Photo of the Day: Goodbye Ohio, hello Ecuador

Leaving shortly for airport for our flight to Quito. But the first photo is how I spent my morning, watching Yumi’s favorite movie White Fang 

Planning: Galapagos

This will probably be my shortest planning post I’ve ever written, as I didn’t do a lot of the essential planning for this trip. The idea of this trip was born almost a year and a half ago, when discussing family trip ideas, my littlest brother remarked that he was still due a vacation for his college graduation. My mom had been looking into catamaran trips and Dom and I were not so enthusiastic about that, but I said if it was somewhere Brian and I hadn’t been, we would at least consider it. Then Dom said, what about one in the Galapagos. My parents both were like, sure. And within 24 hours, my mom had called my other siblings and was full on researching a trip there.

We were pretty limited with our time we could go on a vacation. My sister and her husband work for universities and my youngest brother wasn’t sure if he’d be in grad school or not. And with Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, we were pretty much locked into the week of New Years. Unfortunately it meant that we were extremely limited in cruise options. Galapagos cruises are locked into very strict itineraries to help protect the environment, which I’m all for, but that meant we only had a couple of options for cruise itineraries due to our inflexible dates. In the end, we found one cruise possibility within our budget and dates (as a side note, we didn’t look at the extreme budget options as my parents were footing the bill and my mom wanted something nicer than budget cabins). And we also worked out a land itinerary option with a tour agency and sat down and compared the stops on the two itineraries and ended up liking to stops on the island hopping land based option best. Most people say cruising is the best way to see the Galapagos and I have no doubt that it is if you have flexible dates and are traveling with a smaller group (we are a group of 7, though at one point it was 9 of us going) which locked us out of some cruises as they already had passengers booked.

 

Anyways, here is our relatively set in stone itinerary as it’s all planned out with our guide already:

Day 1: Arrival in Quito in the morning, spend the morning walking around Old Town then a trip to the Middle of the Earth

Day 2: Flight to San Cristobal Island, then visit the Interpretation Center, Frigate Bird Hill, and snorkeling

Day 3: Snorkel Trip to Kicker Rock then La Loberia

Day 4: Early morning boat transfer to Santa Cruz, visit the Highlands then Tortuga Bay

Day 5: Day Trip to Seymour Island

Day 6: Early morning boat transfer to Isabella, Tintoreras for snorkeling, Flamingo Lagoon

Day 7: Sierra Negra hike, Concha Peral for snorkeling

Day 8: Transfer to Balta airport, then flight to Guayaquil where we have an 8 hour layover before heading home

 

Packing List: I had trouble as always trying to figure out what exactly to pack. We are doing a variety of activities while gone and multiple types of activities within the span of a day. We will be getting wet, hiking, sun bathing, and more. I wanted to make sure to be able to have proper clothing but not lugging around 2 full bags on the boat each day. I probably way overpacked but that’s normal. 

  • Bottoms: 2 pairs of jeans (mostly for our first and last days in Quito and Guayaquil and possibly out to dinners on the island if cooler evening), 6 pairs of shorts (4 casual/day shorts, 2 nicer pairs to wear to dinners), 2 pairs of leggings 
  • Tops: tee shirts (2 nicer shirts, 8 more casual shirts), 3 cardigans, 2 tank tops, 1 long sleeve shirt
  • Dresses/skirts: 3 dresses
  • Jacket: 1 rain jacket, 1 fleece jacket
  • Shoes: 1 pair water sandals, 1 pair of flip flops, 1 dressier sandal, 1 pair of sneakers, 1 pair of Sperrys, 1 pair of Toms
  • Other: 6 swimsuits, 2 coverups, 1 wet suit, 1 wet suit top, 1 snorkel mask/fins 

What we are most looking forward to: Snorkeling with the sea lions for me, wildlife in general for Brian

The Brussels Journey: Chocolate and Beer Tour (EuroTrip Day 4)

How can you go to Brussels and not partake in a chocolate and beer tasting tour? I had stumbled across a chocolate only tasting tour on another travel blog and upon looking more into it more, I came across the Brussels Journey chocolate and beer tasting tour. After reading the glowing reviews on Trip Advisor and browsing the website, we booked the tour for our first afternoon in Brussels. It was an incredibly informative and fun afternoon spent sampling chocolate and beer. You also get a mini walking tour of the city between the tasting places and our guide pointed out a lot of things we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. He also pointed out decent places to eat amidst the more touristy geared restaurants.

We especially liked that the tour focused solely on the lesser known chocolatiers in Brussels. We didn’t visit the household names of Godiva and Neuhaus, but the smaller shops that are still primarily located in Brussels. Our first stop was Chocopolis. The Chocopolis store location was very near our hotel and close to the Galeries Royales St. Hubert. The store opened in 2006 and is unique in that they produce their chocolates inside their store location eliminating transportation of the produced chocolates. Unfortunately when we were there, they weren’t actively producing any chocolates. It was still neat however to see the set up of how they make the chocolates. At Chocopolis, we tried just one chocolate truffle (or praline as they are known in Belgium), a 66% dark chocolate with chili flavor inside. While it wasn’t my favorite chocolate of the tour as I’m not a big chili fan, it was a good introduction to Belgian chocolate and Brian especially enjoyed this one.

+ Read More

Christmas Ornaments 2016

I meant to have this post come out yesterday on Christmas, but I totally forgot all about finishing it until this morning. Anyways as we have a tradition of buying an ornament from each of our trips (or each country if we visit more than one on a vacation), here is our round up of 2016 Christmas ornaments.

EuroTrip 2016: Klomp shoes from Amsterdam, Beer mug from Belgium, and an Eiffel Tower from Paris

EuroTrip 2016 ornaments

+ Read More

Brussels Lower Town (EuroTrip Day 4 & 6)

After spending three days in Amsterdam, we took an early train from Amsterdam to Brussels. We visited Brussels in mid April 2016, relatively soon after the Brussels terrorist attacks. We had many questions from family and friends before leaving if we should continue to visit Brussels, but we brushed them off. Anything could happen anywhere, anytime. Heck, we could have gotten in a car accident on our way to the airport in Ohio. While it did change some of the atmosphere in Brussels and led to a complication regarding flights home when a flight was canceled a few days before we were due to fly home; I am so incredibly happy we didn’t change our plans. We noticed more security at the train station than normal probably and we passed several armed military personal throughout the city. But honestly, it was probably the safest time to be in Brussels.

After checking into our hotel, Hotel le Dixseptieme, we headed out for the rest of the morning. The hotel was in an excellent location, just a few minutes walk to both the train station and Grand Place. It was a nice hotel and we had an incredibly nice and large hotel room on the top floor. The staff was also very helpful in guiding us on the best way to get to the airport with several means of transportation closed due to the Brussels attacks. We did not have breakfast included in our stay, but there are plenty of places to eat breakfast around the hotel.

Lower Town in Brussels in the primary tourist district and surrounds the Grand Place (or Grote Markt). Brussels is both French and Dutch speaking so all sights and names will have translations in both languages. Also due to the European Union headquarters, English is also highly common here. Our first stop was to step briefly into the Galeries Royales St. Hubert. Construction on the complex was completed in 1847 and is Europe’s oldest still operating shopping mall. This complex was actually the inspiration for Paris’s many famous shopping galleries. It’s a gorgeous shopping gallery and also has restaurants in addition to shopping boutiques. We walked through here several times while in Brussels at various times of day. The first time was early in the morning and was the only time it was fairly empty.

Galleries Royales St. Hubert

+ Read More

Flashback: Ancient Olympia, Greece 2011

Well, I am finally getting around to putting up another post in my flashback to our Greece 2011 trip. One of my major must see sights on mainland Greece was visiting Ancient Olympia, the original sight of the Olympic Games. If you’ve been reading my blog in the recent past, you know I have a love affair with the Olympics and went to the Rio 2016 Olympics. As everyone knows, Greece was the birthplace of both the Ancient Olympics and the Modern Olympics. Ancient Olympia is located in the Western part of the Peloponnese area of Greece. Olympia was the most important religious and athletic centre in Ancient Greece. Olympia was likely settled in the 12th century BC, while the Olympia sanctuary itself  likely dates back to the 9th-10th century BC.

The Ancient Olympics were held every four years to honor Zeus. They were organized in 776 BC by the King Iphitos. After that date, more buildings were added to the sight, including temples, treasuries, and the stadium. The great Temple of Zeus was added in 470-456 BC. The site was continually being added to and reconstructed during various rules. The last Ancient Olympic Games were held in 393 AD after which time all pagan festivals were declared illegal by Theodosius I. The site was ordered to be destructed in 426 AD and earthquakes in 552 ruined the rest of the remaining structures. The Ancient Olympia sight was re-discovered in 1766.

+ Read More

Amsterdam: Wrap Up

When we realized we were going to be taking a spring trip in 2016, The Netherlands was the first place we thought to visit. We had thought about visiting in the fall back in 2012, but decided to put it off until we could visit in the spring for the tulips. April 2016 rolled around and we were headed to Amsterdam. Spring is a gorgeous time to visit there, regardless of if you time it just right for the tulips. The trees lining the canal are just coming into bloom making it a very picturesque place to walk around. We debated on whether to make it a Netherlands only trip or add in another country. While I have plenty of sights I would like to see in The Netherlands that we didn’t visit, we had a greater desire to visit parts of Belgium so we added on Brussels and Bruges instead of more places within The Netherlands.

+ Read More

Dutch Cuisine

I’m going to do a separate post for Amsterdam and Belgium cuisine as they are quite different even though we hit both places on the same trip. Before deciding to visit Amsterdam, I really didn’t know much about Dutch cuisine. It’s not something commonly eaten or advertised in the States, so I was intrigued to learn about it.

+ Read More