happy in venice

Apr 20th 2014 02:09:55 am


Venice is crowded and touristy, but if you go in accepting that fact, you can still enjoy it as the unique and magical place that it is.


There actually IS a Disney Store in Venice, but otherwise, it has not been totally Disney-fied or perfected for tourists. There are lots of souvenier shops and plenty of touristy restaurants, but they aren’t huge chains or American imports. And even if the crowds and cheap trinkets turn you off, if you focus on the architecture and the history, there is still an unlimited amount of cool stuff to see. I love old buildings, and they don’t get much more unique than in Venice, with its Eastern and Western influences and long, rich history.


I had been to Venice once before in 2007, but I was excited to share it with Travis. We took the night train from Vienna to Venice (it was a very small sleeper car, but we both slept ok in the pull-out beds) and were a little tired and bedraggled when we arrived, but it didn’t prevent us from wandering around the city snapping photos.


Once we could finally check into our hotel, we cleaned up and went out (across the romantic Rialto Bridge) for an awesome dinner of cicchetti and spritzes. I had so much fun!


On Day 2, we took a boat ride out to the small islands of Burano and Murano. We were blessed with amazing weather. The photos from Burano look almost fake, with the colorful houses and clear blue sky. We had a wonderful time wandering around there. Murano was less colorful, but just as picturesque. We ate fried seafood, bought me a Murano glass ring, and took lots of photos!


On Day 3, we wandered around some less touristy neighborhoods, finding lunch and gelato along the way. Then we went to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, which had a LOT of surrealism in its collection. Surrealism is not exactly my favorite, but the museum itself was absolutely lovely with a perfect sculpture garden. Later, we wandered back to Piazza San Marco to sit at a cafe and people watch. Another really delightful day… but nothing can last forever…


Traveling is amazing and fun, but it can also be difficult and exhausting. I think the two weeks of traveling and constant sight seeing caught up with me, and I started to get sick on our third day in Venice! Really sick. No!


We tried to go to bed early, but I was still very sick the next morning when we went on a guided tour of St. Mark’s Basilica. Despite my stuffy, pounding head, it was incredible to see inside the church.


In the past, each merchant who came to Venice was required to bring something with which to decorate the church, so it is a jumbled collage of all sorts of marble, mosaics, and statues. We got to see the famous bronze Roman horses and walk along the second level balcony and look onto onto the Piazza. So cool! But I was so sick.


After the tour, Travis basically dragged me to the train station and I slept for the rest of our journey to Rome…


Travis and I have been taking a LOT of photos. You can see all of mine in my Europe 2014 album on Flickr. Even though I am a bit behind on my uploading, there are still PLENTY of photos to view.

Read Travis’ posts on Venice and see lots more photos HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

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Vienna: marathon + friends + imperial treasure

Apr 17th 2014 01:47:40 pm


Wow. Vienna was very impressive. We made a stop in the Austrian city mostly to meet up with friends and so Travis could run the Vienna City Marathon. I hadn’t totally planned all of our sight-seeing in advance, but it didn’t matter. There is way more to see than we could ever have fit in! I think we did a good job hitting some highlights and getting a feel for the city…

Day 1: Naschmarkt, Marathon Expo, Prater, Schönbrunn Palace


We were staying with our friends at an AirBnB apartment near the Naschmrkt, a great place to pick up fruit, snacks, and breakfast. There was so much beautiful produce and great Turkish candies and snacks!


After a morning market stop, Travis and I headed to the marathon expo, which just happened to be near the Prater. The Prater is an amusement park a lot like Coney Island, but a bit nicer. We couldn’t resist riding the giant Ferris Wheel and getting a cheese sausage for the road.


In the afternoon we headed out to the Schönbrunn Palace, the summer palace of the Hapsburg emperors. It is hard to capture how huge the palace and grounds are in photos.


We took a tour of the inside and walked around the grounds some. The inside was very gilded and mirrored. We got to view 40 different palace rooms and listen to an audio guide, but the history of the Hapsburg family was hard to follow. So many generations of rulers! I need to get a book on the topic…

Since it was marathon eve for Travis we tried not to stay on our feet for too long, but we probably still over-did it. Schönbrunn Palace was just such an enormous complex!

Day 2: Marathon


Quite a few of our friends from Brooklyn came to Vienna to run the marathon. (Amanda, Joel, Kris, James, Travis, and Jon, seen above. Plus, Alison and Gabriella!) They all had great, fast races, including Travis. I was very impressed.


I stayed out on the course all day (shivering in the rain) to cheer and try to take photos, but it was hard! I missed a bunch of friends and didn’t take many good photos at all, but I did get to see Travis in two different spots. He had a fun race and basically tied his previous PR.


Travis and I rested after the race (and did a bit of work, laundry, and blogging) and then went out for dinner to celebrate with our friends. It was so much fun to have some quality time with familiar Brooklyn (and London!) peeps in the middle of our trip.

Day 3: Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, Sacher Torte, Imperial Crypt & Imperial Treasury


We have been doing a really good job checking off almost all of our sight seeing wish list so far on this trip… and I wanted our success to continue. But a week of European traveling (plus a marathon day!) seemed to have sapped some of our energy reserves… but we pressed on!

In the morning we stored our bags at the train station and then went to check out St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Thanks to unused tickets from our friends (thanks Joel & Amanda!) we got to go see the church treasury. Wow. So weird. So many relics (think thorns from the real crown of thorns, saints’ blood and bones, etc) and fascinating, bejeweled monstrances. It was hard for me to wrap my head around all of the religious artifacts…


After the cathedral, we took a break at Hotel Sacher to try their famous chocolate torte and some traditional apple strudel. The torte was a little dry, but delicious, and Travis loved the strudel. I mostly loved my cafe latte. Yum.


Next stop was the imperial crypt. We had seen the crypt on a Rick Steves’ episode and thought it would be interesting to see in person. It was a bit spooky, but also fascinating to see all of the death and skeleton iconography. It was also sad to see so many coffins for young babies and children. Overall, sort of a sad stop and maybe not a “must see” in Vienna, but it was interesting.


After the crypt, we headed to the main Hofburg Palace complex to check out the Imperial Treasury. Wow. I didn’t realize how vast the treasure collection would be! We explored room after room filled with jewelry, crowns (including my favorite, the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor seen above), vestments, relics, and unicorn horns….


You guys, I have something to admit. I thought narwhals existed in the same fantasy realm as unicorns. I did not know they were real! So I was quite confused by this display described as “a giant narwhal tooth which was thought to be the horn of a unicorn.” I thought both animals were mythical! Thank goodness for wikipedia… I learn something new everyday!

There was more and more to see in the treasury, not to mention the entire rest of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, but I was getting much too tired and hungry. The trip caught up to me and I crashed hard. We got some easy dinner and then said goodbye to Vienna…

Then, we boarded the night train to Venice…


Read Travis’ posts about Vienna HERE, HERE, and HERE.

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neuschwanstein castle

Apr 13th 2014 10:47:21 am


One more castle to tell you about…


Travis and I made a special one-night trip to Bavaria just to check out the Neuschwanstein Castle. It was built fairly recently by Bavarian King Ludwig II in the late 1800s. The castle was built just for show and for luxury, not for military or defense purposes, so I guess you could say it isn’t a “real” castle. More of a palace. But despite all of that, it was still exceedingly impressive!



The castle is in the most beautiful Alpine setting, with mountains, villages, crystal blue lakes, and waterfalls all around. It is perched at the top of a hill/mountain (it was a solid uphill hike) and it is huge! We did the guided tour of the interior (no pictures allowed) and it may be even more impressive than the exterior. Gilded ballrooms, frescos everywhere, chandeliers, and mosaic floors. It was all amazing.


Neuschwanstein was supposedly the inspiration behind the many fanciful Disney castles, and it definitely did have a touristy feel. Much of the building was designed by a theater set designer and the complex became a tourist destination shortly after the king’s death. But even with all of the touristy aspects (like the Bavarian donut vendor) I LOVED this castle. It was a thrill to see! King Ludwig II’s life is so strange and interesting. I am so glad we made this stop on our trip.


Immediately after viewing the castle, we got on the train to Vienna…

Read Travis’ post about Neuschwanstein HERE.

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castles, castles, and more castles

Apr 10th 2014 04:04:27 pm


Small town Germany is very charming. I wish I had learned a bit more German vocabulary before arriving, but we are getting by (if not entirely endearing ourselves to the locals) with a few “Guten Tag”s, “Danke”s, and “Auf Wiedersehen”s.


We spent three nights in Bacharach — at the highly recommended, relaxed and charming Hotel Kranenturm — which gave us two full days for sight-seeing.


On Tuesday, we hiked up to the Stahleck Castle in Bacharach. It was mostly reconstructed and we didn’t take a tour, but the views from the top of the hill were amazing!


Then, we took a short river cruise to St. Goar and back. We took a German tour of the Rheinsfel Castle in St. Goar, but a kind young volunteer helped translate for us. Much of the castle had been destroyed by the French, but we got to climb through some spooky, narrow tunnels and stairways.


On Wednesday, we took a longer river cruise up to Braubach, and then another steep hike up to see the Marksburg Castle. This was my favorite castle so far. It is the only castle in the region to have remained intact since medieval times. Our tour was in English and it was amazing to see the older (1100s) and newer (1400s) parts of the structure. The walls are twelve feet thick in portions and there are tiny, twisting stairways going up the walls of the towers.


After the hike to and from the castle, we traveled to Koblenz in search of a traditional German meal. It took some searching, but I had wiener schnitzel at the Wirtshaus. We’ve had a lot of schnitzel! Also, cake! Germans make amazing cakes. I’ve had apple, nut, chocolate, and some sort of cake made out of smooshed up cookies. Yum!


One more day of German castles tomorrow, and then on the train to Vienna!

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Apr 8th 2014 02:56:46 pm

Cologne cathedral

We made a very brief stop in Cologne (German spelling is Köln) yesterday on our way to the Rhine Valley from Amsterdam. We had to transfer trains there anyway and figured we should take the time to check out the incredible Kölner Dom Cathedral that stands right near the station.

Cologne cathedral stained glass window

We put our luggage in a fancy automated storage locker and walked out into the sunny day armed with our cameras. At more than 500 feet tall, the cathedral did not disappoint. It is huge and gothic and somewhat terrifying with all of its decorative gargoyles and statues. We took a bunch of photos inside (the stained glass was amazing!) and out, rested at a cafe, and headed back to the station.


The second train trip was a bit of a hassle with another transfer in Koblenz. But now we are in Bacharach and it is lovely. We are having so much fun hiking, river cruising, and castle touring that we decided to stay here one extra night! The internet is spotty, but I’ll try to post more about the Rhine castles tomorrow…


Read Travis’ Cologne post here.

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Made it to Germany!

Apr 8th 2014 08:56:42 am


Guten tag! We are staying in Bacharach in the Rhine Valley at Hotel Krananturm (on Rick Steves’ recommendation). Love it! There isn’t much internet here, but lots of castles and beautiful views!

We took a river cruise today past the Loreley rock to St, Goar. More castles tomorrow!

We passed through Cologne yesterday and I wish I could upload my photos of the awesomely huge and imposing cathedral… Maybe we will find a better connection soon.

We are having fun and have finally beat the jet lag. Auf Wiedersehen!

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canals + tulips + hotchpotch

Apr 6th 2014 03:53:13 pm


We had a truly great day in Amsterdam! We fit a lot into our schedule and I am exhausted again, but I feel we got to see a lot of the highlights and explore much of the inner city on foot.

Of course there were lots of tulips:


We had some fabulous food today. Lunch sandwiches and snacks from our new favorite shop, Stach:


And dinner at a relaxed Dutch restaurant. My hotchpotch from De Blauwe Hollander:


It consisted of mashed potatoes with endive, gravy, bacon, and a meatball. Very delicious!


I absolutely LOVED the Rijksmuseum! Such a huge collection. We saw Fra Angelico, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and much more. The museum building used to be an impressive city gate and it recently went through an extensive renovation. It is a wonderful and beautiful museum. I’d definitely recommend it.


After the Rijksmuseum, it was on to the Van Gogh Museum. It was fascinating to learn more about Van Gogh. I didn’t know he was so prolific.

In the evening we walked and walked. We roughly followed Rick Steves’ walking tour podcast of the red light district, which was way more tame than I was expecting. It IS Sunday night and we were there a little bit early, but I’d say it was less explicit than Bourbon Street in New Orleans. …with a constant smell of pot in the air.


We stumbled on the Rembradtplein, a city square devoted to the painter. It was lovely:


And of course, we dodged more bikes. I think I am getting more used to them, but it was still tricky to look out for cars, trams, and bikes at all the intersections. There are as many bikes in Amsterdam as people and you see hundreds of them locked up on every street. I think that the use of clean transportation is awesome, but I don’t know what would happen in New York if every single person rode a bike. There wouldn’t be enough room to lock them all up!


We had our first fresh stroopwaffle, but hope to have more tomorrow…


Overall, a really fun day. We probably still over-did it a bit and we really need to pace ourselves if we are going to make it through the month, but we are both happy right now.

Read Travis’ recap of the day HERE.


3 Comments » Categories: Travel

Arrival in Amsterdam

Apr 5th 2014 04:06:59 pm

Hello from Amsterdam! I’m exhausted. Flying the red eye on Iceland Air was no problem and actually pretty fun. (I watched Icelandic tv shows.) We slept some, listened to Rick Steves’ podcasts, transferred in Reykjavik, and I was feeling really optimistic by the time we landed in The Netherlands.

Amsterdam is beautiful and we had awesome sunny weather today. But we may have over-done the sight-seeing. The areas we visited were crowded with tourists and there are a LOT of bikes. They ride all over the road and sidewalk alike, and I was a little too brain dead to keep myself successfully out of the way. But we walked a lot of the city despite our fatigue. We ate some frites (french fries) with mayonnaise, drank some Heineken, and shared a fish croquette broodjes (sandwich)… and then we had to crash back at the hotel.

I took a few pics, but hope to do better tomorrow…

You can view all of our photo from our travels in my Europe 2014 Flickr set.

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Europe, here we come!

Apr 4th 2014 11:54:59 am


Today is the day. Travis and I are leaving on our big, month-long European adventure!

I’m nervous and excited. Our hotels and train tickets are booked, plus a few touristy things: museums, a few tours, and my favorite, dinner at the Eiffel Tower! I think we are set.

Our travel plan: Amsterdam > Bacharach in the Rhine Valley, Germany > Munich > Vienna (Travis runs a marathon there on April 13th!) > Night Train to Venice! > Rome > Florence > Varenna at Lake Como in Italy > Lauterbrunnen in the Swiss Alps > and finally, Paris!

How could we possibly swing this huge trip? A lot of things came together, but mainly, Travis was given a three-week sabbatical from his job (as a 5-year anniversary gift) and I’ll be bringing Swap-bot with us. We saved up our credit card points for a decade (literally) and used those to pay for our plane tickets. The hotels, food, and sight-seeing will not be cheap, but we’ve been thinking about and saving for this trip for years. We really feel like it is a once-in-a-life-time, now-or-never opportunity and we are thrilled!

We plan to have access to the internet all along the way. I hope to post here on the blog with short, daily recaps of our activity. And of course, you can follow us on social media:

@rljart on Twitter
@rljart on Instagram
@travisj on Twitter
@travisj on Instagram
Travis’ Europe blog

Four weeks is a long time! Wish us luck!

For those concerned about burglars using this info, our apartment will not be empty. We have a friend house-sitting and caring for Crusher while we are gone.

3 Comments » Categories: Travel

currently // march 2014

Mar 28th 2014 09:13:10 am


The calendar says it is spring, but the weather doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo. I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors these days. Here is some of what’s been keeping me busy…

reading… The Serpent and the Rainbow. I actually just finished this nonfiction book by ethnobotanist, Wade Davis, and I loved it. My parents took me to see an Egypt exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago in the 80s. That, combined with Indiana Jones, ignited an interest in all things related to history and culture. The Indian Jones style of archeology and anthropology (white man “discovering” “primitive” cultures) has rightfully fallen out of favor, but I think the idea of discovering new things will always be exciting and romantic. Davis’ book describes his experience in Haiti searching for the secret recipe for zombie powders — ooo spooky! — but it is much more than an adventure story. It is the story of the incredible history of the Haitian people, the vodoun religion, and the amazingly diverse ways different cultures view and interpret the world and their societies. (I plan to read Passage of Darkness next. Thanks, Dad!)

watching… True Detective. We bought HBO just so I could watch this creepy, suspenseful show. We blew through all eight episodes in about four days. It is sad and scary, but very smart. It will stay with you. (Matthew McConaughey forever!)

playing… World of Warcraft… again. I know, I know. I really don’t have the time. But I love the battle pets! And I am determined to get to level 90… someday…

hosting… Rachel’s Easy Travel Postcard Swap on Swap-bot. Travis and I are taking a crazy-big trip in April, and Swap-bot will be coming with us. I’m hosting this easy snail mail swap so that other travelers like me can keep swapping during their trips.

planning… that crazy-big trip mentioned above. Travis and I are going to Europe! Wow. We have been talking about this trip for years. Recently all of the pieces sort of fell into place in such a way that we felt we HAD to do it now. We will be traveling through six countries – The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and France — I am really excited, but also nervous. My plan is to keep a little travel journal here on the blog… maybe a short post each day about our experiences. Stay tuned!


What have you been doing lately?

4 Comments » Categories: Books, Currently, Online Life, Swap-bot, Television, Travel

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I'm Rachel. I run websites and run marathons. I live in Brooklyn and write about art, crafts, design, food, fitness, fashion, my daily life, and New York City.





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