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I am a researcher by trade. Two years ago I moved to Korea to travel around East Asia. I never thought I would start my own travel blog, but after spending so much time planning my own travels I want to share my insights with fellow travelers. Like many people, I love to travel and explore new places. And when I am not traveling, I am constantly thinking about and planning for my next trip.

The purpose of this travel blog is to serve as a record of my own travels and to pay it forward to other travelers. Through my research with guide books, travel sites like TripAdvisor, and other travel blogs, I have found a lot of information and tips from others, and I want to return the favor by providing my own. My blog will probably appeal most to travelers like myself. I am a traveler who is no longer in her 20s. I like to enjoy the nicer things in life, but I still maintain that adventurous spirit.  I consider myself a “3 star” traveler. I make money extend further with public transportation and street food but splurge on rare experiences and a good meal. I enjoy art, cultural history, wine, and nature. For those with a similar travel sense, my impressions and tips will be useful.

My desire is for this blog to be a source of information that others can turn to for their own travel planning. I welcome comments from fellow travelers about their impressions of the places I have visited and written about. Readers, enjoy my blog–as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Pisa: A beautiful mistake

While visiting Florence, I took a day trip to Pisa, which is only a 60-90 minute train ride away. I really wanted to see the leaning tower and thought this would be an easy side trip to make. Below is a brief description of my trip.

What to Do:

Square of Miracles. The iconic attraction for Pisa is, of course, the leaning Tower of Pisa. This tower can be found in this beautiful square, which also houses Pisa’s Baptistery, Cathedral, Camposanto (cemetery), Opera del Duomo Museum (cathedral works), and Sinopie Museum (drawings for frescoes). This square is beautiful and the true highlight of the city. Seeing the Tower in person is really cool. It makes a great photo and is free to walk around. However, visitors can also pay to walk up to the top of the Tower. In order to do this, visitors need to buy a ticket and reserve a time slot. Visitors can do all of this ahead of time online or at the ticket office on site. Visitors can buy a combo ticket that allows access to the Tower, Baptistery, and museums or buy a single ticket for the Tower. Entering the Cathedral is free with any ticket purchase. I chose to purchase the Tower only ticket and did not regret paying the money to walk up. The climb is not too strenuous, and the view from the top is nice. When going up the Tower, visitors are not allowed to carry any bags or selfie sticks. They can bring a phone or camera and that is it. All bags and other items must be stored in the lockers, which are free with the ticket. There is a line to store bags and pick them back up so plan accordingly because visitors must be in line by the Tower 15 minutes before the time of their ticket. I decided not to buy the combo ticket because I had already seen the Florence Baptistery and at the time of my visit the Opera del Duomo Museum was closed for renovations. However, the combo pass is probably worth it for those who have a full day here. I did go see the inside of the Cathedral, which was nice and a good way to cool down are climbing the Tower. Plan to spend about 1-2 hours here for climbing the Tower and visiting the Cathedral.

Shopping:

There is a market in the lot next to the Square of Miracles. These stalls sell the usual tourist trinkets and would be a good place to look for those who need to buy a gift or souvenir of Pisa. There is also a gift shop inside the square that sells books, bags, magnets, shirts, mugs, and miniature models of the Tower. For me, the photos I took of the Tower were enough and better than any of the Tower trinkets, but if I had to buy a gift for someone I might opt to get a postcard or something with the Tower unobstructed by people.

What to Eat:

Since I was only here for a half day trip, I only ate lunch here. There are several restaurants nearby the Square of Miracles where visitors can grab a bite to eat with a view of the Tower. I found a place with an open spot and grabbed a small pizza and beer while waiting for my time slot to climb the Tower. The meal was good and filling but nothing overly memorable. There might be better spots farther from the tourist site so those looking for a more memorable meal could look elsewhere, but those short on time or less inclined to venture out will fine a decent meal in this area.

Where to Stay:

I did not stay overnight here so I cannot recommend any areas. Instead, I took a side trip here from Florence. There is an airport nearby Pisa and train station so this is a place visitors may stop overnight. However, Florence is close enough to stay for the night as well.

Getting Around:

I arrived here and departed by train (coming from and returning to Florence). The train ride is anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half depending on time of day and train. The ticket price is very reasonable at around 9 euros each way. Trains run frequently between the two cities so visitors can purchase tickets at the train station to prevent locking themselves into specific times to depart and return. The train station in Pisa is about a 25 minute walk to the Tower of Pisa so visitors do not need to take additional transport once in Pisa. Everything is within walking distance.

Overall:

I really enjoyed my trip to Pisa. Seeing the leaning Tower in person was definitely memorable. And getting here from Florence was very easy. I only spent a half day here, and this was plenty of time to see the Tower. Visitors could spend longer to see more sights but I think a day is sufficient. I came here in October so I was able to purchase my tickets on site and was able to get a time slot to climb the tower. During peak season, however, visitors may want to plan and book ahead. Pisa is a city for travelers who appreciate architecture and the beauty of mistakes.

Florence: Birthplace of the Renaissance

Following my time in Amsterdam, I was ready to go back toward the Mediterranean and warmer weather. I have always wanted to go to Italy so I could not resist taking a trip through that country. I love Italian food, and my friends who have visited Italy always confirm that it is a great place to visit. I was really excited to finally make my way there and decided to start my Italian trip in Florence. Below are the things I did and saw in Florence:

Things to Do:

Florence Cathedral. This beautiful cathedral with its impressive dome is an iconic part of the city. The Duomo can be seen from several points in the city, but visitors will want to see the whole cathedral, including the inside of the dome. Visitors need to buy tickets ahead of time to climb up the Duomo and then make a reservation with a set time to do this. Visitors have to have a ticket first before they can sign up for a time slot, but all of this can be done online. The best option is to buy the combo ticket, which will include entry into the Duomo, cathedral, cathedral museum, bell tower, and baptistery. These are all located off the same square, Piazza del Duomo, and can easily be done in the same day. But visitors do have up to 48 hours from the first use of the ticket to visit all of the buildings. For the Duomo, there are limited slots available, and when I was there I was fortunate to grab one of the last slots before they filled up for a few days so visitors should plan ahead and book early. Visitors need to be in line at the start of their time frame and ready to go. There are a lot of stairs to climb to the top but there are places to stop along the way. Seeing the painted inside of the Duomo up close is impressive and seeing the views of the city from the top of the Duomo is great. This is the one must do in this piazza and a must do for this city! Plan to spend 1.5 hours climbing up and down the Duomo and stopping to take in the views.

Piazza del Duomo. As stated above, this square contains the Florence Cathedral, Cathedral Museum, bell tower, and baptistery. Since the piazza surrounds the cathedral, it offers great views of the marble panels. There are several benches around the cathedral for visitors to take a break and rest their feet from climbing and walking. There are also lots of places to eat in this area so visitors can grab a glass of wine and bite to eat while looking at the cathedral. The Cathedral Museum has a coffee shop with seats outside that makes a nice place to get an espresso in the morning. The bell tower, which is located next to the cathedral, can be climbed. Unlike the Duomo, visitors do not make reservations to do this, and instead must wait in line. This also has a lot of steps so visitors may not want to do this on the same day as the Duomo. The views from here are not as great as from the Duomo so if visitors only have time or the energy to do one, do the Duomo. The museum, which is also located next to the cathedral, has some great pieces, including Donatello’s Magdalene so it is definitely worth a stop. The baptistery is also worth a peek inside to see the golden dome. Again, it is located next to the cathedral. Visitors should plan to spend about an hour to climb up and down the bell tower (taking short breaks), an hour or 1.5 hours seeing the highlights of the museum, and about 15-30 minutes looking around the inside of the baptistery.

Uffizi Gallery. This museum features classic Italian renaissance art, including works by masters like da Vinci and Botticelli. This gallery is well laid out and easy to walk through but visitors may want to take a guided tour in order to get more in depth knowledge about the key works here. I saw several groups during my time there in different languages, but these were not done through the museum. Visitors would need to book a guide outside of the museum. Visitors could also choose to do an audio tour or to buy a guide book, both of which are offered through the museum. I chose to just walk through at my own pace without any type of guide and had a lovely time. This galley does have limited space so the number of visitors allowed in at any time is capped. Visitors should plan to buy tickets ahead of time using the official museum website. The tickets are slightly more expensive but allow visitors to pick an open time slot and skip the ticket line. Visitors must pick up their online tickets from the window (located next to the museum) 10 minutes before their time slot. Then they will go directly to the line to enter the museum. Visitors may still have to wait, but the wait will definitely be shorter than the regular ticket line. In my opinion, it is worth it to pay a little extra to have a time slot and be able to skip the line. This gallery is an absolute must visit for art lovers. Seeing the beautiful masterpieces in person is amazing. I especially loved seeing The Birth of Venus. Visitors should plan to spend about 2-4 hours here.

Accademia Gallery. This is another renaissance gallery but much smaller and with more statues than the Uffizi. Since the space is smaller, a tour guide is not really needed but an audio guide, which is free with admission, is useful given the size of the space. Visitors will want to come here to see the famous statue, Michelangelo’s David. This work really is a showstopper and worth a visit to this museum. His other statues that are housed here are equally stunning. Again, visitors should plan ahead and buy tickets online so that they can reserve a time and skip the ticket line. The extra fee is worth a guaranteed time to see this work and to spend less time in line. Plan to spend an hour here.

Ponte Vecchio. This recognizable bridge may be a tourist trap, but it is still a fun place to visit. The bridge is lined on both sides with jewelry shops so visitors in the market for jewelry should definitely head here. The jewelry here is on the pricey side, but it is legitimate. Even those not in the market will enjoy doing some window shopping. Crossing this bridge feels like walking down a street. It is an easy stroll, and visitors can end their walk by grabbing a glass of wine somewhere near the bridge where they can view it. Plan to spend 30 minutes here browsing the shops.

Piazzale Michelangelo. Visitors will need to make a small ‘hike’ to get to this square, but the views will be worth it. This square has some of the best views of the Florence Cathedral and Duomo. Most people will come here at sunset, which is a great time to get pictures, so be prepared to fight the crowds. Get here a little early to get a good spot or just be patient if the good spots are taken. Everyone will definitely get a good picture or two. There is not much up here in terms of food and shops (at least not at sunset) so come for the view but plan to eat somewhere else. Plan to spend about 30 minutes here taking in the views.

Shopping:

This is a great place to buy a leather jacket. Visitors can find plenty of styles and colors. The cheapest ones will be found in the stalls on the streets of San Lorenzo market. However, these are likely to not be made of Italian leather or made in Italy. The mid-range priced ones will be found in the shops around this market area. These are likely made in Italy but may not be made of Italian leather. The workmanship on these jackets though will look nice. The most expensive ones will be found in the Italian boutique shops. These will likely be made in Italy and with Italian leather so very authentic. I chose to go with the mid-range option. The jacket I got was very nice and well made. It was well fitted and a great cognac brown color in a nice Italian cut. The mid-range jackets cost around 200-250 euros, which is cheaper than what a similar jacket would cost in the U.S. At these prices, I was tempted to buy two. Visitors will not regret buying a classic jacket that will last a long time and will not go out style.

This is also a great place to buy street art in Italy. Visitors will find prints being sold in all the popular piazzas and, of course, can buy copies of famous works in souvenir shops. I ended up buying  a large copy of The Birth of Venus that was being sold in the Piazza del Duomo. The price after negotiation was good, and it will make a great wall piece back home.

What to Eat:

Although paninis are often not the first thing to come to mind when thinking about Italian food, Florence has some great panini shops. These sandwiches are a must eat here. One place that I really liked is Panini Toscani. This place is rated number one on TripAdvisor for a reason. The service is great. As mentioned in numerous reviews, visitors go in, and the owner will have give them a small selection of meats and cheeses to try first. Then they choose their favorites along with bread and toppings to create their own sandwich. These paninis were simple but really delicious and priced reasonably. The shop is located in Piazza del Duomo next to the cathedral. This shop has limited seating so I suggest taking a panini to go and finding a seat on a bench to eat while looking at the cathedral. This place is popular so be prepared for a bit of a wait. The other place I really liked is Il Bufalo Trippone. This place has a more extensive list of paninis with unique combinations of meats and condiments. All of the sandwiches looked tasty. I had one with truffle that was really good. My only regret was not discovering this place sooner so that I could try more sandwiches. Again, the price is very reasonable. I am not a huge sandwich person but the paninis in Florence are great and a good cheap eat.

Where to Stay:

Staying near the Duomo or off of any of the major piazzas will provide beautiful views but will also likely cost more. I chose to stay in an Airbnb that was about a 20 minute bus ride from the city center. It was a nice residential area and a 5 minute walk to a bus stop. It was cheaper than staying closer to the center and was still convenient to the major sites but was not as convenient to shops and cafes. I did all of my eating closer to the city center. However, the cheaper cost for me offset any inconvenience of not being next to shops and cafes.

Getting Around:

I arrived to Florence by plane from Amsterdam. Vueling airlines was having a great deal on ticket prices. There is an airport shuttle bus located near the terminal just follow the signs after exiting the airport. It is not clear how often it leaves, but I just went to the bench and waited with others. Tickets cost around 6 or 7 euros and cash is paid directly to the driver. The bus goes to the central train station where travelers can catch other buses to the rest of the city. When I arrived, it was late at night so the city buses were no longer running. Instead, I went to the taxi line and took a taxi to my Airbnb. Once in Florence, it is easy to get by on foot or by bus. The bus system runs regularly and is easy to figure out since it is linked to Google maps. Tickets must be bought before boarding the bus and validated on the bus. They are sold at any of the tobacco shops located throughout the city. Once I found a shop, I bought a group of tickets to last through my trip. When I departed Florence, I left by train to Bologna. I decide to go by train because it was the fastest option, and tickets were not expensive. I took a bus to the train station. My train was early evening but my check out was in the morning so I arrived to the station early and paid to have my baggage stored there for a few hours while I explored the city. I came back to the train station closer to the departure time to pick up my luggage and then waited in the main area until my train popped up on the screen with the platform number. I had booked my ticket online ahead of time and printed it out at the company ticket machine. Train tickets must be printed and validated before boarding. Be careful when booking tickets to choose the right train station because there are several stations considered to be in Florence, but the Santa Maria Novella station is the central one.

Overall:

I really fell in love with Florence. I was a little worried that it was over hyped and my expectations would be too great, but thankfully this was not the case. This city really does meet and exceed all expectations. I visited this city alone and had a great time wandering around and discovering everything at my own pace. I stayed here for four days, which is sufficient time to see the highlights, but travelers may want to stay longer after falling in love with this place. I came here in October so it was not peak tourist season and waits were not as bad as they likely are in the summer. The weather was nice. Perfect weather to wear my new leather jacket. I would definitely recommend coming here in fall to avoid crowds. This city is for travelers who love renaissance art and history.

Additional Tip:

Florence is not really a city for spontaneous travelers (at least not for travelers who want to visit the tourist sites). The buildings here are full of character but old so they are not made to hold the large crowds that flock here today. The number of people that can fit inside are limited so getting tickets ahead of time is important. I was lucky to still be able to book tickets for sites when I first arrived, but during peak season these tickets are likely to sell out days or weeks ahead of time. Travelers should really start booking things before they arrive.

Because I enjoy reading books set in the places I visit, I read E. M. Forster’s novel A Room with a View, which is set in Florence for the first part and in England for the second part. This classic novel is on a lot of best novel lists so it is definitely worth a read for those who love classics. For those interested in reading novels for travel, however, this novel is more of a critique on English society in the early 20th century than a look at Florentine society. Still, the description of Florence will be recognizable when walking around the city.

Amsterdam: Netherland’s capital and the real city of canals

While traveling through Germany, my friend and I decided to pop over to the neighboring Netherlands. We both wanted to visit Amsterdam, known for its beautiful canals, flowers, and museums, among other things. We were really excited to explore this capital. Below are some highlights from our trip:

What to Do:

Canal tour. Amsterdam has a lot of canals (more than Venice), and a good way to learn some history about the city and to see important buildings from the water is via a canal tour. There are several large companies that run these tours multiple times throughout the day. The tour routes are similar, and the cost is comparable between the companies so choosing one over the other is not likely to make a huge difference. These companies offer several tours, including food tours, wine tours, evening tours and hop on hop off tours. We chose to do the basic one hour day tour. This was the least expensive one, and it provided us with some fundamental knowledge of the city. This guided tour is really an audio guide with headphones that allow visitors to choose their preferred language. The boats are covered so tours can still run in rainy weather. Visitors can choose longer tours that cover a bit more area, but the basic one will cover the highlights. I recommend taking a canal tour at the beginning of the trip in order to learn some information about the city.

Anne Frank House. This historic building has been turned into a museum about Anne Frank, her family, and the others who were in hiding in this building during WWII. It is a very sobering and informative look at some of the effects of that war. And it brings Anne Frank’s diary to life for those who have read her book. This museum exhibition is well laid out and accompanied by an audio guide that takes visitors through the building on a set route. Since the building is limited in size, there is a cap on the number of people allowed in at one time. Despite this limit, it is still very crowded inside as everyone is following the same audio guide and same route. Be prepared to stand in lines and wait to get into the next room. Also, make sure to purchase a ticket with a time slot ahead of time on the museum’s official website because tickets do sell out. Visitors can purchase tickets at the building, but they have to wait in line for tickets to go on sale in the afternoon (around 2:00 or 3:00), and they have to purchase tickets for the same day. People start lining up to purchase tickets much earlier than when they go on sale because there is only a limited number. Waiting in line is not a guarantee of getting a ticket and is not the most effective use of time so book online, if possible. This is a museum that visitors will not want to miss because of its uniqueness and historical importance. This is a must visit for everyone. Plan to spend two hours to do the full tour.

Van Gogh Museum. In my opinion, this is the second must see museum in the city. This museum has the world’s largest collection of works by Vincent Van Gogh. And as expected, his artwork is stunning in person. Seeing some of his masterpieces, such as The Potato Eaters, Irises, and Sunflowers, up close is amazing. The museum is well laid out and does not require a guided tour. We came here on our own and walked around for about two hours taking everything in. This is a must visit for art lovers.

Rijksmuseum. This museum is the largest art museum in the country and exhibits Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages onward. The museum’s collection includes work by prominent Dutch artists, such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. This place is supposed to be another must visit for art lovers. As I only had time to visit one art museum, I chose Van Gogh, but I would definitely visit this museum on a return trip. When I walked by here, there were long lines to purchase tickets and to get in so I would recommend buying tickets online ahead of time. There was a separate line for those who had already purchased their tickets. Plan to spend 2 hours here.

Coffee shops. Amsterdam is known for its coffee shops, which are all over the city. Each shop has its own unique atmosphere so visitors should try a couple of different ones. Although visiting one of these shops has turned into a must do, these shops mainly cater to tourists now so I recommend visitors not spend all their time here. However, these shops are a great way to spend a couple of hours, especially if it is raining outside. These shops are a nice place to grab a coffee and a smoke. Visitors who do not smoke, may still want to stop into one to grab a peek and a quick drink. There are several more well known shops, such as Dampkring, but these are always crowded so visitors should be prepared to stand and wait. And those who do not smoke, should plan to just grab a peek and move on to make room for visitors who will be smoking. The coffee shop that we liked on our visit was Abraxas. This one is not the most well known, but it is still popular. When we went it was crowded, but it does have an upstairs seating area where we were able to find seating with another group. The staff was nice, and the vibe was relaxed and not too touristy in the sense that there were no large tourist groups or lots of pictures being taken, which I did see happening at Dampkring. For visitors who want to stay away from the crowds, the smaller lesser known coffee shops are also a nice option for those who just want to relax, have a smoke and coffee, and are not trying to post something to Instagram. We ducked into one of these during a rainy period and enjoyed the no pressure atmosphere. Visitors should plan to spend 1-2 hours at these shops.

Red light district. Amsterdam is also known for this infamous district. While visitors can take a walk through this district, I do not think this is a must do. This area, known for its windows displaying women, will definitely be considered exploitative by many. Visitors who come to the area do have to show some respect. They are not allowed to take pictures and are now being encouraged not to look out of respect. For those who absolutely must visit here, I recommend taking a tour that includes this area so that a local who is more knowledgeable can provide the pertinent information.

Windmills. The Netherlands are known for windmills as well. Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit one of these as the majority are not located in Amsterdam. I believe there are 1 or 2 located in the city, but we did not come across any during our walks through the city and did not seek any out. I think the more well known and visited windmills are located slightly outside of the city. I did see advertisements for several day tours that take visitors to the windmills, a wooden shoe shop and a cheese factory (all of the stereotypes associated with the Dutch). I think these could be interesting cultural tours to take and would consider taking one on a return trip. The other option would be for visitors to rent a car or book their own transit (separate from a tour) to specific windmills they are interested in seeing. To see the windmills plan to spend half a day with travel.

Shopping:

There are multiple cheese shops located throughout Amsterdam, and I highly recommend stopping in one and purchasing some cheese. These shops have lots of samples out so visitors can try most of their best selling cheeses along with some accompaniments. As expected, the cheeses are really good. There is an assortment of traditional cheeses and blends, such as wasabi, pesto, or truffle, that are unique and delicious. Definitely buy a couple to take back home. And definitely sample all of them!

Amsterdam also has a huge flower market and a Tulip Museum. Both sell flower bulbs for beautiful and unique tulips, which are highly associated with the city. For those who decide to purchase some bulbs, be sure to buy the kind that can be imported into the return country so that they are not confiscated at customs. The sellers will know which ones are okay to take back to which countries. These flowers would make beautiful additions to any garden back home or great gifts for someone who has a green thumb.

What to Eat:

This city has some great snack and street food. One thing I recommend ordering at a pub is bitterballen, which is a fried meatball. This snack goes perfectly with a Belgian beer. The beer we enjoyed the most was Gulden Draak, which is fermented with wine yeast and has a caramel-y taste. Another sweet must try in this city is a stroopwafel, which is a desert of a sweet caramel syrup sandwiched between two thin waffles. This tasty desert can be found in street carts or bakeries. When by the street carts, also try thick dutch fries, which are served hot in a paper cone and topped with a choice of ketchup, mayo, onion, satay peanut sauce, or other options. This is perfect snack to eat on the go while walking around the city. The last thing I would recommend trying from the street carts is raw herring, which can be served on a sandwich with pickles and onions. We saw these being sold in several locations but did not get one to try. However, I think I would try one on a return trip as this is supposed to be a specialty of the city

Where to Stay:

Try to stay near the city center. We ended up staying in a hotel that was not near the center but that was supposed to have transport to the center. It did have transport, but the times were not as frequent or convenient as we would have liked, and the hotel was not located close to public transport either. We had to walk about 25 minutes to get to the closest metro so it was not convenient. It would have been worth it to pay a little more to stay in an Airbnb located in the city center where we could just walk everywhere.

Getting Around:

We arrived to Amsterdam by train from Tilburg, where we had stopped overnight from Germany. The train from Tilburg took about 1.5 hours. We took the train because it was the only way to get to Amsterdam, and the cost was not expensive. Once at the main station in Amsterdam, we were able to transfer to the metro to go to our hotel. As mentioned above, our hotel location was not too convenient so we took the metro to get back and forth from the main station, which is located in the center of the city. The public transportation is linked to Google maps, which was convenient to find our way around. Tickets for the train and metro can be bought inside the stations but not all of the machines take credit cards so have some cash on hand just in case. While visitors can hop on the metro without a ticket, there is a risk of incurring a large fine if caught. While we were riding the metro, we saw ticket checkers come by frequently (almost on every ride we were on) so definitely do not take the risk and buy a ticket. Once in the central part of the city, it is easy to walk around or to bike around. There are tons of bicyclists in this city, which has bike lanes everywhere. When we departed Amsterdam, we left by plane. One of the public transportation stops is located by the airport. The day I left, my hotel offered me a complimentary ride to the central station so I could store my luggage there for a small fee and walk around the city (because I had a night flight). When I left the city, I picked up my luggage and took the metro from the main station to the airport.

Overall:

I had a great time in Amsterdam, and my trip served as a great introduction to the city. We were only here for two days, and while we did see and do a lot, I would recommend visitors stay at least four days to see all of the highlights of the city and to be able to take a trip outside of the city. We were also here in October so the weather was not the best. It was cold and rainy the whole time. I would love to come back here in the spring, when all the flowers are in bloom, or in the summer, when the weather is really nice. Visitors may want to plan their trip around the seasons. I definitely hope to come back to this city at some point. Amsterdam is for travelers who enjoy art and culture in an active outdoor city.

Additional Tip:

For those travelers planning to go the Anne Frank House, I recommend reading The Diary of Anne Frank. Even those who have read it previously, should reread it if it has been a while. Reading the diary beforehand will give visitors a greater appreciation of the house. The book is a quick read and documents Anne’s time spent hiding in the house with her family for two years during World War II. The effects of reading the book and visiting the place where it was written are very sobering and will definitely leave an impression.

Frankfurt: A frankly surprising city

For our final stop in Germany, my friend and I visited Frankfurt. There were many potential places to visit but we chose this city because it was closer to our next destination and we were interested in exploring more of Central Germany. Below are some things to do and see in Frankfurt.

What to Do:

Walking tour. This is the best way to see the highlights of the city and learn about its history for the lowest price. There are a few companies to choose from, but I decided to go with the one that had the most reviews, Frankfurt on Foot. This four hour tour included stops at the Romer, Frankfurt Cathedral, Jewish district and monument, Goethe house, and many other gems. Four hours may sound like a long time, but this does include a break to grab lunch. The tour has a lot of stops to learn about the history so the walking is broken up and not too strenuous. My tour guide for the day was the woman who started the company, an expat from the USA who has been living in Frankfurt for several decades. Her knowledge of the city was extensive. The tour was a great way to get a feel for where things are located and to get advice on where to eat and what to do from a local.

Staedal Museum. This museum has an extensive collection of European art spanning seven hundred years. The permanent collection includes works from well known artists, such as Rembrandt and Degas. The museum also has some interesting temporary exhibitions. I was lucky to be there for the Matisse-Bonnard exhibition that compared the two painters and was very well curated. This museum is a great activity for art lovers. Plan to spend about two hours here.

Jewish Memorial. When in Germany, thoughts of WWII are never too far behind. Visitors should spend at least a little time in remembrance of this tragic war. In Frankfurt, there are several reminders left throughout the city, but the one to visit for those short on time or those visitors who have already paid respects in other cities, is the remembrance wall that has the names of all the Jews from Frankfurt killed in WWII. On this wall, can be found the names of Anne Frank and her family who are considered to be from here. This wall surround an old Jewish cemetery that visitors can enter as well. For those visitors taking a walking tour, this will likely be a stop on the tour. For those not taking a tour, plan to go here separately. Plan to spend 15-30 minutes here.

Old Town. Frankfurt has reconstructed its Old Town following its bombing of WWII. The reconstruction is very authentic, and the buildings look amazing, especially the Romer. Visitors will definitely want to walk around this area and take pictures. There are also a lot of shops and restaurants in this area for visitors to stop at. Plan to spend a few hours here walking around, shopping, and grabbing some food or drink.

Shopping:

Frankfurt has a lot of handicrafts for sell and is really known for its woodwork, which can be found at many of the souvenir shops. I recommend stopping by Handwerkskunst am Römer. This traditional shop has a great collection of handicrafts, including Christmas ornaments, smokers, cuckoo clocks, and Christmas pyramids. Any of these items would make a great Christmas gift or a decoration for back home. Another item that can be found in many of the shops is bembel. This blue and grey stoneware jug is found in many of the restaurants and is what apple wine is served in. This could also serve as a cute reminder of Frankfurt for visitors who think they would actually use this at home. I personally decided I would get more use out of ornaments so I did not buy any bembel.

What to Eat:

Like many of the cities in Germany, Frankfurt has some good street food. And this is the place we really took advantage of that. One place visitors should try is Kleinmarkthalle. This indoor market has a lot of food stalls along with raw ingredients to cook a meal for those lucky enough to have a kitchen during their stay. There are also several food stalls outside near the market. I recommend trying the sausages, which come in a variety of flavors, and the potato pancakes, which come with different dipping sauces. The other must try food in Frankfurt is the Frankfurt Schnitzel. This is traditional schnitzel but it is served with a delicious green sauce that is local to Frankfurt. This sauce is so popular that the city has a big competition each year to find the best one. A good restaurant to try this dish at is Restaurant Klosterhof. This restaurant is very favored by locals and tourists so it does get crowded. Be prepared to get in line and wait. While not a must try food, apple wine is a must try drink here. This popular beverage is pretty tasty. It has an almost tart taste but not overly so. As mentioned above, it comes served in bembel with ribbed glasses to pour into. Frankfurt even has a yearly apple wine festival in August that we just missed by a couple of weeks during our trip here. Apple wine can be found at most restaurants and bars here.

Where to Stay:

We did not know the best area to stay in Frankfurt so we chose an Airbnb that was close to public transportation and not too far away from Old Town. We ended up staying near the Glaugburgstrabe stop. This was a nice area with lots of restaurants and grocery stores nearby. It was only a couple of km away from Old Town so very easy and fast to get there. I would recommend staying anywhere near the Old Town area.

Getting Around:

We arrived to Frankfurt by bus from Munich, which takes from 6-8 hours. We chose to travel by bus because it was the cheapest option. The Frankfurt central bus station is located near the center of the city and next to public transport. We were able to get on the subway to go to our Airbnb. While in Frankfurt, we either walked or took the public transport system. Public transportation is definitely the better way to go because taxis are expensive in Germany, and there is no Uber. Public transport got us everywhere we wanted to visit and go, and it was easy to navigate because it is linked to Google maps. Tickets for the subway can be bought at subway stations. While some do accept cards, some require cash so have some small bills and coins just in case. When we departed Frankfurt, we again left by bus to go to Tilbury and took public transport to the bus station.

Overall:

Frankfurt is a nice city. I did not know too much about it before visiting, but I learned a lot about its history through the walking tour. This city offers visitors a peek into its past with the reconstructed Old Town and a taste of its culture with its food and festivals. We visited in September and had pretty good weather. It was cooler but not too cold yet. And it definitely was not overcrowded with tourists. We stayed for three days, and I think that is plenty of time to see the highlights. Travelers who like exploring cities will enjoy Frankfurt.

 

Munich at Oktoberfest

While in Germany, my friend and I could not resist popping over to Munich for Oktoberfest. This large festival always looks like so much fun, and we did not want to miss the chance to experience it even for just a couple of nights. Since we were only there for the festival, the description below is really just for Munich at Oktoberfest and not in general:

What to Do:

Oktoberfest. Since we were here specifically for the festival, this is really the only activity that we did. The festival is held in a large park area, where there are multiple large beer tents, smaller food and drink stalls, and several amusement park rides. Entry into the grounds is free. The tents are nicely decorated, and there is plenty of beer and food for purchase. The atmosphere is lively. Everyone squeezes together on long benches or around tables so there is a chance to get to meet other people. Everyone working the festival is dressed up in traditional Bavarian garb, and many of the visitors are dressed up also. The large tents have bands playing, and large groups will often break out in song. Travelers wanting to be more immersed in the experience should join the fun and dress up as well. I recommend getting there a little earlier (early afternoon) to have a chance to visit more than one tent because once it gets really crowded (in the late afternoon) moving around and trying to find a seat may not be as appealing as staying put. It is fun just being there and people watching. But it is really fun drinking from the humongous steins and having a giant pretzel as well as some of the other traditional food. Plan to spend the full day here.

Shopping:

We did not go to Munich to shop and did not spend much time outside of the beer halls and festival ground. But visitors do not have to leave the festival to buy a souvenir. For those who want a reminder of their time at Oktoberfest, purchase a beer stein. Tents sell commemorative ones for their brand and for the festival. And these can definitely be used back home.

What to Eat:

Most of our time was spent at the festival so we ate traditional food there, including a giant soft pretzel, pork chops and cabbage, and lots of beer. But we also visited a popular beer hall, Hofbräuhaus, on our first night there, which was very fun. This large hall is three stories so do not be intimidated by the size and noise when walking in. Just find an open seat and sit down. Servers will come by the table so need to chase one down. The restaurant seating includes long tables so just join another group. There is a live traditional band playing and lots of drinking, singing, and cheers. This place has good beer and a good food selection of typical German food.

Where to Stay:

Prices for accommodations will go up during Oktoberfest because the demand will be higher so try to book early to get the best priced accommodations. We chose to book an Airbnb, which was cheaper than the hotels. We did not know the best area to stay in so we chose one near a subway stop that was supposed to be close to the festival grounds. We stayed near the Wettersteinplatz stop, and it was easy to get to the festival from here although it was not a direct line. The area was safe, and the commute was not long.

Getting Around:

We arrived to Munich from Berlin by bus, which takes between 7-9 hours. We chose to travel by bus because it was the cheapest option. The central bus station in Munich is located next to a subway stop so we were able to take the subway to our Airbnb. The public transport is linked to Google maps. However, there are several tracks near the bus stop, and then trams a short distance away so it was a little confusing finding the right way out of the bus station at first (for our route), but after that we had no problems getting around with public transportation. Tickets can be purchased at the subway and tram stops. We did not go many places, but it did take us everywhere we needed to go. There is a subway stop located next to the festival grounds. When we left Munich, we departed by bus again at the same station so it was easy for us to use the same route to get back to the station and to find our bus within the station.

Overall:

We had a great time at Oktoberfest. We only stayed a couple of days, but that was plenty of time to sample a lot of beer and that allowed us to visit other parts of Germany at a lower cost. Huge beer and festival fans, however, may want to stay longer. Those who want to see more of Munich besides the beer halls may also want to stay longer. We went during the week rather than a weekend and found that timing to be less crowded. We did not have to get to the grounds in the morning to find a table, and we were able to move around to different tents. Oktoberfest is at the beginning of fall so the weather is starting to turn cooler, but it was not too cold when were there and it was sunny. Travelers who enjoy drinking beer will have a fun time at Oktoberfest.