Week 2: Demolition Begins

Recap of Week 1:

  • Purchase and put our first 170 miles on it

Today’s accomplishments:

  • Repaired dry rotted power steering hose
  • Ripped out railing, stripping, fiberglass interior shell, cabinets, and started tearing up soft wood floor
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Travel Diary: Copenhagen’s Disappointing Walking Tour

View from the SkyIt all started when we took a train to Copenhagen city center to do one thing: a free walking tour at 3pm.
We found the main square and waited for 20 minutes. It’s an oddly warm day in Denmark, so we’re sitting and sweating. I’m admiring the 2-story Burger King on the corner, and Mark is observing this guy as part of some kind of stag party doing really socially awkward things to embarrass him.

We’re looking for a guide that, per reviews, is wearing a green shirt with a green umbrella. 3pm comes and goes with no mass tour assembling and no green t-shirt tour guide. According to Google Maps, the pickup point for the walking tour was at the entrance of a hotel. We go to the hotel and ask the lovely gent at the desk where the meet point actually is. He tells us to go out of the hotel and turn left, then we would see the meeting point behind the hotel.

We follow his instructions into a narrow pedestrian way that’s filled with the sweet aroma of hookah. Our eyes scan both sides of this walkway, and we don’t see any signage pointing to a walking tour. I’m well past frustrated and teetering on embroiled.

Mark checks the reservation and it says to meet at the steps of town hall. We go to town hall and wait for over 15 minutes. The original tour has long departed. We decide to wait for the next one, at 4. We go get overpriced froyo, sit on town hall steps and wait.

4pm comes and goes. No gathering of tourists. No guy in a green shirt. I go so far as to approach strangers in green shirts and ask them if they’re tour guides. We wander around a narrow street and into a shop with blue and white tourist info sign and ask about the tour. She lets us know that there wasn’t a walking tour today. Color me surprised.

We decide to take the high road and instead of chew this woman’s ear off, to go to Malmö, Sweden instead, since we’re in the business of collecting countries and all.

She shows us the schedule of the coach times to Malmö and transit times. It’s an hour to Sweden and an hour back to Denmark. While we can get to Sweden before day turns to night, the last coach back from Malmö departs 2 hours later, at 6pm. That didn’t work because we had an early am flight from Denmark the next day.

 

Disappointed by the lie that was the free walking tour and the unusable coach to Sweden, we schlepped back to the AC Bella Sky and enjoyed two Scandinavian priced (read: unreasonably expensive) appetizers.

Summary: If you want the walking tour, find the tourist office first and ask if they’re even doing a tour. And if you want to do a day trip to Sweden, leave Copenhagen before 9am. It’s $10 each way.

August 29, 2015

24 Hours In: Things We Learned in Brussels

Bruxelles, a heavily blended capital city, location of the European Central Bank, and port of entry to the rest of Europe. With exactly 24 hours to eat, drink, and experience, these observations sum up our feelings about Brussels:

  1. In August, it’s hot. People said it was unusual, but it was so hot we decided to go out and drink instead of stay in our flat with no AC.
  2. Incredibly weighty French influence which no one in the UK or Ireland prepared us for. Totally caught us off guard to be greeted with a Bonjour/ Bon Soir. We expected a Flemish dialogue, some Germanic influence perhaps, but it was predominantly French.
  3. Drinking age is 16. While American high school students tweet about a drivers license, kids in Brussels are legally ordering their first brew with their parents. This is a limited drinking license as hard liquor is still prohibited for under 18s.
  4. Many embassy guards for the U.S. Frequent a bar called Roosters, which has two lovely bartenders – one named Kelly and the other Anna. They are incredibly funny and knowledgable about the area and their beers are reasonably priced too!
  5. I had a romantic fantasy that living above shops near downtown would be, in the words of Gretchen Weiners, so fetch. Early in the morning I’d wake up and head to the place right beneath my flat, grab a coffee, and begin my beautiful breezy day. The flip side of that dream is that at night, there are a lot of loud drunk people crowding the entrance to your flat, and you have to sneak in between them and open the door. It feels so odd having tons of complete strangers know where you live…
  6. Hardly anyone accepts American credit/ debit cards, even with a chip. We had to convert to euros because our cards kept getting declined. Come into Brussels with some cash, or find an exchange place, but please don’t exchange currency at the bus station,or airport. It’s a total rip off. 
  7. If you want to drink and talk to tons of people from all corners of the world, ask for the Delirium bar. It’s a narrow street with a dozen entrances to bars dedicated to one type of alcohol. There’s a tequila bar. There’s a vodka bar where you order a liter of vodka. All of them sell beer, but if you really want to prove your worth to yourself and all the strangers around you, order a two liter chalice of beer. Take time to wander upstairs, downstairs, around. You’ll find plenty of interesting things to see.
  8. The food district of Brussels is made of narrow streets crowded by outdoor seating and hosts standing in the walkway. As your eyes wander over to the menu, you’re immediately approached by someone and asked if you want to sit. I found this really revolting as they give you no time really to look at the menu, so we kept shaking our heads no and walked out of the restaurant district to a quieter, less pressure cooker type atmosphere.
  9. If you’re staying at an AirBnB here, please ask your host what floor they are on. We stayed on the top floor which I thought was awesome until we arrived and had to climb EIGHT, count them, EIGHT flights of stairs up and down to enter or leave this apartment.
  10. Want to make this known that I asked for tap water at a restaurant, was advised they “don’t do tap.” I told her bring the cheapest water, she brought me €6 mineral water. Sigh. 

If you’re planning a trip to Brussels, know that it’s a small capital city, and two to three leisurely days can cover the main attractions. If you have any questions about where to go, what to see, or what type of food to eat, send us a message! 

Mark and Melody

Giant’s Causeway: Worth the trip?

A popular day trip. A UNESCO world heritage site. Should you drive or take a tour? Most of the day trip tours from Dublin were coaches, about 45 to 60 euros per person, which yielded two hours or less at the causeway. We figured that’s not enough time if we wanted to see everything. Do it once, do it right! 

So we decided to drive. Driving on the left is a. It of a learning curve but becomes pretty intuitive. We were worried when the GPS keeps lost service. Fun fact though, so long as you load your map before you lose service and don’t exit the map, you’ll have it navigating. The roads in Ireland are much wider than Scotland’s roads, thankfully, and the drive to Belfast was an easy journey. 

Please note:

  • Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, which means
  • Speed limit changes from kilometers per hour to miles per hour. 
  • Prices are in pounds, not euros. 

Once north of Belfast (around Ballymena) the roads become much narrower and curvy. If you’re driving it, be kind to yourself and fill up your gas tank before you get to Northern Ireland. 

Be prepared for rain. It’s likely to come in five minute bursts so a raincoat with a hood is ideal. Hiking shoes are necessary as the land is quite wet and can be very slippery. 

We were more impressed by the hiking trails that the stones of the causeway. Yes, they are cool and hexagonal and it’s kind of fun to walk around them like stairs, but we would have been severely disappointed if that is all we had been able to do. To get the most out of the experience, you’ve gotta do a hike. 

We took the red trail, difficult, to the yellow trail challenging. Anyone in decent physical shape can do these hikes. If you can climb a couple flights of stairs, you can do these hikes. The best part of the hike is that it rained, because a beautiful rainbow formed from the cliffs over the ocean. It was absolutely surreal. The best part of being on the cliffs, overlooking the causeway and the ocean, was feeling so infinitely small. There is no greater reminde of how massive and powerful the ocean is when you’re looking down at its crashing waves. You know the water is freezing because you can feel the chill in the misting rain that’s coming down in bursts. It’s incredibly windy, so you know you’re pretty high up. We felt positively invigorated by the end of the hike. 

If you’re going to go, hear this to make the most of your trip:

  • To have more of the causeway to yourself, get there before noon or after 2pm to avoid the coaches full of people.
  • Want incredible scenery? Take the red or yellow trail. 
  • Bring a raincoat. 
  • Attempt to park at Giants causeway even if the parking lot is full. It’s much closer. If you don’t want to wait for a possibility, there is a parking area at the bottom of the hill that where you can park your car and take a shuttle. 
  • Wear shoes that are good in muddy terrain. 
  • Check out the gelato at the gift shop by the building where you pay the £9 entrance and parking fee. Super sweet woman runs the little place and she loves to chat. She also takes USD. 

Questions? Let us know! 

Choosing Your First AirBnB

AirBnB has been truly great to us and we can’t recommend them enough. Every type of lodging is available: tree houses, huts, beach cabanas, modern flats and castles! Search functions allow you to search for a private room, a shared space, or the entire home. The prices vary as much as the style, meaning there is definitely a listing for your taste.

For accuracy in prices and availability, put in the dates you’re looking to stay, even if they’re tentative because you may find a place you like that happens to have a flexible host. It’s no fun to get super attached to a listing only to find out it’s not available. 😦

Before booking, check the cancellation policy. Each listing has one: flexible, moderate or strict. Flexible means you can cancel no later than 24 hours before your intended stay for a full refund, which is best for more spontaneous bookings. Moderate means cancellation must be made five days (in host’s local time) before intended stay for a full refund.  If you’re planning to attend an event or you’re pretty sure you won’t change plans, this is an option. Strict is… Strict. No full refunds are offered for Strict cancellation policies.  Instead, a 50% refund will be given for cancellations made seven days or more before your intended stay.

We’ve found the hosts to be quite delightful and to ensure you get the most out of your stay without any misunderstanding, we always message the host before booking. We also crafted a template to familiarize you with the site and ensure you ask vital questions with a message like this:

Hello, My husband and I are traveling to London from September 23 to September 28- confirming you have these dates available. We are mainly looking forward to visiting Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, and Camden Market. We would like to prepare a couple small meals as well. We will be arriving from Heathrow at 7pm- would you be home at that time? What is the best tube route to your location? 

Thank you kindly. 

Most hosts respond within two hours as they are eager to confirm guests :). Generally, a more outgoing, interactive host will respond with a more detailed message. Ask for recommendations in their area. If you’ve any allergies, it’s good to note that so the host can accommodate. We had an instance where a review noted a pet but the host didn’t, so if pets are something you need to avoid, confirm before the booking. At a different stay, I was totally under the impression the host would be there, but he didn’t live in the area anymore; the house was a rental property. For a first time stay, you may want to ask if there will be other guests in the house.

For short stay travelers looking to maximize time, ask:

  • What do you find is the best way to get around?
  • Is Uber operating here?
  • What times do the trains/ buses run?
  • Additional charge on public transit during peak travel times?

For super savvy and aspiring long term travelers, ask:

  • How far is the nearest market and when does it close?
  • How far is the nearest pharmacy?
  • Do you have ample pots and pans, flatware and cooking tools?
  • Do you have a clothes washer if I bring my own detergent?

For families of four or more, we recommend:

  • Selecting “entire house” instead of one room as a search filter. More privacy, flexibility and importantly security.
  • Booking as soon as possible if you’re attending an event. AirBnB hosts will raise prices too, sometimes three months in advance.
  • Letting the host know the ages of your children, especially younger tots.
  • If you rented a car, ask where the car can be parked. 

Final note: Give a host with no reviews a chance. We did and had a lovely stay!

Have you had an experience at airbnb you’d like us to feature? Let us know! We would love to hear your travel adventures.

Mark and Melody

Our Backpacking Gear – What We Use

This details our first attempt to follow this sage travel advice: “Lay out everything you want to pack. Now put half of it back.”

It’s really difficult to do. I began to think of all the possible scenarios in which I would need my makeup bag, three different kinds of yoga pants because it might be cold, or it might be hot. I wanted to bring ten tank tops because I love to layer, and I wanted to bring athletic shoes, hiking shoes, dress sandals and a pair of casual sandals because I want to make sure I’m accessorized and equipped for any occasion I may encounter.

But I’m carrying all this shit around for five months and that puts things in perspective. If you’re packing and you can’t lift your pack with one hand, IT’S TOO MUCH STUFF. And if you think it isn’t heavy, walk around your neighborhood for thirty minutes and reassess. If I had done that I’d have about a third of the stuff I do now.

We used the Kelty Redwing 50L Backpack ordered using Amazon Prime. We picked these packs for the following features:

    • Carry-on compliant for Ryanair, AerLingus, Norwegian. Win.
    • Front zip so the pack unzips much like a suitcase
    • Functionally sized side and top compartments
    • Highly adjustable shoulder, waist and chest straps – paramount for comfort and avoiding injury!

 

Melody’s Clothing:

Outerwear: one fleece jacket from Poshmark, one waterproof North Face jacket (lost in Istanbul).

Tops: Four long sleeve, three short sleeve, two tanks.

Bottoms: Two Jeans, One Yoga Pant, One skirt, One Pair of Shorts.

Little things: Two bras, one sports bra, one bathing suit, ten underwear, 1.5 pair of socks*.

Shoes: Leather Sandals (Aldo), Merrell Women’s Moab Ventilator Hiking Shoe

These hiking shoes have walked through farm mud, forest mud, slippery rock faces, sludgy trails, and everything in between. They provide enough stability for the ankles for a moderate hike, up to six hours in length.

Mark’s Clothing:

I think he overpacked, but he was prepared. His pack weighed over 20 pounds before we even left.

Outerwear: 1 insulated Calvin Klein jacket

Tops: 5 t-shirts, 3 long-sleeve shirts, 1 button down,

Bottoms: At least four trousers plus work pants, 1 pair of athletic shorts

Little Things: 10 pairs of boxers

Shoes: Running shoes, hiking shoes, casual shoes, and flip flops.

However, when we were ten days between laundry facilities, I was the one re-using clothes, not him. I’m actually surprised he didn’t run away when I was on my second or third wear of t-shirts.

That was my world of traveling light.

Electronics:

  • 1 17″ Dell Laptop
  • 1  iPad Mini
  • 1 iphone 4s
  • 1 iphone 6s
  • 2 Apple charging blocks
  • 2 Apple USB cables
  • 1 Car charger
  • 3 power adapters
  • 1 power converter block
  • 1 13″ Macbook Air*
  • 1  Nikon D5200
  • 1 External Hard Drive
  • 6 SD cards with carrying case
  • 1 Digital Camera Tripod

What Weighed Us Down

Melody:

  • Leather gloves – total waste in damp climates
  • Chi flat iron – adorable that I thought between the farming and touring a city I’d flat iron my hair. Nope.
  • iPhone 4s  –  used to send departing texts from Ft. Lauderdale on July 7th and never again
  • iPhone 4s charger
  • Oversized messenger bag – doubled as daypack and purse
  • Bulky plastic water bottle –  for refilling at water fountains but there’s never one around
  • Makeup bag. I gave up with makeup somewhere in August in Finland.
  • Nikon D5200. No getting around this. It’s heavy.
  • Two textbooks for my online classes

Mark:

  • 17″ Dell laptop – I wound up carrying this
  • Aluminum water bottle – bulky and makes the water taste funny

What We Tossed:

  • Mark traded his Nike free runs & Sketchers dress shoes
  • 4s iPhone Charger
  • Dead iPhone / iPad Charger
  • International Power Converter from Brookstone. All we needed for the phones, iPads and laptops were a handful of adapters.
  • Plastic and Aluminum Water Bottles
  • Melody’s mascara, eyeliner, ‘cheap’ foundation
  • Bra
  • Pairs of socks that got irreparably dirty

What We Bought:

  • Mark swapped two pairs of shoes for these NorthFace  Gore-Tex Hiking Shoes found at a TKMaxx in the UK.
  • Digital Camera Tripod from a Kodak Store ($30)
  • Full-size shampoo & conditioner to refill our many empty travel toiletries
  • Travel journals
  • *Macbook Air
  • International Power Adapters
  • Awesome Feetures Elite Ultra Light Socks. These make any shoe instantly comfortable with a compression band built into the sock that supports the arch of your foot. Translation: With these socks, you really can walk 500 miles.

 

What We Wished We Had:

  • Wool gloves for cold days
  • Box of Earplugs
  • Airplane Sleep Mask – the best one is this Alaska Bear sleep mask
  • More hand and face lotion
  • Emergency snack kits that we made before 5, 6 and 7 hour bus rides.
  • Cheap flip flops to walk around hostel in or to the car.
  • Slip-on sneakers. Many countries in Europe have a custom to leave your shoes at the door, and it gets frustrating untying and retying your shoes every hour or so.

 

Takeaway: You need a lot less than you think you do, especially if you’re traveling  from America. We wore the same week’s worth of clothes for five months and you’ll surprise yourself with the mileage you get out of your stuff. Make all of your clothes the same color-scheme (pinks, reds, and oranges or blues, greens, and browns) and you’ll go quite a long way.