Walking the Side Streets of Florence, Italy

There are many cities in Europe that are very walkable and one of the most walkable is Florence. With its cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture, and plazas with cafes and restaurants, you can literally spend all day just wandering around the heart of the city. Don’t limit yourself to the main streets, though, as some of the most interesting shops and restaurants can be found by wandering the side streets. With the Duomo visible from almost every corner of the city, even if you get yourself a little lost, you can always head for the dome in order to get yourself back to bustling tourist areas.

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Getting Away from the Crowds

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Quiet Side Street

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Bustling Piazza

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Old Door in the City

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Busy Street with Shops

We found it completely safe to wander the side streets and never worried about the people that were around us, but we also limited our wandering to the daylight hours. Walking the narrow streets will take you on a trip back in time as you get a feel for what it must have been like to live in the city hundreds of years ago when artists and philosophers wandered the same passageways. One of the best ways to get a true sense of the beauty of the city is to walk along the Arno River with views of Ponte Vecchio. Obviously, these streets will be a little busier, but the crowds reduce as you get farther away from the main bridges.

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Crowed Street with Wonderful Architecture

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Finding the Dome

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View from a Bridge over the Arno River

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Heading to the Clock Tower

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Walking Around Florence

As popular as Florence is as a destination, you will often find yourself surrounded by throngs of people clambering to see the same sights as you. Sitting in one of the outdoor cafes and watching the crowds go by while having a wonderful glass of Tuscan wine can be a great way to relax and recharge in the beautiful surroundings. If you have the energy, walking up the hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo will provide you breathtaking views of the city. As you come back down the hill, you will find some wonderful restaurants and shops if you decide to spend some time on that side of the river before crossing back over to the heart of old town. The streets on that side of the river will also be a little less busy as well, but the quality of the locations will not disappoint.

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Looking Away from the Heart of the City

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Walking to Piazzale Michelangelo

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Ancient Door

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Crossing the Arno River

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Busy Shopping Area

There is something truly romantic about wandering the side streets of such a beautiful city as Florence. Regardless of the city that you are visiting, there can be many treasures to be found if you are willing to just turn off of the main streets. Obviously you need to be careful in some places as pickpockets can also be found once you are away from the crowds and are more vulnerable, so always be aware of your surroundings. Stop, go into the shops, talk to the locals, and perhaps enjoy some gelato, you will find those moments as special as seeing the Duomo or going to the museums.

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Eating Gelato

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Crowds by the Duomo

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Walk Along the River

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Trying to Escape the Crowds

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So Many Places to See in Florence

 

 

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park

The Animal Kingdom Theme Park at Walt Disney World is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, so it is probably fitting that we visited on our 20th wedding anniversary several years ago. There are so many things to see at Walt Disney World, but Animal Kingdom is pretty unique because it combines the excitement of a safari with the things that you would expect from Disney such as thrill rides, characters, and fantasy come to life. Obviously, the attractions have likely changed some since our visit, but the heart of the adventure remains the same, which are the animals within the park.

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Animals on the Safari Ride

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The Tree of Life

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Donald Duck on a Parade Float

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Expedition Everest

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View from the Safari Car

Clearly it isn’t the same as a real safari, but unlike going on a safari in Africa, you are guaranteed to see all of the various animals in an environment that feels very authentic. Although the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, which is an open air vehicle ride among the animals, is the highlight of the park, there are plenty of other things to see. Second on the list of things that must be done is Expedition Everest. The main attraction is the rollercoaster-style ride, which is definitely thrilling with its Abominable Snowman encounter. Even though we went without children, Dinoland is definitely another part of the park that will be fun for people of all ages. Finally, Conservation Station provides more animal encounters along with a learning experience that the kids won’t find boring.

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Entering Expedition Everest

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Having Fun in Dinoland

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Plenty of Disney Characters

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Crocodiles Laying in the Sun

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Conservation Station

We spent a single, full day in the theme park and felt that we were able to thoroughly explore the park, but it could certainly be visited more than once during a trip to Disney World. For those that love the parades with all of the Disney characters, don’t worry, there are definitely fun parades that are unique and different than those that you see in the other theme parks. We would certainly recommend going to each of the different theme parks in Walt Disney World, but visiting the Animal Kingdom will be an experience that you will certainly enjoy due to its uniqueness.

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Parade in Animal Kingdom

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Rhinos Relaxing in the Shade

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Watching the Parade

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Not All of the Animals are Real 😉

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Tibetan Flags in Expedition Everest

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Siberian Tiger

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Recreation of an Explorers Cabin

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Following a Giraffe

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Close Encounter

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Rafiki in the Jungle

 

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Sensory Overload in Chennai, India

It is hard to describe to people the overall sensation of what it was like when we arrived in Chennai during our visit to India several years ago. With that many people living in one place, around 8.5 million people, the city is a always in constant motion with cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, trucks, and people seemingly going everywhere. It is also a city filled with colorful buildings and ornate temples, making it visually stunning to see. There is no escaping the constant noise of the city, most specifically the constant honking that can be heard 24 hours a day. Drivers in Chennai don’t honk out of frustration or anger with other drivers, but it is a form of communication to let other drivers know that they are passing, turning, or moving over. Since they don’t stay in the lanes of the roads, it is a hectic dance where they beep horns and swerve in and out of lanes as they make their way through the intense traffic. Another thing that hits you immediately as you exit the airport is the intense confluence of smells that fills the air. With all of the strong spices used in the cooking of Indian food, the combination of animals and people roaming the streets, and the lack of sanitation, it is an overwhelming experience.

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Busy Side Street near the Temple

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Colorful Temple

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Bumper-to-Bumper Traffic

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Sacred Cows on the Street

It is definitely something that truly can’t be described unless you have been exposed to someplace similar yourself. It took us two full days before the constant din, motion, aromas, and sense of truly being a outsider in a strange place reached a sense of normalcy. In many ways, it is amazing the way the mind is able to adapt itself under what would seem to be extreme changes in surroundings. We have been to many large cities around the world, but there is nothing that compares to the time that we spent in Chennai. To be clear, it is still one of our favorite places that we have visited, partially because it was so different than any place else. It is hard to imagine what it must be like for the citizens that live in that environment with such a prolific sensory experience on a daily basis and not just for a few short weeks.

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Candles, Spices, and Other Shops

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Rickshaw in Traffic

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Bull on the Street

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Busy Temple

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Driving in Chennai

 

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Beer Braised Bratwurst with Homemade Sauerkraut

We had several types of sausages during our time in Europe, but bratwurst was one that we had several times. Unlike here in the United States, bratwurst is not served on a bun unless you are getting it at a festival or market, but we enjoy the convenience of eating them on a bun. To try and replicate the experience of eating bratwursts in Germany, we decided to braise our bratwurst in a German pilsner and make our own sauerkraut. Just like cooking with wine, if you are going to braise your bratwurst in beer, be sure to choose one that you like and would drink on its own. Making sauerkraut was surprisingly simple, but if we do it again in the future, we would probably put it in a slow-cooker and cook it even longer than we did for this recipe. We did go to a local butcher to get a high quality bratwurst as that is an important feature of the bratwursts that we ate overseas. Due to the weather, we broiled our bratwurst, but grilling them would certainly be the best. It turned out to be quite simple and delicious.

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Veal Bratwurst in Germany

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 Bratwurst
  • 2 Bottles of Beer (German Pilsner)
  • 3/4 Large White Onion – diced
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 cup Distilled White Vinegar
  • 1 Head of Cabbage – small, cored and shredded
  • 1/2 tsp Celery Seed
  • 1/2 tsp Onion Powder
  • 1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp Sea Salt
  • Ground Pepper to taste
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Braising the Bratwurst

INSTRUCTIONS

Combine the water, vinegar, 2/3 of the diced onion (which is half of the onion diced), cabbage, 3/4 teaspoon sea salt, celery seed, onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, and black pepper in a large saucepan and turn the heat on high. Mix the cabbage until the seasonings are evenly distributed and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and simmer, stirring frequently, for 30 to 45 minutes and the cabbage is tender. In a medium saucepan, combine the beer and onions and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the bratwurst, red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and pepper, be sure that the bratwurst are completely covered with liquid. Simmer the bratwurst for 10 to 15 minutes to allow them to absorb the flavor. Grill or broil the bratwurst for about 5 minutes per side and the skin is evenly browned. Serve on buns with Dijon or spicy brown mustard and sauerkraut.

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German Pilsner

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Cabbage Mixture

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Boiling the Cabbage with Vinegar

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Our Version of Bratwurst

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Another View of the Bratwurst with Sauerkraut

 

Posted in Germany, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Going With the Flow

We have mentioned previously that we don’t always spend a ton of time planning for a trip and there are other times that we do. We had been going back and forth on where to go for our first big trip of the year and we couldn’t seem to make up our minds. Our initial plan was to go to Vietnam and Cambodia since we wanted to get into Asia, but the airline tickets were more than we were hoping to spend. Then we looked at going back to England as we could get a non-stop flight to London at a relatively reasonable price, but we were hoping to go someplace other than Europe, so we decided not to go there. We had also been tossing around the idea of going to Egypt and then 10 days ago we went ahead and booked our airline tickets. We then researched and found a tour company that had a good reputation and we just finalized our tour itinerary yesterday. In conjunction with that, we also booked our hotel stays and the tour company is taking care of reservations for our Nile River Cruise and flights from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan back to Cairo. Since we leave for Egypt in a little over two weeks from today, that means that it will be four weeks from the time that we decided on our trip until the day we leave for Egypt. Fortunately, we are getting e-Visas, so that wasn’t an issue as well and we could have gotten a tourist visa when we arrived at the airport, but we didn’t want to leave it to chance. Now we just have a few items to buy for our time in the desert heat and then we can relax and just look forward to our trip.

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Waterfall in Coroico, Bolivia

Hidden Falls 3

Hidden Falls in Colorado

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Waterfall on Death Road

For this week’s Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, Free and Easy, we are sharing some photos of waterfalls. How comfortable would you be planning a trip to a foreign country that you have never visited before in less than four weeks from initiation to departure?

Magestic Falls

Majestic Falls in Yellowstone

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Coroico Waterfall

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Waterfall in the Amazon

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Waterfall on a Trail in Colorado

 

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Puerto Vallarta – Something for Everyone

Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific Coast in Mexico, has a wide variety of activities that will suit anyone’s vacation style. Especially for those who live in the western half of the United States, Puerto Vallarta is an easy destination to reach with flights that are convenient and typically affordable. Obviously, it is a resort area with plenty of resorts that range from five star, all-inclusive, resorts to more humble places to stay. Most places do not require you to purchase an all-inclusive meal plan and with the abundance of restaurants in the downtown area, we would recommend that you don’t so that you can spend more time dining out.

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Ship on the Ocean

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Resort Area

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Boardwalk on the Beach

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Downtown Puerto Vallarta

Whether you just want to sit on the beach with your toes in the sand and a drink in your hand or you want to fly through the jungle, there are activities for everyone. Obviously, there are the typical beach activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, and paddle boarding, which you can get from almost any of the beaches in the area. If you are more adventurous, you can go snorkeling or diving in the beautiful blue water of the Pacific Ocean. You can also charter a boat to go deep sea fishing or, during December and January, you can take a tour to go whale watching. For a more relaxing time, there are plenty of dinner cruise options from private catamarans for a romantic dinner, a sunset cruise with drinks and music, or a fine dining experience that will take you on a tour along the coast. There are pirate ships with raucous shows that are fun for everyone or you can take a ship to an island to watch a performance tracing the history of the people who settled the area followed by torch-lit dinner on the beach.

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Pirate Performance

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Resorts on the Beach

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Pirate Ship in the Marina

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Art on the Boardwalk

If you are even more daring, you can go zip-lining in the jungle across deep mountain ravines, including the location where the movie Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger was filmed. You can also rent ATV’s and roar through the forest and along one of the many streams in the area. There are tours that will take you hiking in the hills that surround the city or take you on an off-road experience with a professional driver. If you enjoy golf, there are several courses in the area for you to play a few holes while enjoying the beautiful views. Needless to say, there are also plenty of stores and restaurants to explore and depending upon the time of year, many of them offer drink specials and discounts that you can get from your resort. There is also a thriving art district where you can find something a little more special to bring back home with you if that is something that you desire.

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Zip-Lining in the Jungle

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Feeding Monkeys

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Watching the Sunset from the Beach

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Resort Room

Regardless of your vacation style, Puerto Vallarta has something that will meet your needs. With a variety of beautiful beaches, the historic downtown area with the Zona Romantica, a boardwalk area with small restaurants and pubs that look out onto the ocean, you can do something different on every day of your vacation. Don’t forget to take time to relax, though, as that is the main reason to head to the beach for vacation. Take time to sip on a margarita and simply watch the waves crash on the beach and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.

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Zona Romantica

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Cultural Show on the Beach

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Beach Resort

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Looking Down the Beaches

 

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We Have the Airport Blues

We have been on work trips three out of the last four weeks, which is the complete opposite of traveling for pleasure. We have almost spent more time sitting in airports than we have in our own home, which is definitely not fun. Every airport is different in some ways and yet every airport is the same in many ways as well, especially in the United States. There can be a certain sense of comfort when you are in an airport, but there can also be a certain sense of apprehension as well. They can be euphoric as you anticipate the start of an adventure or they can just feel like a maze of confusion that needs to be navigated.

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Airport Terminal

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Airports Tend to have Artistic Architecture

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Sterile Environment

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Hustling to a Gate

At times, airports can provide a sense of excitement and energetic motion as people scurry to get to their gates either embarking on a trip of a lifetime or just trying to make their way home. Unfortunately, we find that people suddenly lose all sense of their surroundings when they are in airports and they aimlessly wander in front of other people, suddenly stop in front of you, or make erratic changes in direction. We certainly understand that for people that don’t travel often, airports can be overwhelming and confusing, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t suddenly become oblivious to their surroundings. Late at night, though, airports can become rather eerie when the hustle and bustle is replaced with a graveyard-like silence. No longer are the overhead speakers constantly announcing planes being boarding, gate changes, or reminding you not to leave your bags unattended and your own footsteps echo through the empty hallways.

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Bustling Activity

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Empty Shuttle Station in the Airport at Night

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Alone in the Hallways

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Places to Go

Obviously, if you have time, airports can be a great place to people watch as there is such a wide variety of people that make their way through these transportation hubs. You can see people from all cultures, ages, lifestyles, and personalities, all linked in a common pursuit, to make it to their destination. It is also the one place where you can see people sitting at a bar first thing in the morning and no one seems to judge them as they gather liquid courage before their flight. You can definitely see the anxiety on the faces of the people making their way to their gates. Will they miss their flight, will the flight be on time, will they get their carry-on bag onto the plane, who will they sit next to, will their be screaming children on the plane, etc. The last few weeks have given us all of these experiences and at the moment, we are hoping not to go to an airport until our next personal trip, which is in three weeks and is to Cairo, Egypt. Do you have a love/hate relationship with airports like we do?

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Empty Baggage Carousel

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Judgement Free Zone

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Empty Airport Train

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Eerie Lighting when You are Alone

 

Posted in Colorado, Travel Tips, Washington DC | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

Have you ever had a flight delayed or cancelled and had to go to the airline desk to see about getting on another flight? People can be so rude and angry with the staff at the desk who had nothing to do with what caused the issues with the flight. We see it almost every time we travel, someone is berating a poor attendant instead of treating them with respect and kindness. As if somehow, if they yell loud enough, their circumstances will suddenly change. We always try to be understanding and not take out frustrations on the employees or each other. It doesn’t mean that it is always easy, emotions can get the better of you, but you will be far happier and the people around you will be much happier if you keep your emotions in check. There have been more than a few times when there have been issues with our flight or hotel room and we have had to ask for assistance to get things fixed. On several of those occasions we have not only had our issue resolved, but they have even upgraded our seats or room. Granted, both us as well as the person helping us were pleasant with one another, so clearly it needs to be a two-way street. This week’s Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge is about Kind and Caring, so here are a few photos to help put you in a calmer mood for the next time you have to deal with an unfortunate situation. 🙂

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Lion Cubs Helping One Another

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Parrots Snuggling

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Is that a Porcupine Kiss?

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Contentment

 

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Wine Tasting in Ronda

Living The Q Life

Rhonda Ronda

There is nothing better than doing a wine tasting, especially when travelling to foreign countries.  Two years ago, we spent two weeks in Estaponia, Spain in the Costa Del Sol.  It was an amazing time travelling throughout the region and exploring the many sites that the area has to offer.  We rented a car while we were there, but when we visited Ronda, we hired a guide to drive us and take us to an organic wine vineyard as well as one of the many olive vineyards that dominate the hillsides.  It was probably a wise decision not to drive that day as the wine tasting was rather generous.

Wine Tasting Wine Tasting

Vineyards Vineyards

We traveled to Spain in November, so it was the off-season as far as tourists goes, so we ended up with a private tour and tasting at the Joaquin Fernandez Vineyard.  The wine was amazing and the views…

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Changing of the Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens, Greece

If you are in Athens on a Sunday, you should definitely make your way to the Syntagma Square at 11:00 am for the changing of the guards. Although the changing of the guards happens every day at 11:00, the performance on Sunday has more participants and more elaborate uniforms. There can be large crowds, so you might want to arrive a little early to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which sits in the square outside of the Parliament Building and the Presidential Mansion.

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Stoic Guard

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Start of the Ceremonial Changing of the Guards

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Honoring the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

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Marching in Front of the Tomb

The guards are part of a special military unit called the Evzones and are carefully chosen for the honor to participate based upon their height, fitness, and character. Prior to the start of the ceremonial changing, the guards stand perfectly still and emotionless, very similar to the guards at Buckingham Palace in London. The guards make very dramatic, synchronized movements as the new guards trade places with the previous guards. The special uniforms that the guards where adds to the pageantry of the performance, which is beautiful and somber at the same time.

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Synchronized Movements

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Performing in Front of a Large Crowd

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Parliamentary Building

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Dramatic High Stepping

Having had the opportunity to see both the changing of the guards in London as well as at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery outside of Washington D.C., it was definitely an experience that rivaled either of those, although they are very different. If you have the opportunity to see this very unique ceremony, it will be an experience that you will always remember. There is something truly special about watching members of the military honoring those soldiers who have given their lives to protect their native lands.

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Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery

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Leaving Their Posts

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Perfectly Synchronized

 

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