10.31.2012

Halloween Hootchie Mama

Saturday night we met a couple downtown for drinks and then lined up with a bunch of high schoolers to go to a Haunted Mansion.  This one is pretty good.  Last year we went to an outdoor one which sucked but we went to this same one two years ago and I forgot how much fun it is.  It's in a basement so it's very dark and we were funneled through different rooms in small groups.  In one room there is a bloody scene of a cannibalistic family at a dinner table and in the next it's a looney bin with some crazy person hobbling towards you.  I squeezed the life out of Mj's hand.  I was hanging on his arm and screamed my way through the entire thing.  I was in the front and I'd already be screaming in anticipation even before we entered the next room.  It's so weird because I'm a big chicken but I love watching scary movies and I love being scared.  Mj if you are reading this I DO NOT love it when you scare me on purpose so please don't take this as permission scare the crap out of me again.

Lots of people dress up and go bar hopping downtown so we saw plenty of scandalous costumes.  I get it that as an adult if you dress up for Halloween you might not want to be wearing the same witch or princess costume that you did when you were 10 years old.  Halloween isn't just for trick or treating and it's not just for kids so as an adult you vamp it up to make your costume more exciting and glamorous.  My thing is that if you are going to dress like a hootchie mama in the name of Halloween we should at least be able to tell what your costume is.  I saw a group of girls wearing 1/2 shirts and leggings.  I had no idea what they were dressed as.  I saw a girl in a satin bustier, fishnets and garters.  What was she dressed as?  A Victoria's Secret model?  And even if I can tell what you are...uh did you really have to go there? 


Just the right amount of hootchie [Photo Source]
I haven't played too much Halloween dress up since I stopped trick or treating but I do believe that there is a Halloween hootchie mama inside of me just waiting to come out.  If I had a party to go to you bet I'm going to be a sexy something but a leotard and garter belts alone will not my costume make.  I would love to dress up as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.  It would be my one chance to wear even a replica of that adorable/sexy uniform.  I don't think DCC are hootchies but the tiny outfit is on the risque side; especially if you aren't you know actually a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.  And anyways, I don't see anything wrong with owning it and being confident enough to show some skin if you want to.  But not too much skin!! Leave SOMETHING to the imagination. 
Too much hootchie mama for me [Photo Source]
In my office no one dressed up and there was not a single candy bowl or Halloween decorated cup cake to be found.  Every other day there's junk all over the place but not today for some reason.  I had a hair appointment after work so I didn't get home until 7:30pm.  I missed most of the kids but there was plenty of left over candy.  I'm too old for trick or treating but I love candy even more now then when I was a kid.  Halloween is my excuse to eat excessive amounts of it just because.  It works out because I heard on the news the other day (while I was at the gym) that horror movies offer the highest calorie burn then any other genre.  Did you know that you could burn 113 calories watching a 90 minute horror film?  That's the same amount of calories that you might burn on a 30 minute walk.  Incidentally, The Shining is ranked as the #1 calorie burning movie.  Ha!!  How do they test this stuff out anyways?  I have two horror movies lined up for this weekend so I should be in good shape candy eating and all.  

10.30.2012

Day 14-15 :: Red Lights in Amsterdam

Thalys high speed trains in the background
I was getting kind of sad that our trip was almost coming to an end but really excited to see Amsterdam. We were off dragging our luggage through the city streets again but our hotel was fairly close to the metro so it wasn't that bad AND thankfully there was no rain.  We boarded a 12:20 pm Thalys high speed train for a 3 hour train ride from Paris Nord to Amsterdam Central station.  We booked this in advance because it was very essential to our trip itinerary and on these high speed trains you actually buy tickets AND reservations where seats are pre assigned.  Mj booked us in 1st class Comfort.  It was a little more expensive but  it might be my only chance to ride in 1st class anything so that was cool.  Train rides are so much simpler then airplane travel.  You just get on and it's a smooth ride.  The seats were wide and roomy with a really nice recline.  In 1st class you get WI-Fi, food AND free wine.  The meal was a little strange because it was all cold.  It was Chicken Pate, Salad, Grapes, Potatoes and Cous Cous and carrot salad and bread.  They came around again a couple stops later and offered us another snack which I happily accepted. 
I think this was my favorite hotel room
We arrived at Amsterdam Central and it was only about  a 5 minute walk to Westcord City Centre Hotel.  The cobblestones were outta control even more so then any other city so it was a little bit harder to wheel our luggage but we made it just fine.  We checked into our 4th hotel of the trip and once again I was very pleased.  Clean, modern and a great location.  It even had a fully enclosed shower!!! Then we set out to explore another new city.  Mj was feeling congested so we stopped at a Pharmacy and he was able to buy stuff that would normally require a prescription right over the counter pretty cheaply so that was good.  And yes, we did smell the odor of marijuana throughout the city now and then.

Anne Frank House the next day; long line
We'd heard that the line for the Anne Frank house gets really long so we went over there to see if we could go in that night or buy advance tickets for the next day.  They didn't close until 7pm so had time to go in right then and there was no line.  Tickets were 9 € Euro each.  They didn't allow cameras.  It was pretty cool to see the actual area where they were all hiding out.  All the original furniture was removed but they had replicas set up of how it looked.   There were pictures, videos and her actual diary was there.  It's a good thing we got in there because the next day there was a long line.

Top left:  Windows where they ladies wait for business.  Right in the heart of the district at night

The Red light District is actually Post Card Pretty
I have to admit I was pretty interested in seeing what the Red Light district was like.  I'd heard about women in shop windows basically for sale and that's exactly what it was like.  And the "red light" part of the name is for real.  There is a red light above each window and throughout the area there are red lights on short posts.  The women are inside wearing lingerie and waiting for business.  Some were on their cell phones and others are standing inside the window looking out.  I tried not to stare too hard.  There is a no camera symbol on the window but it would have been rude to take unsolicited pictures of women in underwear anyways.  I took the pictures of the windows they stand in above the next day.  The area didn't feel as scary and seedy as I thought it would.  Maybe because everything in Amsterdam is so darn cute.  There are a lot more small, dark and dank looking pubs and bars in that area and it's where the strip clubs are but for the most part it looked just like any other part of the city.

Out to dinner
After that we headed out of the red light district to find a place to eat.  There are a lot of Argentinean restaurants in Amsterdam (and Chinese massage Parlors too for that matter) and Mj picked one called Le Pot Au Fe for us to eat because he was in the mood for Steak.  I wasn't that thrilled with the menu so I ordered steak fries and garlic bread and it was really good.

on the canal :: there are bikes everywhere you look in Amsterdam

Dutch Pancakes for breakfast
The next morning we took our time getting up and stayed in our hotel pretty much right up until check out. We left our baggage at the hotel and went for Breakfast.  Mj wanted Dutch Pancakes.  He found this adorable tiny little restaurant for us to eat at.  Dutch pancakes are thinner, bigger and crispier then American Pancakes.  They were so good.  I ordered dutch style with Bacon baked in and Mj ordered one with Lemon and Powdered Sugar on top.  His didn't even need Syrup it had so much flavor.

Enjoying Vondel Park


Exploring Vondel Park
Amsterdam is so quaint and so beautiful!  there are people on bikes everywhere.  It's the #1 mode of transportation there.  People cart their kids, dogs and everything else along with them on their bikes so we saw all kinds of extra seating and giant baskets and boxes attached to bikes.  After that we spent hours walking around Vondel Park.  This park is beautiful and huge.  The sun was shining although it did dip behind the clouds as the day wore on but I think we really caught a break that we didn't get rain.

In the Sex Museum

Homes on the canal
After that we went to the Sex Museum.  This was Mj's pick!  What can I say?  It was only 4 € and we were in Amsterdam so what the hell.  It was pretty interesting.  It was my turn to pick a restaurant which took forever because I'm really bad at that.  I can never decide.  I found us a very Dutch restaurant called De Vergulde Lantaarn and like everything else we'd eaten in Europe it was really good.   I got a Ham Tosti which is basically like a ham and cheese grilled panini and Mj got Schnitzel.  We split another bottle of wine.  In case you lost count that's SIX bottles of wine not counting the one we had on ship!  We were only in Amsterdam for 1 night but we got there early and left late so it was plenty of time. 

Back to the train station to wait for our night train to Stuttgart

CNL Night Train ::  Bunks on the left sink on the right
After that we were on the move again for our final long train ride.  The City Night Line sleeper train left out of Amsterdam Central at 8:30pm and we'd arrive in Stuttgart at 4:17am.  The train pulled up, we showed the conductor our tickets and went inside.  It's so tiny!!  Tinier then I even expected but it's functional if you want to rest while traveling unlike on an airplane.  We prepared by having our toiletries and clothes for the next day near the top of our luggage because we knew we wouldn't have much space to work with.  It took some organizing but we finally got our luggage wedged up onto the top bunk and I went to take a shower down at the end of the hall.  It's a public shower and it's kind of like taking a shower in an airplane bathroom.   I'm very finicky about these things so I wore flip flops and that worked out fine.  It was even harder taking a shower on the train then on a ship.  I got bumped into the wall several times.  In retrospect we probably should have opened up the 3rd bunk up top and put our luggage there so Mj and I could each have our own bunk.  We were literally sleeping on top of each other.  We managed, but we probably would have been more comfortable in our own.  I had to wake up once in the middle of the night to use the bathroom which is no easy feat.  It's pitch black and I had to climb over Mj.  The train ride went really quick. We got our wake up call and then got up to get dressed.  The train guy gave us take away boxes for breakfast and coffee for me.  For our own car it was 269 € which is $299 USD....ugh everything just sounds so much better in Euro's doesn't it?  We had to fly out of Stuttgart because that's where Mj originated from on his Military orders making Amsterdam quite a bit out of our way so traveling overnight was the best way to fit it into our trip and make an early morning flight out.  It was worth it though and I'm glad we did.  We got off the train and then went to wait for the metro that would take us to the Stuttgart Airport.  We were both out of Euros so Mj went to the ATM and bought our tickets which were only 3,50 € each.

We were so early to the airport that United hadn't even set up their ticket area yet so we couldn't even find the area to check in.  We were told where they would be and about an hour later they started setting up their signs and ticket counter.  Our flight left at 9:30am.  It would be a long 9 hours.  I watched 3 movies and Mj watched 5!  We had a hot meal of beef and potatoes not too long after boarding and then we were offered a hot sandwich for a snack a couple hours before we landed.  We had a layover in Newark and then it was 5 hours 45 minutes until we got home.  Our plane left at 9:30am Europe time on Thursday and we got home at about 5:30pm Pacific time the same day.  You technically gain time coming back from Europe but in real hours the travel time by plane with layovers was 24 actual hours.  If you count the 8 hour train ride overnight that was a total of 32 hours of traveling by the time we got home!!!

Even though we did so much on this trip I didn't feel as worn out as I thought I would when we got back.  10 cities in 15 days (13 if you count the tiny port towns that we just caught trains out of) is a lot!  When I look back I still can't believe how much we did.  It's fast paced.  You really have to be willing and ready to go, go, go and we both were.  I don't know when we'll be back so it made sense to me that if we are going to go to Europe we should fit in as much as we could.  We got back on Thursday, had a nice break and then went back to work on Monday.  I swear; I seriously couldn't believe that I had a job.  It was like, what?  I have to work?  That's what traipsing around and eating your way through Europe for two weeks can do to you.  What an awesome, amazing, fun, exciting, exhausting, relaxing whirlwind of a vacation!  I loved experiencing so many new adventures with Mj.  We were together every single minute of every single day and it was great.  It was worth every single penny.  I will never ever forget how much fun we had together and all the amazing things we got to see and do.  I definitely have wanderlust now.  Right now I feel like traveling anywhere else is going to feel like a let down but I'm sure that will fade.  I don't know when we'll go back but I am certain that we will.  Too bad I can't wait!!

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10.28.2012

Day 11-13 :: Jet Plane to Paris

Our vacation was so long that I had to take a little vacation from my recaps but it's back on.  Let's finish this up then shall we.  So, where were we....oh yes Day 11 and on our way to Paris.
Mj got this shot :: Can you see the Eiffel tower there just under the wing?
Sunday morning we were on the move again.  We had a 1:50pm flight on Easy Jet from Barcelona to Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris and we didn't know exactly how long everything would take so we left pretty early.  We walked to Placa Catalunya and were on the Aerobus to the airport by 10am for only  5,65 € each.   We were checked into our flight at the airport and grabbing a bite to eat by 11am.  Way early, but I guess it's better safe then missing a plane to Paris.  It was a 2 hour flight and we were happy to find that it wasn't raining yet when we arrived but we knew it was coming.
our hotel room was so cute and tiny :: to the right there was a little desk and chair
View from our hotel window :: Eiffel Tower
 It took us what felt like forever to get to our hotel.  I wasn't even sure what was going on.  We bought our tickets at 9,25 € each from the kiosk then looked around for the train entrance but both sides were blocked.  We were told they were working on the tracks and that we had to take the airport tram train thingy to a different area.  Once we got off everyone made a beeline for this bus that was parked there.  I was like, why are we getting onto this bus?  What's going on?  We literally got the last spot in the bus and were crammed next to the door for the whole ride.  The bus took us to a train station.  I got stuck in the turnstiles because my luggage made it through ahead of me after I put my train ticket in but I didn't.  A French guy was kind enough to motion me towards the gate at the end of the row of turnstiles that I could just walk through.  From there we took a train that would connect to a different line where we would take the metro to get to the Dupleix station which was closest to our hotel.  If we were rich we would have just hired a town car and called it a day but on a budget you have to tough it out.  We got off the Metro and hauled our baggage though the streets of Paris to Hotel #3; Hotel Eiffel Saint Charles.  The elevators in Europe are all so small and this had to be the smallest one yet.  We barely fit inside with our two suitcases.  By 6pm we were in our room and as expected it was pretty tiny but oh so cute and charming.   What is it with European bathrooms and their half shower doors?  We soaked the bathroom floor in Barcelona because of it and while that didn't happen here their resistance to fully enclosed showers just doesn't make sense!  We could see the Eiffel Tower from our window.  We had a real key old fashioned key with a cute little tassel on it.  They make you leave it at the front desk when you come and go which was fine because it's heavy.

More wine for me! :: This croquette was delicious
After we checked in we went out to find dinner.  We split a bottle of white wine.  I ordered a Croquette and it was so good.  It's a ham sandwich on this thick french bread with cheese on the inside AND melted on top.  The bread was perfectly toasted and cheesy.   They serve just about everything here with Fries.  Mj went with boring Chicken again.  I don't know what he was thinking; I'm usually the boring one.

We were pretty tired from all of our traveling but we couldn't wait to see the Eiffel Tower.  It's so beautiful and so massive.   It does a light show at night too.  We stood there gazing up at it for a while and then we got back to our hotel at about 9:15pm and went to bed.
Visit to the Louvre
The next morning we got up and headed straight for the Louvre.  We looked out our window and saw a gray day with light rain which we expected.  We tourists are a hardy bunch and won't be stopped.  We didn't travel 6,000 miles for nothing so we got our umbrellas, I put on a knit hat to complete my Parisian look and we went out to explore Paris.  We took the metro and as soon as we got off at the Palais Royal Musee De Louvre station we were literally right inside the Louvre in a mini shopping mall area that leads up to the entrance.  There were so many people that we could hardly figure out where the line was, it was backed up that far.  We waited for about 45 minutes and then once we actually made it into the lobby area we had to wait in another line at an automated machine to buy the actual tickets which were 11 € each.  
The Spinx :: Mona Lisa, see the reflection of all the faces in the glass?

The mummy was my favorite piece, So cool.  Look at all that intricate wrapping
Outside the Louvre :: It's huge!
We enjoyed the Louvre much more then the Vatican Museum.  Neither one of us has that much interest in paintings and that's pretty much all they had at the Vatican but in the Louvre there was a much more diverse collection.  They had Medieval and Egyptian art and tons of sculptures.  There was just so much more to look at.  My favorite was the the mummy.  A real live dead mummy!!  There was a huge crowd around the Mona Lisa.  We had to fight our way through it just to get close enough to see it and take a picture.  Unlike most of the other paintings it was behind glass.   It was smaller then I thought it would be and I still don't know what all the fuss is about.  I didn't realize how huge the Louvre was until we got outside.  It's massive!  And really beautiful from outside as well as the inside.  Apparently it used to be a castle.

We relied on the metro to get around for most of the day.  We witnessed an almost mugging this time while waiting for the metro.  Mj saw more of it then I did.  It was really weird.  I was watching this girl standing there reading her book.  All of a sudden I see her with her phone like instantly in her hand and a guy rushing by.  She had this really confused look on her face looking down at her phone and then at the guy walking away.  I guess he reached into her bag and grabbed her cell phone but she got her hands on it as he was trying to pull it out of her bag.  That was a close one.  She went right back to reading her book.
Getting down to business :: Clearly we can't get enough of Pizza
After that we took the metro to the Champs Elysee's area of Paris and got something to eat.  We couldn't resist ordering Pizza just one more time.  France does Pizza pretty good too.  This time we split a bottle of Red wine.  Too bad Mj spilled some on his shirt just as I was taking a picture of him and no I didn't get the shot.  I was kind of bummed that the rain just wouldn't quit but half a bottle of wine seriously helped me not to care!

Arc Di Triumph

Notre Dame Cathedral
Inside Notre Dame Cathedral.  Beautiful!!
Just down the street was the Arc Di Triumph.  Then we took the metro to the Notre Dame Cathedral. People just go inside and sit and stare.  It's feels so amazing just to be inside.

Latin Quarter
Thrilled to be in Paris
 We strolled through the Latin Quarter of Paris which was right down the street.  There were tons of fashionably dressed French women.  I got such a kick out of checking out everyone's outfits.  They wear scarves with anything and everything.  I didn't see too many high heels and yet they look casual and put together without looking like they are trying too hard.  Maybe some day I'll figure out how to do that.
Eiffel Tower by day

Kiss by the Eiffel tower at night
We took the metro back to Dupleix so we could see the Eiffel Tower during the day.  It's walking distance from our hotel so we went back again after dark just to see it one last time and try to get some better pictures.  There isn't a whole lot of light in the surrounding area at all.  It was a bit chilly but I loved standing there and looking up at it with Mj.  I've seen it in TV and movies so many times but now I was there seeing it with my own eyes.  By this time I think I was actually starting to acclimate to our grueling schedule.  We didn't hit our usual 6pm crash and burn so we didn't take a nap and I still felt energetic enough for us to stop and grab a drink on the way back to the hotel.  We sat at an outdoor table with our drinks cozied up next to each other.  I loved Paris and I really didn't want our last night there to end.

Day 14-15:  Amsterdam, Netherlands

10.27.2012

Day 10 :: Back to Beautiful Barcelona

There were tons of street side food and merchandise vendors
On our walking tour
The last day of our cruise was bitter sweet.  I had so much fun on the ship but was really looking forward to getting off and continuing onto the next part of our vacation.  It was so nice to have already had an 8 day cruise and know that we still had a 2nd vacation ahead of us.  We got off the ship around 9am Saturday morning after eating breakfast in the dining room.  From the port we took the Blue Bus to the Columbus Monument.  We had a pretty short walk to the Drassanes metro station and then once we got off the Metro another short walk to our hotel.  They say you better pack what you can carry and that's what I did...but just barely.  I had one large rolling luggage and a backpack for 15 days so I think I did pretty good but you never know what you are going to encounter at train stations.  You can't always find an elevator and very often we had to go down a set of stairs and then right back up another, sometimes twice.  It was rough but I did it.  I strategically planned for all of our hotels to be near metros so we could save money on cab fare and make it there with luggage.
Such a sight to behold.  This one was massive!
In the Gothic Quarter

The buildings there are so beautiful
Another beautiful Cathedral
We had the hotel hold our baggage and then we went off to explore Barcelona.  I heard about the free Runner Bean walking tour from another blogger so we checked out a few shops and then met up for the 11:00am tour.  The tour was 2 1/2 hours through the sites of the Gothic Quarter.  Our guide told us some great stories about the history of Barcelona and the buildings.  At the end you donate whatever you think the tour is worth.  After that we were on our own so we backtracked and stopped at different places along the way that we didn't have time to stop in during the tour.  On the way to our hotel we'd passed a Top Shop, which is UK based and I knew immediately I had to go there.  I always here about Top Shop but had never actually seen one so I was really excited.  I found a cute top for 22 € Euro.

I loved our hotel room

Paella and the wine trend continues :: Chocolate Waffle
We got our luggage and checked into Hotel #2, Hotel Jazz.  It was really nice.  It had a bidet in the bathroom.  I tried to use it just to see what it was like but bidet's don't have an actual seat like toilets and I really think they should.  How am I supposed to hang in mid air and reach the faucet which is behind me? Maybe I was doing it wrong, but I just found it awkward!  We rested a bit then went back out for dinner.  I found us a restaurant with outdoor seating at a place called El Cafe D'En Victor.  The menu prices are about 10% higher if you sit outside but it was worth it to be outside amidst the energy of Barcelona.  We split a bottle of white wine.  I ordered Paella.  It was sooo good!!  It was this giant pan of delicious rice, chicken and Peas.  I don't even like Peas but it sure tasted good in Paella.  Mj got boring grilled chicken.  After that we walked the streets a bit more.  There was so much good shopping.  Every single town we'd been in so far had a Zara and an H & M and we saw two here.  I was pretty satisfied with the shopping I'd done so far so I held back.  There were so many people!  We bought a chocolate covered waffle which was really good and then headed back to our hotel around 6:30pm.  I really wanted to stay up and enjoy the city for longer but I was just too tired.  We'd been on our feet for 9 hours already and you can only be up and out for so long.  I was the most tired I had ever been so far if that was even possible.  We planned to take a nap and then go back out for a drink but that never happened.  By the time we woke up it was pretty late so we were in for the night.  I'm so glad we stayed an extra night after the cruise so that we could get a chance to see this beautiful city.

Day 11-13:  Paris, France

10.26.2012

Day 9 :: Rock Climing at Sea

Yep....we're still on vacation!!
Suited up for rock climbing
There he goes!!
He made it to that bell at the top pretty fast
Day 7 of our cruise was a day at sea so we didn't have to set an alarm at all.  We got up, went to breakfast in the dining room and then had the day to ourselves.  It was our first chance to just spend some time enjoying she ship.  I suggested the rock climbing wall.  I've never tried it before but Mj had once before.  Mj went first and he shimmied up that wall pretty fast.  He was like spider man.  I couldn't believe how fast he was going up.  It made me nervous that I wouldn't be able to do it at all.  
Uh...I don't know what to do
Spidey woman
I made it!!!
When I looked up at this giant wall it felt like it was going to be really hard and as I started up the wall it started to feel even harder.  If Mj did it I wanted to do it too.  I never looked down.  Several times I froze not really knowing what rock to grab next.  I'd reach for a rock then realize it wasn't big enough for me to grip onto or that it was too high for me to reach without falling.  If I reached for a rock too directly in front of me I could feel that my arms would not hold me and that I would fall.  I tried to use my legs more like the guy told me.   I was sweating by the time I got to the top and when I rang that bell I was so excited.  Coming down was the easy part.
Hangin' out on deck
After that we hung out on the deck near the pools and relaxed.  This was the first night that I didn't need a nap but Mj did so he slept while I read my book and started packing up my stuff.  Later that night there was a farewell variety show in the theater.  I actually felt wide awake at the show for a change and not in a tired haze.  I also got to wear sandals.  After that  we went to the dining room for our last dinner.
Pretending I can sing
I absolutely cannot sing but I have a thing for Karaoke.  I convinced Mj to do it it with me one time years ago but he refused to ever do it again so I knew it would just be me.  I'm pretty shy so it's not easy for me to get up there but I love it so much that I force myself.  I did two songs and I promise, I was not the worst one there!  
Our last night on ship
We went back to our room, Mj finished packing and then and we went to bed.  The next day would be yet another new adventure.