The Belle of the South
The holes we’ve been to.
When talking about my travels, I often bring up how Amsterdam is the most surprising place that I have been. Why? Well, it’s one of the few places that blew my preconceptions of it right out of the water. Back a few years ago when we, me and a few friends, were planning our great European adventure, I was hesitant to add Amsterdam to the itinerary. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know all that much about the city. What I had heard was that it was a party city filled with legal drugs and prostitution and frat boys. (Do they have those in Europe?) But my friends wanted to go and I will pretty much go anywhere. What I didn’t expect was to be totally blown away by the Dutch city.
Side story time! Our journey getting there was a little rocky and is the epitome of looking back on it and laughing. We were in London and had a flight to Amsterdam. The night before me and my friend checked into the flight, the third opting not to. Well, the next day was riddled with delays, us leaving the hostel too late, the train late by 20 minutes, therefore making us late to the airport. Our friend missed the cut off for check in by 10 minutes. Ah! But she told us to go ahead and leave her behind. Though I didn’t like the idea, it would have cost us all too much money to do so. So, me and the other friend made a mad dash through security. I had never taken off and put on boots as fast I had then. And then, as if to add extra torture, the plane was on the entire other side of the airport. So, like a couple of crazy people, we ran like our wallets depended on it. I fell behind, one, because I was out of shape, and two, my asthma was acting up. My friend left me in her dust. When I finally got to the gate I was wheezing like a squeak toy. And to add another layer of embarrassment, the plane was already out on the tarmac and we had to hoof it up the stairs and be the subject of annoyed stares as we made our way to our seats. I collapsed in my seat, totally worn out, grateful to actually make it and not keeling over in a fit of wheezing and choking. The flight itself was delightful and short. Our bags, also being late, didn’t arrive with us at the airport and we had to wait for them and our friend at the hostel. So, lesson learned. Leave plenty of time to get to the airport because delays can and will happen. And if you can, check in the night before.
Anyway, after that whole ordeal, getting to the airport was a relief in itself. What wasn’t fun was trying to figure out the public transportation. I’m a total noob when it comes to that stuff. When we finally reunited and set off to explore, I was struck by just how beautiful Amsterdam really was.
It was spring when we visited, so it was still kinda cool out and the trees and plants were showing off their new greenery, but that didn’t detract from the charm of it. The architecture was picturesque with the tall skinny buildings, the canals and bridges, small side streets, filled with quaint shops and restaurants, and inns, etc. Bikes were everywhere. And boats, either giving tours or to be lived in. It was so quintessentially European. Being an American, I felt like I had been transported into another world. It was unreal.
Now, there were all of those things that I had originally been uncertain about, not that I am against those things per se, but there is enough to balance them out. From the flower market to the Anne Frank House, which we didn’t get to see, there is enough to do and see to please almost everyone. We only had a few days in Amsterdam, so we opted to just explore, and eat. One of our main goals of anywhere we go. The food didn’t disappoint. I think we got bitterballen two or three times. And cheese, ah, cheese… We did, out of curiosity, go through the red light district, which is where most of the hedonistic activity is located and had a few giggles. What I had feared turned out to not be bad at all.
So, what I suppose the point of this is, give a place a chance. You might end up liking it more than you think. I think we tend to let our fears prevent us from trying things sometimes and we have to tell that little voice in the back of our minds to shut up and take a chance. I am glad I did. (please use your own discretion, I do not condone ignoring instincts completely if you think a place is dangerous!) As for Amsterdam, it is one of my favorite places that I have gone so far in my travels and I would absolutely go back. read more
Have you ever wanted to journey deep into the earth? Or gaze into the actual Devil’s Hole yourself? Then make a trip to The Lost Sea Adventure in Sweetwater, Tennessee, an extensive cave that you can take a guided tour through. Just be warned, this tour isn’t for the faint of heart, or the out of shape. Why you ask? Well, you begin by going down this big yellow tube:
It might look pretty intimidating going down, but it’s even more so coming back up. So, make sure you wear comfortable footwear. You descend into the earth via a metal yellow tube with your fellow group members and you might be thinking, this is impressive and all, but where’s the cave? Well, once you step out of said tube, the room opens up into the sprawling cave beyond. Strategically placed lights illuminate the natural wonders, stalactites, stalagmites, great rocky cracks and holes, and waterfalls and natural pools, a moonshine still. Well, that last one isn’t natural. But the caves were used as a hidden bar during prohibition and some of the famous Tennessee moonshine was made deep in it’s bowels.
Along the tour you are taken into a considerably sized room where you can experience complete darkness, and you might not think it, but it is a little unsettling, especially how we’re all so used to our world filled with light all around us. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture a picture of this for obvious reasons.
And although it may seem a little strange, if you aren’t too fond of heights you might not have such a good time since there are multiple scaffolding walkways and bridges throughout the cave.
There’s so many interesting nooks and crannies to discover.
But the truly most amazing feature of these caves lies at the end of the tour, which is optional given that it’s down even further and therefore quite the hike, and that is the lake. A lake in a cave, you ask? It seems strange when you finally lay eyes on it, not sure what to expect, some sort of dinky pond to marvel at, but my expectations were totally blown away when I entered the huge room with an expansive lake, so expansive they give boat tours out into it. The Lost Sea Adventure surely lives up to it’s name.
But not only is there a lake down there, but there are fish as well which you can feed if you want.
Big fish, rainbow trout if I remember correctly, put in there as an experiment to see if they would find their way out, but it looked like they hadn’t quite done that…
At some point along the journey you get the chance to gaze into the Devil’s Hole, the very thing that inspired the name of this blog.
The worst part, however, is the trek back above ground. Not only do you have to climb back up from the lake far below, but you then have to crawl, I mean walk, I definitely didn’t crawl… up the long yellow tube to see the daylight once again. Go grab a drink and a rest because after that adventure you totally deserve it.
The Lost Sea Adventure is definitely worth a side trip to go see, just make sure you come prepared for a hike that might be a little taxing for some.
Please forgive the shoddy quality of the photos. I only brought along my phone on the trip, unfortunately.
It’s been a while! I’ve just been trying to figure some things out. In the meantime, why don’t we take a virtual tour of Versailles?
About 45 minutes outside of Paris lies probably one of the most famous palaces in the world. Why is this? What draws people to the Palace of Versailles? Is it the romance of the past? The perfectly preserved french architecture and gardens? The grandeur? It could be all of the above. Whatever the case, I had to go see for myself what makes this place so spectacular.
The palace is relatively easy to get to. I took the subway, about a 45-60 minute ride (I can’t remember the exact time.) and a short walk from the train station, and then you see it, the golden gates shining in the sun, just a taste of what’s to come.
Now, the lines can be intimidating, but even there you are surrounded by history and simple beauty as the ticketing is housed inside an old building.
Once I got the tickets, it was on to the main attraction. If I remember correctly, the palace and the gardens are two separate tickets, so be prepared to pay up for the full experience. Right from the start you can see the opulence, the attention to detail.
We decided to tackle the gardens first and search for Marie Antoinette’s famed boudoir. At the top of some stairs I was greeted by the breathtaking vista of the gardens, and it was then I truly witnessed how extensive they were.
And looking back:
Now, I will say that I was undertaking all of this while still suffering from a cold. That’s right, I got sick in Paris! But I was determined! It wasn’t long before I started to see some of the grand, manicured aspects of the gardens. Namely the famous fountains:
The first stop was the Grand Trianon, a somewhat gaudy pink marble building, a getaway from the rigors of the royal life. (Because ruling in opulence must have been hard, right?)
That black and white tile was pretty amazing though! The inside wasn’t as garish as the outside:
The next stop was the Petit Trianon. Built as a retreat for the famous Madame de Pompadour and later used as an escape by another famous figure, Marie Antoinette, it was a little simpler than the main palace, but still had a sort of charming lavishness.
It’s the next part that I should have researched a bit more. When I visited, I had no idea about Marie Antoinette’s medieval town and the way she used to pretend to be a simpleton to amuse herself. So when we happened across this little fairly tale-like village in the gardens, we didn’t know what to think of it. We wandered around a little bit, searching for Marie Antoinette’s boudoir, but to no avail. It wasn’t until after we left that I researched and realize what we had missed. Perhaps someday I’ll make it back there and then I’ll know what to look for.
Anyways, it’s quite a sight to see this peeking through the spring foliage:
And quite another to see the whole thing, like stepping back through time:
Exhausted and confused, we made our way back to the main building.
It’s easy to say that the interior didn’t disappoint.
Doesn’t every house come with its own private chapel?
One of the most iconic areas of the palace spans the back, a little corridor known as the Hall of Mirrors.
It’s always awe inspiring when you see such a famed place in person for the first time, like you just want to stand there and take it all in. The Hall of Mirrors is the epitome of what the palace represents, the wealth and power of the french royal family, the priceless chandeliers, the painted murals on the ceiling, the glass mirrors on the walls, overlooking their extensive gardens. It makes it easier to see why the proletariat revolted.
Good thing that I was only there to enjoy in these modern times.
Next up were the bedrooms. Yes, you read that right. The king and queen had separate bedrooms. I can’t say I hate the idea…
And the queen’s:
The railing’s are there for a ceremony called the =&0=&, where people would come in and watch the king and queen rise for the day and then again as they go to bed for the night. Now the garden getaways make a little more sense…
I wrote a little bit more about this here: ♦♦
And here’s the door that Marie Antoinette snuck out of on the fateful night the mobs came:
No matter who you are, that must have been terrifying!
After a quick trip to an art gallery in one of the palace wings, our tour came to an end.
After it all, it’s easy to see what draws people to the Palace of Versailles. It gives you not only a glimpse of the past, but how the rich and powerful used to live, and may still live these days. The opulence is equal parts gaudy and mesmerizing. I couldn’t even imagine living in a place like this, with my life put on display for all to see, even if it is in the lap of luxury. It’s a place that must be seen to believe and will stay with you forever.
I know I’ll never forget my short time spent here.
Old World in the New World
About an hour or so outside of Racine, a small town in Wisconsin where my mother is from, you can go back in time to when there were no cell phones and you had to churn your own butter. At Old World Wisconsin, the history lesson is immersive as you tour around old homesteads and farms with workers in full costumes as they take you through the daily lives of our ancestors. You begin to appreciate all of the modern technology that we have!
The houses and farmsteads are separated into different areas. Now, you can pay extra and take a tram to each area, or you can be cheapos like my mother and I and decide to hike the miles long path between them. A little exercise is good though, right?!
As a history lover, I really appreciated the knowledge of the staff about the everyday workings of the past. Just the process of making a simple shirt could take weeks, from growing the cotton and making the cloth to sewing it. These days, you can just drive to your local mall and get several shirts and pants to go with them!
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I‘m always curious about how everyday people of times past lived their everyday lives. One of the things those people did (and still do, I believe…) is use the toilet. I am always curious about toilets and bathrooms throughout the ages. Does that make me weird?
Anyways, at the Ruins of Philippi in Greece there are some pretty well preserved latrines. I don’t know about you, but they seem a little too communal for my tastes. But, I suppose if you had to go, you had to go!
What did they use for toilet paper? Well, they used a sponge on a stick that soaked in saltwater. Those were communal too. That’s why there’s also the little slots on the front of the toilet, for the sponge on a stick!
Makes you grateful to live in modern times, no?
I‘m a sucker for ancient ruins. I love to explore and learn about them whenever I get the chance. And a few years ago, on a trip across Europe, I had the opportunity to tour the well preserved site of Pompeii.
A couple hours away from Rome by bus, Pompeii is near the port city of Naples. It’s totally worth the trip, even if you are not really into ruins, or if you are ruined out from Rome. A whole town preserved in time, with parts of it even restored, you feel almost transported back in time.
It was sort of surreal to walk on the same streets others have walked on hundreds of years ago, exploring their squares and stores and homes. The stones were worn from years of use and wagon wheels left grooved trails in the streets.
People used the raised stones in the middle of the roads to cross as the streets were used as sewage. I’m sure that smelled pleasant! It amazed me the attention to detail that was put into everything. Notice the sidewalk with the carefully arranged pebbles above.
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One of them at least…
Confession time: I’m not really a beach person.
I grew up in Florida, surrounded by water and beaches. How can this be?
I’m not entirely sure, maybe it’s all the sand in places it shouldn’t be, the bright sun (night owl here!), or the self confidence issues that come with wearing bathing suits. I can appreciate a good beach every once in a while though. I’m just not as into them as other people seem to be…
But I digress, I just wanted to point that out because when I mention a favorite place in Florida it doesn’t include a beach destination. Although St Augustine does have a nice beach.
Anyways, here are a few reasons it is one of my top Floridian destinations:
I’m sort of a history nut. Any place that has ruins and/ or museum or historical significance instantly gets added to my travel list. UNESCO World Heritage Sites are pretty much my bucket list. And so, as being one of the oldest European settlements in North America, it definitely made the cut. One of the sites that stands out the most is the old Spanish fort, The Castillo de San Marcos. Built by the Spanish in the 17th century, the fort guards the the city and the Matanzas Bay and is open for tours.
A Taste of Europe in Florida
If that doesn’t float your boat (but why wouldn’t it??), there is also the quaint old historic downtown area. More like a small European town than anything else I’ve seen in Florida. There are shops and restaurants and even more historical sites to see.
A Sweet Lighthouse
Another icon of St. Augustine is the black and white striped lighthouse. Built in the mid 1800s, the lighthouse and the light keepers house are in excellent condition and both are open for tours. Though the climb up to the top can be quite challenging, the views are worth it!
There is much more to see in this small city: Flagler College, which used to be a hotel, Hotel Ponce de Leon, for the wealthy in the late 1800s. It is home to some priceless Tiffany glass and chandelier works. And college students that look at you funny for touring their school.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
Memorial Presbyterian Church
There’s still so much more to see and I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the historic city.
Other Notable Holes:
♦ There are of course ghost tours available. Cheesy, but fun!
♦ The famous Fountain of Youth is skippable. It is more of a tourist trap than anything, also, it doesn’t work. I’m still aging…
♦ The original Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, built in a historic castle-like residence.
♦ There is also an old jail that you can tour and be glad you weren’t locked up in olden times.
♦ The Hyppo gourmet ice pops. So freaking good with unusual but tasty flavor combos.