I realized that we would be leaving the Lake District and driving south to Gatwick in order to fly to France and this would be over my birthday. So, I managed to get tickets at the Royal Shakespeare theater again and we stayed in the lovely old Mercure hotel nearby.
We ate dinner at the restaurant there – Marco Pierre White Italian place (yum) and then walked down to the theater to see the show King John.
It was really a fun one with lots of heavy themes and even a good fight. I was glad I’d read the synopsis before as it got a tad confusing (what Shakespearian play doesn’t) and it was one I’d not had to read in school before. We all enjoyed it a lot and it was perfect birthday celebration!
The next days we enjoyed lazy breakfasts and boat rides on the Avon. Plus shopping of course.
I really like the city and Charlotte enjoyed it even more as we’ve been watching a fun detective show called Shakespeare and Hathaway set there!
We decided to spend some time in the Lake District in the UK for fall (Florida being just too hot to feel autumnal) and take Grandma along. We again used house swapping points as this is quite a pricey area to stay in. We had a great house just off the main street of Keswick shops and restaurants and could walk the entire town.
It reminded us a lot of Colorado in many ways as we were just about the only people not wearing high tech walking and hiking shoes and outfits. We had no fancy walking sticks or even a dog (Darwin stayed home this time) as did just about every person in the Lakes area! Still we enjoyed gentle walks and boat rides on various lakes in the area.
We also headed north to Hadrian’s Wall and then into Scotland briefly.
It was lovely weather overall and just a little chilly on the boats but nothing horrible. We did have to wrap up from the rain and Charlotte found a great riding school where thankfully we could watch her from the car as it was raining quite heavily (they battled on regardless).
It’s another incredibly beautiful spot in the UK. Very well worth a visit in any season.
If you would like to sign up here is a link that gets both
of us some extra guest points just to get you started:
We had another great house swap with people from Vail, Colorado so drove from Chicago out there (saw more corn than I ever need to again). It was a nice condo and certainly is a beautiful area. The three older boys and I lived in Colorado Springs back in mid 90s so it was nice to go back and see old spots.
House swapping really is a great system and we have stayed
in some lovely places around the world for free! If you would like to sign up
here is a link that gets both of us some extra guest points just to get you
One day we drove up to Leadville and took the old train trip. Darwin really enjoyed it too! And Leadville is lovely and much more old-style and characteristic than Vail I have to say. Not sure I could handle the extreme snow or cold as it’s 10,000 feet and we were told gets cut off easily. But still lovely in summer.
In Vail the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens are lovely to wander around and free! There are lots of shows in the amphitheater there but we didn’t manage to time it well to see any.
Another day had us driving to the Rocky Mountain Park and taking the Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park to Grand Lake. It’s an elevation of 11,500 foot so be prepared for dizziness at the top!
In Estes Park I was disappointed to not recognize anything due to such growth nor did we see any of the elk that used to wander around the town. Maybe it was too early in the year but I was also surprised to not see any real snow on the Trail Ridge Road. Back in the 90s there was loads that had lasted all summer long. Global warming?
Another sad thing was the large areas of dead trees due to the mountain pine beetle infestation. They are battling it in the park but wow there were acres and acres of dead trees.
Despite all of this it is still an absolutely beautiful place to visit. The landscapes in Colorado change so rapidly that a drive is never boring!
We spent a few weeks this summer driving from Florida to Tennessee where were started renovations of our Knoxville house. It was great to visit the old spots up in the Smokies and play with my grandson who is living there now.
Then we took off and drove up to Chicago to visit Ben and his lovely girlfriend who are living there to attend DePaul University for graduate school. We did the various iconic spots but particularly enjoyed the Field Museum. So much to see that we must go back and also to hit up the other museums that we didn’t have time for!
It was fun riding the trains and wandering city streets again. Oh and going to Eataly which is a large Italian food market and restaurants (yum). We had lots of good pizza of course!
Another great spot was the Morton Arboretum which is a little way out of the city but well worth the drive. Beautiful walks and fun searching for the huge trolls hidden around the park.
Having not been in CA for awhile we also chose to spend a week in San Francisco in conjunction with our trip to Hawaii. We used our house swapping site (Home Exchange) and stayed in an amazing house in Bernal Heights. The owner is a chef and so the kitchen was just amazing plus it was filled with incredible antiques as well as modern pieces. I was glad not to have small children or dogs with me though!
We used our guest points from having people stay in our home
when we weren’t there so this was not a direct swap. It really is a great
system and we have stayed in some lovely places around the world for free! If
you would like to sign up here is a link that gets both of us some extra guest
points just to get you started:
Charlotte now says SF is her favorite city as we had such a great trip. Some highlights included China Town, Japan Town, Pier 39 (stinky but fun sea lions), Ferry Building Market, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the amazing California Academy of Sciences Museum. We found the best food in the Ferry Building which really is a foodie lovers go-to-spot.
Oh and book stores! Kinokuniya is an old fave from Dubai, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur and then there is City Lights – iconic place in so many ways.
Our days were spent out sightseeing and then we picked up great produce and offerings at the Bernal markets so were able to make yummy meals in that chef’s kitchen which was fun. Great trip and I’m so grateful that we saved all that money on housing!
A short and easy flight took us over the Big Island for volcanoes and rural life. We had a lovely house that sure did sunset from the deck very well. I think half my photos were of sunset each night and sitting out there with a cold beverage – bliss. It was in a non-touristy area and so interesting to watch Hawaiian life unfolding around us!
We drove around the island from our base in Kona to Hilo and the national park. Long day of driving but the vistas are incredible coming back in the interior. The park of course is amazing and the view behind Max and Charlotte has changed in the last few years as it used to be filled with lava which has now disappeared back underground with just puffs of smoke coming out now. The lava fields have dried up but you always have the sense that anything could happen underneath your feet.
We snorkeled (well Charlotte did and we watched) in the lovely rock pools and wandered on black sandy beaches.
One day we drove up the hills behind Kona and went to a great coffee farm. We were taken around in a 4 wheeler over some bumpy roads which was fun. We got to visit with the animals plus see the process of coffee growing and processing again. We’ve done this in Costa Rica and Vietnam so it’s interesting to compare. We also bought some great beans to take home.
Another day we drove out past the Kona airport and went to an interesting octopus farm. It’s run by scientists who are trying to figure out how to breed them in captivity. I think we are kind of glad they are not succeeding in some ways as these creatures are incredible. We spent a couple of hours learning about them and playing with many in their tanks.
We hit a wonderful sale on flights to Hawaii from Oakland, CA ($49 each way!!) so just had to go. I decided to spend a week in Oahu as we lived there for three years and my third son was born in Honolulu. But I wanted Max and Charlotte to also see the Big Island as it’s so different plus of course we needed to explore the volcanoes and national parks.
Our week on Oahu was spent staying in Kailua which is a bit separate from the hectic parts of Honolulu but an easy drive in. We loved the small town feel to it and met up with an amazing friend and her family. She was the person who mentored us to unschooling ideas waaaay back in the 90s. We got to watch her granddaughter ride in a show (you know Charlotte loved the horse experiences) and hang out for a bit as they were all camping at the beach park. Ohana (family) is so vital in Hawaii and it was lovely to be reminded of this.
We drove around the entire island and fell back in love with the east side and north shore. I love the rural and undeveloped feel to it and so many are holding onto that.
We also went to the Bishop Museum which I loved. My older two boys spent many hours there as we had membership for three years and went to so many classes and offerings. It was fun to go back and revisit the exhibits with new eyes.
Max has always loved sushi and ceviche so leaped onto poke of all kinds in Hawaii. Even the grocery stores carry multiple fresh offerings. Yum. We also had fun at Shirokiya Japan Village Walk in Ala Moana Center – right down in Waikiki. So many choices and so little time to eat!
Another extreme yum is Leonard’s Bakery and malasadas. We stopped at their food truck and bought a box and ate so many we were oozing sugar. I don’t even like doughnuts that much but these – oh my. These are Portuguese doughnuts so I was excited to be going to Portugal later in the year (update sadly did not find them in the Algarve)!
We decided that cheap tickets and a call out to help support the islands after the devastating hurricane were a good reason to visit Puerto Rico. I found a house swap (well we used points but had a Danish family in ours giving us points) through home exchange in the northwest area of the island in a town called Isabella.
The flight over was easy from Tampa (about 3.75 hours) and cheap on Jetblue. We picked up our rental car at the airport, turned on the GPS and set off to drive south and then west. It was a pretty easy drive in terms of finding the route and direction BUT stressful coming out of the airport and navigating huge potholes, large gaps where there were no lines painted on the roads creating a bit of a free for all in lane usage, and aggressive drivers. The island is certainly not laid back in terms of drivers as it was a constant need to watch for crazy people bound and determined to run into us or force us into a ditch (driving down the middle of very narrow roads at top speed). We even had a full school bus aggressively staying about 2 inches off our bumper for about 15 minutes on a mountain road despite our going over the speed limit!
That aside we had a lovely house to stay in and enjoyed the symphony of sound all day long. At sunrise the chickens started crowing and clucking, cows lowing, horse braying, birds singing, and dogs of all sizes calling out to each other. This lasted until long after the sun went down. And those roosters crow all day long there! It made us laugh but I am not sure if I could live with that cacophony always. I had to move inside from the pool and outside dining/living room to make work calls – live was a struggle!
We made a few trips to local beaches enjoying Jobos, Crash Boat, Aquadilla, Cabo Roja amongst others that we didn’t catch the names of. Our favorite spot though was a town called Rincon. It is an older surfer/hippy town on the beach and just had a great feel to it. We had a couple of good meals there and enjoyed the lighthouse, watching surfers, and wandering on the beaches.
One day we headed into the mountain area to Gozalandia waterfalls and hiking area. We went to both falls. One looks very much like a cenote from Mexico (but sadly lots of graffiti in it) which stands to reason as it’s the same geologic set up as in the Yucatan area.
It’s easy to get around the falls although a bit humid. We did not swim but plenty were and of course the wild ones jumping off the cliffs into the pools. Lots of stairs to get down so that could be an issue for some. Pretty place and only $5 to park which is the entrance fee. We ate at the restaurant onsite too and it was OK – decent but not exciting.
I can’t say we are going to race back to PR as it really did not overly excite us. Limited things to do, lots of trash, unexciting food, very high prices, and those crazy drivers. But we had a good trip with Grandma and had lots of laughs which is what counts.
We had a house swap in Arnhem which is an hour or so west of Amsterdam. One great thing about house swapping is that we get to visit places that we wouldn’t have thought of or are not on the tourist track. We love Holland so were happy to try out a new area and this one did not let us down. Arnhem is delightful. It’s a very green city with lovely trees everywhere, parks, bike trails (naturally), and rivers. Plus there are some great museums and nature parks.
We spent a day at the huge Netherlands Open Air Museum. There
are 40 or more houses/barns that have been brought in to show Dutch life
through the centuries. We really learned a huge amount about farming and historical
pieces that we weren’t aware of before. The weather was amazing that day too
and perfect for wandering around or taking the trolley that trundled the
perimeter of the park.
We also loved the The
Kröller-Müller Museum art museum
which is located in the middle of a national park (De Hoge Veluwe National Park).
Again, gorgeous weather and driving around the forest was incredible. I wish we
had time to have walked (or you can rent bikes) there as the paths looked
lovely. The art museum holds the second largest number of Van Gogh pieces in
the world and has some lovely collections including Picasso, Seurat, Monet, and
Mondriaan. There is an outdoor sculpture garden too that is the largest in
Europe. A day wandering around this itself is needed.
Then we also visited the WWII museum which is extremely well done. The immersive areas with noise and flashing “bombs” are intense but memorable. Arnhem was the site of a big battle and subsequent movie so this museum remembers all of this. It was a good expansion after just coming from Dachau.
Charlotte has been reading a lot about WWII and wanted to go to a camp and Ann Frank’s house. We were not able to fit in Amsterdam this trip (during previous visits I thought she was too young) so in our drive across country, we stopped to visit Dachau which is just west of Munich. I was apprehensive about how intense this was going to be as I remember being very upset as a teen when I lived in Germany and our high school visited a camp. We were unable to take the free tour in English as it was full (get there very early for this) so had the individual audio recordings which actually were just fine and we were able to move around on our own pace. It was intense and horrifying but the focus in the camp is not on macabre but on peace and not letting this ever happen again. There are limited photographs of horrors and lots of places for reflection with worship centers from multiple religions. It is very simply laid out and maintained and has a feeling of calm reflection within – at least that is what I found. The kids were OK too. Quiet and reflective and I found we were walking holding hands or hooking arms together.
I did not take many photos here as it did not feel
comfortable. There were the tourists doing selfies at the gates (why@#^$&???)
but mostly people were similarly quiet.
I really recommend taking older children and teens here as
we all need to remember.
We stayed about 10 minutes away in a lovely little town called Olching. Our hotel was amazing – Hotel Schiller – and the people very friendly. Great onsite Bavarian restaurant with top notch food. Really enjoyed staying here.