Life in the slow lane – Amsterdam

by Mike Aux-Tinee.

With all of the snow that’s fallen lately, I’m so unmotivated. I’ve still made it to the YMCA for yoga and cycling. I visit with my family and friends. And I spend time thinking about writing. Past that, my life is in the slow lane.

With nothing (a-hem) better to do today, I parked myself on the couch and scrolled through photos from my trips. I’ve had some pretty interesting adventures: I’ve climbed Mayan ruins, gazed at Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower and stood in the middle of the Roman Colosseum sharing what I knew about it with a mother and daughter from Ohio.

One thing I noticed about nearly all of my photos, (outside the fact that I am smiling), is that it looks like I am constantly on the go. I am wearing different clothes, the scenery is never the same and there are hundreds photos to look through when I get back. Even I get the impression that I am a mover and shaker once I hit the ground – and I was the one there.

But that’s not always the case. My recent trip to Amsterdam, was much different from my trip to say Rome-Venice-Lake Como. Before I headed to the Netherlands, I had to do a lot of research. I knew next to nothing about the place, except for tulips, windmills and Dutch dating. (hint… what I found was really cool!)

The first piece of my trip that I squared away was a place to stay. I found an apartment on Vacation rentals by owner located in the De Pijp neighborhood. I waned to find a place that’s accessible to mass transit and that’s in a quiet neighborhood. I got both criteria met with the rental. I discovered that if I do not sleep well at night, then I don’t enjoy the next day (and I hate that burnt out feeling).

The next piece of the trip was to find something to do that’s off the beaten path. I love to get out of the big city and see what the countryside is like. I headed to Keukenhof gardens. This place is amazing! There are over seven million tulips throughout thirty-two hectares – check out the photos. The weather cooperated and it was partly sunny and a little on the cooler side. And this will come as no surprise, there are some awesome photos!

With my tip-toe through the tulips over (sorry about that), I found myself in the bustling town of Madurodam. Well, I know what I said earlier about getting out of the big city but I could not resist a visit to this ‘little big city’! From the moment I came across the website, this was definitely going on the must see list. The park is a miniature of the various places around the Netherlands (ex. the airport, etc…). The weather did not cooperate and it rained all day. But with my trusty rain jacket and an umbrella, I had a pretty good time.

The weather forecast for the remainder of my trip called for cooler temps and rain. Yea great. It was time to abandon my jaunts through the country side and find something to do in Amsterdam. There is nothing better than a nice and dry museum. This part of town is called the Museumplein. This is the place to go if you’d like to see an entire museum devoted to Van Gogh. Or maybe check out Rembrandt’s The Nightwatchman. But be prepared for a little (major understatement) sticker shock when you buy your ticket.

Amsterdam is one of the most unique cities I have visited and has a lot going on. If you want to get off the beaten path, Amsterdam is the place to go. Of course with the rain and cooler temperatures, it was difficult to get a vibe on the cafe culture.  Hummm… sounds like I’ll need to head back!

Peace dudes!

Mike

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Au revoir 2013 and Bon Jour 2014!

By Mike Aux-Tinee.

Now that 2013 is finally over and 2014 is here, it’s time to look back at what I did (and didn’t do). There were many firsts last year and I was busy as a little beaver. While I notched some major accomplishments, there were many things that slipped through the cracks.

In January I began taking yoga. I was in a 2012 post-holiday slump and needed to break out of it. I also realized I hadn’t been exercising as much and I was three months away from heading back outside to cycle (so long as the weather cooperated.)  I needed to take every opportunity to keep myself in shape and yoga helped a great deal.

In February I began the editing process for my first children’s book, The Voyage of the Sharky Sloop and the Quest for Orange Marmalade. I had written the book the previous fall and as soon as the calendar flipped, it was off to the editor for her review.

March was a rather busy month. To start off, I celebrated my one year anniversary of being debt free! As I wrote in my book, Islands of Happiness, which was published in November of 2012, it was the best decision I had ever made. And I am still debt free to this day (soon to be celebrating my two-year anniversary in eight weeks!)

Also in March, I began writing my second children’s book, Red Stocking the Pirate and the Search for the Golden Cutlass. Which I will be sharing more with you when I chat about 2014.

April-May: I put these two months together for the simple reason, I was busy rewriting my first book, writing my second, taking yoga and trying to find some time to cycle!

In May, I headed back to Europe for a vacation to The Netherlands. When I left here, it was in the 50’s and rainy. When I got to Amsterdam, it was in the 50’s and rainy! I thought I would get some sunny warmer weather… but no! I will be writing a post about that trip, so I’ll keep it short here, I had a good time, the people were very nice but I did not get outside as much as I would have liked… because of the cooler weather and so much rain. Oh well.

June-July-August: More of the same. I did finish my second children’s book and put it away. My editor and I feverishly worked toward completing The Sharky Sloop. In July and I hired an illustrator to create the interior art.

September-October-November: I was in panic mode. The interior art was taking much longer that I anticipated and it looked like the book would not come out before the end of the year. Thank goodness for YOGA! Since I was short on projects, I began writing my third children’s book and completed it in late November. This one will be coming out in 2015 (I hope!) The final round of editing on The Sharky Sloop book was completed and the interior art was in the last stage… the art was finally in color!

October I hit the big blue skies and visited New York City. It was my first visit there and from the moment my feet hit the ground I was whisked off. I saw the Broadway play Newsies, which was very good, especially from the front row. I spent a lot of time in Central Park, made it to the top of Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and had lunch a Carnage Deli (HUGE sandwiches!) but very good!

December: A lot more yoga… And on December 18th, my first children’s book was published! As soon as I approved the final proof and saw it on Amazon, I felt the weight of the world just lift off my shoulders.

2014:

With the New Year just three days old, I am eagerly looking forward to what this year will bring and what my priorities will be.

The first thing I’d like to point out is that I have not made any New Year resolutions. Let’s be honest, good intentions aside, they last only a couple of weeks anyway and by late February/early March they are gone by the way of Disco. Instead, I have several priorities that I will be focusing on in my free time and work to keep that list to a dull roar.

Last year, I did not spend as much time writing posts as I would have liked. I am not going to drudge up all of the reasons, but let’s just say that I am focusing more on writing posts and hope to keep the momentum going through the year.

I am going to celebrate my second year of being debt free! I will continue to look for more ways to live a smaller but more productive life.  I have come across several more websites about minimalism, travel and some exciting others that I hope will keep me focused and on track.

As for exercising, I am continuing with yoga, swimming and as soon as the warm weather returns, cycling.

On the travel front, I am mulling over going to Ireland, Portugal or Spain. As you know, January is when I begin making my travel plans and those are the front-runners. I have my Rick Steves’ books waiting at the library to be picked up. I will reveal my choice in a post once it’s completed.

As for writing, I am beginning to edit my second children’s book and with the experience from the first, I will not be waiting as long to start the interior art. I hope (but don’t hold me to this) to have it out by September-October of this year (finger’s crossed.)

With the New Year just three days old, it would appear I already have a lot going on… Calgon take me away!

Let me hear from you and what you are up to!

Peace dudes!

Mike

Venice on the margins.

by Mike Aux-Tinee.

Traveling is tiring and your normal schedule is disrupted: you are eating at different times, there is a lot of waiting and you are walking more than normal.

Getting up early (or skipping the late afternoon nap) may not be on the agenda and you may revolt at the idea. After all, you are on vacation and need the rest. So why in the world would I suggest wrecking your sleep patterns even more than they already are?

Well… I have several reasons! Where you are staying looks much different at sunrise and sunset. There are fewer people. You are able to take some spectacular photographs and the one thing many people over look…the opportunity to spark some romance!

I love to meander and just poke around. Taking time to look at something that may interest me without feeling rushed or being constantly run over by distracted people, so getting out early or after everyone had left made sense to me.

When we were planning our trip, someone suggested that we take some time and check out Venice either at sunrise and sunset. And, as the photos will show, Venice is really beautiful when you take the time and walk around and get off the beaten path.

The other good thing about doing this, it costs absolutely nothing to walk around, take photos and admire the architecture. Mix in a little hand holding and let the romance blossom!

Could it be possible for a vacation to get better? Well… maybe… it’s entirely up to you and how you plan your time, but you can make it more memorable! Which is one of the reasons for traveling anyway!

This is how I imagined Venice! Once the day trippers left, the gondolas took over and began their leisurely pace up and down the Grand Canal. With the majority of the boats gone, the place was very quiet and we felt as if we were the only ones there (insert more romance!)

The Grand Canal at sundown!

It does not matter which one you pick, but if at all possible you absolutely must check out where you are at either time.

Peace Dudes!

Mike

Venice Italy – day 2

by Mike Aux-Tinee

With one day in the books and some much-needed R&R the night before, our second day in Venice was to be all about being a tourist. On the agenda for the day included St. Mark’s Square, the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and Museo Correr (Correr Museum).

This sounds like a lot of walking around Venice and it was. The good thing, both the Doge’s Palace and the Correr Museum are a short walk from each other across St. Mark’s Square.

We decided to hit these three places in the morning, before things became too crowded. The Doge’s Palace was first and I found it rather interesting. The views out the windows of the Grand Canal and the other islands were pretty spectacular. I liked to see how Venice looked like from a different angle.

The one thing I learned about trekking through museums, castles and art galleries, they all start to look the same the more you go through them and while they are of historical interest, there are some definite downsides. For one, the Doge’s Palace did not have air conditioning, combined with warmer than usual temps, made the last part of the tour rather tedious. The only breeze that came through was from several open windows (and you had to stand close to cool off). This may sound like whining, but I had sharp and shooting pain in my ankle and needed to sit for a bit and let the pain pass – there were very few places to sit.

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The next place was the Correr Museum. This was a former royal palace and it was a much shorter tour than the Doge’s Palace. After enduing the warmer temps and an hour and a half walk, I was looking forward to lunch! Which of course we were able to get in and get a great seat while everyone else was gawking at the sights! Another benefit to starting earlier in the day!

When you head to Venice or for that matter, any city that attracts a large number of tourists, one way to save some money is to avoid the main drags where everyone (a.k.a the tourists) eats. Something I noticed, the farther away from these areas, the lower the prices become. One thing I like about restaurants in Italy (and for that matter all of the other countries in Europe that I have visited), they post their menu near the door, so you can do a little comparison shopping and work on saving some money. The restaurant may offer specials of the day or a tourist menu to choose from. To make it from lunch to dinner, I like to find a place that has sandwiches. They are a very low cost option, sometimes 3 to 6 Euros.

Once done with lunch, it was back to the B&B for a nap. We were planning on getting some photos of the Grand Canal at sunset. Then dinner and of course more of romantic Venice!

Peace Dudes!

Mike

Venice Italy – day 1

by Mike Aux-Tinee.

It was decided, by committee, when we hit the big blue skies for another vacation that Venice would be the destination. I have traveled to Italy several times and have very few complaints about the country. But before we get too far a head of ourselves and make reservations willy-nilly, I love to do a little (actually it’s more like graduate work) searching for places to stay, restaurants, and places of interest. One thing I have learned about traveling, the photos may look absolutely beautiful, but reviews by fellow travelers are absolutely golden! And I NEVER  just pick a place without reading what those who have gone before me have to say. One site that I use a lot is TripAdvisor.

Once December rolls around, it’s time to start planning next years vacation. This does not take to long and usually one or two places have moved to the top of the list. With the place picked out, we check flight schedules, weather reports ( I check what the temps were last year and over the past several years) hotel availability and if the places we want to visit are offering any ‘special’ events (which could be things like smaller guided tours after hours).

January 2nd begins the process of putting everything together and making the vacation a reality. Purchasing airfare is usually cheaper the farther out you buy it. Hotels and B&B’s post their rates and you are able to purchase things like train tickets at much lower rates than if you just walked up to the counter the day of travel and buy them. What all this does is help keep the cost of travel down and that is very important for me.

It’s very exciting, reservations are made and e-mails exchanged confirming stays… another vacation is planned! One thing I would like to suggest, when you make vacation plans several months in advance, purchase travel insurance to protect yourself. While you can cancel hotel reservations, the airlines will not give a refund and that’s when the insurance takes over.

Here are the details of our first day and my thoughts about Venice.

The flight from Chicago to Rome was delayed (insert a side trip to London and then onto Rome.) This put us four hours behind and we arrived in Rome at the same time we should have been pulling into the train station in Venice. We finally arrived in Venice close to eleven o’clock at night.

Lessons learned: be patient and once in country to call the hotel and notify them you are running late and your expected time of arrival (otherwise your room reservation could be canceled!)

The B&B we found is called Dormus Orsoni.

It was very quiet and just a few minutes walk from the famous sights of Venice. I do not mind walking a little farther for a nice, clean and quiet place to stay. That and the room rates are much lower the farther away you stay from where everyone else is staying.

While a little tired from traveling more than expected, we got up the next day and rode the Vaporetto around Venice to take some photos and learn where everything was located.

You will need to take the Vaporetto over to Murano and Burano but for everything else, you can walk around rather easily.

Once done with the boat ride, and countless photos, it was time for lunch! One thing I love to do is eat! And Italy provides me the wonderful opportunity to do so until my heart’s content! Just a little piece of advice, check with the hotel staff and ask where they eat! There are some really wonderful and less expensive places that are out of the tourist drag that only the locals know about. This is where you get a better feel for a town or city and you can make some new friends!

Alright. I am a trooper. I had a longer than expected flight. While the room was quiet and I did sleep, it’s time… once lunch is over to head back for a nap! Doing so, I was able to recharge my batteries and be in a better mood for exploring more of Venice later that evening.

In all, my first day in Venice was pretty good. It was a lot warmer than usual (so much for checking weather reports!) I had a nice boat ride, some great food for lunch and dinner and once the day tripping tourists head back to their cruise ships, Venice is much less crowded.

Once the sun goes down, Venice changes and the romance factor just zooms upward… (wink…wink!)

Peace Dudes!

Mike

Inspirational quote of the week.

By Mike Aux-Tinee.

“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves”   -Euripides

 

 

There is only so much we can get out of a book. Sure the photos might have been taken by a professional. The author may have written a superb text, including every need to know detail. It’s possible that you are able to close your eyes and see it in your mind.

But when you open your eyes, you are not there. But the place you closed your eyes. You are sitting at the library, at work or at home. Nothing about what you experienced is real. It is all superficial and flat.

That is the only way you are going to experience the world, unless you venture out past the end of your street. Out past the familiar fields. Over the bridge that you have crossed over your entire life.

What exists over the horizon will be forever a mystery unless you travel to it and see what is there.

What may be there, may be widely known, but by those who have actually been there.  You will never experience the same unless you travel there and experience it first hand.

Sure, it may require you to sit in a plane for several hours, overnight. Then get on a train, a bus or a car to reach the destination.You may have to learn how to speak a new language, convert your money and pack your clothes. But these things are a part of the process of discovery.

As you walk towards your destination, your senses are recording the surroundings. The location of the sun, the breeze blowing, the smells, water dripping down.

You bring your camera up and snap a photo. It does not matter what the object is, but it will forever place a book mark in your mind, a chapter of your life that you can go back and read as many times as you wish.

Only then will you understand. what the book could not teach you.

Travel expands the mind, the senses, more than if we just stayed put. It’s time to get out and explore the world.

Peace Dudes!

A week in London and it was not enough.

By Mike Aux-Tinee.

I love to travel and had the chance to visit London England two years ago. It never fails,  there is always more things to do and see than there is time. We landed at Heathrow airport on Saturday and took the rest of that day to get settled.

On Sunday it was off to Greenwich to see the Queen’s House:

The National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory. Admission to all three are free and you should take advantage of as many of the free options as possible. London can be very expensive.

On Monday, we headed off to see Windsor Castle. It’s about an hour and change train ride from London and then once at the train station in Windsor, it’s about a ten to fifteen minute walk to the castle, more of course if you stop to take photos!

This is a view of the country side surrounding Windsor Castle. It is so beautiful, it was not difficult to set up the camera and take some amazing photos!

On Tuesday, it was a day trip around London. We were able to get front row spots to catch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.

Yes, the policeman on the horse is pointing at me to get out of the way. And yes, they mean it too. This is the band that precedes the guards.

Each and every one are active duty soldiers in the English Army.

It is quote a spectacle and their lengthy walk ends up at Buckingham Palace. Where they will go through and take the place of the guards on duty. The crowds gather hours before to be able to see and take photos.

Here is a different view of Big Ben with the London Eye peaking over the buildings.

Then it was onto the Tower of London. This is where the crown jewels are kept. We were not allowed to take photos. It is definitely worth the time and entrance fee to see them.   

Of course, right next to the Tower of London, is the Tower Bridge.

We ended the tour with a boat ride up the Thames River and were let off near the London Eye.It was a very nice day trip around London. If you are able to visit London, there is so much to do you cannot go wrong picking these or so many other things to see and do!

Wednesday was very uneventful… laundry day and checking out the town of Islington where we were staying.

On Thursday, it was back to London and this time we had Piccadilly Circus and Green Park on the agenda.

Green Park is next to Buckingham Palace. Getting off the tube at Piccadilly Circus, you can easily walk down to Green Park.

I really liked Green Park. For a very busy city, it’s a very quiet place. During the summer, there are deck chairs you can rent and log in some R&R!

Friday was a R&R day and to pack to leave. We left early on Saturday morning. One tip, if you take the tube/Underground, carry change so you can recharge your pass. The machines would not take paper currency! We almost did not make it to the airport!

I do love England and hope that I am able to go back. If you have any photos or tips you would like to share, please do!

Peace Dudes!