Hearty Stew

No matter where you travel, you will likely find a local variation on a hearty stew with a mix of meat and vegetables. Stews are basically the same as soups where the solid ingredients outweigh the broth. One of the nice things about stews is that they are very economical as stewing meats are inexpensive and the meat and vegetables can be substituted for whatever is in season at the time. This meal uses ground beef as its base, but it would be equally delicious with beef, pork, or lamb chunks or you can leave out the meat completely to make it vegetarian. This particular stew is meant to be a little bit lighter, but if you wanted to make it even heartier, you could use beef stock and a thickener to create an almost gravy-like consistency. It is one of our Autumn, “go-to”, meals and we always enjoy it.

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Beef Stew in Germany

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb Lean Ground Beef (or any other stew meat)
  • 1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 2 cups of Baby Carrots – quartered
  • 3 Medium Potatoes – cubed
  • 2 cups Green Beans – cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup Frozen Corn Kernels
  • 1/2 Small Onion – diced
  • 1 Stalk Celery – diced
  • 3 Small Bay Leaves
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Dried Rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp Dried Thyme
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 5 cups Water (may need to be adjusted)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
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One Pot Wonder

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat with vegetable oil.  Add the ground beef and start to brown.  Add the celery and onion when the beef is halfway browned.  Add water and bring to a simmer.  Add remaining vegetables and seasonings, simmer until the vegetables are fork tender (approximately 45 minutes).  Serve with your favorite fresh bread and butter.

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Ground Beef, Onion, and Celery

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Simmer the Vegetables

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A Complete Meal in a Bowl

 

 

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Do You Have a Favorite Season to Travel?

Autumn (or fall) is truly our favorite time of year and we often travel during this season as it can be an off-season in many countries. The changing leaves are certainly part of the attraction for autumn, but we also enjoy the cooler temperatures and the anticipation of the holiday season. Because we live at a higher altitude, the trees change earlier here in Colorado than in most other places, so we often get to see the changing colors more than once during the season.

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Autumn in Koblenz

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Vibrant Colors in the Colorado Mountains

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View down the River in Heidelberg

There are many festivals at this time of year, such as Oktoberfest, sausage festivals, and different markets, which makes it even more interesting. The list of places that we have visited in September, October, and November is quite long and the scenery can be quite varied. Obviously, the later that you travel into November, you have to take into account the potential for weather issues, but that can be a risk whenever you travel.

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Changing Colors in Germany

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Eiffel Tower and Autumn Leaves

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Aspen Leaves and Blue Skies

There is something special about traveling during this time of year when the trees around the sights are vibrant with color. In our opinion, it only adds to the experience and we have many fond memories of seeing the countryside, mountains, and rivers. Is there a time of year when you prefer to travel?

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Falling Leaves in Alexandria, Virginia

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Contrasting Colors

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Near Cripple Creek, Colorado

 

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Luxor Temple Complex in Egypt

The Luxor Temple Complex is certainly a highlight of any trip to Luxor, Egypt. Although, not as large as the Karnak Temple Complex, it is still quite impressive. One can only imagine what it must have been like 3000 years ago when both temples were in use and there was an avenue that connected the two complexes with statues of lions with different heads lining the entire road. Work is currently being done to restore the area between the two temples and it will be another amazing sight to see when visiting Luxor.

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Statue within the Complex

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Temple Entrance

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The Avenue Between the Temples

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Different Statues Lining the Avenue

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Broken Statues

Unlike many of the other temples in Egypt, the Luxor Temple Complex is not dedicated to any specific god or specific king. Many of the pharaohs added temples to the complex, as with other temple complexes, including Amenhotep, Alexander, Ramesses II, and Tutankhamun. One interesting feature within the complex is the remains of a statue that was very much in the style of the Greek’s.

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Greek Style Statue

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Unique Painting next to Hieroglyphs

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King and Queen Together

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Dramatic Columns

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Enormous Statues

The entrance to the Luxor Temple Complex is quite dramatic with the sitting statues of Ramses II on either side. In addition to all of the statues, there were also two obelisks in the complex, one of which is still standing. Another interesting aspect to the Luxor Temple is that there is a working mosque on the temple grounds. It is an example of how the modern world and ancient sites can become merged over time.

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Walking Towards the Entrance

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Mosque Inside of the Temple Complex

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Rows of Columns

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Baboons

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Obelisk and Statues

With so many different sites to see in Luxor such as the Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Colossus of Memnon, and the Temple of Hatshepsut, it definitely takes at least a couple of days to visit. Even with all of these temples, tombs, statues, and historic sites, the Luxor Temple Complex is as important to see as these other sites.

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Temple Courtyard

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Hieroglyphs

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Standing Statue

 

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A Perfect Getaway to San Francisco, California

A few years ago, we had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in San Francisco. From Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, to the Golden Gate Bridge, there are plenty of sights to be seen in the city of San Francisco.  Clearly two days is not enough time to see everything that this wonderful city has to offer, but we took full advantage of the time that we had.  It is a friendly city with a wonderful climate that seems to just make you feel relaxed and at home during your time there.

Sea Lions at Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf

Sea Lions at Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf

Grant Avenue, the Main Street in Chinatown

Grant Avenue, the Main Street in Chinatown

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San Francisco Skyline

No visit to San Francisco would be complete without wandering the streets of Chinatown and exploring the shops and eating authentic Chinese food in one of the many restaurants.  There are other cities with their own Chinatown districts, like New York and Chicago, but Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest and largest in the United States.  In fact it is the largest anywhere outside of Asia.  Chinatown is a city within a city with its own vibrant culture and crowded and colorful streets.

Entrance to Chinatown

Entrance to Chinatown

Chinatown Mural

Chinatown Mural

Streets of Chinatown

Streets of Chinatown

The city is definitely very walkable, but there are a lot of hills, so you need to be in shape if you are considering that approach.  A better option, however, is hopping on and off of the trolley cars as they are an excellent way to get around as well.  Along with the Golden Gate Bridge, the trolley cars are one of the images that immediately come to mind when people think of San Francisco.  They are also a great way to get to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is famous for its restaurants, boating excursions, sea lions, and family activities.

San Francisco Trolley

San Francisco Trolley

Irish Pub

Irish Pub

Sea Lions Playing at Pier 39

Sea Lions Playing at Pier 39

Pier 39, which is the pier with the most attractions in Fisherman’s Wharf, can be a full day’s worth of activities, with plenty to do during the day as well as at night.  While we were there, we watched the sea lions play on the pier and had clam chowder and drinks at one of the many restaurants.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to take one of the tours out to Alcatraz Island, but there was no missing its presence out in the bay.  We had driven over the Golden Gate Bridge on our way into the city, but it was even more impressive seeing it from the pier.  As the day came to an end, the famous fog rolled in and engulfed the bridge.  We were there in January, so as the day came to a close, the temperatures dropped quickly.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Fog Close Up

Fog Rolling in over the Golden Gate Bridge

There is a carousel in the center of the shops at the pier, which is colorful during the day, but even more so at night when the lights are all lit.  We couldn’t resist the temptation to release our inner child and take a ride on the carousel.  There was also an artist drawing caricatures, so we decided to sit and have one done of the two of us.  We’d had them done of the kids in the past, but this was the first time we decided to do that for ourselves.  There a many restaurants to choose from in Fisherman’s Wharf and we went to a couple, including Scoma’s Restaurant on Pier 47 for dinner.  

Pete and Dona on the Carousel

Pete and Dona on the Carousel

Our Caricature

Our Caricature

Dessert at Scoma's Restaurant

Dessert at Scoma’s Restaurant

San Francisco is definitely a destination that should be visited as it is beautiful and has so many things to see and do.  We’ll definitely be back in the future to see more that the city has to offer, but any amount of time is worth spending in this wonderful city.  Clearly, our night at Fisherman’s Wharf was the highlight of our stay, but dining and shopping in Chinatown will forever linger in our memories forever.

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Buying Alabaster in Luxor, Egypt

One of the things that Luxor, and Egypt in general, is known for is alabaster and our guide made sure to take to one of the alabaster factories. At the factory, you can find two types of products, those that are machine-made and those that are hand-made. The differences are fairly obvious as the machine-made products are thinner, lighter, and don’t have tool markings on them while the hand-made are heavier and have distinct tool marks. Alabaster comes in three colors, dark green, tannish-yellow, and white. One of the reasons that alabaster is prized is due to its translucence and the effect of the light passing through the soft stone.

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Chiseling the Soft Stone

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Filing the Surface

Before going into the store with all of the various products made out of alabaster, we were treated to a demonstration of how the artisans made vases from the stones. It is a three or four step process depending on the product being created. In the first step, the stone is chiseled into the basic shape of the design of the object being created. Next, if it is to be a vase or candle holder, a kind of drill is used to hollow out the stone. Afterwards, the outside of the stone is filed and sanded to make it completely smooth to the touch. Finally, if the artisan desires, images are carved into the surface such as hieroglyphs, scarabs, or an ankh.

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The Alabaster that We Purchased

 

Once the workers demonstrated the tools to us, it was our turn to take a turn chiseling and drilling into the alabaster. Although not complicated, it was actually tiring work, so one could only imagine spending a full day of shaping the alabaster. After spending time learning about the process, we went into the store to decide if we wanted to purchase any of the alabaster products. Having seen the process, we focused on those that were hand-made and eventually chose a couple of alabaster vases that we now put on display, lighting candles inside of them to show off their color and semi-transparency.

 

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View of the Workers

Going to an alabaster factory while in Egypt is definitely worthwhile and certainly a must if you are in Luxor. There is certainly nothing wrong with getting a machine-made alabaster product as they are uniformly shaped, extremely smooth, and sometimes allow more light to pass through. Every time we see our hand-made alabaster vases, we are reminded of our day in Luxor.

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Hollowing Out the Stone

 

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Pot Roast with Dumplings

One of the meals that we had many different times in Europe was meat with some sort of dumpling. It would often be beef, but we also had it with pork, turkey, deer, and goose. We have enjoyed this recipe several times and it is easy to prepare and truly delicious. Rather than make our own dumplings, we use packaged biscuits which become soft and gooey when steamed. Because the biscuits are cooked in the same pot that the beef simmers in, they soak up a lot of flavor. This is definitely the type of dish that can be modified easily by adding different vegetables like onions or peppers, but we like the simplicity of the dish as we prepared it. Because it is slow cooked, the meat comes out fork tender and the sauce thickens up nicely, but if you want it thicker, you can certainly add some cornstarch to it.

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Pork and Potato Dumpling in Europe

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 lb Chuck Roast
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 28 oz Can of Diced Tomatoes
  • 32 oz Package of Beef Stock
  • 2 Cloves of Fresh Garlic – minced
  • 8 Whole Cloves
  • 1 tbsp Parsley – chopped fresh or dry
  • 1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 package of Refrigerated Biscuits
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
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Brown the Roast

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat a cast-iron Dutch oven with the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Season the beef on both sides with salt, pepper, and the garlic powder. Brown the roast in the oil for about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add the beef stock, tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, and additional salt and pepper to the pot and stir to deglaze. Heat until it starts to simmer and then reduce the heat to low and cook slowly for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the sauce has thickened slightly and the beef is tender. Arrange the biscuits over the roast, covering it completely, and sprinkle with the parsley. Put the lid on the Dutch oven, cover tightly, and cook for 15 minutes, shaking the pot periodically. Remove the meat and biscuits to create individual servings, covering the beef with the sauce.

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Add Ingredients and Simmer

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Cover with the Biscuits

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After the Dumplings have Steamed

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Beef with Dumplings

 

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Interesting Foliage in South America

During our trips to South America, we have come across some very interesting plants and trees. Especially when it comes to visiting the Amazon, there are often pops of bright color amid the mostly dense green foliage. Although they came in many different colors, the vibrant red flowers and leaves certainly stood out. Some of them were fairly normal looking, but others are very different and unique. We often take photographs of wildflowers during our hikes, so it seemed natural to capture images of these flowers as we trekked around the jungle. Do you take photos of seemingly random flowers or plants as you travel or hike?

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Budding Flowers

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Is It a Seed Pod?

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Pop of Color

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Vibrant Red

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Colorful Leaves

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Fairly Average Flower

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Unique Flower

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Reflection on the River

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In the Darkness of the Jungle

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Red Leaves

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Getting Ready to Open

 

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The Perfect Itinerary for a Trip to Southern Spain

There are so many wonderful places to see in Southern Spain, so we have put together what we considered to be an ideal itinerary for visiting the region. We rented a car for the 2 weeks that we spent there, which is ideal as it is easy to get around and the highways are not very busy. Although we stayed at one central location so that we didn’t have to continuously pack and unpack, it could easily be done by going to each place individually.

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Alhambra in Granada

 

  1. Granada – You will want at least 2 days in Granada with the highlight of city being the Alhambra Palace. There are wonderful restaurants and plenty of quaint hotels to choose from. Situated near the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the city has breathtaking views. Although we only spent a couple of days in Granada, it is certainly worthy of more time if you have it available.

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    Fountain in Alhambra

  2. Malaga – We flew into this city and then immediately drove to our home-base in Estepona, but we made sure to come back and spend a day in the city later. You can also catch a high-speed train to Madrid if you want to see something other than Southern Spain. Sitting on the coast of the Mediterranean with a history that stretches back almost 3,000 years, it is certainly worth at least a couple of days during your time in the region. There are also several museums that are worth visiting in addition to the many sights around the city.

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    Organ in the Malaga Cathedral

  3. Marbella and Estepona – Basically the Spanish Riviera on the Costa Del Sol, you could easily spend two weeks just enjoying the beach, water activities, shopping, resorts, and award-winning restaurants. We stayed in Estepona, so after every day trip, we would return back to watch the sun set over the Mediterranean. Not a bad way to end a busy day of sightseeing. Even if you can’t spend a couple of weeks in these resort towns, you should at least plan on a couple of days to enjoy the beautiful beaches and eat some fresh seafood.

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    Beach on the Mediterranean

  4. Benahavís – With only a single road that leads to this town in the mountains, it is a food lovers paradise. Even if you don’t spend a full day in the town, it is certainly worth visiting if you are in the Marbella area. It is quintessential Spain with a truly relaxed atmosphere and some of the best restaurants and wine that we had during our time in Spain.

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    Streets of Estepona

  5. Ronda – The bridge that spans the canyon is worth seeing from both above as well as below. There is also the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain within the city and there is a unique and historical bullfight that takes place in Ronda once a year. While in the area, it is certainly worthwhile to visit one of the many vineyards and olive farms for a tasting. We spent a day in Ronda and felt that we were able to get a true sense of the city, but you could certainly spend more time if you have it available.

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    Hiking to the Bridge

  6. Tangiers, Morocco – Although not in Spain, we would highly recommend taking a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to see this historic city. Being at the crossroads from Africa into Europe, Tangiers is a fascinating city with a cultural blend that is unique to Northern Africa. We hired a private tour guide so that we had transportation to get outside of the city, but it certainly isn’t necessary. Although we only spent a single day in Morocco, we would recommend getting a hotel and at least spending 2 days if your travels allow.

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    Tangiers

  7. Gibraltar – Just seeing the Rock of Gibraltar and the fortress is worth making this part of your travel plans. Given that it is part of the United Kingdom, walking the streets of Gibraltar will make you feel like you are walking a street somewhere in England with all of the pubs, British flags, and fish and chips vendors. A day in the city is enough to take the tram up to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar to see the amazing views as well as to walk through the city itself.

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    The Rock of Gibraltar

  8. Seville – As the capital of Andalusia, it is certainly a highlight of any trip to Southern Spain. To truly get a sense of everything that this historic city has to offer, you will want to spend at least 3 days in Seville. With its historic cathedral, old town, Jewish quarter, and museums, there is much to see in the city. If you do drive to Seville, the narrow streets can be difficult to navigate. Be sure to enjoy some Iberico ham while you are in the city as it is truly delicious.

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    Seville Cathedral

We certainly enjoyed our full two week adventure in Southern Spain and would highly recommend it to anyone traveling there. We visiting during November, which turned out to be ideal as far as temperatures go, but if you want to spend more time on the beach, then you should consider summer. If you do go during summer, expect the coast to be packed with visitors as many people from across Europe head to the beaches and resorts in the area.

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View of Gibraltar

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Cliffs of Ronda

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Coast of Morocco

 

 

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The Palace of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles is fascinating not only for its opulent, over-the-top decorations, but also for its truly interesting history. We visited during autumn, so the gardens weren’t in bloom, but they were still beautiful. There are several different sites on the palace grounds including the Royal Apartments, the Royal Stables, the Gardens, the Estate of Trianon, and the Hall of Mirrors. It is a quick train ride from Paris to reach Versailles, which is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) outside of Paris.

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Gardens in Autumn

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Gold Plated Details

We recently watched the miniseries about the building of Versailles, and although completely dramatized, it does actually provide some insight into the building of the palace from what was originally a grand hunting lodge. Over time, additional wings were added to the main palace building and additional salons added. Although it is interesting to see how King Louis XIV enlarged the palace starting in 1878 until his death in 1715. It certainly wasn’t without controversy and certainly was a factor that lead to the revolution in 1789.

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Palace From the Gardens

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The Vast Palace Grounds

As you walk through the Royal Apartments, it is hard to imagine the King and Queen sitting in their beds and receiving visitors. It is even harder to imagine that select members of court and the church would gather around the bed on the wedding nights to confirm the consummation of the nuptials. Walking through the Hall of Mirrors is certainly an experience that we will never forget as the light from the windows that open to the gardens reflect off of the gilded mirrors.

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Hall of Mirrors

 

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Gold Clock

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Palace of Versailles

Walking around the palace and its grounds provides a glimpse into a period in time when wealth and arrogance knew no bounds. Versailles should definitely be on your itinerary when planning a trip to Paris and it will take you a full day to fully enjoy all that there is to see.

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Painted Ceiling

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Statue Lined Roof

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Apartment Bed with Viewing Area

 

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Top 10 Tips for Visiting Yellowstone

We have been fortunate to have been able to visit Yellowstone National Park over a dozen times in the past fifteen years and through those visits we’ve definitely learned some lessons.  It seems that most visitors to the park drive the various roads that traverse the park, stopping at each of the various landmarks as well as stopping whenever they run across a large number of vehicles pulled off on the side of the road, the sure sign of a wildlife spotting. Especially during the summer, there can be hundreds of people crammed around the walkways to get a glimpse at Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, the Grand Prismatic Spring, or the Paint Pots.  If you want to make the most of your visit to Yellowstone, here are a few things that we recommend.

  1. Hike one of the many trails that are in the park.  When hiking, the park recommends that you go in groups of three or more, make noise, and carry bear spray, but we’ve found that just the two of us is fine.  It never ceases to amaze us at how many people cram into the walkways and viewing stations, but as soon as we step onto a trail, we’re virtually alone in the park.  Some of the most beautiful sites in Yellowstone can only be seen by hiking to them and it also greatly increases your chances of seeing wildlife in the park.  Some of the trails can be strenuous, so be sure to know your limits and always hydrate appropriately.

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    View From a Trail

  2. Talk to a ranger at one of the visitor centers or ranger stations located throughout the park.  The rangers will be able to tell where certain wildlife is more likely to be seen, which trails are the best to hike and which ones should be avoided or are closed, as well as just provide great information on the park itself.  The rangers are there to assist people and are always extremely friendly and proud of the park that they serve.  Don’t be afraid to ask them questions, whether it is about where to go and what to see or questions about the various animals, plants, or geological wonders that abound throughout the park.

    Grizzly Bear

    Grizzly Bear

  3. Visit the park during the off-season.  Having been to Yellowstone in all four seasons, we enjoy going almost anytime other than summer.  Fall is probably our favorite season as the Aspens have turned to a spectacular gold and the animals are all very active as they prepare themselves for the upcoming winter.  During winter, though, you are more likely to see wolves or some of the more reclusive animals, but be prepared for snow and check for road closures as not all roads are open during the winter.  Spring is also a wonderful time to visit the park as the wildflowers start to bloom and you will likely see some newly born wildlife with their parents.

    Moose in Winter

    Moose in Winter

  4. Go on a ranger led hike.  It is worthwhile checking on the availability of the ranger led activities in advance as some of them book out weeks in advance.  Ranger led hikes allow limited numbers of participants, so you really get a one on one experience and learn things about the park that you never would otherwise.  The rangers all have vast knowledge about the history of Yellowstone as well as everything to do within the park and they are enthusiastic to share that knowledge with you.

    Ranger on a Hike

    Ranger on a Hike

  5. Don’t approach any of the wildlife.  It amazes us every year to hear about people approaching wildlife in the park and then being seriously injured or killed.  None of the animals are tame, they are all wild animals and this isn’t a petting zoo.  The elk and bison may seem docile, but any animal that is startled or protecting its young can be unpredictable and aggressive.  We all want that amazing photo to share with our friends, but it isn’t worth risking injury or death for it and having a telephoto lens is a much safer way to get that special shot.

    Wolves at Play

    Wolves at Play

  6. Take your time in the park and give yourself several days to see everything.  There is too much to see in Yellowstone to try and cram it in to a single day or even a couple of days.  Despite all of the times that we’ve been to the park, we’re still finding new places to hike and new beautiful sites to see.  Especially if you visit the park during the summer, expect plenty of traffic on the roads and around all of the major attractions.  Don’t be one of those people who stop at one of the various geological wonders like Old Faithful or the Grand Prismatic Spring, take a couple of quick pictures, and jump back in the car.  Take time to look around, read what information is available about what you’re viewing, and look for ways to view it that are different.  Perhaps you’ll capture a picture that is truly different than what most park visitors see.

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    Mammoth Hot Springs

  7. Don’t over plan, see the main attractions, but give yourself time to explore.  There is so much to do and see in the park that you could put yourself on a tight schedule and try to see it all, but then you’d miss out on some great opportunities.  Give yourself a chance to take a boat out onto Yellowstone Lake or go horseback riding in the park or Grand Tetons.  Have dinner on a covered wagon excursion or pack a picnic lunch to eat on a long hike.  The best memories are usually those that were made because of a spontaneous decision, so let yourself find one of those memories in Yellowstone.

    One of the Many Waterfalls in Yellowstone

    One of the Many Waterfalls in Yellowstone

  8. Visit the park near dawn or dusk.  If you’re going to Yellowstone, it is likely that you’re hoping for the opportunity to see some of the wildlife that is abundant in the park.  Although the bison and elk are easy to see in the park, especially in summer, other animals can be harder to find.  It is well worth getting up early or staying late in the park because the wildlife is more active during those times.  We’ve been fortunate to see bears, both black and grizzly, moose, wolves, elk, bison, bald eagles, coyotes, beavers, and many others during our various visits.

    Black Bear

    Black Bear

  9. If you have younger children, have them do the Junior Ranger program.  We’ve had the kids participate in the Junior Ranger program at several national parks and earn the Junior Ranger badge at each of them.  The Junior Ranger program is a great way to entertain the kids, while also helping them learn about the park and the animals that reside there.  They are given a booklet with several pages to complete (simple games like word find or match this animal to its environment, etc.) and when completed and returned to the ranger station, they are awarded their very own ranger badge.

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    Beautiful Scenery

  10. Be very observant and always scan all around you whether you’re driving through the park or hiking.  You’ll likely run across a large group of vehicles pulled over on the side of the road with people out with their cameras taking pictures of some sort of wildlife.  If you want to be the first vehicle to stop for that wildlife encounter, pay close attention to your surroundings at all times.  You’d be surprised at how often you may run across something very interesting just by having everyone in the car, obviously not the driver, looking through the trees for anything that might be an animal.  It is even more important to be observant when you’re hiking because you don’t want to surprise an animal while on a trail.  Always look as far ahead as possible as well as scanning in all directions, just to be sure that you see any animals before they see you.

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    Plenty of Deer in the Park

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