is very different from its largest city, Amsterdam. While Amsterdam is old-world architecture, Rotterdam is a very modern city. The reason for that is because, except for a small handful of buildings, the city of Rotterdam was obliterated in less than 15 minutes by a World War II bombing campaign. Rather than trying to rebuild in its old style, the people of Rotterdam decided to show their resiliency by using the devastation as an opportunity to start over with innovative and creative architecture. The result is that the things to do in Rotterdam are an interesting mix of old and new.
Rotterdam’s Cube Houses are a good example of Rotterdam’s unique architecture. The Cube Houses were designed in the 1980s by Piet Blom. They create a village that is supposed to be reminiscent of trees of a forest. The cubes are tilted so three sides face the ground and three sides face the sky. If you’re curious to see what one looks like inside, there is a show cube open to the public.
Rotterdam’s Markthal is quite a centerpiece of Rotterdam. The market hall is a huge horseshoe-shaped building with enormous windows at each end. Within the building is an indoor market, and the curving exteriors of the building contain luxury apartments.
The arched ceiling is covered in colorful artwork called the Horn of Plenty. In addition to being a food market, Markthal has restaurants, so it is a great place to visit for lunch or dinner.
Rotterdam’s Oude Haven, or old port, is part of the Maritime District. It has historic ships and is a popular place for restaurants and bars. Along Oude Haven is one of Rotterdam’s few remaining old buildings, “The White House.” The Witte Huis was built in 1898 in the Art Nouveau style and was Europe’s first skyscraper.
Erasmus Bridge is a suspension bridge built in 1996 that crosses Nieuwe Maas River, linking the north and south of Rotterdam. The bridge can be crossed by both cars and pedestrians. We took a walk across the bridge to Hotel New York and then took a water taxi back.
Hotel New York
Hotel New York is another one of Rotterdam’s few remaining historic buildings. The building was erected in 1901 and was the location of the Holland America Line, where ships left for New York. Holland America Line’s head office moved to Seattle in 1977 and the building was opened as a hotel in 1993.
The Delfshaven marina is yet another one of the few pieces of Rotterdam that survived the 1940 bombing that leveled most of the city. For Americans this is a special place because the Pilgrim Fathers left for America in 1620 from the church, Pelgrimvaderskerk, built in 1417 and updated in 1761. The Pilgrims first sailed to England where they then boarded the Mayflower.
Next door to the church is Stadsbrouwerij de Pelgrim, one of Rotterdam’s breweries. The building the brewery is in dates back to 1580 and used to be a city hall and a police station.
It seems like the Netherlands is crazy for food halls. They are great places for travelers to eat because they’re affordable, they have lots of choices, the food is good, and the ambiance is fun and relaxed. Rotterdam’s Foodhallen had our favorite place to eat in Rotterdam, Bar Pulpo. Bar Pulpo serves seafood including oysters, octopus, and the most delicious prawns ever.
Fenix Food Factory
Yet another food hall in Rotterdam is the Fenix Food Factory. The Fenix Food Factory is located in the Katendrecht neighborhood, which used to be Rotterdam’s Chinatown but is now a destination for food lovers.
Rotterdam has lots of outdoor art, both old and new. An example of Rotterdam’s old outdoor art is a statue of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, a very famous scholar. He defined the humanist movement and translated the New Testament to Greek, which created a theological revolution. The statue is located in one of Rotterdam’s parks, Grotekerkplein, in front of the Church of St. Lawrence, Rotterdam’s only surviving late Gothic building (built between 1449 and 1525).
Some of Rotterdam’s new outdoor art is in the form of street art in the Witte de Withkwartier. Witte de Withstraat runs from Museumpark to the Maritime Museum. One is Love Birds, a mural by Tymon Ferenc de Laat and Robert Rost. Another is #makeithappen by Daan Botlek, a mural of characters climbing up a six-story building. This one is interactive and allows you to become part of the art. The Rewriters010 app guides visitors along an eight-kilometer route of 40 works of street art.
Rotterdam Tourist Information Coolsingel
We wouldn’t normally list a tourism office as a place to visit, but a short visit to the Rotterdam Tourist Information Coolsingel location is worthwhile if you’re in the area. In addition to being a place to pick up a city map and the Rotterdam Welcome Card, it has the Rotterdam Discovery where visitors can see the before and after of the Rotterdam bombing, learn about Rotterdam’s history, and see the future plans for the city.
The Rotterdam Welcome Card is useful for getting around the city. While Rotterdam is walkable, Rotterdam’s things to do are spread out around the city and the walks are long. The Rotterdam Welcome Card works as a travel pass, providing unlimited travel on RET metros, trams, and busses. The card also provides discounts on some museums, attractions, and restaurants.
We stayed in one of the executive rooms on the higher floors of the hotel. Our room was a corner room with windows that curved across all walls. The buildings of Rotterdam are not terribly tall, but when looking outside while lying in bed, the skyline gives the impression of being much higher up, especially with the top of one of the museums looking more like the top of the Empire State Building and all of the cranes set up around the city.
In the morning the restaurant serves the signature Bilderberg Breakfast with lots of variety like pancakes, pastries, eggs, sausages, yogurt, cereals, meats, cheeses, and more. For lunch and dinner, the restaurant is The Park – Inspired by Erik Van Loo. Erik Van Loo is a two Michelin star chef who led the concept of The Park restaurant.
Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most popular vacation spots. Based on feedback from 100,000 millennials, Amsterdam came in number two for most popular travel destinations on earth. That’s not a huge surprise considering Amsterdam is a picturesque city of canals, architecture, world-famous museums, and more bicycles than people. It’s also very affordable. All of this also means Amsterdam is quite crowded, especially in the city center. Fortunately, the many things to do in Amsterdam include a number of places to visit in Amsterdam’s unique neighborhoods just outside of the city center.
Amsterdam’s Oud-Zuid neighborhood, just south of the city center, was our favorite neighborhood, which is a good thing since that’s where we stayed, at the Bilderberg Garden Hotel Amsterdam (more about the hotel later in the article).
The Oud-Zuid neighborhood is one of the prettiest and wealthiest neighborhoods in Amsterdam, with wide streets lined with unique shops and some of Amsterdam’s best museums.
Van Gogh Museum
Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat Vincent van Gogh 1887 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
The Netherlands is famous for its artists. There are many important Dutch artists, including Van Gogh (pronounced more like vun-khokh by the Dutch). The Van Gogh Museum, located in the Oud-Zuid neighborhood, has the largest collection of Vincent van Gogh’s art in the world. Some of Van Gogh’s famous works that are in the museum include his self-portraits, The Potato Eaters, Sunflowers, Almond Blossom, Irises, and The Bedroom. Romeo used to not be such a fan of Van Gogh, but our Amsterdam vacation was quite an art education and he’s now fascinated by how Van Gogh could create self-portraits that were clearly of Van Gogh, and yet were created with minimal broad brush strokes.
The Van Gogh Museum is one of the busiest museums in Amsterdam. While entrance is free with an I amsterdam city card, you’ll still need to book tickets online for a specific date and time. Pictures are not allowed in most of the museum.
The Rijksmuseum has been open to the public in its present place for over 200 years. The museum features antique objects, prints, drawings, photos, and of course paintings by the Dutch masters including Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer, Van Dyck, and Jan Steen. One of the highlights of the museum is Rembrandt’s Night Watch Gallery, a larger-than-life portrait of the civic guard. The gallery in which it is displayed was specially designed for the painting.
Entrance to the Rijksmuseum is free with the I amsterdam city card. Download the Rijksmuseum mobile app before leaving home and bring your earphones so you can use the app to tour the highlights and learn more about any piece in the museum.
Moco Museum is a boutique museum amongst the giants. Moco Museum is housed in an English country house style building designed by Eduard Cuypers, the cousin of the architect who designed the Rijksmuseum. Moco Museum houses modern and contemporary art, mostly Banksy. Other artists featured are Icy & Sot, the Banksy of Iran, and Roy Lichtenstein. Outside of the museum is the Moco Garden, a fanciful garden of sculptures like a huge gummy bear.
Vondelpark is to Amsterdam what Central Park is to New York City and is a relaxing place to visit during an Amsterdam vacation. Vondelpark is perfect for strolling, jogging, biking, skating, dog-walking, and whatever else strikes your fancy. Vondelpark first opened to the public in 1865. Because the park is constructed on muddy land, its ground level is constantly lowering, so the park has to go through a thorough renovation every 30 years.
Amsterdam’s De Plantage neighborhood is just east of the city center. This area of Amsterdam has more green spaces and is home to the ARTIS Royal Zoo and Amsterdam’s botanical gardens. Rembrandt called the De Plantage neighborhood home. De Plantage is also the place to learn about Jewish wartime Amsterdam.
Dutch Resistance Museum
The Netherlands surrendered to Nazi Germany in 1940 after Rotterdam was obliterated by bombing. The country remained under German occupation until May 1945. During those five years the Dutch resistance, mostly without violence, fought against the Nazis and hid 300,000 people.
The Dutch Resistance Museum walks visitors through the three choices the Dutch had: adjust, collaborate, or resist. It may seem like such an easy decision now in hindsight, but the Nazis had a subtle approach of slowly undermining official resistance in The Netherlands, so at first, the occupation didn’t seem so bad. There was even an economic boom at the start. In the beginning, many Dutch felt the best way was to adjust, and some even joined in the Nazi cause. Quotes from Dutch people include, “I was impressed that Hitler had turned a land with millions of unemployed into a prosperous country” and “What attracted me was the energy: the singing and marching, and that sense of belonging.” But as the war intensified and conditions deteriorated, more Dutch people started to resist in various ways including public protests, helping people go into hiding, smuggling ration coupons and destroying the Amsterdam Registry Office.
Entrance into the Dutch Resistance Museum is free with the I amsterdam city card and all visitors can take advantage of the free audio guide.
National Holocaust Museum
The National Holocaust Museum is located in a building that was used by the Dutch resistance to smuggle 600 children out of captivity, using the outside tram stop as cover. The museum is a work in progress, hosting temporary exhibitions that tell the story of the Holocaust with stories from survivors and surviving objects about men, women, and children who did not make it to the other side of the Holocaust. In the basement is an installation by Willem Volkersz, In Memoriam, which commemorates student of the 1st Montessori School in Amsterdam who lost their lives during the Nazi occupation.
Entrance into the National Holocaust Museum is free with the I amsterdam city card and one ticket provides entrance into the National Holocaust Memorial, Jewish Historical Museum, and Portuguese Synagogue as well.
National Holocaust Memorial
The National Holocaust Memorial, across from the museum, used to be a theater. In 1941 it was turned into the Jewish Theatre by the Germans and was later used as a site of deportation of Jews to concentration and extermination camps. After the war, the theater fell into disrepair. In 1962 a monument was erected in memory of the Jewish victims. A Wall of Remembrance has been engraved with the surnames of the 104,000 murdered Jews from the Netherlands.
The Portuguese Synagogue was built in 1675 and has its original interior. The synagogue is still lit by hundreds of candles. In addition to the synagogue, visitors can enter various rooms in the complex, such as the treasure chamber. The oldest functioning Jewish library in the world can also be seen here.
Jewish Historical Museum
The Jewish Historical Museum is housed within four synagogue buildings. Visitors learn about Dutch Jewish life past and present at the museum through paintings, films, and other items. The video displays are an interesting and interactive way to learn about Jewish holidays and traditions.
Rembrandt House Museum
In addition to the Jewish Cultural Quarter, the De Plantage neighborhood has the Rembrandt House Museum. This is where the famous Dutch artist Rembrandt lived and worked. It was interesting to go through the rooms of the house and learn about Rembrandt’s life, how he became a famous portrait painter, how he filled his house with works of art by other artists, and how his extravagant lifestyle and the change in his clients’ tastes led to his bankruptcy.
What we found the most interesting in the Rembrandt House Museum were the demonstrations about creating etchings and paint. We learned how Rembrandt’s apprentices created colored pigments by grinding rocks, mixing the powder with oil, and storing it in pig bladders. They had to learn to create the same color and the same consistency from natural ingredients. Some rocks and minerals were expensive and came from faraway places. Once a color was created, it might be applied to three or four paintings at once that were awaiting that specific color.
We also learned how Rembrandt used leftover paint from his palettes to build up the sleeves of one of his most famous paintings, The Jewish Bride, to create texture before painting the more expensive paint over it, and how he layered different shades of red to create depth in the bride’s skirt.
Oud-West is a trendy neighborhood just west of the city center and above the Oud-Zuid neighborhood. The neighborhood is known for its shops and restaurants.
Foodhallen is one of the star attractions of the Oud-West neighborhood. Foodhallen is a food market in a former train depot. There’s live music every Tuesday night and DJs Friday and Saturday nights. Food stands sell a variety of foods including tapas, tacos, dim sum, pitas, seafood, hamburgers, frozen yogurt, and more. Bars sell wine, beer, and cocktails.
The De Pijp neighborhood is below the city center just east of the Oud-Zuid neighborhood. De Pijp was a working-class neighborhood, attracting people from many countries to work at the Heineken brewery. It is still a multicultural neighborhood with lots of flavors and variety.
The Heineken Experience is an interactive tour of the original Heineken brewery. Gerard Adriaan Heineken’s mother purchased the brewery for him and in 1873 the first Heineken beer was brewed after Dr. Elion, a student of Louis Pasteur, developed the Heineken yeast that is still used in today’s Heineken beers. Visitors learn the history of Heineken, take a peek into the stables of the Heineken horses, follow the path of beer from brew to bottle, and enjoy two Heineken beers at the Best ‘Dam Bar.
Visitors with an I amsterdam city card get 25% off the entrance fee.
The Albert Cuypmarkt runs along Albert Cuypstraat. The street market, which has been operating since 1905, has 260 stalls and operates six days a week. The market sells international foods and ingredients, traditional foods, clothing, leather goods, jewelry, souvenirs, and more.
Amsterdam’s city center is where you’ll find the most canals and tall, narrow canal houses with gable hooks for moving items in and out. It’s also where you’ll see the most bikes, outside of the bicycle parking lot of the Central Station. In fact, around 6,000 bicycles are pulled out of Amsterdam’s canals every year. It’s also where many of the city’s smaller themed museums are located like the houseboat museum and Dutch costume museum.
Anne Frank House
The top thing to do in Amsterdam is a visit to the
We’d always liked the idea of combining travel and volunteering. We’d talked about voluntourism. We’d thought about voluntourism. But we’d never actually done it. There are lots of excuses, like a lot of volunteer trips are weeks or months long, which is hard for people like us with limited vacation time, or we’d think about volunteering for a day or two during a trip, but then the schedule got too full. Then one day a friend was talking about an upcoming trip to Kenya, a trip that would be a week and a half, a trip that would be focused on volunteering. Oh, and a trip that could include a 24-hour safari. But that’s for another article. This article is about volunteering in Kenya with Freedom Global.
About Freedom Global
First a little bit about Freedom Global. Freedom Global is a non-profit Christian organization based out of Durham, North Carolina. Freedom Global’s goal is to create a sustainable development model in Kenya that focuses on three things: business, education, and discipleship. They do this by supporting Uhuru Girls Academy, an all-girls’ high school which has both paying and scholarship students, a dairy farm, all proceeds from which go to Uhuru Girls Academy and someday will also hopefully provide work for some of the girls, and by providing discipleship through bible studies, chapel, GLOW clubs, and mentorship. Freedom Global sets up service trips to Limuru, a town 30 miles outside of Nairobi, three times a year.
You may be asking yourself if Freedom Global’s service trips are just for uber-religious Christians. The answer is no. Romeo and I do respect all religions and everyone’s religious beliefs, and in this travel blog, you will find information about and photos of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples we’ve visited. But, while we both had religious upbringings, we aren’t what one would categorize as religious. So, before we signed up for one of Freedom Global’s volunteering opportunities in Kenya, we asked a few questions.
We learned that many people who are not Christians have come on Freedom Global’s service trips because they are passionate about humanitarian aid, are fascinated by Africa, and want to join for those reasons. There are some activities that are religious, such as attending church on Sunday or joining a chapel service, which can be optional. Since most of the volunteers are looking for an opportunity to serve, and because Kenyans are far more vocal about faith than we are in the United States, there is a lot of discussion about spirituality and beliefs. But no one is trying to convert anyone and everyone is very respectful of where someone is spiritually.
What to Expect when Volunteering in Kenya with Freedom Global
So what is it like to volunteer in Kenya with Freedom Global? Well, it’s kind of life-changing. The point is for volunteers to serve the girls at the high school by creating relationships as well as providing physical labor at the farm. And we did. But truly, the experience we received as volunteers from being part of these girls’ lives for over a week, spending time with the local Freedom Global team and volunteers, and seeing the non-touristic side of Kenya was priceless. Here’s what to expect when volunteering in Kenya with Freedom Global.
A Walk through the Tea Fields
Did you know Kenya is the third largest producer of tea in the world, outgrown only by China and India? Kenya grows a lot of tea, and it’s some of the best tea in the world. Because of its high elevation, Limuru is a tea producing area. In fact, Limuru is where tea was first introduced in Kenya in 1903 by the Caine brothers.
On our first day in Kenya, our local hosts took us to walk through one of Limuru’s tea fields. We learned about how tea is handpicked and how each worker has their own designated plot of land.
Within the tea field is a village where the tea field workers live. The village has its own school and medical center. As we walked through the village, children watched us curiously while they played. One boy was trundling a hoop along the grass.
As we continued through the village we learned that two of our Freedom Global hosts, Finance Director Francis Katiba Naita and Uhuru Academy Operations Manager Lydia Njoki Katiba, grew up in this village. They each showed us the homes they grew up in and which shaped their lives.
With tea fields as our surroundings, Lydia, Francis, and Ruth, another one of our hosts, shared with us how Freedom Global started. After the 2007 presidential election, there were claims of vote rigging. The infighting of tribes began. The violence spread and families fled to displacement camps. Freedom Global started in 2008. They wanted to serve the people of Kenya and quickly realized that had to start with a way for the people to earn a living. They learned what the people of the area had done before the violence, which was farming, so started a farm. Then they started a school because the children needed an education in order to be successful adults. Then they added discipleship to provide hope.
Uhuru Girls Academy
On the afternoon of our first day, we visited the Uhuru Girls Academy for the first time. The students welcomed us with singing. We were then paired up with a student (Romeo and I were paired up with Eva and Naomi) who took each of us around the school on a short tour.
We visited the kitchen and learned how to make chai for 60 people. We then visited classrooms and received a presentation from each grade (forms one, two, three, and four) on school life in Kenya, including their daily schedule, their courses, and the tests they need to take. Subjects include math, English, Kiswahili, chemistry, biology, physics, history, Christian religious education, business studies, and physical education.
Uhuru Girls Academy is important because the number of secondary schools Kenya has is about one-quarter of the number of primary schools in the country, and secondary education is not provided by the government. Providing secondary education, especially to girls, can change lives. Girls’ secondary education improves the standard of living for their families and communities and also decreases the likelihood of early marriages and pregnancies.
In case you’re wondering if Freedom Global is using the school to convert the girls to a certain Christian religion, it’s not like that. In Kenya, over 80% of the population is Christian and it is the law that religion has to be taught in all schools. That religion can be Christianity or Islam, but a religion must be taught. The Uhuru Girls Academy has a mix of students who go to Summit Church, a nondenominational church with Baptist beginnings, and students who go to a nearby Catholic church. There used to be a student, who has since graduated, who was Muslim.
Near the end of our time in Kenya, we visited Uhuru Girls Academy one last time, this time for a fun ropes course. The girls were split up into teams and took turns racing through the ropes course, being timed along the away.
They jogged through tires while holding a potato on a spoon, stacked tires, climbed up a hill on plastic with water pouring down just to turn around and slide down, filled cups with water a tiny cup at a time to make a ping pong ball travel, and stepped across tree stumps while holding a soccer ball between two people.
It was fun to watch the girls have such a great time, and also to see the teamwork that emerged as they cheered each other on and helped each other out. Eva, the student I had been buddied up with at the beginning of the week, kept saying she didn’t want to do the ropes course and was sure the team with all of the sportive girls was going to win, yet her team ended up coming in first.
Only two of the Kenya volunteer team decided to try the ropes course, me and Tom, our friend who invited us on the trip. We’re both a little competitive. Not so much teamwork happening in this instance! I lost, but it was a fun run. Getting extremely winded going up that hill (in our case without the water on, which made it much easier) reminded me that Limuru is a high-elevation town.
Romeo relinquished a camera to one of the students, Tabatha, a budding photographer who took portraits of many of the students and worked as his backup photographer for the ropes course competition (some of her photos are at the end of this article).
Our second day in Kenya was Sunday, so we attended church services at the nearby Summit Church Tigoni. The church used to be in a tent, then the netal-sided building was built but it had dirt floors, and today it has tile floors.
Remembering my own teenage years attending church, I couldn’t help but peek around during services and notice the high school girls writing notes to each other, even during the prayers. But when the singing started, they were all in. Everyone sang their hearts out and danced like there was no tomorrow. It is clear that their faith is strong when they are singing.
Outside of the church is a valley with lots of trees and greenery. Standing outside after church, watching the little kids tromp around in the grass, we could hear singing from other church services filling the air. As we walked back to the guesthouse, we were among many walking on each side of the street, returning home from church.
Student Home Visit
Sunday afternoon we visited one of the scholarship students’ homes in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The point of the home visit is to see how a Kenyan family lives. We were told that in Kenya having guests visit is an honor. Even with that in mind, I felt a little uncomfortable imposing on the family. However, it was an excuse for the student, Esther, to go home for a visit, so that was certainly a plus. Since Uhuru Girls Academy is a boarding school, the girls don’t always get to see their families often, especially the girls whose families live far away.
On this visit we met Esther’s father Joseph and her brother Isaac. They fed us sweet potatoes, chai (of course), and chapatti, an unleavened flatbread that is a food staple. Joseph told us sweet potatoes were good luck.
During our visit, we learned a little more about the post-2007 election violence. Hundreds of thousands of families lost their land. The small village we were visiting was created when a group of displaced people put their money together and purchased the land.
They divided the land amongst the families and pitched tents. Later on Habitat for Humanity came and built homes for each family. Esther’s home, a living room and two bedrooms, was the home built for them by Habitat for Humanity.
To drive or to take the train, that is the question. In Switzerland, the answer is to take the train! There is no place on earth that provides better train travel than Switzerland, and it is made so easy with the Swiss Travel Pass. If you’re not sure whether it’s worth getting a Swiss Travel Pass for your trip to Switzerland, here are five reasons why you'll want to get a Swiss Travel Pass.
Swiss Public Transportation is Punctual . . . Always
Travel Switzerland by Boat and Train - YouTube
There’s a reason Switzerland makes one of the most famous brands of timepieces in the world. Switzerland may be the most punctual country in the world, as illustrated by their public transportation. You can set your watch by Switzerland’s train system.
This means you can plan your transportation and know exactly when you need to arrive at the train station and when you’ll arrive at your destination. You don’t need to build in extra time for transferring between trains. If you only have six minutes to get from one train to the next, you can be sure you will have that six minutes, your train won’t be late, and the next train won’t leave early.
Traveling with the Swiss Travel Pass is Easy and Stress-Free
With a Swiss Travel Pass in hand, you won’t need to arrive at the station early to purchase a ticket. You can arrive with just enough time to get to the correct platform and hop on the train.
While we love road trips, travel is so much easier when someone else is driving. All we had to do was sit back and watch the scenery go by.
Train travel is relaxing, but you can also use the time to look at photos, draft a blog post (maybe that’s just me), post on social media, or text photos to your friends to make them jealous.
You Can Go Anywhere by Train
We’ve rented a car in other places we’ve traveled because the places we wanted to visit were too hard to get to without a car. In Switzerland, you can pretty much get anywhere by train. If the train doesn’t reach your destination, there will be a bus, also covered by the Swiss Travel Pass, that does.
The Swiss Travel Pass Covers More Than Just Train Travel
The Swiss Travel Pass not only covers train travel, it also includes travel by bus, tram, metro, boat, cogwheel train, funicular, gondola, and there’s probably a few other options I’m missing.
For instance, while we spent two days in Lucerne we took a day trip to Mt. Rigi. First, we boarded a boat, then we hitched a ride on a cogwheel train, and then, after spending time on the mountain and hiking around, we descended on a gondola before boarding a boat again, all covered completely by the Swiss Travel Pass.
During our four days in Interlaken, we took the train to Lauterbrunnen with the Swiss Travel Pass and then used it to take a gondola up to Murten. There was snow that day, so we didn’t go up much further, but there are actually a series of gondolas that zigzag up the mountain, stopping at various towns along the way, all covered by the Swiss Travel Pass.
The Swiss train system also offers scenic train trips, and the Swiss Travel Pass allows travel on those as well with just a small additional payment.
The best of these is the GoldenPass Panoramic from Zweisimmen to Montreux. The GoldenPass Panoramic is, as its name suggests, a panoramic train. For only CHF 15 extra, you can book a VIP seat in the very first car of the train, and if you book far enough in advance, you can score first row seats, which is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be missed.
Other scenic train trips in Switzerland are the Glacier Express, which travels between Zermatt and St. Moritz, and the Bernina Express, which travels from St. Moritz to Tirano. There’s also a chocolate train and a cheese train.
Beyond transportation, the Swiss Travel Pass provides free admission to over 500 museums and discounts on mountain excursions.
The Swiss Travel Pass is Flexible and Can Include an Upgrade
The Swiss Travel Pass can be purchased to cover various lengths of time, including three, four, eight, and 15 days. There's also a choice between first class and second class. A tip for those traveling first class is that while the monitors when waiting for a train will tell you what sections the first class cars will be in, its even easier to keep your eyes open for the cars that have a yellow stripe, as those are the ones with first class seats.
Because the Swiss Travel Pass covers a period of time rather than a certain number of trips, options are limitless. It is so easy to add on a trip somewhere that hadn’t been previously planned. You can take a short bus trip or take the metro back and forth twelve times and it doesn’t matter.
A note about traveling with a Swiss Travel Pass. There is no need to show your Swiss Travel Pass before getting on a train. But a conductor will most likely come through the cars checking for tickets during your train trip. Every once in a while they ask to see a passport as well. When boarding a boat with a Swiss Travel Pass, you will be asked to show your pass upon boarding the boat, and you may also be asked to show it again when heading upstairs to the first class section.
Switzerland's Valais Matterhorn Region in Summer - YouTube
Thank you to Switzerland Tourism for providing our Swiss Travel Passes and making this post possible. As always, all opinions are our own.
Saas-Fee is a premier skiing village in the Valais region of Switzerland, so why were we traveling to Saas-Fee in summer? It wasn’t for the skiing, though Saas-Fee is unique because you can ski there year-round. While winter is Saas-Fee’s most popular season for travelers, summer is less crowded and there are many fun things to do in Saas-Fee in summer.
Switzerland's Valais Matterhorn Region in Summer - YouTube
Saas-Fee is one of those little Swiss villages that is a tourist destination, yet doesn’t feel touristy. This is especially true in the summer. Because no cars are allowed, the streets are for people leisurely walking or biking, with only the occasional small electric vehicle used for deliveries or trash collection.
Saas-Fee used to be an agricultural village, and its past citizens weren’t all that excited by the idea of inviting travelers. But Father Johann Josef Imseng was passionate about the mountains and loved leading visitors to the mountain peaks. The first visitors to Saas-Fee stayed in the vicarage. Father Imseng knew that tourism would be a good source of income for the locals, so persuaded the farmers to open guest rooms in their houses. The first hotel was built in Saas-Fee in 1881. A road to Saas-Fee was finally built in 1951 and the first cable car systems were constructed. From there Saas-Fee’s winter sports tourism grew, and today Saas-Fee is a world-renowned resort.
So, what are the fun things to do in Saas-Fee when it isn’t covered in snow? They include traversing a via ferrata, hiking, exploring the caverns of a glacier, riding a toboggan, and feeding marmots.
Traverse the Gorge-Alpine Via Ferrata
The most exciting thing to do in Saas-Fee is to embrace the adventure of the Gorge-Alpine Via Ferrata. Via ferrata is Italian for iron path. Via ferratas are protected climbing routes found in the Alps and other places. A steel cable follows the route, fixed to the rock in intervals, so that climbers can constantly be safely secured. Climbing aids include iron pegs, iron rungs, wood planks, ladders, and suspended bridges. Via ferratas range in difficulty from easy to very difficult and can be done on one’s own or with a guide.
The Gorge-Alpine Via Ferrata is on the easier side of the spectrum and can only be visited with a guide. Romeo is afraid of heights (or afraid of falling from great heights to be more accurate), so I didn’t know if I’d get him to go with me. But then I found the Saas-Fee Guides’ video which shows a child traversing the via ferrata, and there was no way he could say no then.
The via ferrata is accessed through what’s kind of like a secret entrance. A tiny stone watchtower actually has stairs leading down from the inside into the gorge. From there the adventure begins. This particular via ferrata has canyons, caves, waterfalls, and a river.
Probably the most nerve-wracking pieces are the long ladders, used as suspension bridges, which we slowly used to cross from one side of the gorge to the other, stepping carefully rung by rung. But even then it was easy to be distracted by the milky aqua water running below. There are also multiple zip lines, one of which leads into the mouth of a cave, a Tarzan swing, and a chance to repel from one of those crazy ladder suspension bridges.
Because we were always hooked to the safety cable, and because we were with an extremely knowledgeable guide, we always felt perfectly safe, and the trip was exhilarating. I had a smile on my face the entire time, and so did Rome. About halfway through, while negotiating some tricky footwork, he yelled out at me, “I’m okay with this!”
The great thing about the Gorge-Alpine Via Ferrata is that it can be explored in the summer and winter, though the winter version is shorter.
Hike the Gemsweg
While Saas-Fee has numerous ski trails in winter, it also has numerous hiking trails in summer. One of the best hikes in Saas-Fee is the Gemsweg, also called the Chamois Trail after the goat-antelopes that can be spotted in the area.
We hiked from the Hannig gondola summit station to the Gletschergrotte before heading back down to Saas-Fee. The Gemsweg trail wraps its way around Saas-Fee, hugging the midpoint of the surrounding mountains. The trail crosses rivers and provides views of mountain peaks and glaciers above and the valley and village below. We encountered sheep, goats, and marmots.
Taking the four-mile trail in this direction meant most of the hike was flat or at a slight decline, though there were a few spots with a steep decline, and if you decide to visit the Gletschergrotte restaurant, first built in 1931, before heading back into Saas-Fee, there will be a short but steep hike up to the restaurant. However, the prize is a glass of Valais wine and maybe some sort of Alpine cheese dish, so the ascent is worth it.
For more of an adventure, instead of hiking back into Saas-Fee from Gletschergrotte, hikers can continue on to the Plattjen ridge, which will involve hiking uphill. The great thing about Swiss hiking trails is that they are very well-marked so you can choose your own adventure.
Take a Trip to Mittelallalin
Mittelallalin is 3,500 meters above Saas-Fee and is accessible by the Metro Alpin, the highest underground train in the world. At the top is a winter playground, even in the middle of summer. This is where ski students come to ski year-round. But Mittelallalin isn’t just for skiing and snowboarding.
Mittelallalin offers views of glaciers and peaks of the Italian and Swiss Alps. There’s the Ice Pavilion, the largest ice grotto in the world, which is inside the 2,000-year-old Fee Glacier. There’s also the world’s highest revolving restaurant and coffee bar, a great place for lunch. It takes about 50 minutes for the restaurant to make a full rotation. Swiss Glacier World is probably the highest playground in the world (the signs literally say “probably”). Swiss Glacier World has a zip line, tubing, a ropes course, and a ski-doo park.
One of the funniest things to do in Saas-Fee that will probably bring the most smiles is feeding marmots. Marmots are in the large ground squirrel group (in the US marmots are commonly called woodchucks or groundhogs). Alpine marmots live in rocky, mountain areas and can be found throughout the Valais region.
There’s a field in the southwest end of the village of Saas-Fee where some friendly marmots are happy to come out to visit in exchange for some carrots and peanuts. Someone at the Saas-Fee tourist office, across from the bus station, can tell you where they can currently be found. The Saas-Fee marmots are adorable and friendly, though also a little skittish. Once you’ve enticed them out for your treats, stay quiet and calm so they don’t get spooked.
Ride a Toboggan
Ever since we saw a Rick Steves Switzerland episode where he rode on a summer toboggan, we’ve wanted to do the same. It looks so silly and yet so fun. We finally got the chance in Saas-Fee. If you’re not familiar with a toboggan, it’s kind of like Olympic bobsledding, but on a tiny little cart that hurtles down a winding rail. The Feeblitz toboggan run has the steepest toboggan lift in the Alps and can reach speeds of 40 kilometers per hour.
Where to Stay in Saas-Fee
For our two days in Saas-Fee we stayed at the Hotel Tenne, a family-run hotel. Hosts Richard and Emanuela Berchtold-Bumman are kind and gregarious. The hotel is located just a couple blocks from the bus stop, making it very easy to get to, even with luggage. A couple blocks up is probably the best restaurant in Saas-Fee, and a couple blocks down is a sausage shop and a cheese shop, both good places to buy souvenirs to bring home.
Hotel Tenne has its own restaurant and bar, complete with large outside patio. A buffet breakfast is laid out for hotel guests every morning. The bar is open for a glass of one of the Valais region’s unique wines after a day in the outdoors, and sometimes there’s a live band playing traditional Swiss tunes for additional entertainment. In the lawn is a sort of miniature golf billiards game made of tables with a hole at the end and obstacles separating the ball from the hole. The ball is hit with something similar to a billiards cue.
Our favorite restaurant in Saas-Fee was Essstube, a short walk from Hotel Tenne. The restaurant has a fun, eclectic interior, and they clearly pay a lot of attention to the food. While we figured out what to order, we received a wood tray with slices of fresh bread, good olive oil, cherry tomatoes fresh from a garden, herbed butter, and a tiny bowl of salt.
Dinner can be as homey or fancy as you want it. Romeo ordered the schnitzel while I ordered the steak topped with foie gras and cognac-truffle sauce. Both came with a jar of roasted seasonal vegetables spilling out, a soupçon of salted popcorn, and a potato chip branded with the name of the restaurant. Dessert was an unusual black pepper sorbet with a raspberry coulis.
Another great restaurant in Saas-Fee is Zur Mühle, a cute bovine-themed restaurant with cow-print curtains, cow bells hanging from the ceiling, and a mesmerizing wooden sculpture of a bearded face on the outside.
Zur Mühle serves market-fresh and seasonal products. They are known for their fondues, rösti, and beef dishes. Beef dishes are made with Eringer beef. Eringer cows are one of the smallest cattle breeds. The females are known for being aggressive and are used in cow fights in the Valais region. Eringer cows spend most of their time outside in the Alps grazing.
Saas-Fee Citizen’s Pass
During the summer months, overnight visitors to Saas-Fee get a Citizen’s Pass, which provides access to all Saas-Fee’s mountain railways and cableways except for the Metro Alpin. Having a Citizen’s Pass also provides the opportunity to purchase the Metro Plus Ticket to use the Metro Alpin without restrictions and includes admission to the ice pavilion.
How to Get to Saas-Fee
While most places in Switzerland are easily accessible by train, Saas-Fee was the only village we visited in the Valais Matterhorn region that required a bus ride. The transfer from the train at the Visp station to the 511 bus is easy, and the bus has a place for luggage below. Note that the bus stop for the 511 to Saas-Fee is at the very east end of the Visp train station. Travel on both the train and bus are covered by the Swiss Travel Pass.
Nine-hour layover. Those words can strike dread in any traveler’s heart. Unless that is, that long layover is in London. Then, all of a sudden, those words are full of opportunity. We’re not strangers to the long layover. We used a long layover to tour Munich in a day, and another long layover at the Munich airport (which included a spa visit and a brewery visit). Given the distance between Heathrow and the city of London, we didn’t get to do as much as we did with seven hours in Munich, but we were still able to have a very nice morning wandering around London on a self-guided tour, taking photos, and seeing a couple things we hadn’t seen when we were in London for our honeymoon 14 years ago.
To set expectations, our flight landed at 6:20 a.m. Our first photo wasn’t taken until 8:45 a.m. Yes, it took almost two-and-a-half hours to transfer from our arriving terminal to our departing terminal, go through passport control, use the restroom, store our luggage at Excess Baggage Company, purchase our London Travelcards, and travel on the Tube to our first destination. For our flight departing at 3:25 p.m., we caught the Tube back to Heathrow around 12:30 p.m., so our London long layover of nine hours really only afforded us four hours in the city.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Our first London long layover self-guided tour stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s Cathedral is situated at the highest point of London, and there has been a Cathedral on this same spot for over 1,400 years.
The current Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was built between 1675 and 1710 after the prior Cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
Since our layover was on a Sunday, we couldn’t enter the cathedral, otherwise, we would have tried to climb to the top for the view. So instead we took in the views of the outside while sipping coffee and nibbling on a chocolate croissant from a local café.
A unique view of St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen from 1 New Change, a shopping center with smoked glass windows that reflect the Cathedral.
Another of Sir Christopher Wren’s creations can be seen across the way from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Temple Bar was the gateway to the city of London for 200 years. It was then moved and rebuilt as the entrance to a country estate. It wasn’t until November 10, 2004, that Temple Bar was returned to London at Paternoster Square.
Millennium Bridge is a pedestrian-only bridge which crosses the Thames, connecting St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe. The bridge opened to the public in 2000.
Despite its name, Shakespeare never set foot in the current Shakespeare’s Globe, which opened in 1997. But it is a very good reconstruction of the Globe Theatre originally built in 1599.
Clink Street connects Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral. Walking along the dark cobbled lane will transport you back to the London of long ago. The street gets its name from the prison, known as “The Clink,” that was attached to Winchester Palace.
Along Clink Street are the ruins of Winchester Palace, the palace of the Bishops of Winchester. The palace was founded in the 12th century by Bishop Henry de Blois, the brother of King Stephen. It housed bishops visiting London on royal or administrative business and remained in use until the 17th century. It was later divided into warehouses and tenements. The only part of the palace that remains is the Great Hall and its rose window. The ruins were discovered in the 19th century and revealed in the 1980s.
The Golden Hinde
At the end of Clink Street we were surprised to see a ship. The Golden Hinde is a full-scale reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s sailing galleon.
Southwark Cathedral was built around 1220 and is the oldest gothic church in London.
The View from The Shard
While most of the sites we visited during our London long layover didn’t cost us a thing, the opposite was true for The View from The Shard, which opened to the public in February 2013.
The View from The Shard provides the highest viewing gallery in London and visitors can see all of London’s points of interest including Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London.
The Shard is Western Europe’s tallest building. It is 800 feet tall and provides 360-degree views of the city. The sky deck is located on level 72 and the observation deck is on level 69. The elevator transports visitors 68 floors in sixty seconds.
Admission is pretty pricey so you may be tempted to spend more time here to get your money’s worth. If you do, The View from The Shard offers Europe’s highest Moët & Chandon Champagne bar. However, if you’re visiting London on a long layover, you’ll want to take in the views and move on.
St. Dunstan in the East
We crossed the Thames again, this time using London Bridge. After a short walk along the water, we came to St. Dunstan in the East, the first church built in Saxon times.
The church was restored by St. Dunstan in 950 AD, and it was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire. Only the tower of that church survives as the church suffered severe damage caused by World War II bombings. The ruins of the church were turned into a garden which opened to the public in 1967.
Leadenhall Market is a very picturesque piece of architecture. Leadenhall Market has existed in some form since the 1st century. In the 1300s, the Manor of Leadenhall was a meeting place for poulterers and cheesemongers. By the 1400s it was the best place in London to buy meat, game, poultry, and fish. As with practically everything else in London, the market was partially destroyed in the Great Fire but was quickly rebuilt. In 1881 the structure was replaced with a wrought iron and glass structure.
The Royal Exchange
The Royal Exchange was built in 1566 as a center for trading stocks. A hundred years later, additional floors were added for retail businesses, making it an early shopping mall. The Royal Exchange was destroyed in the Great Fire, was rebuilt, but was destroyed by fire again almost 200 years later. The current building was opened in 1844. It is now a shopping and dining destination.
Across the street from the Royal Exchange is the Bank of England, which, at over 300 years old, is one of the oldest banks in the world. When I hear the name Bank of England, all I can think about is the scene in Mary Poppins when Michael creates a run on the Bank of England when he is overheard saying they wouldn’t give him back his money.
We hopped on the Tube and headed to Covent Garden, mostly to catch a glimpse of Neal’s Yard, a colorful alley and courtyard, and to have a meat pie from Battersea Pie Shop. Also in Covent Garden is St. Paul’s Church, which is where Henry Higgins first encounters Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.
There are so many things to do in London, and a layover, even a long one, does not provide enough time to do them. But visitors can take in a lot of London’s sites, at least from the outside, on a long layover with a strategically planned self-guided tour.
If you think travel to Mexico is not for you, visit La Paz, Mexico. La Paz has everything that’s great about Mexico. The food is delicious, the seafood is plentiful, the culture is present, and the nature is mind-blowing. La Paz is safe and clean, and it’s a place where real people live and enjoy life, rather than a place where there are more tourists than locals. There are also some pretty amazing things to do in La Paz, like swimming with whale sharks, snorkeling with sea lions, kayaking along one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, waking up to exotic birds soaring in the air and dolphins swimming in the water, and throwing down oysters, chocolate clams, and lobster.
Swim with Whale Sharks
The primary reason we chose La Paz, Mexico as our vacation destination was because one of the most popular things to do in La Paz is swim with whale sharks. Whale sharks are the largest fish on earth and during La Paz’s whale shark season, October through April, they can be found along the El Mogote peninsula (also the location of the Paraiso del Mar Resort where we stayed) feeding on plankton. Whale Sharks can be as long as 40 feet and weigh over 20 tons. They have enormous mouths, but no teeth, and are filter feeders.
These magnificent creatures are very protected and can only be visited with an authorized company. We booked our whale shark swim with The Cortez Club. The boat trip from The Cortez Club to El Mogote peninsula does not take very long at all. Only a few boats at a time can enter the area where whale sharks are found, and only one boat’s passengers at a time can go in the water with the whale sharks.
Things to do in La Paz Mexico - YouTube
As the boat cut through the water, our guide stood at the bow of the boat, Superman-style, searching for whale sharks. We were in La Paz near the end of whale shark season, so I began to worry we might not find one. But we did eventually come upon one, which we shared with a couple other boats.
We sat on the edge of the boat in our wetsuits, flippers hovered above the water, goggles on and snorkels in. Our guide had explained that as soon as it was our turn to swim with the whale shark, we had to jump in the water immediately and follow his directions.
As soon as it was our turn, in we jumped and kicked as fast as we could. The water, which can be very clear, was exceptionally murky because there had been a windstorm a couple days before. As we swam as quickly as possible in green, cloudy water, from seemingly nowhere a broad blue back with white polka dots appeared directly below us. We couldn’t even see from one end of the whale shark to another it was so huge (check out our video to see what its like swimming above a whale shark). We swam along with it for what felt like just a few seconds when it was time to get back in the boat.
We jumped in maybe four or five more times, each time waiting wide-eyed with anticipation on the edge of the boat, and then frantically jumping in and swimming, each time being surprised by this massive beast appearing from nowhere. The experience was awe-inspiring. Our guide gets to do this all the time, and you could tell it never gets old for him and it gives him great joy to be able to share the experience with others. The last swim was the best. Our guide held me by the elbow and propelled me alongside the whale shark, which at first went fast but then all of a sudden slowed down, allowing us a little more time to swim alongside before we ended our pursuit. Swimming with whale sharks was by far our favorite thing to do in La Paz.
Snorkel with Sea Lions
Another fun thing to do in La Paz Mexico is snorkel with sea lions. The Cortez Club offers a combo of their whale shark and sea lion trips, so we decided to do both.
La Paz has two main breeding colonies of sea lions. The larger one is at the northern tip of Espiritu Santo Island, which is where we snorkeled and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we also visited the second one at the San Rafaelito Lighthouse.
The sea lions are friendly to humans and may come to play. They are attracted by bright colors and bubbles. The Cortez Club also offers scuba diving trips to Espiritu Santo Island, and we had some scuba divers gliding in the water below us, but the sea lions seem to prefer snorkelers. If you hold your arm out, they’ll come and bump your fist, but don’t wiggle your fingers or they might nibble at them. They also see bubbles as encouragement to play.
Sea lions aren’t the only animals we saw on The Cortez Club’s sea lion snorkeling trip. We also saw a small pod of dolphins and we visited the breeding ground for the Magnificent Frigate, a huge almost Jurassic looking bird with a forked tail that can fly for two months straight without touching down on land or water. Another remarkable sight was that of manta rays flying out of the water from all directions.
Kayak along Balandra Beach to Mushroom Rock
They say that unless you’ve seen Mushroom Rock, you haven’t been to La Paz. Mushroom Rock, or Hongo de Balandra, is the symbol of La Paz. It is found at the end of Balandra Beach, perhaps the most beautiful beach in Mexico. The sand is white, the water is turquoise, and the small protected lagoon is so shallow you can walk to the other side without the water hitting your knees.
During our sea lion snorkeling trip we passed Balandra Beach and our guide mentioned there was a mangrove forest which could be reached by kayak. When we arrived at Balandra Beach, I was excited to see that there were kayaks and paddle boards available to rent. It was a bit breezy for paddle boarding, so I rented a kayak for 90 minutes and kayaked to Mushroom Rock and back into the mangroves. It is such an unusual sight to see mangroves, and then 10 feet away cactus growing along the shore near blue waters.
We were pleasantly surprised by how pristinely clean Balandra Beach was. We were also surprised by the lack of the hard sell, which was true for all of La Paz. We’re used to visiting Mexican destinations where we are constantly being approached to buy something and no isn’t accepted as an answer. There were items for sale in the parking lot, but the sellers weren’t harassing beach-goers in any way. The group renting kayaks were sitting at a table waiting for people to come to them. A man came up to me asking if I wanted empanadas and when I said no, he simply walked on to the next person on the beach, at which point I realized a kind of did want an empanada. It was such a different experience, I forgot to try to barter on the rental price for the kayak, but the girl told me to take it out for an hour and a half instead of the hour she had originally quoted.
Just a mile up the road from Balandra Beach is Tecolote Beach. Tecolote Beach wasn’t as pretty, but it did have restaurants and bars along the sand, so some visitors may want to spend some time there.
Explore La Paz and Walk the Malecón
The main sites of La Paz’s zona central can be visited on a short walking tour starting at the Misión de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de La Paz Airapí. La Paz’s mission was established in 1720. It was the seventh California mission, but it wasn’t very successful, so it was abandoned in 1748 and the inhabitants of the mission moved south to Todos Santos. Across the street from the mission is a small garden square, Jardin Velasco.
A few blocks down the hill, towards the water, is the Museo de la Ballena, a museum dedicated to whales. The entrance fee includes a private guide.
The Malecón is La Paz’s waterfront walkway that is enjoyed by locals both day and night. During the day the residents of La Paz can be seen walking, jogging, running, biking, and walking their dogs.
At night the Malecón fills up with folks taking an evening stroll or dining at one of the many waterfront restaurants. The Malecón offers three miles of sea and sunset views dotted with 12 bronze sculptures along the way.
Stay at Paraiso del Mar Resort
Paraiso del Mar Resort is not a hotel. Rather, it is a resort of privately owned condominiums and casitas, some of which are offered as vacation rentals. Our La Paz vacation rental was booked through CasaGo, which manages approximately 20 properties at Paraiso del Mar Resort.
Because Paraiso del Mar Resort is at the tip of El Mogote peninsula, it feels like it is on its own little island. It is a beautiful property with a golf course, a pool, and a pool bar that serves food. There are kayaks and paddle boards which are free for residents and renters to use, and there are miles of secluded beach to stroll along. We didn’t see any whale sharks from our condo, though it is possible to encounter them while kayaking or paddle boarding, but we did see some dolphins from our patio.
We also saw many exotic birds, including the Magnificent Frigates which seemed to enjoy soaring over the property like kites when the wind picks up. The resort, and all of La Paz, is a bird-lover's paradise. Birders will want to visit the Birds of the Mogote website to see the birds they can expect to spot.
We stayed in one of CasaGo’s best units, A102, a two-bedroom, three-bathroom, ground-floor unit with a patio and gorgeous views of the property and the Sea of Cortez. The unit also has a full kitchen and a laundry room. The kitchen was equipped with everything one would need to cook any meal they wanted, and we were happy to find an unopened multi-gallon water jug to provide us with drinking water for our entire stay. There were some additional nice touches like DVDs, guidebooks, and bug spray.
The one concern I had about staying at Paraiso del Mar Resort is that it is on El Mogote peninsula, which means it is really only reachable by boat, which sounded like it could be inconvenient. The HOA provides a shuttle boat to and from the Marina Cortez which runs every half hour throughout the day. This turned out to be quite convenient.
The vacation rentals are about a mile away from the shuttle boat dock, but you can either call for the shuttle van to drive you to the dock, or you can ride one of the resort’s free bicycles. We ended up biking to the dock whenever we were headed out, but taking the shuttle van when we returned.
Most of the people we met at the resort were owners. They were all super friendly and welcoming. We enjoyed Paraiso del Mar Resort’s laidback, relaxing vibe and were happy that the pool and bar weren’t a huge party scene. While La Paz felt like a very safe town, anyone concerned about safety will feel even safer at Paraiso del Mar Resort.
Road Trip to Todos Santos
Just 50 miles south of La Paz is another unique Mexican town sometimes referred to as “Pueblo Magico” or “Magical Town.” Founded in 1733, Todos Santos is filled with picturesque colonial architecture which is being preserved and converted into hotels, art galleries, and restaurants.
When I visited St. Petersburg Clearwater, it was on a business trip, so there wasn’t much time for sightseeing. However, there was a little bit of time to enjoy some of the fun things to do in and around the St. Petersburg Clearwater area, just enough to make me interested in more.
Look for Manatees
Did you know that manatees, also known as the sea cow, are most closely related to elephants? Florida is home to West Indian manatees that can be spotted in a number of places, including Fort De Soto Park at the tip of St. Petersburg. If you have difficulty finding manatees, head north from St. Petersburg Clearwater to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Here visitors can find manatees every day of the year in the park’s underwater observatory, along with other native Florida wildlife. Because the park is also connected to the river, it is also possible to see wild manatee from the park’s observation pavilion. Since the water is so clear, it is far easier to see the wild manatees than it is at Fort De Soto Park, where you can really only see them when they surface.
Paddle Board through the Mangroves
I was lucky enough to spot manatees twice during my short time in St. Petersburg Clearwater, and the first time was while paddle boarding in Fort De Soto Park. Even if the water is a little rough in other places, many times you can still find calm water for paddle boarding in Fort De Soto Park. Such was the case during my visit, and a few friends and I went paddle boarding with SUP Escapes. The park, which is made up of five interconnected keys, has wetlands, mangroves, and 328 species of birds. We saw lots of birds, fish that jumped out of the water, and even a small hammerhead shark. At the very end of our paddle, we were lucky enough to have a manatee swim by.
Stay at the Legendary Pink Palace of St. Pete Beach
While my hometown of San Diego has the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, St. Pete Beach has The Don Cesar, also known as the Pink Palace. The Don Cesar opened in 1928 and was visited by celebrities including F. Scott Fitzgerald. During World War II the hotel was used as a hospital and later was converted into the VA Regional Office. The Don Cesar was refurbished and re-opened in the 70s as a full-service resort and was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Pink Palace is right on St. Pete Beach and offers a full calendar of activities for its guests. These include providing complimentary kayaks and paddle boards every morning for two hours, beach yoga, and more. There are restaurants, bars, and Spa Oceana.
Since St. Petersburg Clearwater is surrounded by water, while visiting one wants to find as many ways as possible to enjoy the water. One of the fun things to do in St. Petersburg Clearwater on the water is to take a sunset cruise. StarLite Cruises offers a sunset cruise and evening dining experience aboard the Starlite Sapphire with a restaurant-style menu. I was very surprised by how good the dinner was. Two of the menu's favorites can be enjoyed with the Surf & Turf, a combination of the chateaubriand and the stuffed shrimp.
Eat a Bowlful of Seafood
On our way back to St. Petersburg Clearwater from Homosassa Springs, we stopped at Peck’s Old Port Cove for a dinner of seafood and had an incredible dinner of Peck’s Famous Crabs, one dozen garlic sautéed blue crabs. Peck’s Old Port Cove is a bit out of the way, in Ozello Keys, but is worth the trip, especially after spending the day at Homosassa Springs. The restaurant used to be owned by Aunt Myrtle Clifton who installed bar stools in her house in the 1940s to serve beer to servicemen who came in via the nearby airstrip. She sold it to Calvin Peck in the 1980s, and it has been expanded since then. The restaurant has a blue crab farm, thus Peck’s famous crabs.
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Lake Geneva is the Swiss Riviera and part of French Switzerland. It feels very different from other parts of Switzerland, what with everyone speaking French, and Lausanne feels very metropolitan and fashionable. It’s almost like visiting more than one country, yet you’re still in Switzerland with all of its benefits, like the delicious food and the ridiculously efficient transportation system. Lausanne has many things to do, making it a great place to both visit and use as a jumping off point for Lake Geneva day trips to places like Gruyeres, Chateaux de Chillon, Chaplin’s World, and a walk through wine country.
Things to Do in Lausanne
The Olympic Museum
Lausanne is also known as the Olympic Capital as it has been the home of the International Olympic Committee since 1915. This happened during the First World War, and the reason was Switzerland’s neutrality. The Olympic Museumis all things Olympics. Outside there are Olympics inspired statues, a track, and a high jump. Inside are displays of Olympics memorabilia through the decades, including the very first Olympic flag and previous Olympic torches and medals. You’re sure to find something of your favorite Olympic sport or Olympic athlete in the museum. Admission to the Olympic Museum and Park is included with the Swiss Travel Pass.
The Ouchy section of Lausanne is on the shore of Lake Geneva and has a nice walkway along the lake. Vendors set up shop along the walkway.
Lausanne Cathedral is the largest church in all of Switzerland. While the church used to be ornate, when it was turned into a Protestant church all of its icons were removed and its stained-glass was broken and replaced by plain glass. There are some colorful windows now that were added in the 20th century.
Self-Guided Walking Tour
The city center of Lausanne features a number of old buildings and plazas. A self-guided walking tour can include the Place St. Francois with its church, Pont Bessieres, Lausanne Castle, which isn’t open to the public but has a terrace with a view, the Esplanade de la Cathedrale, the Place de la Palud, and Place de la Rippone.
The perfect way to cap off a walking tour of Lausanne is with a beer at De L’Autre Cote located a block behind Lausanne Cathedral. If you time it right, you can be sitting back, sipping a beer, and listening to the church bells chime.
Lake Geneva Day Trips
Travel Switzerland by Boat and Train - YouTube
During our travels through Switzerland, whenever there was a chance to take a day trip involving a train or a boat ride, we jumped on the chance. There are a number of things to do in Lake Geneva that are a short day trip (or less) from Lausanne.
The train trip from Lausanne to Gruyeres is just over an hour, and Gruyeres offers a good half-day worth of activities.
First and foremost is La Maison du Gruyere. As you probably already guessed, Gruyeres is the home of gruyere cheese. At La Maison du Gruyere, visitors can observe multiple steps of the cheese-making process, including the addition of the rennet, cutting the curd, checking consistency, filling the moulds, and removing the cheese. The best time to visit in order to see the most of these processes is around 9:00 a.m., but we also found 2:00 p.m. to be a good time. An admission ticket includes a packet of cheeses aged six, eight, and 10 months to taste while visiting the museum.
At the top of town is the Chateau de Gruyeres, Gruyeres’ castle. Rick Steves doesn’t recommend touring the castle and calls it a “ho-hum interior,” but we actually enjoyed our visit to the Chateau de Gruyeres, thought the rooms were beautifully appointed, and entrance is included with the Swiss Travel Pass. In addition to castle rooms to explore, there is a trail circumnavigating the castle walls and a pretty garden and maze within the walls.
A small but interesting museum within the town of Gruyeres is the Tibet Museum. Tibetan treasures are beautifully displayed in an old church, which is quite a juxtaposition of eastern and western religion. Admission is included with the Swiss Travel Pass.
If you’re a fan of the artist HR Giger, or of his movie Alien, you’ll definitely want to visit the Museum HR Giger. It is odd and fascinating and disturbing. It’s not really my cup of tea, but was interesting. For even more HR Giger, the HR Giger Bar is across the street and features skeletal ceilings and bar stools.
One of the coolest places we visited in Switzerland was Chaplin’s World. Charlie Chaplin, a silent film era icon, spent the last 24 years of his life in Switzerland in his home in Corsier-sur-Vevey with his wife Oona and their eight children. Visitors can walk through the rooms of his home, where he spent some of the happiest years of his life, and stroll through the gardens.
In the same building as the shop is a movie theater which shows a short movie about Charlie Chaplin. But this is far more than a movie and should not be missed. After the movie, the screen rises, opening the way to a world of Chaplin in the form of a studio filled with interactive sets from many of his films. We probably spent more time in this area of Chaplin’s World than his house. Did you know Charlie Chaplin acted in, wrote, directed, edited, composed the music for, produced, and distributed his own films?
I am a Charlie Chaplin fan, but even those not familiar with his work will enjoy a visit to Chaplin’s World. Romeo has never seen a Chaplin film (something I really need to fix), and our visit to Chaplin’s World was one of his favorite things we did in Switzerland.
Chateaux de Chillon
After spending much of the day in Gruyeres, we still had some free time, so from Lausanne we traveled to the Chateaux de Chillon aboard the Vevey, a historic paddle steamer built in 1907. Chillon Castle was first built in the 12th century, but has had add-on construction and alterations through the centuries. Both entrance to the castle and travel on Lake Geneva’s paddle steamers are included with the Swiss Travel Pass.
Terraced Vineyard Walk
When we first arrived in Lausanne by train, we were struck by the beauty of the terraced vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva, even if it was early spring and the vines were just starting to show green. We ended up having some extra free time, so we added a walk through Lake Geneva’s terraced vineyards to our itinerary. Luckily, this was easy to do with the City Guide Lausanne App. The app provides suggested tours, and we chose to add the Lavaux (Lutry) tour.
From Lausanne, we took the trail to the Grandvaux station. The app provides turn-by-turn details for the two-hour, mostly flat and downhill walk, with a GPS enabled map so you can’t get lost. The app provides information about points of interest along the way, such as ancient stone walls, monorails used for the grape harvest, and winemakers’ houses. The walk ends at Lutry station.
Where to Stay in Lausanne
There are two main areas to stay in Lausanne, the old town and the Ouchy district on the lake. We chose the old town and stayed at the gorgeous Hotel de la Paix Lausanne, a historic hotel which opened in 1910. Even in the old town, at Hotel de la Paix Lausanne it is possible to have a clear view of Lake Geneva.
Hotel de la Paix Lausanne has both standard rooms and suites. We got to enjoy the extra extravagance of one of the gorgeous suites with a living room area and dining table, a king bed, a ceramic room heater, and a balcony that stretched the length of the suite with a breathtaking view of Lake Geneva.
Knowing that not everyone wants to shell out for such an extravagant room (though $400 a night is awfully reasonable for such a room), we sneaked a peek into the regular rooms and found that, while not as large, they were also very nice and some also have balconies with beautiful views.
The hotel provides quite a breakfast spread for guests every morning in the restaurant. The La Paix Restaurant also serves dinner every evening. The Bar de la Paix has a sunny terrace, and Le Benjamin Bistro & Bar provides light fare.
Hotel de la Paix Lausanne is a short walk from the Bessieres metro station, which also connects with the train station. The hotel provides guests with a card providing free access to public transportation within the city. If arriving by metro, head up the elevator, and then walk down the hill of Rue Caroline. If flying out from Geneva, the train from Lausanne goes directly to the airport and takes less than an hour.
It’s not every day you get the chance to dine at a two Michelin star restaurant headed by a three star Michelin chef. Anne-Sophie Picin Lausanne’s Beau-Rivage Palace is such a restaurant. The menu offers prix fix options as well as ala carte items. A warning, the menus for men have prices while the menus for women do not.
We opted for the prix fixe menu which included what can best be described as a fondue soup dumpling in a smoked green asparagus broth; surprising and delicious. This dish, the berlingot, is one of Anne-Sophie Pic’s signature dishes. The meal was finished off with a selection of fresh and aged cheeses, chosen from a cart loaded with smelly, melty, moldy, fantabulous cheeses.
It’s worth arriving early to have a pre-dinner cocktail at Beau-Rivage Palace’s bar, simply named Bar. The cocktails are quite inventive and the atmosphere is retro-chic.
Pinte Besson is the oldest pub in Lausanne, having opened in 1780. It comes complete with a squeaking, sticking door, a groaning dumbwaiter, and tiny stairs some use their hands to crawl up. Because the building is so old and made of wood, fondue is not served upstairs. However, rosti, raclette, and meringue with gruyere cream are.
Café Romand is a no-nonsense brewery and pub that opened in 1951 and serves Swiss classics in oak furniture and woodwork surroundings.
Thank you to Hotel de la Paix Lausanne and Switzerland Tourismfor hosting our trip and making this post possible. As always, all opinions are our own. This article contains affiliate links. If you purchase through them it costs you nothing extra and we earn a small commission which goes towards this website and bringing you more travel stories.
We visited Moosehead Lake in Maine for two main reasons: hiking and fall foliage. But these aren’t the only things to do in Moosehead Lake, and fall isn’t the only season to visit. There are a number of great things to do in Moosehead Lake, most involving the great outdoors, and many can be done in any season.
Moosehead Pinnacle Pursuit
Moosehead Lake Maine - YouTube
The main reason we traveled to Maine’s Moosehead Lake region was to complete part of the Moosehead Pinnacle Pursuit. The Moosehead Pinnacle Pursuit is a hiking challenge to peak six mountains in the area: Mount Kineo, Borestone Mountain, Big Moose Mountain, Number Four Mountain, Whitecap Mountain, and Eagle Rock. These hikes are challenging, but completely doable, and they offer stellar views as a reward. We were able to accomplish three of the six during our long-weekend visit and hope to return to finish the rest someday. For an extra challenge, hike these peaks in winter to collect the Winter or Winter Ultra badge.
You can’t go to Moosehead Lake without looking for moose. Moose is literally in its name! Any time of the year is a good time of year to look for moose. There are over 70,000 moose in the state of Maine, so there’s a pretty good chance of seeing one. June brings the most street sightings of moose. However, you have to be super careful driving at night because moose are so tall, you can’t see a headlight reflection from their eyes. You are more likely to have moose in the water sightings in the summer because that helps keep away the mosquitos and black flies. In the winter, it’s easier to see the moose because the trees are bare. There are no Christmas trees grown in the area because the moose eat the new growth.
The best way to ensure a moose sighting is to hire a moose guide. There are two types of mouse tours, the kind with multiple people in a van and the kind with a private guide. We suggest the second option. Driving in a smaller vehicle means following more backroads, and having a private guide means looking more places for moose rather than following a set itinerary. Now, we did hear good things about a group tour from some other travelers we met, who didn’t see moose but had fun canoeing on the lake. But with Ashley of Lone Wolf Guiding Services, we saw two adult female moose, one baby moose, and a beaver. Plus we learned about moose and the area and had a lot of fun.
If you don’t live in New England, Moosehead Lake will fulfill all of your fall foliage fantasies. While fall is an entire season, there is a very brief window of time when the autumn leaves are the most colorful, blazing mixture of red, orange, yellow, and purple. Arrive too early and there’s a lot of green mixed in with those colors. Arrive too late and the leaves are a drab brown, hanging on by a thread before they flutter to the ground.
Moosehead Lake’s peak fall foliage typically occurs around October 6-11, right around Columbus Day. Maine provides a current fall foliage report on their website.
B-52 Crash Site
On January 24, 1963, nine crewmembers of the 99th Bombardment Wing, Strategic Air Command, flew a B-52C Stratofortress on a training mission. As the bomber passed near Elephant Mountain, turbulence became so bad the vertical stabilizer separated from the aircraft. Three of the nine were able to eject and only Captain Gerald J. Adler, the navigator, and Lieutenant Colonel Dante Bulli, the pilot, survived. After spending twenty hours in negative 20-degree temperatures, Captain Adler was evacuated with severe frostbite. He survived the ejection without the parachute opening.
Two of the ejection seats are on display at the Center for Moosehead History in Greenville. The rest of the wreckage is strewn across the forest floor at the site of the crash, reached by a short hike along a trail from the road. It is rather horrifying when you see in person how far spread the wreckage is.
Spotted Cat Winery
On the way out to the B-52 crash site, we made a short pit stop at the Spotted Cat Winery. You might be surprised to hear there is a winery in the Moosehead Lake region of Maine, but this is not your standard winery. Alan and Denise decided to do something a little different. Their wine isn’t made solely with grapes. The Spotted Cat Winery’s natural, organic, hand-crafted wines use fruit, berries, and wine grapes, most of which they grow themselves. Their wines include Wild Maine Blueberry and Kokadjolais. The winery is named for the cat, Aphrodite, but the dog chose to meet us instead.
Kokadjo is a tiny town in the Moosehead Lake region, population not many. Seriously, that’s what it says on the sign. This is a picturesque spot on the shore of First Roach Pond, not the most flattering of names for such an attractive body of water, with views of Number Four Mountain, part of the Moosehead Pinnacle Pursuit.
Lily Bay State Park
Lily Bay State Park is a pretty piece of protected land on the east side of Moosehead Lake. Lily Bay State Park can be a good bet for moose sightings, especially in the summer when moose head into the water.
Greenville is surrounded by undeveloped forest with trails that are perfect for ATVs. Northwest Outfitters provides ATV rentals as well as guided tours. We met a couple who had rented ATVs and they said it was the most fun activity they had done in the area. They took the ATVs out on their own and were given trail advice for their trip.
Moosehead Lake is the largest lake in the state of Maine. Depending on the weather and the calmness of the water, Moosehead Lake can be a great place for kayaking or paddle boarding. Canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, and even fishing equipment can be rented at Northwest Outfitters.
We saw a number of seaplanes on Moosehead Lake and learned that visitors can take seaplane tours. Taking a seaplane tour would be a thrilling way to view the mountains and lakes from the sky. A couple companies that offer seaplane tours in Greenville are Jack’s Air Service and Currier’s Flying Service.
From June through Columbus Day weekend, visitors to Moosehead Lake can take a steamboat trip along the lake aboard the Katahdin. The Katahdin steamboat was built in 1914. The three-hour cruise leaves from Greenville and goes out to the widest part of Moosehead Lake, north of Sugar Island. During the cruise, passengers are provided with a narration of the region’s history.
Mount Kineo Golf Course
So, technically, I peaked three mountains while Rome only peaked two. That’s because when the Mount Kineo shuttle landed and we started walking through the Mount Kineo Golf Course, I could tell Rome really wished he could play golf instead. Secretly, I rather liked the idea of taking the hiking trail at my own pace, so I told him to stay and play if he wanted.
Mount Kineo Golf Course is believed to be the second oldest golf course in New England, having been built in the 1800s. The layout is easy, straightforward, with no surprises lurking around the corner. The golf course is filled with beautiful tree-lined fairways, especially during peak fall foliage, with Mount Kineo looming above. The tall trees seemed tiny compared to the wall of stone behind them. Goldilocks would have loved the greens, not too big, not too small, just the right size. The course is surrounded by water as it is on a tiny peninsula in Moosehead Lake. The easiest way to get to the golf course is by taking the short shuttle boat ride across the lake. The shuttle runs from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day weekend.
Greenville Maine Restaurants
Kelly’s Landing has the best view of any restaurant in Greenville because of its location right on Moosehead Lake. This was where I planned on having a lobster roll, but the waitress warned us it just wasn’t going to be the same as one on Maine’s coast so, based on her excellent suggestion, we went for the scallops instead.
A fun and relaxing place for dinner and a drink is the Stress Free Moose Pub. If it’s too loud downstairs, there’s a quieter upstairs dining area, plus an upstairs outdoor patio, which gets used even if it’s cold outside. The beer menu has a number of local brews and the food is pretty good too. Haddock is a popular menu item in Greenville, and the Stress Free Moose Pub’s baked stuffed haddock is a good choice.
Auntie M’s Restaurant is a popular diner-type restaurant open for breakfast and lunch. Auntie M’s is also a good place to get a souvenir t-shirt in bright orange if you’re worried about not having brought an orange shirt or cap during moose hunting season.
For the number one sandwich in Greenville, head over to Jamo’s Pizza for a Dagwood. The pita bread is made fresh daily and it comes in veggie, ham, turkey, roast beef, chicken salad, tuna, or chicken teriyaki, all with cheese, pickles, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, bacon, mayo, oil, and mustard. The pizza is also good.
A couple other restaurants we didn’t get to try but heard good things about are Flatlanders, which specializes in broasted (pressure fried) chicken, and Rod-N-Reel Café.
Monson Maine Restaurant
One night we took a short drive to the nearby town of Monson, on Lake Hebron, for dinner. The Lakeshore House is a restaurant in what looks like a house that was built in the 1800s. They call themselves a pub, but they have a unique menu which includes items like escargot and local scallops, plus local beer.
Greenville Maine Hotel
We stayed at the cozy Moose Mountain Inn, with its patchwork quilts and wood paneled walls, located just outside of the main town of Greenville. It was clearly a popular spot to stay because when we ran into other travelers in town, it turned out that they were also staying at the Inn. The location of Moose Mountain Inn is convenient as it is a short drive into town for meals and it’s also close to a few hiking trails.
How to Get to Moosehead Lake
Moosehead Lake is an hour and 40-minute drive north from the Bangor International Airport. Rental car agencies are inside the airport and the cars are just across the street. We arrived in the evening and rental car rates were much more expensive from the rental agencies that stayed open later, so we spent the night at the Four Points by Sheraton – Bangor Airport, which is also just across the street.
Bangor International Airport is an interesting airport because it is a diversion destination. It is the first major American airport for flights approaching the United States from the east, so is used to handle hundreds of unscheduled landings (for fuel, weather, medical emergencies, unruly passengers, maintenance, or security reasons) every year. Just in our..